The Best Restaurants Near Union Square
photo credit: Emilio Pandika
Union Square is one of the busiest areas in New York, which means we get a lot of questions about where to eat around there. Fortunately, there are plenty of great options that aren’t the dusty chicken tenders at the Whole Foods hot bar. Whether you live nearby, work in the area, or really like riding the escalators at the multiplex on 13th Street, here are all the best places to eat in the neighborhood.
Usually, you end up eating in Union Square because that’s what’s most convenient. Maybe you’re meeting friends all coming from different neighborhoods, or maybe you’re picking up a salad after you took a workout class, because those are the primary activities of Union Square. But there are no situations in which you just end up at Shuko. You have to plan to come to this fantastic Japanese restaurant—and you absolutely should. The omakase at the bar here is one of the greatest special-occasion experiences you can have in this city.
If Union Square Cafe were a Starburst flavor, it would be that pink one that everybody likes. At the second iteration of this classic restaurant, you'll still find the same sort of Italian-influenced seasonal American food they started serving in the 1980s. Depending on the time of year, you might find things like mafaldine with a cheesy duck ragu, a simple heirloom tomato salad, or a pork chop with grilled peaches that tastes like a Norman Rockwell painting. The space is huge and well-decorated, with a great bar area that feels slightly more casual. It’s certainly pricey, and you might have trouble getting a prime reservation, but this is the perfect place to celebrate just about anything.
There are two different ways to experience Gramercy Tavern. In the back, there’s the upscale dining room, where you can book a table and eat a tasting menu for $168. If you want a special-occasion spot that feels less like a museum and more like someone’s very nice home in Aspen, that’s where you should sit. But we prefer the more casual tavern area up front where you can eat some excellent brick chicken or a top-notch burger. If you need a last-minute spot to impress some people, stop by and get a few seats at the bar.
Ever since you discovered that you and a few friends from high school all work near Union Square, you’ve been texting on an endless chain about a group dinner. You need someplace fun, casual, and relatively affordable—and Laut is all these things. This Southeast Asian restaurant is only a block from the park, and all the dishes are served family-style. Get some wine and crispy soft shell crab, and you might start meeting up with these people more regularly (instead of just texting about it).
Sona is a fantastic place for anyone looking to see what Indian fine dining feels like in NYC and how it’s evolved from its white tablecloth beginnings. This restaurant is sleeker than it is formal, and serves a long menu with sections dedicated to Mumbai classics and globally influenced dishes (like a truffle malai mushroom pizza, and burrata butter chicken). Remember this place the next time you and your partner want to visit an upscale restaurant for people-watching and excellent gin and tonics.
Casa Mono is a reliable classic that will impress anyone in the market for small plates of seafood, meat, and vegetables. Just know that a tapas dinner here can get expensive quickly, and you usually can’t just walk in. (Even the bar next door, Bar Jamón, is often too busy for you to find a seat.) Make a reservation and come here on a double date with people who won’t mind sharing things like bacalao croquetas, albondigas, and crispy pig ears.
No one is excited to be near Union Square every day. So when you need some tellicherry peppercorns before your sense of purpose completely depletes, book a table at Kanyakumari from the folks behind Laut. Date night appropriate and halfway festive—a few chandeliers, some neon, etc.—this coastal South Indian spot goes heavy on spices and fried curry leaves. Order a crispy butterflied branzino over a thick Kerala-inspired curry, or try the sweet and salty stir-fried beef tossed in a chili sauce. You can get out for around $50 per person, although you should really try some cocktails, like the Old Fashioned made with jaggery.
When that person said “respect your elders,” they were talking about Old Town Bar. The two-floor spot on 19th Street opened in 1892, and it’s got an under-$20 burger, reasonably priced pitchers of beer, and the oldest active dumbwaiter in all of New York, which is a fact that we really enjoy telling people. It’s a place we’re always happy to remember still exists, when in need of a low-key date night with burgers and martinis in a dark wooden booth, or a few large orders of chicken wings at a big table upstairs, or just a bowl of chili at the bar.
