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The Cool List: 16 Restaurants That Aren't "Hot" But Are Definitely Still Cool

PHOTO: Noah Devereaux

We regularly get asked about the best brand new restaurants in New York, as well as about 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.

The Spots

1

Tuome

East Village
536 E. 5th St.
8.4
MAP

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.

2

ABC Cocina

Flatiron
38 E. 19th St.
8.4
MAP

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.

3

Gato

NOHO
324 Lafayette St.
9.0
MAP

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, it is easily New York's best tapas place. 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.

4
8.2
MAP

Meadowsweet is the restaurant that caused us to coin the term "The Feel Good Factor." And guess what? This South Williamsburg spot 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.

5
8.6
MAP

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.

6
7.8
MAP

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).

7
8.5
MAP

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.

8

Uncle Boons

Nolita
7 Spring St.
8.5
MAP

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.

9

Talde

Park Slope
369 7th Ave.
8.0
MAP

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.

10
8.4
MAP

One of those restaurants that will make your group say, "Oh! Good idea!" Empellon Cocina has gone through some revamps over the years, and the East Village location is now better than ever. While we enjoy Empellon Al Pastor and Taqueria, Cocina is the real winner.

11

Estela

Nolita
47 E. Houston St.
8.4
MAP

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.

12

Hearth

East Village
403 E. 12th St.
7.9
MAP

Hearth has been open since 2003, but recently did a whole revamp of its menu to take things in a lighter direction. This is still a serious meal, though, and a really great one. Make it a point to revisit Hearth.

Photo: Melissa Hom
13
8.5
MAP

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.

14
8.4
MAP

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.

15
8.2
MAP

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.

16
8.1
MAP

Yep, it's La Esquina. Guess what? The semi-hidden Mexican restaurant that you probably thought was incredibly awesome when you first moved to New York is actually still pretty awesome.

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