We all know that NYC is an expensive place to live - full of people who accept less than a foot of counter space in their kitchens (and wouldn’t want to reside anywhere else). So, for an infinite number of reasons, you might be trying to save money right now by cooking at home or sticking to great sub-$15 meals.
But there may come a point when your sheet pan chicken stares you in the face and demands a night off. Or maybe you’ve wracked up enough nights without a babysitter and you’re ready to change that. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a fantastic dinner after months of cooking or countless egg and cheese sandwiches, these are the 17 restaurants you should prioritize.
photo credit: David Sullivan
Cafe Altro Paradiso
When you’re picking a place to drop some cash, you probably want the experience to feel as deluxe as the food itself. From the amaro cocktails and attentive service to the mysteriously alluring scented hand sanitizer, Altro Paradiso nails the details. Of course, these details would be nothing without their perfectly executed seasonal Italian dishes. Try one of the rotating selections of delicate pasta and a crunchy-fresh fennel salad with Castelvetrano olives that stands out in our minds as one of the better mountains of vegetables we’ve ever eaten in New York. If you’ve already cashed in a splurge meal at Altro Paradiso, you’ll probably love their sister restaurant, Estela, just as much.
If you’re new to omakase sushi experiences, we always recommend Sushi By M as a starter spot. The $50, 12-piece menu is less expensive than the set price at other incredible sushi places in NYC, but you’ll still get high-quality pieces like yellowtail, seared albacore, and slightly creamy-tasting shrimp. Not to mention, you have the option to add on combinations involving uni and wagyu. The liveliness at Sushi By M is just as important as the sushi, which can partly be attributed to the fact that the servers walk around pouring complimentary sake. Expect pop music, excellent fish, and possible drunkenness.
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photo credit: Noah Devereaux
In case you want your meal to include some amazing wine, The Four Horsemen will be your Paradise Lost (without all of Milton’s blank verse and satanic drama). This natural wine bar changes their menu just about as often as a hygienic person does laundry. We’ve happily eaten everything from fluke tartare to ribs to pasta fagioli during dinners here, and we keep coming back to see what else they can come up with.
The restaurant team who owns places like Rahi and Adda opened this new Indian restaurant in Essex Market that focuses on regional specialties you may not have seen elsewhere in New York City. Try Dhamaka’s version of chicken pulao served directly in a pressure cooker, or the tender lamb kidneys and testicles in a fragrant onion-tomato stew and pao shimmering with ghee on the side, and finish your meal with a rich, souffle-like chhena poda for dessert. Don’t let the fact that Dhamaka is located in Essex Market on the Lower East Side stop you from planning a big night here. The dim-lit dining area and covered patio are comfortable and moody enough to make the meal feel like it’s happening somewhere further away from tourists visiting flower stalls and vegan cheese sellers.
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Peter Luger Steak House
We believe there’s a Grease lyric that goes, “medium-rare steak and luxury go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.” But we could be misremembering. In any case, if you’re craving a steakhouse experience, plan a dinner at this iconic Williamsburg restaurant. Table requirements include the thick-cut bacon, the porterhouse steak, and the steak sauce. If you’re looking for a once-a-blue-moon lunch, their daytime-only burger is juicy and thick enough to warrant making an event on your Google calendar.
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Minton’s Playhouse is not only one of the most famous Jazz bars in Harlem - it’s one of the most famous in all of New York and all of the country. The club originally opened in the late 1930s, and it’s where bebop was first invented. These are good enough reasons to warrant a visit for your first night out in a while - but in case you need some more, Minton’s has a huge, sleek space where shows happen almost every day. Plus, they share a kitchen with The Cecil Steakhouse, in case you want to eat some steak or clams casino while you listen to a saxophonist bare their soul on stage. For reservations, call 212-243-2222 or go online.
Atla is an all-day Mexican restaurant in Noho from the team behind Cosme where you can eat the best chicken soup of your life and a taco made with shrimp cooked in chili oil, bitter hoja santa, creamy guacamole, and crunchy fried cheese. During the day, it has a breezy West Coast cafe feel with food that’s better than anything else you can get at 3pm for several miles. At night Atla feels slightly more formal, and it’s an equally great option for a date featuring some phenomenal margaritas, and the aforementioned shrimp taco. Yes, this taco is worth $15.
Telly’s Taverna in Astoria has tons of options for grilled whole fish. Pick your favorite (if you need a visual, they’re all sitting on ice in the front of the restaurant), and then get some grilled or fried vegetables and spanakopita to with your selection. The amount of tables at Telly’s is seemingly infinite, and they even have some nice sidewalk seating and an enclosed garden in the back. This is one of our favorite Greek spots in a neighborhood full of great Greek spots.
