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Great NYC Restaurants For Graduation Dinners

PHOTO: Teddy Wolff

Graduation. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to wearing wizard 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

Simon & The Whale is the ground-floor restaurant at the Freehand Hotel, and it’s exactly the kind of place where you might look around the room and see someone you recognize from social media. They food is stuff like lamb tongue pastrami and pork collar milanese, and all of it is very good. Come here if your family members are just using your graduation dinner as the pretext for a fun meal, and you might be able to get some networking done while you wait for your table.

8.1
MAP

The wood-fired American food at Reynard is great, and this is one of the only places in Williamsburg that feels fancy enough for your uptight grandfather who wanted to eat somewhere within a block of his hotel in Midtown. This place has huge windows and high wood ceilings, and your grandfather (and everyone else at the table) will be happy with a roast chicken or steak and anything off the long French wine list.

Don Angie

West Village
103 Greenwich Ave
8.4
MAP

Maybe some people in your family don’t typically get along, and you’re afraid that someone will pick a fight with someone else, mostly out of boredom. Try Don Angie. The food is a modern take on traditional Italian - your gnocchi will be covered in poppy seeds and many other things will come hidden underneath a pile of greens. It’s all great and interesting, so put a bunch of stuff in the middle of your table and people should be too distracted to get passive aggressive with one another.

If you’d like to eat some things like uni, tuna belly, and pasta with duck ragu before you begin your career as an entry-level something, go to Legacy Records. This place is from the same people behind Pasquale Jones and Charlie Bird, and like both of those restaurants, it’s great. It’s also just a little more formal than either of those spots, and the space is more impressive. There’s a big u-shaped bar up front, a dining room in the back with high ceilings and a green-and-gold color scheme, and some booths that are perfect for groups.

8.7
MAP

Maybe you took a consulting job in San Antonio or are spending the next year teaching English (motorbiking and partying on the beach) in Thailand. Before you leave, you should start checking places off your NYC dining bucket list, and Minetta should be near the top of the pile. Eat the dry-aged cote de boeuf in a red leather booth at this white tablecloth bistro, and your mom’s pleas for you to stay in the area after graduation will sound a lot more convincing.

Le Coucou

SoHo
138 Lafayette St
9.1
MAP

Le Coucou is where you go when you want fine dining that doesn’t feel like fine dining. It’s a French restaurant in Soho with high ceilings and white tablecloths - but the service isn’t too stiff, and if a family member chooses to wear jeans or a Henrik Lundqvist jersey, you won’t be barred from entering this place. So if you want some high-quality French food and an upscale experience, but aren’t sure if the people in your graduation party would feel comfortable at a traditionally formal place like Daniel, come here.

8.4
MAP

It’s risky planning an outdoor dinner far in advance. But if you want to take the gamble, go with Larina. It’s an Italian place in Fort Greene, and the patio is ideal for when you’d rather have a low-key graduation dinner in what feels like someone’s very nice backyard. You can also stare up at the stars and ask them how long it’ll take you to pay off your student loans.

9.1
MAP

Graduation is one big gathering after another, and maybe you’re tired of telling your roommate’s aunt about how the interview process is going. So drop most of your family off after your group dinner ends, select the members you like the most, and then bring them to 4 Charles for a second, late-night dinner. If you were ever going to smoke a cigar with your dad and not feel cheesy about it, it would be after martinis and some rare prime rib here.

Fedora

West Village
239 W. 4th St.
8.5
MAP

Fedora is just one small in the basement of a townhouse in the West Village, and it feels like a dinner party in someone’s home. Although unlike most dinner parties, you won’t have to pretend to like the food here. They make some great brussels sprouts and pork belly, and this is a rare place where the chicken is actually the best thing on the menu. The space isn’t huge, but you can bring a small group, and you can pretend that you’re eating in your own private townhouse, which your parents will appreciate if you don’t actually spend much time at home anymore.

Gato

NOHO
324 Lafayette St.
8.8
MAP

Gato kind of looks like a place you’d find in Vegas, and the chef has a longer IMDb page than Millie Bobby Brown, but the Mediterranean food at this Noho spot is consistently great. Whether Bobby Flay is actually there or he’s busy making sure that reruns of Iron Chef keep your mom’s DVR full forever, we’ve never had a disappointing meal here, and the big space and huge wine list work well for celebratory group dinners.

The Loyal

West Village
289 Bleecker St
8.4
MAP

The Loyal’s menu is filled with dishes that feel a little bit like the stuff you’d eat at a celebratory dinner in 1958 - like a lobster cocktail, shrimp scampi, and a giant sundae bar. The difference is that they make these things better than the versions you would have found in 1958 (we think). It’s a festive spot, but also casual enough that your dad won’t need to make a scene telling your brother to tuck in his damn shirt.

Daniel

Upper East Side
60 E. 65th St.
9.1
MAP

There were ups (figuring out that public policy is your calling) and downs (realizing pre-med was not your calling during Junior year), but you made it to graduation and your family wants to celebrate at a true special occasion spot. Daniel is a white-tablecloth French restaurant on the Upper East Side that serves a prix-fixe tasting menu full of excellent food that’s prettier than half the art at The Frick.

Maialino

Gramercy
2 Lexington Ave.
8.3
MAP

Maialino might look a tiny bit 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
MAP

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
MAP

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.

8.2
MAP

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

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 group is) take care of the alcohol, and you take care of the rest - i.e. ordering one of everything on the menu.

8.1
MAP

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

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, try to get a table outside.

8.1
MAP

Your parents watch several shows on Bravo and they occasionally text to ask what music you’re listening to. 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

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

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

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

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.

9.2
MAP

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 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

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 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.

Rubirosa

Nolita
235 Mulberry St.
9.2
MAP

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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