Your in-laws want to like you. All you have to do is not mess up. So if you’re all grabbing dinner, and you have to pick a restaurant, do yourself a favor and play it safe. Try one of these places. They’re impressive, but they aren’t too loud or insanely expensive, and they all have a few menu options for people who don’t eat ingredients they can’t pronounce. And if you aren’t planning anything with your in-laws at the moment, these spots are also perfect for a night out with your grandparents, your boss, or anyone else that might say mildly critical things about you behind your back if you mess up a dinner.
What we like most of all about Reynard is the space. It’s big, with high ceilings, brick walls, and enormous windows. Your in-laws will be comfortable here, and it also helps that they make food that you’ll want to eat. It might be on the pricier side, but gratuity is included, and, they serve some better versions of the sort of stuff you’d find at a country club in 1950 (chopped salad, quail, etc.). Service is also pretty casual, so it won’t be awkward if your in-laws are the type of people who like to be on a first-name basis with their server.
Maybe one (or both) of your in-laws are vegetarian, and they constantly feel like no one truly appreciates or understands them. Take them to Nix. Everything here is vegetarian, but not in a disappointing sort of way. The food is fun and interesting, and it doesn’t try to imitate meat. So stop by for some DIY cauliflower tempura buns. Even if your in-laws aren’t vegetarians, they’ll probably think this place is cool.
So you’ve just moved in with your significant other, and your in-laws want to grab dinner near your apartment. If you live around Fort Greene, go to Olea. It’s a neighborhood institution, and it’s both casual and perfect for pretty much any situation. The food is Mediterranean, and you can get anything from steak to pasta to a wide variety of tapas. Or can grab a kale salad. You can be as healthy as you want here, and it’s also just slightly more casual than your living room.
Delaware and Hudson is small, but it’s comfortable, and it sort of just feels like a little room that somebody’s mom turned into a restaurant. They only serve a prix fixe menu, which might sound inconvenient - but it actually makes the whole ordering process a lot easier. To start, you’ll get a few things like pretzel rolls and bluefish pate, and everyone will get to pick a meat, fish, or vegetarian entree. It’s a lot of food and a fun experience, and, for a prix fixe, it isn’t too expensive at $65 per person.
If one of your in-laws suggested Mexican, get a table at Casa Enrique. It’s one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city, but it isn’t especially flashy or inventive. For the most part, they just do near-perfect examples of a bunch of Mexican-food staples like crab tostadas, enchiladas, and chile rellenos. You also shouldn’t leave without eating the guacamole and tes leches, and the space in Long Island City is both nice and unpretentious. Sort of like an Ikea showroom.
When your in-laws close their eyes and picture a West Village restaurant, it looks something like I Sodi. This place is in the bottom of a little apartment building on Christopher Street, and it’s just one room with a bar and roughly eight tables. It’s cozy and intimate, and you’ll want to eat here every night. You won’t be able to, however, because the Italian food is incredibly good, and it is therefore tough to get a reservation. So if you want to bring a a few people here for some many-layered lasagna, start looking for reservations very far in advance.
Let’s say you can’t get into I Sodi. Lupa is a very good alternative. It’s a little easier to get into, and your in-laws will probably be impressed by the fact that it’s owned by that one guy who wears fleece vests and pretends to enjoy making pasta for people on daytime television. His name is Mario Batali, and this is his version of a Roman trattoria, which means that you will be eating spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and other worthwhile things with long names.
If your in-laws want something good and interesting, but you forgot to make a reservation at a place far in advance because you subconsciously resent the fact that you have to do such things, go to Faun. It’s a neighborhood place in Prospect Heights, and it has better food than most neighborhood places. They make things like homemade pastas with stuff like squid and bone marrow as well as various meats over various seasonal vegetables. It isn’t cheap, but gratuity is included, and there’s a great backyard.
Cookshop is big, there are plenty of options, and it isn’t too hard to get a table here. Also, nothing costs over $30 - so you won’t run up a huge bill that will make your in-laws subconsciously (or consciously) dislike you when they decide to pay. In terms of food, there’s something for pretty much everyone here. The menu is vaguely Mediterranean, and you can get a pizza, a pork chop, some fish, or some kind of salad. So if you need an easy spot in Chelsea where you can work around dietary restrictions. this is your best choice.
With a name that sounds like a classy furniture store and a location in a relatively quiet part of the West Village, Hudson Clearwater is easy to overlook. But even if this isn’t in your usual rotation, you should still keep it in mind for when you need to place a relatively quiet night out. The food is your usual mix of kale salad, pasta, and duck breast, and it’s solid all around. The space also feels like a little West Village apartment, and they have one of the better backyards around.
Mountain Bird is little spot up in East Harlem and, unsurprisingly, they serve a lot of bird. They have everything from duck to ostrich, and it’s a good place to go if your in-laws want the option of getting a little more adventurous. Here, you can get things like chicken gizzard tacos and a little sampler with various chicken parts, and they also have some excellent chicken schnitzel as well as one of the best cassoulets in the city.
The East Pole is a downtown restaurant that just happens to be uptown. So if you’re on the Upper East Side, and you need a nice place that doesn’t feel lame, come here. It’s in the bottom of a brownstone, and has a bar up front and a dining room in the back with a few big booths that are perfect for small groups. The menu can get a little pricey, but they have some standard things like a burger and a kale caesar, and, unless everyone wants their own fluke crudo, it won’t get too out of control.
Little Park is from the same people behind Bar Primi and Locanda Verde, and it’s where you go to get slightly fancy food with someone who wants something kind of healthy. There are always a lot of vegetables on the menu here, and there are usually a few good good seafood options as well. Although if you want steak or pasta, they have that too. Plus, this restaurant is in a great-looking space in Tribeca that your in-laws might describe as “elegant.”
If you suspect that your in-laws only put up with you because you’re technically related, take them to Bono Trattoria. It’s our favorite Italian spot in Harlem, and it’s a good place to feed a few people wine and pizza until they decide to like you. The pizzas here all come out of a big wood-fired oven (that you can see at the back of the dining room), and none of them are over $15. They also have pasta, small plates, and bigger proteins - so you can just order a bunch for the table and hang out for a while. This place is also casual and spacious, and it’s especially nice when they open all their big windows in the summer.