Here’s a dream situation: you walk into your local spot, make soft but intent eye contact with a server you’ve seen multiple times, and get the overwhelming feeling you have a second apartment. But, like weaving a tapestry on a loom or perfecting your Miss Piggy impression, becoming a regular also takes perseverance, and a certain level of Pavlovian repetition. Before you commit to any specific place, you should know all your options - and fortunately, they’re all right here in this guide. All you have to do is choose your perfect neighborhood restaurant where you’ll want to show up about as often as a mama bird returns to its offspring’s nest. Except you don’t have to do any of the feeding.
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Cervos and The Fly are two of our favorite spots in the city - but before those places existed, there was Hart’s. It’s from the same people, and it’s just one tiny room in the shadow of some subway tracks in Bed-Stuy. The menu changes frequently, but it pretty much always has some type of ricotta dip and their signature clam toast. Get both of these things, and try the lamb burger on a Portuguese bun with the optional anchovies.
Since it’s possible you’ll have to wait for a table, becoming a regular at Ops takes patience and tact. But, like with any high-risk, high-reward situation, you’ll soon become addicted to this Bushwick pizza place. Specifically the bread-like sourdough pies, the fact that you can try any wine here by the glass (and they all cost $14), and general feeling of bliss in here.
Ugly Baby is a Thai spot in Carroll Gardens that doesn’t hold back, and we appreciate that. When they describe something on their menu as “brutally spicy” or “stay-away spicy,” for example, those are words you can take seriously. But you should by no means skip the spicier options. The khao soi is one of our favorite things here, and it has a very nice, slow burn to it. We’re also fans of the kao tod nam klook, the jackfruit salad, and just about everything else here. This is one of the best Thai restaurants in NYC, and you should eat here so much that the employees get tired of seeing you.
Adda is a few blocks down from an Amtrak storage yard in Long Island City. This yard is full of trains that are out of service, and we’d consider living in one of these trains in order to spend more time at Adda. Ideally, we’d eat Adda’s goat curry and lucknow dum biryani so frequently that we’d start to feel guilty, wondering if we deserved such nice things. We probably don’t, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Try this LIC spot for your next weeknight meal, and try it for the one after that as well.
We would all be lucky to live walking distance to Kingston’s sweet jerk chicken and fried plantains while listening to loud reggae and drinking a rum cocktail. But if you live by 116th Street in Harlem, you are the chosen ones. And, if you decide that your life’s regularity comes in the form of late-night meals, this Jamaican spot is great for that too (they stay open until 2am).
We don’t talk about Achilles Heel as often as we should. Maybe that’s because we’re trying to keep it for ourselves. That doesn’t sound like something we’d do, but the human brain is a complex organ that no one entirely understands. What we’re trying to say is, you should go to this dark Greenpoint spot, sit near the fireplace, and order some pozole, stracciatella, or whatever they have on their constantly changing menu. This place may look like an old tavern where fishermen would have drank 100 years ago, but it’s actually one of the best restaurants in Greenpoint.
When you walk into Bukhara in Midtown East, you’ll be greeted by several men in suits and the smell of smoky lentils. And, even if it’s your first time eating at this classic Indian restaurant, the suited staff will make you feel as welcome as a family member who’s coming home for the holidays. Bhukara takes up several floors of a townhouse, so bring friends and become locals together.
It always feels like a late night in the summer at Sally Roots in Bushwick. It’s loud, busy, and smells like rum and coconut. The catch is that Sally Roots is a restaurant, and a very good one at that. They serve Caribbean food that you’ll crave when you’re spacing out during meetings or the next time someone talks about tostones and garlic sauce. We assure you whatever they’re talking about won’t be better than Sally Roots’ garlic sauce.
Mekelburg’s is our go-to place whenever we’re hungover, homesick, or reminded how much our friends in other cities pay for rent. So we’re there a lot. There’s a lot at this hybrid bar-restaurant-grocery store in Williamsburg (and at the original in Clinton Hill) to lift your spirits, from fantastic sandwiches to baked potatoes topped with caviar to craft beers even beer nerds have probably never heard of. If none of that does the job, get a sundae with caramel topped soft serve and housemade babka.
It won’t require a lot of effort to become a regular at ZiZi. This Middle Eastern spot in Chelsea works for so many different situations that you’ll find yourself using it all the time by default. Whether you’re sitting outside for brunch with your parents, or at the bar with a date, make sure to order some hummus, either on its own or as part of a platter with some equally excellent shawarma.
We like Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna for several reasons. It’s where you’ll find some of the best Greek food in the city, and it also looks like a small house you’d find within walking distance of the Mediterranean. It’s filled with model ships and paintings of coastal scenes, the service is friendly, and when you ask what kind of wine they have, you’ll probably get a response like, “Red and white.” It’s a charming spot with very good seafood, souvlaki, and lemon potatoes.
When Fausto first opened, a few of your coworkers probably expressed interest in going before realizing it was just about impossible to get a reservation. But now the frenzy has died down, and you could eat there tonight. Think of this Prospect Heights Italian place as an overachieving neighborhood restaurant, and make it a goal to come here so often that you can start calling it “your spot.” It’s perfect for dates, it’s perfect for a catch-up dinner with a friend, and it’s perfect for any time you’d like to eat some excellent pasta and feel like you’re living an unrealistic version of your own life.
