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Great NYC Restaurants For Graduation Dinners

PHOTO: Noah Devereaux

Graduation. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to wearing wizard’s robes, and it’s the only time you’ll be able to throw your hat in the air and then just, like, walk away. And after all that stuff is done, you’ll probably go out for dinner. That’s where we come in. Here are a bunch of restaurants for some likely after-graduation scenarios. There are places for big groups, places for small groups, and even a place for parents who almost got divorced but decided to do SoulCycle instead.

the spots

Maialino

Gramercy
2 Lexington Ave.
8.3
MAP

Perfect For: When Your Grandparents Are In Town, But You Don’t Want To Eat At Hillstone

Maialino might even look a little like your grandparents’ house. It’s mostly beige, there’s a lot of art hanging on the walls, and the tablecloths are the blue-and-white-checked kind that you’d use on a picnic in 1950. Also, there’s pasta. Good pasta. So it’s a pretty safe bet that everyone, including your grandparents, will like Maialino. Service is friendly, it’s fancy without being either stuffy or rowdy, and it’s in a nice big space in the bottom of the Gramercy Park Hotel.

8.6
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Perfect For: Parents Who’ve Watched Every Episode Of Chef’s Table And Won’t Shut Up About It

Nancy. Massimo. Francis. Your parents are on a first-name basis with these people, despite the fact that they live in a suburb in Michigan - not in LA, or Italy, or Patagonia. If Mom and Dad have started referring to the subjects of Chef’s Table like they’re college buddies, then you’ve probably already booked a table at Blue Hill to see their old friend Dan. Blue Hill is one of the most special occasion-y special occasion restaurants we have in this town (not to mention fantastic), and a graduation dinner is an excellent time to take advantage.

Freemans

Lower East Side
End of Freeman Alley
8.2
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Perfect For: When, For Some Reason, Everyone Wants To See You In A Cap And Gown

Is everyone coming to your graduation? Including that cousin who used to sit on your head? Get dinner at Freemans. They have three private dining rooms and a whole second floor that you can rent out. Also, it looks a place where you could write novel - a classy one, maybe in Russian. There are flowers, stuffed birds, old paintings, and vintage furniture. The food is on the heavier side, but if you’re celebrating something you might as well get full.

Narcissa

East Village
21 Cooper Square
8.6
MAP

Perfect For: When There’s A Mid-Life Crisis Involved

If you recently heard one of your parents use the word “chill” as an adjective, take them to Narcissa. It’s nice and big, and there’s always a good energy to the place. It’s in the bottom of a hotel in the East Village, it isn’t insanely expensive, and there’s usually a decent number of attractive people there. Also, there are a lot of vegetarian options. In case your parents went vegan last week.

8.2
MAP

Perfect For: When Someone Has A Certain Idea About New York And You Don’t Want To Disappoint Them

Does your mom think that everyone in New York dresses nice and eats at fancy restaurants where shady deals go down? Take her to Augustine. It’ll help preserve whatever ideas she has about New York. This Fidi restaurant looks like somewhere you’d plot to kill a superhero or shut down an orphanage, so, naturally, it’s great place to celebrate something. Eat some duck and steak tartare. It’s pricey, but worth it.

Photo: Noah Devereaux

Pasquale Jones

Nolita
187 Mulberry St
9.5
MAP

Perfect For: Dads Who Talk About Terroir

Pasquale Jones might call itself an Italian place, but it’s actually a wine place. A wine place that serves Italian food. From their always-rotating seasonal bottle list (the entirety of which you can order in half-bottle form), to their rare stuff, to the extremely knowledgeable staff, to the insanely light wine glasses that would make Welch’s taste good - this is a wine person’s mecca. And the better news is, you don’t have to know the difference between a Beaujolais and a Barolo to love it here. Just let Dad or Mom or whoever the wannabe-sommelier in your party is take care of the alcohol, and you take care of the rest - i.e. ordering one of everything on the menu.

Babbo

Greenwich Village
110 Waverly Pl.
9.5
MAP

Perfect For: When You’re Doing Fine Dining But You Don’t Want To Feel Old

Babbo is unquestionably fine dining, but it’s also the kind of place that serves adrenaline in pasta form. The kind of adrenaline that makes it possible for you to eat an entire eight courses, with wine pairings, then wash it all down with dessert, then ask yourself when you’re going to be able to do it all again. The answer is: probably not for a while. Which is exactly why it’s the perfect place for you to take advantage of your parents’ wallets just one last time. If neither time nor money are issues, Babbo is one of your best options.

8.1
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Perfect For: Parents Who Used To Fight But Now Just Work Out Instead

At one point, you thought your parents were definitely headed for divorce. But then they found SoulCycle and Crossfit and now they only argue about which workout they’re going to tomorrow. Now they operate on a mostly plant-based, occasionally raw diet - while you operate on a sometimes-healthy, mostly-burgers diet. It’s your graduation, so you should have all the burgers you want - but they also paid for your education, so they should have all the vegetables they want. You can get both at Loring Place, the upscale-but-not-too-fancy restaurant (that also happens to be in NYU’s backyard) where you can expect consistently great food, a crowd-pleasing menu, and excellent service. Not optional: at least one blizzard for the table, even if you’re the only one eating it.

