The Cool List: 17 Restaurants That Aren’t “Hot” But Are Definitely Still Cool
Restaurants tend to get blown up for six months, until everyone decides to move on. Let’s not allow that to happen. Here are 17 spots to revisit.
We regularly get asked about the best brand new restaurants in New York, as well as the all-time classics - and those categories are covered in our Hit List and Greatest Hits List.
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.
photo credit: Emily Bolles
Once upon a time, it was very difficult to get into Emmy Squared - and if you wanted to eat one of their delicious rectangular pizzas, you had to do so at 10pm (or be really good at making reservations). But now this place has been open for a while, and there’s a second location in the East Village. So it’s much easier to get a table. Stop by with a friend, split a burger before your pizza arrives, and plan on taking a long walk after you finish eating.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Marlow & Sons
If you have a restaurant on your corner, you want it to be like Marlow & Sons. It’s been going strong since 2004, and the back dining room is cozy and dark like a cabin. This place also serves reliably excellent things like brick chicken and biscuit sandwiches. Along with its sister restaurant Diner, Marlow & Sons basically wrote the playbook on how to make a cool Williamsburg restaurant, and they’re still doing it better than all the imitators.
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photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Hart’s is a pretty ideal neighborhood restaurant with very good, unpretentious food and an atmosphere similar to dinner party at friend’s house (where there’s good music on the stereo). So if you forgot that it exists, you should head over to Bed-Stuy and remind yourself. Get some clam toast and a piece of grilled fish, or if you aren’t concerned about your breath, order a burger with anchovies on top. The space is pretty small, so be sure to make a reservation, and see if you can convince someone to be your date.
Oiji is permanently closed
One of our favorite 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. It’s a dark little room with brick walls and a bar in the corner, and we’ve had luck recently walking in without a reservation and getting seats there. Get the fried chicken, the ssam platter, their one dessert - vanilla ice cream with honey butter potato chips. It’s a huge portion, but if you ask nicely, they might halve it for you. In other words, you have no excuse not to try this.
Dirty French is a dark, loud place with very good French food on the Lower East Side. It’s also owned by the same people behind The Grill and Carbone. And for all of these reasons, it used to be very “hot.” Now it’s more of a cool spot you use to impress someone last-minute when you don’t mind spending a lot of money. The dining room has leather booths and chandeliers, and - despite the fact that this place is no longer impossible to get into - the food is still very good.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
El Almacén doesn’t get nearly as much attention 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 tacos and empanadas, or bring a date for a meal in their little dining room that’s decorated with old cast-iron pans. If it’s warm outside, sit in the backyard.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
You’ve probably heard of Momofuku Noodle Bar. Maybe you even ate there 10 years ago when it was relatively new. If you haven’t been back in a while, you should know that it’s still very, very good. The pork buns are still a great way to start a meal, and the arctic char and fluke crudo should be on your table as well. And if you see the extra spicy pork ramen on special, order it. Just be aware that this place still gets busy and doesn’t take reservations. That said, trying to get a table on a Saturday night no longer feels like a waking nightmare (that smells good).
Speedy Romeo is a steakhouse disguised as a pizza place located in an old auto repair shop. Well, not really - but the steak and the burger are the best things here. If you don’t want red meat, the pizzas are also very solid, and there are plenty of them on the menu. The “Dick Dale” is essentially a grown-up version of a Hawaiian pizza, and the “White Album” is ideal for when you’d like to sub out your standard tomato sauce for bechamel and five different kinds of cheese. Plus, there’s now a second location on the Lower East Side.
Kiki’s has been open for a while now, so it technically isn’t “hot” - but it still gets busy just about every night. They also don’t take reservations, so you might have to wait for your table. This wait might be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, but there are plenty of places to drink nearby (like Forgtmenot next door), and a meal here is worth it. The Greek food is both very good and reasonably priced, and you can get a $24 liter of wine to go with your lamb chops and octopus (both of which you need to order).
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
When it first opened, Legacy Records was the most compelling reason to visit Hudson Yards. And it still is, actually. But it’s no longer that one new spot everyone near the copy machine is talking about (assuming your office has a copy machine), which means you have a far better chance of getting in. This is a special-feeling place, and it’s perfect for when you want to sit in a big room with gold accents and a good soundtrack, so plan a celebratory dinner here here when you forgot to reserve something a month in advance. And get the whole duck.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Casa Mono is over a decade old, but it still gets busy. And there are two reasons for that: 1) the food is still great, and 2) 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 any other occasion when you want some wine and tapas. Which is always, probably.
We’ve reviewed Wildair several times since it first opened - and it’s only gotten better. Plus, it takes reservations now, so if you’ve been sitting at home every Friday night for the past several years wondering why people like this place so much, you no longer have an excuse for trying to get in. Bring a friend, and share the fried squid, scallop crudo, and pork milanese. By the way, you aren’t taking full advantage of this place if you don’t have some wine in a glass in front of you.
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 influences, so you’ll find 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 is really delicious, and legitimately original.
When Barrio Chino first opened, 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. So naturally, 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 place for a small group dinner (or a later-in-the-game date when you don’t really need to hear each other talk anyway).
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. Since then, the place has cooled off a little bit, and it’s easy to make a reservation about a week in advance - which is something you should do. The small plates like the ricotta dumplings and lamb ribs with honey are still exceptional, and the narrow space hidden up a set of stairs on Houston Street is perfect for date night.
La Vara is a fantastic Spanish restaurant ideal for any situation when you want impressive food in an un-fussy environment. This Cobble Hill spot is from the same people who own Chelsea tapas spots El Quinto Pino and Txikito, as well as Saint Julivert Fisherie next door, but La Vara is still the most special of the group. Bring a date or your parents, and share tapas like crispy eggplant with honey and fried artichokes with anchovy aioli. It gets pretty packed here on weekends, but weekday reservations are easy to come by, and you can usually get a seat at the bar without too much of a wait.
Traif is the Yiddish word for foods traditionally banned under Jewish law: pork, shrimp, etc. This place got some attention for its name when it first opened, but concept aside, the food here is very good. They cook everything behind the bar, and we especially like the the General Tso’s cauliflower and the tuna tartare served on japanese eggplant tempura. This Williamsburg spot never seems to get as busy as it should, which is something you should definitely take advantage of.