Kaia offers more than 70 South African wines, but whether you have thoughts on the differences between South African and French chenin blanc, or you didn’t really know South African wine was a thing, you’ll enjoy spending time here. The casual Upper East Side wine bar offers Happy Hour every day, a great lamb burger, and a space that works as well for casual dates as dinners with parents. And even if you’re not sure how you feel about South African wine going in, the friendly bartenders will keep pouring you tastes until you find one you like.
You and three roommates could all be regulars at The Uptown Garrison without any of you knowing it. Your friend who commutes downtown could stop there everyday for breakfast on the way to the A train a block away, and your Craigslist roommate who works from home might have lunch meetings there a few times a week. Meanwhile, you could go get crispy fried chicken coated in chili honey or a burger for dinner and never even bump into your single roommate who uses it as a go-to date spot, and orders very good cocktails and wine on tap at the constantly crowded bar.
If we weren’t always checking out other restaurants, we’d have a standing reservation at Kafana. Friday at 8pm, maybe. We’d show up, order a bottle of Slovenian or Croatian wine, then cover our table in various grilled meats. Pork schnitzel, for example, or a large beef patty stuffed with cheese. The food at this Serbian spot in the East Village is definitely on the heavier side, but just bring a few friends to help you eat, and spend an hour or two hanging out in the dimly lit dining room filled with black and white photos and lots of people who seem to know the employees.
Lowerline only has about 12 seats, and the one you decide to make your regular spot will depend on if you prefer being whisper-distance from Prospect Heights locals at any of the three small tables, or the owner who’s from Louisiana and shucks oysters behind the bar. The good news is you can’t go wrong, because no matter where you sit, you can take advantage of $1 oyster Happy Hour, very friendly service, and a $16 special that includes a bowl of gumbo and half of a po’ boy.
Le Garage has a sweet backstory - the restaurant was started by an interior designer and his mom (who used to cook in restaurants in Paris). The result feels simultaneously classy and casual, with French jazz playing on the speakers, a sleek bar, and simple snacks and mains like delicate chickpea fritters and a creamy mushroom ragout with ricotta. Le Garage is one of the best date night restaurants in Bushwick, regardless if you’ve been on two or two hundred dates with your person.
Bernie’s feels like a neighborhood tavern from the 1970s. It’s a dark space with stained-glass light fixtures and red-and-white checked tablecloths, and the menu consists of things like a burger, mozzarella sticks, and shrimp cocktail. In other words, this is exactly the type of place where you want to show up several times a week, drink a martini at the bar, and tell the bartender weirdly personal things while you have an excellent solo meal. It’s also great for date night, catching up with friends, or just about anything you can think of involving food and alcohol.
Even if Virginia’s removed everything on their menu except for the burger, you’d still find ways to justify coming in for dinner every second Tuesday of the month. It has a juicy patty, hunks of semi-melted sharp cheddar, and caramelized onions. Plus, you can realistically come to Virginia’s anytime and get treated like a regular - since it’s all the way over on Avenue C and stays pretty quiet.
We can easily envision a lifetime movie that ends with a touching scene of a father-daughter duo sharing a pepperoni pie at Nick’s Pizza in Forest Hills. We’d see them sitting in a blue booth with a formica table, while a wall clock ticks to signify the passage of time. Let these fictional characters be an example to you and all of your family members. Nick’s makes excellent thin (and large) pies, but the crispy calzone might be better - it looks like a massive grilled cheese sandwich.
If you’re coming to Klom Klorm in Bushwick for the first time and want to get hooked, order the sweet papaya salad and khao soi. There’s a massive menu of really good Thai food here, but those two dishes will convince you to come back a second time so you can try more. Between the brick walls with ceramic plates hung up to the entrees in the $20, we’d reccomend Klom Klorm for a casual date or a catch-up with a friend. Also, “Klom Klorm” is as fun to say as it is satisfying to eat in. We’d suggest you do both.
When an entire wall of a bar or restaurant is covered in wine bottles, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to enjoy hanging out there. Tannat is no exception. This small natural wine bar across the street from Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters is a great place to hang out and sample wines by the half or full glass, a long bottle list that has lots of options under $60, and Happy Hour deals everyday. While you’re here having a drink on your way home from work or with a date, order some small plates, like pao de queijo or various wild mushrooms cooked in butter and wine.
You might daydream about moving to a town in Tuscany and walking to dinner every night at one of the local trattorias. But instead of quitting your job, disappointing your mom, and saying goodbye to A/C, just walk to Fiaschetteria Pistoia in the East Village. The casual Italian spot has worn wood floors, vintage Italian posters of canned foods on the walls, and a wine program that’s more like a milk rack with eight bottles in it. Most importantly, they serve fantastic housemade pastas.
You could go to San Matteo every night for a month, and never have the same thing. Similar things, sure, but never the same thing. This neighborhood Italian spot on the UES serves a bunch of different pastas, pizzas, and some mains like chicken parm and porchetta. Occasionally, though, we’ll come here and order a panuozzo. It’s a type of sandwich made with pizza dough, and it’s exactly as good as it sounds.