But what about the places that get blown up for six months, until everyone decides to move onto the next shiny new thing? A lot of those places are still absolutely excellent. Let’s not allow them to become the Gameboy Color you stashed in a drawer once the Gameboy Advance came out. Remember how cool the Gameboy Color was?
With that in mind, we present an updated version of The Cool List, featuring still-excellent restaurants that are no longer “hot,” but definitely still cool.
It’d be a little ridiculous to call Momofuku under the radar, but Ssam Bar is on this list because there’s a specific reason we think you should go back here. They’ve changed the menu quite a bit, and it’s significantly lighter and less pork-heavy now. There are lots of seafood options like shell-on-shrimp, plenty of raw stuff, and a few fish ssam sets. And yes, you can still get the pork buns off-menu. There are things we like more about the new iteration, and other things we miss, but we definitely think it’s worth revisiting either way. Plus, they take reservations now.
Prune is well known as a brunch spot - if you stop by on a weekend afternoon you’ll probably find a crowd of slightly hungover people trying to get eggs benedict. And while brunch is debatably worth the long wait, dinner is the reason Prune gets a spot on this list. They might not serve pancakes then, but they do have more interesting things like veal breast and roasted lamb ribs. This place has been open for years, but the food is still consistently impressive, and it’ll probably make you want to sign up for cooking classes at the Y. This space can get a little cramped, but it feels like a nice European cafe, and it’s good for date night.
If you have a restaurant on your corner, you want it to be like Marlow & Sons. This all-day place has been going strong since 2004. The back dining room is cozy and dark like a cabin, and they serve reliably excellent things like brick chicken and biscuit sandwiches. Along with its sister restaurant Diner, Marlow & Sons and basically wrote the playbook on how to make a cool Williamsburg restaurant, and they’re still doing it better than all the imitators.
Maysville is the sort of place that you can always get into, and you’ll probably wind up impressing whoever you bring - especially if they’re into brown liquor. The space has high ceilings, huge windows, and a giant wall of whiskey. The food is semi-upscale Southern, and we’re especially fans of the hay roasted oysters and the whole smoked trout. So if you forget to book a table for a dinner with a date or some clients, and you want everyone to think that you’re better at planning than you actually are, get a last-minute reservation here. Grab a table in the back dining room, ask for a whiskey list, and you should be all set.
One of the best Korean restaurants in the city is just off St. Marks about a block from the theater somehow still running Stomp, and it’s called Oiji. Here, you can get some smoked mackerel that comes with a sauce you apply with some pine needles, as well one of the better plates of fried chicken we’ve had. The restaurant is on the smaller side, and, while it gets busy, it isn’t as impossible to get a reservation here anymore.
El Almacén doesn’t get nearly as much love as St. Anselm, but our vote for best inexpensive steak has officially been re-cast for this place. It’s also in Williamsburg, but it doesn’t get as busy. Stop by on a weeknight for some empanadas and avocado fries, or bring a date for a meal in their little dining room that’s decorated with old cast-iron pans and photos of South American cowboys. This is an Argentinean place, and a steak should be on your table.
At Kiki’s, you sit at a plain wooden table (something your uncle would make in his garage) and pull your silverware out of a can that used to contain Greek tomatoes. We assume. (We aren’t fluent in Greek.) And if you ignore the sounds of traffic and the people in $300 jeans, you can pretend you’re at a little seaside restaurant in Greece. An inexpensive one. On an island. Have some octopus and a basket of fries covered in feta cheese.
If Fedora were in Soho, there would be Louboutins going up and down their stairs all night. But it’s in the West Village, and it keeps things more casual than that. It’s in the bottom of a townhouse, and it’s cool without being a pretentious scene. It feels like a little clubhouse/bar where you can eat some steak tartare and a nice piece of fish, and while it still gets crowded here, you can now make a reservation two weeks in advance. If you don’t have one, be prepared for a wait.
These guys are known for their pizza, and they make some pretty good ones. Try the Dick Dale. It’s a Hawaiian pizza for people with self-respect. But if you don’t want pizza, the steak and the octopus are some of the best around. And if you want a burger, congratulations - that’s also an excellent choice. Just be sure to either get here early or make a reservation. Even with a newer location in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Speedy Romeo still gets packed.
Casa Mono is over a decade old, but it still gets busy. And there are two reasons for that: A) the food is still great, and B) the space is pretty small. That’s why, even on a weeknight, it can be tough to get a seat here. But it’s pretty easy to book in advance, so go ahead and do that for date night or for when you want some wine and tapas. Which is always, probably.
