Downtown Manhattan Restaurant Scenes, Ranked

For when you want to mingle with people who will forget your name the second you walk away.
Downtown Manhattan Restaurant Scenes, Ranked image

If you’re planning a night out, and your top priority is a lively crowd, Lower Manhattan has plenty of great, fine, and barely viable options. Some of them serve good food, but that isn’t what we’re concerned with here. We're here to rank the scenes below 14th Street, from most entertaining to least sufferable.


photo credit: Alex Staniloff



$$$$Perfect For:Classic EstablishmentDining SoloEating At The BarPrivate Dining

The best seats at this iconic Soho bistro are at the bar, where you'll inevitably wind up sandwiched between a neighborhood regular with stories about Basquiat, and a martini-drunk stranger who's dying to tell you about the Miami crypto scene. Fringe Met Gala types aren’t uncommon here, although the place gets so crowded that you might not notice Robert De Niro or Emily Ratajkowski standing right behind you. If the burger is sold out, get the steak au poivre. And, yes, order a martini.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

$$$$Perfect For:See And Be SeenCelebrity SightingsSpecial OccasionsClassic Establishment

From outside, Emilio's Ballato seems generally insufferable. Seven days a week, the Nolita celebrity hotspot ushers A-listers into its not-so-secret back room and feeds them spaghetti, while plebeians wait on line, desperately hoping somebody will let them in. And yet we love it here. Maybe it's the off-menu veal parm. Maybe it's the possibility of a celebrity sighting. Or maybe it's Emilio Sr., who sits up front and watches YouTube videos, occasionally using a dental pick.

You don’t come to Wu’s to show off for strangers. You come to hang out with your friends, which makes this Cantonese spot the most wholesome scene of all. Bring a few bottles of wine. Order a whole crab. Get a vat of wonton soup, and spin your lazy susan whenever you need something to do with your hands. The bright room is always filled with big groups, many of whom you'll find at nearby bars after dinner.

It’s impossible to define the scene at this Greenwich Village trattoria. There’s too much going on. On the sprawling outdoor patio, you’ll see groups from Jersey celebrating birthdays, kids dribbling soccer balls a few feet from their unbothered parents, and the odd Jenner or Bieber trying half-heartedly to go incognito. Thanks to the mostly walk-in-only policy, anyone can eat here. And we find that refreshing. Bring cash, and order the truffle pasta.

photo credit: Kate Previte

Around in some form since 1847, this Italian-ish tavern is a legendary spot where Bob Dylan used to hang out. It’s also one of the only places in Soho where you can get a reasonably priced meal. That’s partly why it turns into a block party, with self-described entrepreneurs, MFA candidates, and former water polo players who are now really into EDM mingling on the sidewalk, clutching wine and cigarettes. The best tables are outside, because that’s where everyone can see you.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff



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You can technically eat a pretty good burger here on a regular Tuesday, but that's not how you should do Jean's. Come on a Friday, and drink seven chili oil-spiked martinis next to a table of micro-influencers whose main food group is vape smoke. Then, head to their blood-red club downstairs, and have one of those nights you haven't had in so long. Jean's is annoying, and it's also a little charming. The lettuce in your towering caesar salad comes from their farm in Pennsylvania, and on this past Mother's Day, moms ate free. 

The steak au poivre at Lucien has a powerful, tingly bite. But if anyone tells you that they come here for the food, they’re lying. This LES bistro, open since 1998, is popular because it’s popular. Previously more of an artsy crowd, the patrons of Lucien now skew young and fashion-y in a frazzled, ’90s sort of way, sort of like if the cast of Friends listened to Charli XCX.

photo credit: Emily Schindler

Casino is very Dimes Square, but it’s not Kiki’s Dimes Square. Things are more upscale around here. With its faux marble columns and Corvette-red color scheme, the Mediterranean restaurant seems to be going for a 1980s theme, and it's an appropriate choice if you want to get slightly dressed up and graze on branzino. You might not see celebrities, but you'll definitely encounter people who consider themselves locally famous.

photo credit: Teddy Wolff


This spot in the bottom of the Mercer Hotel is across from Fanelli on Prince Street. The two restaurants have quite a bit in common (Italian food, clientele who would push you down a flight of stairs for a table at the Polo Bar), although Sartiano’s is significantly fancier. It's an entertaining crowd, but if you don’t throw on some leather pants or a double-breasted blazer, you may feel out of place. In the same building, there's an affiliated club called (Sub)Mercer that promises "unparalleled people watching."

Le Dive was destined to be sceney. It didn’t have a choice. The Lower East Side wine bar is a perfect storm of retro French theme, natural wine, and spacious outdoor patio. When it first opened, we called it “kind of annoying.” It’s still annoying, but in a way that feels true to the neighborhood. Grab a table outside, get some leisure time in, and try to count the people wearing loafers, Docs, or Adidas Gazelles.

photo credit: Louise Palmberg

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsKids

We once heard an employee at Fouquet's discussing a time an eight-year-old snapped at them for delivering lukewarm food. And that makes so much sense. Fouquet’s is not a democratic restaurant. It is not for the people. Unless the people you’re talking about are Tribeca billionaires who feed their kids caviar. The crowd here prefers designer everything, and half the chairs at any given time seem to be occupied by expensive handbags. Beautiful place, but a bit much. Great steak tartare, though.

photo credit: Don Freeman

$$$$Perfect For:Big Groups

You can have a nice time at this West Village restaurant, even if it's a little dull. The room, with pale yellow walls and hunter green booths, is attractive and upscale, and the Hamptons-adjacent crowd tends to dress like they may have to hop on a Zoom meeting in the middle of dinner. Overall, an inoffensive venue with a solid burger, decent miso black cod, and a touch of it-spot energy.

photo credit: Bryan Kim



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BondSt has its charms. (The serviceable sushi, for example.) But you could make a convincing argument that BondSt it's just off-brand Nobu. With its fusion-y food and aging beige interior, the Noho restaurant feels like a portal to the early 2000s. The top two floors are relatively quiet, with a mix of families, out-of-towners, and 20-somethings who should probably branch out—but the basement lounge gets lively.

If you wanted to know where Catch currently lands in the culture, it most recently had a moment on RHONY when two housewives bailed on a dinner invitation there because “It’s not 2005, and I’m not a D-List model.” The models are actually long gone, but the place still stays packed on weekends, now with birthday groups and tourists who recognize the name from old issues of In Touch. Come here for a decent crab roll and a view of the Hudson, but don't expect to leave with your self-respect intact.

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