Maybe you don’t like eating breakfast several hours later than usual, surrounded by people who justify drinking large quantities of vodka and sparkling wine by mixing it with orange juice. Or maybe you generally like brunch, but you don’t currently want to be in a loud place where people are having mild panic attacks trying to decide between pancakes and eggs. That’s when you can use this guide. We’ve pulled together a bunch of places where you should be able to eat a low-key weekend meal, probably pretty efficiently, without having to speak to more than one person. Maybe two, tops.
We’ve established that you’re not a fan of eating overpriced pastry baskets at 2pm, but unless you also dislike affordable Japanese breakfast sets, you’ll enjoy Nonono in Nomad. On the weekends, this yakitori restaurant serves two $24 brunch combinations (in addition to other a la carte options). The first is a ramen set with chawanmushi and chirashi, and the second is a rice bowl set with chawanmushi and sashimi salad. If neither of those is filling enough, add an appetizer like the avocado topped with uni or some strawberry toast.
Little Skips is a reliably calm coffee shop in Bushwick with great sandwiches and pastries, lots of vegan/gluten-free options, and other people who also don’t want to sit through the ceremony of brunch. A meal here takes slightly more effort than grabbing a BEC from the bodega and eating it on your couch, and slightly less effort than pretending you’re on Chopped with nothing but the eggs, Oreos, and tomato sauce that were already in your apartment.
Walk up 2nd Avenue in the East Village on a Saturday afternoon and just about every restaurant you pass will be packed with people trying to get as many refills of low-ABV orange or tomato juice as possible in 90 minutes. For something entirely different, go to Cafe Mocha. It’s a dimly-lit American spot where you can sit at the bar or pull tables together with a group, and eat things like Western omelettes and bacon and sausage breakfast sandwiches. There’s rarely a wait, even for the tables out front, which are ideal for people-watching.
Earl’s Beer and Cheese is the dive bar of UES brunch experiences. There’s lots of heavy food, bottomless Stumptown coffee, and a crowd of other people who are also trying to avoid being in brightly-lit public spaces. It’s usually busy, but it’s also better than most of the other restaurants on the Upper East Side that open at 11am on weekends.
Clay is sophisticated without feeling like it’s trying too hard, and it’s certainly not a place that screams “brunch.” For one thing, you can only get brunch here on Sundays from noon until 3:30pm, and there are no bottomless deals to speak of. Just laid-back service and a New American menu with really good pastas and entrees like duck confit.
You’re the friend who doesn’t like brunch food, but you still have to maintain your relationships. So when your monthly brunch duty comes around, tell everyone to meet at Saraghina. Your friends can order eggs benedict and French toast while you enjoy a meal for an adult who knows what time it is, like pizza. This is a charming neighborhood pizza place, not a brunch den of oppression.
Maybe you had one too many picklebacks last night and just the thought of noise and crowds is making you wish you could take something stronger than Aleve. If you find yourself in this situation, or you just want something besides an omelette or grain bowl, check out Davelle, a tiny Japanese spot on the LES with a very relaxed space. The pork curry is filling enough to help soak up your too-clear memories of last night, and the soup and salad that come with it will help balance out whatever you ate after leaving the bar.
Gotan is a coffee shop that happens to have great food and a lot of seating. There are also a few locations around the city, although the original is in Tribeca. You order at the counter, which is nice if you don’t want to make a lot of eye contact or talk too much, and you can get some eggs, oatmeal, or a bowl of fruit. Or, if you hate all morning-related foods, a sandwich.
House of Small Wonder is an easy spot to miss. It’s an unmarked space a couple blocks from the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, surrounded by restaurants full of people wearing Stan Smiths. When you realize this place isn’t a yoga studio and walk inside, you’ll find a cafe serving French and Japanese breakfast and lunch dishes like a croque madame and rotating sashimi bowls. There won’t be groups of people photographing their bacon Bloody Marys here, but you may feel the need to take a picture of the huge tree growing up through the floor in the middle of the space.
Viand Cafe is a great place for anyone who prefers their pancakes without complicating factors like ricotta or bee pollen. Like other old-school NYC diner establishments, they have a huge menu and always seem to be open. Unlike other old-school NYC establishments, they roast all of their turkey in-house. Get a turkey club.
If you need a quiet place to have brunch with your laptop, a friend, or a friend and their laptop, Sunrise/Sunset in Bushwick is a good option. It still has the kind of food that you’d find at “real” brunch spots (avocado toast, chilaquiles, a salmon tartine), but without the noise level or people using this meal as their form of group therapy.
There are plenty of large, busy places to get brunch in Chelsea, and this isn’t one of them. The Commons Chelsea is about the size of a currency exchange kiosk, and it’s a neighborhood place where you can hang out and eat an egg sandwich or a bagel when you don’t want to deal with a crowd. There’s also beer and wine, as well as a nice a little outdoor seating section in the summertime.
Cervo’s is a Portuguese restaurant on the Lower East Side from the same people behind Hart’s (one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants in Bed-Stuy). At brunch, they serve things like an omelette with trout roe and a fried shrimp sandwich. You can also get a half dozen oysters with a side of fries, which is maybe something you’re looking for if you refuse to eat pancakes or avocado toast. The space has a really long bar, so you can always just sit by yourself and drink some wine until brunch is over.
In Paris, you’ll find several hundred places similar to Cafe Henri. This is a very normal-looking neighborhood bistro in Long Island City, and it’s a pleasant place to hang out and drink a cappuccino while you eat a tartine or some eggs benedict. They serve the same menu all day every day, and, while the food isn’t going to blow your mind, you can rest assured that it won’t get too loud and you won’t see any tourists here.