If you’ve so much as casually perused The Infatuation - or lived in New York City for more than a few weeks - you’re already well aware of the blockbuster restaurants: the Babbos, Uplands, Gramercy Taverns, and Lilias of the world. The places that get all the glory.
And while a lot of those big-name restaurants are fantastic, we’re of the belief that neighborhood restaurants are just as important. After all, these are the places where most people want to be eating most of the time. They’re the spots that regulars don’t want you to know about, the under-the-radar joints that are making food way better than you’d ever expect, and the kinds of restaurants that can tell you a lot about their neighborhoods just by sitting down (and opening your eyes and mouth) in them.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to some of our all-time favorite neighborhood restaurants, presented in partnership with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express. Get outside your own neighborhood and go try these spots (and if you pay with a Premier Rewards Gold Card, you’ll earn 2X Membership Rewards points at US Restaurants).
There’s a certain kind of restaurant you might call a “very Infatuation kind of spot.” A slightly under the radar place serving excellent food, where you’d want to hang out several nights a week. La Contenta is a perfect example - it’s a very small Mexican restaurant on the Lower East Side. The food is indeed excellent, it’s always a fun scene, and you would absolutely want to come in for a blackberry michelada and fish tacos multiple nights a week.
Picture, for a moment, the platonic ideal of an East Village Italian restaurant: brick walls, candles, pasta on the tables. Il Posto Accanto is the place you’re imagining. While there are certainly other East Village Italian places like it, Il Posto Accanto seems to get less attention, despite being better than almost all the others. For extra credit, they also have a really excellent wine list with bottles starting at $35 going all the way into the several hundreds.
Like an investment banker who also rides a unicycle, El Quinto Pino has more than one side to it. Except unlike our suited up unicycler, neither side of El Quinto Pino will make you sad about humanity. Instead, both sides of this Spanish restaurant in Chelsea are great - there’s a casual bar up front, and a proper sit down restaurant in the back. The menu’s the same in both areas, so simply decide what vibe you’re going for. In either case, make sure to try the uni panini and the fideua - a kind of paella that’s made with noodles.
If you’ve ever been on a third date on the Upper East Side, it may well have taken place at Uva. If it did, don’t feel bad for following the crowd: this is a great neighborhood Italian restaurant with food that’ll please almost anyone. It’s cozy and not too hard to get into, and there’s even a garden for when the weather’s nice. If you spend time uptown, Uva should be (and probably already is) in your rotation.
Kefi is a restaurant you can bring anyone to: a date, your grandparents, your boss and his three children. Whenever we’re planning a dinner on the Upper West Side, going for Greek food at Kefi is usually the first thing that comes to mind, and we’re not about to change that. Order the sheep milk dumplings.
Houseman is in Soho, but not that part of Soho. It’s far west, not far from the river, in a part of Soho that’s very neighborhood-y. When you try Houseman, you’ll immediately wish this place was in your neighborhood (in the event it already is, congratulations, you are probably very successful). The burger is one of the city’s best, and the seasonal menu is always excellent. The staff here is incredibly nice as well.
You know that feeling when you’re introducing your new boyfriend/girlfriend to your family or your coworkers or your cat? You’re really into this person, and a small part of you is terrified that whoever you’re introducing them to won’t be that impressed. That’s how we felt the first time we started taking people to Lighthouse - we knew we had found an incredible under-the-radar spot, and we weren’t ready to deal with anyone who disagreed. Luckily, that’s yet to happen. Lighthouse is the neighborhood restaurant that’s cooking the kind of interesting yet super-satisfying food that’s way beyond anything you’d expect from a regular neighborhood restaurant.
Crucial to making the most of spring/summer in NYC: finding the outdoor spaces you can take over as if they’re your own backyard. If you live anywhere near Greenpoint, Anella’s patio should be on your shortlist of such places. You may not be able to grill or run through the sprinklers, but you will be able to eat a great pasta and avoid the dishes. It’s about the wins. And Anella is one of them.
You know that game where you walk past beautiful Brooklyn brownstones and creepily stare too long in the windows trying to imagine who lives in these places with the fancy chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and crown molding? You can make a whole afternoon of it and then head to James before getting too depressed about your own prospects of owning such an apartment. This is a semi-hidden restaurant on the corner of a brownstone block in Prospect Heights that you could easily pass without realizing it’s a restaurant and not a place where people live. The food is all super familiar American stuff - scallops, risotto, steak, salads, and an absolutely killer burger - but executed better than most.
Every NYC neighborhood deserves an excellent neighborhood pizza joint. And thanks to the newish spot Ops, Bushwick now has one. (Yes, we realize that Roberta’s is in Bushwick - but that place is just as much for tourists as it is for locals.) Yes, the pizza at Ops is great, but it’s the experience of eating here that makes this place special. Between the super friendly staff, the try-stuff-till-you-find-one-you-like wine policy, and the space that feels like the kind of homey loft you wish you could move into, Ops is a restaurant where you’ll want to become a regular, even if you don’t live in Bushwick.
If your go-to local spot is perfect for a solo burger at the bar, that’s great. If it’s perfect for a solo burger, and also for date night? Even better. And if it’s perfect for a solo burger, and date night, and dinner with your crew, and a first meal with your significant others’ parents - congratulations, you’ve hit the neighborhood restaurant jackpot. Mayfield is such a restaurant, and if you live nearby and aren’t taking full advantage, you’re making life harder on yourself.
The West Village is filled with destination restaurants: The Spotted Pig, L’Artusi, Babbo. And while we would tell almost anyone to travel for I Sodi, it really feels more like a restaurant for the neighborhood. It’s a small space that’s filled with a mix of regulars at the bar and people at the (maybe five total) tables who seem like they have a usual order. The result? A comfortable and lively vibe that never gets chaotic - it just makes you want to hang for a while drinking negronis and eating pasta. If you don’t have a reservation, your best bet is try to walking in on the later side (the regulars seem to clear out by 9pm or so on weeknights).
A big leather booth, a strong cocktail, hot artichoke dip, and a burger. Maybe some raw bar if you’re feeling fancy. That’s all you really need for a good time at Walter’s, a longtime Fort Greene standby that’s been serving reliably solid American food for years. It’s the kind of all-day spot that works for pretty much all occasions - from hungover brunch to date night. And while the Williamsburg clone Walter’s Food is great too, we think the original location has just a little bit more Feel Good Factor.
We find ourselves looking for excuses to make it out to Windsor Terrace to eat at Krupa Grocery regularly. Trips to Prospect Park become even more compelling when you factor in brunch or dinner at Krupa - and we’ve even used it as motivation to go on that long Sunday run so our finish line can be breakfast gnocchi. But people within a several-block radius instead of a several-mile radius are lucky enough to have a spot that essentially anticipates their every need: coffee and pastries in the morning morning, brunch six days a week, two nightly happy hours, and an incredibly good dinner menu nightly.
Like Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side or The Pigeon Man in Washington Square Park, Upstate is such a neighborhood stronghold that it feels like the East Village would cease to exist without it. Yes, the waits for their insanely fresh seafood can get crazy. But once you get a seat and there’s a friendly guy feeding you craft beer and fresh oysters and clam fettucine, this is simply the kind of welcoming, cozy spot where you’d kill to be every day after work.