Much like driving and complaining about driving, Sugarfish was big in Los Angeles before it arrived in NYC. New York’s first location of this sushi chain, on 20th Street, tends to be busy. So consider whether you’re prepared to wait a bit for dinner, and if you are, put your name in. (If you’re not, consider a day-off solo lunch instead.) Once you’re seated, you want one of the “Trust Me” sets (ranging from $43 to $72 at dinner, including tip), which come with an assortment of sushi, sashimi, and handrolls.
Think of Kazunori as Sugarfish’s fast casual cousin. Just like its predecessor, Kazunori usually has a line, but it moves quickly, and once you’re inside you can be in and out in 30 minutes. Unlike Sugarfish, this place does handrolls, and they do them very well, overflowing with fatty tuna or buttery scallop. There are no waiters—just a long bar and paper slips where you check off what you want with a pencil—but it’s still perfect for a quick date night with someone you already know everything about, or a weeknight meal with a friend.
This Thai restaurant is impressive and a little bit dreamlike, with a bunch of lamps and candles and a full tree’s worth of gold leaves hanging from the ceiling. It’s always nice to stare at shiny gold things, but the real reason you come to Thai Villa is for the food. Start your meal with the fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, and then get some of the steamed dumplings filled with ground pork, shrimp, and crab. This is an ideal spot for a weeknight meal, and it’s perfect for when you’re in the area and have some in-laws to feed.
Whether it’s a birthday brunch, dinner with clients, or a double date with your brother and his future spouse, this Mexican spot is a solid choice for a fun, upscale meal around Union Square. It feels a little like the set of a Cirque du Soleil show inside, with dramatic lighting and loud music, and the food—from the crispy fish tacos to the shrimp with sizzling garlic—is very good.
Urbanspace Union Square is home to two of our favorite chicken specialists in the city: Bobwhite Counter and Lou Yau Kee. Their stalls are right next to each other, so if you’re here for lunch with a friend, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to both. We usually start at Bobwhite, where we order tenders or a chicken caesar wrap, and then end at Lou Yau Kee, where we like the mixed chicken rice, which comes with both poached and roasted chicken. The food hall has some high-top tables, and a full bar where you and your poultry-loving friend can get down to business.
It’s hard not to notice Barn Joo if you’ve spent any time around Union Square. It’s on Union Square West, a few steps from the subway entrance, and you’ll notice lines of people outside, waiting for a table or bar seat during Happy Hour (3pm-6pm every day). If you get closer, you’ll hear the loud music from the DJ or live band inside. The clubby space offers Korean BBQ on the second floor, but we recommend sticking to some share plates and bottles of soju on the ground floor. We especially like the sizzling bibimbap, which comes with nicely charred rice at the bottom, plenty of gochujang, and a big portion of meat. Once you’re done, head to The Grain, their speakeasy-style bar down below.
Tsurutontan is big in Japan, and their first location in the US is right here on 16th Street. (There’s also one in Midtown.) It’s famous for udon, which comes in all kinds of varieties—thin, thick, in soup with wagyu beef, covered in uni, etc. One bowl of noodles is enough for a meal, but the menu is filled with appetizers worth trying as well. The space is dark, and modern, and it could work for a casual dinner or a nicer one.
Gupshup is a good option for a fun group dinner two blocks off Union Square. Come here for colorful cocktails infused with Indian spices, and fusion-y dishes like chicken wings with makhani sauce and jackfruit tacos. They also have classics like chicken tikka and saag paneer. The dining room is pretty relaxed, and it's a good spot to bring a few friends and share a bunch of small plates.
This is a steakhouse on 12th Street, but when you walk in and see the overwhelmingly red color scheme, waiters in white coats, and walls covered with photos of celebrities, you'll briefly wonder if you’re in Midtown. Strip House is a good spot for a meal with a couple of people who want to pay a not-insignificant amount of money for a ribeye, a side of truffle creamed spinach, and a slice of 24-layer chocolate cake.