Tuome is like that sane but also surprisingly cool and great person you date after a string of maniacs: calm, fun, not super flashy, and even pretty interesting. The food at this little East Village spot is essentially American with some Chinese influence, which manifests itself in dishes like octopus with XO sauce, and “The Pig Out For Two” which comes with cubes of crispy pork belly and spicy peanut noodles. All of it’s really delicious, and legitimately original.
As you may know, there are two restaurants located on the ground floor of ABC Carpet & Home: ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina. While ABC Kitchen definitely paved the way for the fancy toast and fancy carrot and fancy kale salad situation at pretty much every restaurant in the universe, that means it’s started to feel a little stale. But ABC Cocina is still a pretty exciting place to have a meal - the space is smaller, and the Latin-inspired food is spicy and tangy in all the right ways.
Gato is a big, dark, kind of sceney restaurant owned by Bobby Flay. And we love it. The food here is absolutely excellent - if you order right. The restaurant is quite a bit easier to get into now that it’s been open a couple years, which makes it just the time to go.
Meadowsweet is the restaurant that caused us to coin the term “The Feel Good Factor.” And guess what? This South Williamsburg spot is still a place to feel good. The menu has all the farm-to-table greatest hits you’ve come to know and love - burrata, grilled octopus, arctic char - but executed way better than most.
Here’s what you’ll find at Mu Ramen: extremely delicious bowls of soup, all of which are highly satisfying, but a bit lighter than other options around town. This Long Island City spot was a madhouse with a complicated reservation system when it opened, but things have since calmed. As they do.
When Barrio Chino first opened years ago, it was one of the key cool spots on the Lower East Side - with lots of people talking about how it was the city’s best Mexican food, and no one could get in without waiting hours for a table. Nowadays, the food is still excellent (get the enchiladas verdes), and while you’ll probably encounter a wait, it won’t be a plan-ruining one. The space is tiny and loud, but it’s a fun vibe for a small group dinner (or a late in the game date when you don’t really need to hear each other talk anyway).
Battersby. It’s one of those restaurants you probably read about in some food magazine, right around the time everyone thought iPads were the future, when all the boring people in your office started talking about “going to eat in Brooklyn.” Although the vibe (a small, brick-walled room) isn’t much to talk about, the food (the New American stuff Brooklyn is now famous for) is something exceptional.
If you somehow didn’t get this funky Thai restaurant in Nolita onto your radar over the past few years, you did your mouth a fairly huge mistake. This is some of the best Thai food you can find, and it also functions as a great start to a night in the area.
Remember when Top Chef was actually something people talked about while waiting in line to use the office Keurig machine? What a time in America’s history. Talde is a product of that time - the chef and owner was a Top Chef favorite - and the restaurant has since expanded to Jersey City too. If you never made it out to the original Park Slope location to try such inventions as pretzel-crust pork dumplings, now is the time.
The Obamas had dinner at Estela in September of 2014, meaning this is the rare restaurant that was definitely discussed on MSNBC at some point. If the interesting small plates here are good enough for Barack and Michelle, they’re good enough for you. We know Estela still gets plenty of love, but we include it here mainly because lots of people have been asking us if they should try the same chefs’ new restaurant, Cafe Altro Paradiso, and while it’s not bad, we’ve been telling them they should just go back to the more fun and more interesting Estela instead.
La Vara is a Spanish restaurant in Cobble Hill with Jewish and Moorish influences, meaning you’ll find a menu full of dishes you won’t see elsewhere. They’re all really, really good. The owners here also own Chelsea tapas spots El Quinto Pino and Txikito, but La Vara is the most special of the group.
For some unexplained reason, several trendy Jewish-fusion restaurants opened a few years back, and frankly, Shalom Japan’s Japanese-Jewish concept sounded questionable. But matzoh ball ramen and a lox rice bowl turned out to be fantastic ideas, housed in a restaurant that’s actually about as far as you can get from kitschy or precious. Shalom Japan is simply a really fun, nice restaurant.
Traif is the Yiddish word for foods traditionally banned under Jewish law: pork, shrimp, etc., so this one’s definitely Jewish-inspired in a very different way. Traif got some attention for its name when it first opened, but concept aside, the food here is very good. While the menu is full of things like strawberry-glazed ribs and pork belly, you’ll also find options like hamachi carpaccio.