Planning an evening around hot pot has motivated us through many mundane work weeks. If you’re looking for a unique hot pot experience, try this Flushing restaurant specializing in Chongqing-style hot pot made with rich beef tallow and Sichuan peppers. The space is decorated to the nines: all of the indoor tables have shingled roof coverings and lanterns hanging above. Unlike some all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurants, you pay per item here - which means you can make your meal as extravagant as you want. The meats and seafood typically cost around $15 per selection, and vegetables and other add ons are in the $5 range. Plus, they’ll add dividers to your broth with nine individual chambers (like a hot tub with cubicles) so you can more easily keep track of what’s cooking.
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photo credit: Teddy Wolff
It was at this Greenwich Village Basque restaurant that we coined the phrase, “Rich Person Casual.” Which is to say that the luscious velvet-clad dining area looks like Elizabeth Taylor in room form, and it’s possible you’ll be seated next to someone wearing $200 jeans who sits on the board of a museum. The Basque specialties at Babs are all as impressive as your table neighbors will be. Share the divorced sea bream with someone who loves fish, nice things, and not having to choose between romesco sauce or herb pistou (since it comes with both).
Xilonen is permanently closed
photo credit: David A. Lee
This Greenpoint restaurant from the Oxomoco team serves vegan and vegetarian Mexican food that’s thrilling to eat, mainly because of Xilonen’s commitment to letting vegetables be the stars of every bite. After eating here you’ll notice stunning vegetables in places you don’t expect. You’ll think, “Is that a traffic light turning yellow, or is it a tender root vegetable with impeccable char?” Don’t worry, you’re not hallucinating. You’re experiencing the aftershock of coming face-to-face with impossibly tangy queso that’s been made from honeynut squash or a crispy corn tortilla softened by navy bean mash.
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Like many fine dining restaurants, Momofuku Ko in the East Village shifted their menu during the pandemic to offer a la carte options (including some fantastic thin-crust, New York-style pizza) in addition to their tasting menu. That means you can order our favorites from the Ko bar menu - like cold fried chicken and a burger with foie gras - as well as other dishes typically reserved for the $110 tasting menu. Whatever else you order, try Momofuku Ko’s cold fried chicken, which is fried four times, coated in a spicy-sweet yuzu kosho glaze, and then refrigerated. It’s available by the piece, like nigiri or a Rolex. You’ll want at last two pieces all for yourself (they each cost $6).
photo credit: Alex Staniloff
JoJo used to be a formal Jean-Georges French restaurant. It recently got a makeover, though, and reopened as a more modern, two-story restaurant in a townhouse on the Upper East Side (still run by the same people). The menu leans heavily on seasonal produce and classic farm-to-table combinations, like endive and snap pea salad, sea bass with chanterelles, and our favorite roast chicken in the entire neighborhood. Come here for a date or when you’re looking for a cool uptown spot now that Flora Bar has (sadly) closed.
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Curbside tables covered in white tablecloths, wicker chairs, string lights - this is the charming scene outside at King right now. Come to this West Soho restaurant for a kind-of-fancy meal outside involving a cocktail that tastes like a gummy bear but somehow isn’t too sweet, steak that will be one of the best pieces of meat you’ve had in years, and general merriment. The seasonal Italian menu rotates constantly so it’s hard to recommend something specific. Whatever you get, order it with confidence.
Hwa Yuan serves Chinatown’s best Peking duck, as well as excellent mapo tofu with mouth-vibrating mala heat and overwhelming funk from fermented broad bean paste and garlicky pork. The banquet-style two-floor space on East Broadway is typically filled with families and big groups celebrating something, but you could easily come here with one other person, sit on the sidewalk outside, and have a deluxe experience with a Peking duck and its associates.
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If you’re looking for fine dining food without its accompanying snoozy tablecloth setting, check out Oxalis in Prospect Heights. In addition to a $105 seasonal tasting menu, they now offer an outdoor-only a la carte menu in their courtyard where everything costs less than $32. Oxalis works well regardless of whether you want to enjoy a special seven-course menu with wine pairings, or split a whole rainbow trout and heirloom beans made with tarragon and escape with a bill under $100.
The plant-filled back patio at this Middle Eastern spot in Fort Greene is surrounded by brick walls and murals of people drinking wine. Take that as a sign to emulate that behavior while you have dinner here with someone you go to excellent restaurants with. If there are no reservations available in the back, though, know that everything from the sweet whipped ricotta to the creamy hummus with lamb shawarma is so good that you’ll be happy on their covered patio out front as well. Ask the servers if they have any Tubi available (a delicious Israeli lemon-and-herb liquor that’s served iced cold as a shooter).