7.6
MAP

Perfect For: When Someone Bought Tickets To The Lion King And There’s No Getting Out Of It

If you’re doing the Broadway thing after you take off your cap and gown, get dinner at Esca first. It’s an Italian seafood place, and it’s one of the best restaurants in the theater district. The oldest members of your party will like how calm it is, and everyone else will be into the aquarium-worthy selection of high-quality fish. Start with a crudo tasting, then get some pasta on your table. If it’s nice, see if you can get table outside.

6.6
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Perfect For: Parents Who Are (Figuratively) Younger Than You

Your mom is really into wearing chokers right now and your dad texted to ask you what your favorite track on More Life was the day it came out. Sounds like you’re having your graduation dinner at Dirty French, a place designed for people who would rather not grow up. Your parents will appreciate that this restaurant doesn’t make them feel like they’re celebrating the graduation of their adult child, and you’ll appreciate that the food is actually good. Unlike their first choice, Bagatelle.

Quality Italian

Midtown
57 W. 57th St.
7.8
MAP

Perfect For: When Your Loud Uncle Wants Chicken Parm

Let’s say someone in your party is louder than the rest, and you’re worried they might have a little too much wine at dinner then shout something rude (but true) about the New England Patriots. Let’s also say they really like chicken parm. Go to Quality Italian. There’s plenty of room, no one’s going to care if you’re a little loud, and if you like it a lot, you can alos have your bachelor party here. Plus, their chicken parm is the size of a fully grown pizza. But if you’re looking at meat, go for steak instead.

Houseman

SoHo / Tribeca
508 Greenwich St.
8.6
MAP

Perfect For: When It’s Just A Few Of You, And You’re All Kind Of Tired

Houseman is in the neighborhood between the West Village and Tribeca that’s home to the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, a bunch of rich 45-year-olds, and trendy ad agencies. It’s low-key and a little out of the way, and that’s probably why this place stays quiet enough for a normal conversation (that and the acoustic ceiling panels). So if you don’t want to make a huge deal out of your graduation dinner, but you still want some exceptional food, come here.

Lafayette

NOHO
380 Lafayette St
8.1
MAP

Perfect For: Parents Who Iron Their Jeans

Lafayette is nice, but it isn’t too nice. It feels like the sort of massive restaurant you’d find in an ideal mall (that doesn’t exist). Life if the Cheesecake Factory went to France, did some soul searching, and came back much more refined. It’s a good spot to celebrate something with a bunch of people who are down to go to a fancy place, but not one with a dress code. And if you’re thinking about having a graduation brunch, this big French bistro is the perfect place to have it.

Lilia

Williamsburg
567 Union Avenue
9.3
MAP

Perfect For: Convincing Your Family That Brooklyn Isn’t A Less-Good Manhattan

You’ve been living in Brooklyn for a while now, but your parents still tell their friends that you’re “saving up to move to the big city.” Well, now you graduated and that means you’re officially an adult - an adult who chooses to live in Brooklyn. Take your family to Lilia for dinner and they’ll (maybe) finally understand that this borough is impressive too. This is a big, beautiful, grown-up restaurant serving some of our favorite modern Italian food in the entire city.

7.5
MAP

Perfect For: Parents Who Feel At Home In The Financial District

The first thing you should know is that Amada has great food. The second thing you should know is that it’s in a mall in Battery Park City - so the vibes are a little corporate. But the space is big, the tapas menu is great for sharing, and it isn’t crazy expensive. Head down after graduation and have a salad wrapped in ham. You deserve it.

9.2
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Perfect For: If Someone Just Read Sweetbitter

Your sister just finished the book and won’t stop talking about how much “she never knew about the restaurant industry.” Blow her mind and take her to the restaurant the book was based on (which, thankfully, is much better than the book). Union Square Cafe basically invented “casual fine dining,” which means it feels fancy without being stuffy - you can eat a squab, or you can eat a burger. This is the new location of the restaurant, and it’s great. And just like in Sweetbitter, the service is perfect - so if your dad complains if his water glass is ever empty or your mom wants every menu item explained in full detail, take them to Union Square Cafe and have the extremely skilled waitstaff deal with them instead of you.

Photo: Noah Devereaux

Olmsted

Prospect Heights
659 Vanderbilt Ave
8.9
MAP

Perfect For: Family Members Who Call Themselves “Foodies”

Maybe your 12-year-old cousin’s Instagram account Foodie4Lyfe (somehow) has 10k followers. Or maybe your parents are really into “experimenting with tahini right now.” Someone has decided they’re a Foodie, and they want everyone to know about it. (And you’re not a foodie, but you like food and want to eat all of it.) So plan your big dinner at Olmsted, start with a cocktail out in the back garden, and when you sit down in the restaurant order things like a crepe made out of carrots and sushi made out of fruit (and raw fish) and chawanmushi. The Foodies will be psyched, and so will you.

Rubirosa

Nolita
235 Mulberry St.
9.2
MAP

Perfect For: When Everyone Secretly Just Wants Pizza

Your parents, siblings, and cousins are coming all the way to NYC to watch you wear a cap and gown and walk across a stage - and also see two Broadway shows, tour Rockefeller Center, go to Ellis Island, and visit at least the Met, Whitney, and Guggenheim (at least). Something tells you you’re all going to be just a little bit tired. Do your future self a favor and book a table reservation at Rubirosa, where you’ll all pizza and pasta and arancini and everyone will feel like you’ve taken them to an authentic NYC Italian gem. Because you have.

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