New York has many fabulous restaurants, but, honestly, it also has some not-so-good ones, and at first glance, it's not always easy to tell the difference. You want those fantastic, giddy, transporting meals that you'll remember for years, not touristy overpriced places, of course. So, I'm excited to share our ten absolute favorite New York restaurants...
1. ’ino. This teeny Italian sandwich shop is magical. The delicious pressed panini combine bold meats and cheeses (my favorite is the cacciatorini, goat cheese and black olive pesto), and the ambiance is bustling and romantic. Honestly, it's the type of food that makes you say "Oh my goodness, this is so good" with every bite. It's the perfect cheap date spot, or place to meet a friend for a cozy dinner. (Insider tip: Stop by to have a glass of wine in the late afternoon; it's quieter then, and you can sit at the wooden bar, sip your wine and watch the light slant in through the windows.) Update: 'ino has closed! Heartbreak!
2. Hudson Clearwater. Just like the secret playground, Hudson Clearwater is a secret restaurant. You only discover it through word-of-mouth, since the restaurant itself looks like a boarded-up storefront. But if you walk around the corner and down the street, you'll discover an unmarked green door in a brick wall. Push open the door, walk through a lovely little garden and you'll find a beautiful hidden restaurant. The sparkling dining room and friendly staff welcomes you, and you can settle in for a perfect cocktail (the Hudson Mule has bison-grass vodka, ginger beer, lime and candied ginger) and rustic American food (like grilled hangar steak, followed by strawberry and blueberry shortcake).
3. Tartine. This postage-stamp-sized French restaurant on a tree-lined street in the West Village serves simple, inexpensive dishes, including the world's best spicy chicken and fries. You wait in line on the sidewalk for a table (which feels lovely on a breezy evening); and it's BYOB so bring along your favorite cheap wine. (Tip: After dinner, walk down the block to Magnolia Bakery and get a cupcake for dessert.)
4. Café Cluny might be my favorite restaurant in New York City. Alex and I had our very first date here, and now Toby comes along with us for breakfast. The cozy, romantic, laid-back atmosphere makes it the perfect neighborhood spot--we've been here 8 million times with friends and always have a great time. The food is a mix of French and American; try the corn-and-crab fritters and burger. (Bonus: They take reservations.)
5. Mary's Fish Camp. This perma-packed tiny seafood restaurant makes you feel like you've been whisked up to Maine. Just look at the menu and you'll understand why. Also, it has best lobster roll in the city. True story: One night, the woman next to us ordered a lobster roll for dinner--and another one for dessert!
6. Co.. Where to find the best pizza in New York is obviously a hot debate. My favorite pizza, hand downs, is Co. The secret is the crust, which is chewy, springy, thin and flavorful--honestly, you could just eat the crust and call it a day. And the toppings are clever and quirky, including spinach, hot dogs and zucchini blossoms. Delicious. (P.S. Keep your eye out for celebrities. We've spotted Michael Kors and Martha Stewart multiple times!)
7. Mermaid Inn. There's something special about the Mermaid Inn. I can never quite put my finger on it, but it has one of the coziest dining rooms in New York. As soon as you walk in, you feel the stress melt off, and you take a seat, order calamari and fish tacos, and reeeeeelax. Alex and I have had some of the loveliest dates here, and it's a great place for a group, too, since you can sit in their back room or fairy-light-covered garden. Bonus: Since they don't have a dessert menu, they bring everyone a espresso cup filled with chocolate pudding and one of those funny fortune-telling fish!
8. Hampton Chutney. A perfect little lunch spot when shopping in Soho and Nolita. They have spicy Indian dosas and masala potatoes, as well as mouthwatering sandwiches (my fave is the #21, with avocado, fresh mozzarella and tomato.) It's tiny, so you have to perch on bar stools or eat on the bench outside.
Lower East Side:
9. Schiller's Liquor Bar. This uber-hip French-American bistro nails all the satisfying dishes they serve (think: garlic shrimp, steak frites, mac n' cheese with bacon), and it's such a lively, bustling place that you feel like you're at a really fun party. The bathroom is a trip (I'll let you figure it out for yourself:) and the vibe is playful--for example, their wine list has three categories: cheap, decent and good. A really fun place for dinner or late-night drinks.
10. Frankies Spuntino. Alex and I live in Manhattan, but it's worth biking across the Brooklyn Bridge to eat dinner at Frankies Spuntino, the Italian restaurant in Carroll Gardens. The vibe feels cozy yet hip (the restaurant is owned by two cool guys both named Frank), and the food is sooooo delicious and not-too-expensive--try the meatballs and cavatelli with sausage and browned sage butter. (Tip: They have a gorgeous back garden, including a stable, where you can have weddings and parties.)
And, for special, splurgy occasions, my two favorite fancy places are:
Wallse (West Village) is Austrian and they serve the most amazing, surprising food; every bite is a taste explosion. The service is elegant and beautiful; the wines are crisp and dry, and you feel like you're on a hilltop in Austria. (Also, don't you love the giant portrait of the chef on the wall? Hilarious.) We went here (for the tasting menu!) the night we got engaged, and it was pitch-perfect. :)
Mario Batali's Babbo (Greenwich Village) serves rich Italian food (think: Chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu, and spaghettini with spicy budding chives and a one-pound lobster), but, if you're really hungry, go for the insanely delicious pasta tasting menu. Request a table in the beautiful upstairs dining room, order one of their not-too-expensive bottles of wine, and enjoy. (Tip: Call for a reservation way ahead of time; this place is definitely not a secret, ha!)
Whew! So I'd love to know: What are your favorite restaurants in New York? I would LOVE to hear. So many amazing places, too little time. :)
(Top image layout by HipHipGinGin for Cup of Jo; top image by Laura Ratliff. Restaurant photos by Laura Ratliff, Mucca Design, New York Magazine, Serious Eats, My Hotel Life, Immaculate Infatuation, Fork & Shaker, Town & Country Travel, Karma Free Cooking, Lovely Fashionista, the Trad, Dolce Loves and Joon Bug.)