The Classic New York City Guide
Laced with history and patina, there’s good reason that New York City is often cited as America’s crowning jewel. Here, some of its most iconic spots.
Aquagrill210 Spring St., Soho | 212.274.0505
While the food here is spectacular and quite elegant, Aquagrill still, after all these years, manages to feel like a comfy neighborhood spot. Start with a martini at the bar, where you can watch your oysters (of which there are many, many varieties) being shucked. And then tuck in for dinner, where delicious, inventive seafood is paired with a diverse selection of wines.
Barney Greengrass541 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side | 212.724.4707
This old-school delicatessen has been around for over 100 years and carries every conceivable kind of smoked fish. It's a fun stop even just to see the hand-painted 1950’s sign outside, and the vintage Americana interiors it has carefully stewarded through the decades. Greengrass is also a restaurant that’s particularly great for breakfast—there are plenty of egg and bagel options to accompany your choice of smoked fish. And, in keeping with tradition, portions are huge, so go hungry.
Bemelmans BarThe Carlysle Hotel, 35 E. 76th St., Upper East Side | 212.744.1600
This is a seriously charming, truly legendary New Yorker's bar: For starters, the clubby space is covered in Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans's whimsical murals—a tribute to the city's quirky inhabitants—and to top it off, you might just run into Woody Allen playing the clarinet (his band plays Monday nights).
Brooklyn Diner155 W. 43rd St., Times Square | 212.265.5400
Considering the neon-covered exterior and old-school name, the atmosphere inside Brooklyn Diner is surprisingly fancy—after all, it's helmed by the award-winning Chef de Oliveira. That said, classic meals are definitely the standouts: The chicken soup, macaroni & cheese, and giant lunch salads are reliably great, and you’ll have to arrive early in the day if you want to have the chicken pot pie (they almost always run out). Expect a short wait if you forget to make a reservation. There are two locations in Midtown, on 57th and 43rd.
Daniel60 E. 65th St., Upper East Side | 212.288.0033
It doesn't get much better than Daniel when it comes to haute cuisine (and destinations for special occasions). From the exceptional French prix-fixe menu to the flawless service and elegant jacket-only dining room, it's a one-of-a-kind experience. For a slightly more casual (and reasonably priced) a la carte dining experience, head to the lounge. And for a special event, book their private Bellecour Room, which has windows facing 65th Street—a rarity for event rooms in the city.
Eleven Madison Park11 Madison Ave., Flatiron | 212.889.0905
A meal here is a total treat. This Michelin-starred, Art Deco-esque restaurant is also an investment, both in time and money. But it’s absolutely worth it, as the kitchen, which is now under the direction of chef Daniel Humm, sends forth molecular gastronomy-inflected dishes that are pristine and precise. On the tasting menu, you’ll choose the main ingredient—the rest is up to the kitchen, meaning that each dish is a wonderful surprise.
Elio’s1621 2nd Ave., Upper East Side | 212.772.2242
The food is classic Italian by way of New York—but it’s the beautiful presentation and cozy uptown vibe that make this spot so special. It’s a siren song for some of the city’s most interesting personalities, like Joan Didion and Jerry Seinfeld.
Freds at Barneys660 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.833.2200
Located on the top floor of Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship, Fred’s is convenient for any mid-shopping pit-stop, but it’s also a good restaurant in and of itself. The menu is full of classic American comfort foods, from chicken soup, to turkey clubs, and large chopped salads.
Gramercy Tavern42 E. 20th St., Gramercy Park | 212.477.0777
For over 20 years, this venerable Danny Meyer restaurant has been continually packed, thanks to the delicious, seasonal, and local American cuisine, a movement that’s currently stewarded by chef Michael Anthony, of Blue Hill fame. The woodsy dining room, complete with Robert Kushner’s vegetable mural, is so comforting. Their private room is a great classic spot for a private event.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & RestaurantGrand Central Terminal, 89 E. 42nd St., Midtown East | 212.490.6650
This NYC institution opened on the lowest level of Grand Central in 1913, the same year the station was built. Over the years it lost a lot of its luster due to poor management, until it got a desperately-needed facelift in 1974. Since then, it's consistently topped the list of the city's best seafood spots—as it's name suggests, the oysters are particularly epic.
J.G. Melon1291 3rd Ave., Upper East Side | 212.744.0585
Kitschy, often crowded, and rowdy on any night of the week, this 1970s bar makes a great, laid-back stop in the otherwise pretty upscale Upper East Side. We go for their excellent Bloody Mary’s and their famous, oft-lauded burgers served from lunch until late into the night. (There's now a second location in Greenwich Village.)
Katz’s Deli205 E Houston St., Lower East Side | 212.254.2246
A legendary Jewish deli, Katz’s originally opened in 1888 under a different name, and across the street from its current location on Houston and Ludlow. It was an institution long before the iconic orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, although it didn’t hurt. Most people come for either the hot pastrami or corned beef sandwich, or the Reuben version, which adds Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Katz’s credits its slow curing method, which can last up to a month, for the meat’s superior taste. (You’ll also find matzo ball soup on the menu, along with everything else you’d expect/want, as well as less traditional offerings for a Jewish deli, like NY-style cheesecake.) For those outside of the city, note that Katz’s ships across the States.
Keen’s Steakhouse72 W. 36th St., Times Square | 212.947.3636
Keen’s is awfully old-school (est. 1885), and that actually makes it a nice pick for after-work drinks, as it's blessedly absent of any sort of scene. Like any respectable steakhouse, they’ve got a miles-long Scotch menu. The enormous muttonchops are the famous, must-order menu item.
La Grenouille3 E. 52nd St., Midtown | 212.752.1495
Serving haute cuisine since 1962, this place is wonderfully old school (with the buttoned-up crowd to match). The food is decadent and indulgent as are the floral arrangements, for which they’re known. Incidentally, it's not surprising that it's an excellent choice for a fancy private event. For a relative bargain, try their $38 prix fixe lunch.
Le Bernardin155 W. 51st St., Midtown | 212.554.1515
Le Bernardin opened in 1986 after the success of the storied Parisian original. Helmed by Chef Eric Ripert, this swanky restaurant continues to deliver some of the finest, freshest fish in the city, served with delicate yet complicated sauces that make seafood incredibly exciting. The menu is prix fixe only (starting at $150) and organized by preparation (almost raw, barely touched, lightly cooked, etc.). The private room here is upstairs and has a separate entrance. Interior Photo: Daniel Krieger
Maialino2 Lexington Ave., Gramercy | 212.777.2410
Maialino is NYC restauranteur Danny Meyer's trattoria outpost at Gramercy Park Hotel. The kitchen is helmed by Nick Anderer, who previously had stints at kitchens in Rome and Milan and Italian ones Stateside, like Mario Batali's Babbo. (Anderer is also still a big part of the pizza joint, Marta, too.) The dinner menu is very well done, and they have a nice, separate space for private parties. But less expected is that this is also an ideal spot to grab a cup of coffee or stay and sit for a bit if you find yourself in Gramercy during the afternoon.
Michael’s24 W. 55th St., Midtown | 212.767.0555
At both of Michael McCarty’s restaurants—in Santa Monica and New York—the givens are pretty much the same: Light French seasonal cuisine that’s beautifully presented in a sleek dining room full of splashy flower arrangements and contemporary art. All this makes for a special meal, but it’s the crowd Michael’s draws that rounds out the whole experience. It’s a slice of 90’s New York, with old-school editors, agents, and big names in the business world filling its tables.
Milos125 W. 55th St., Midtown | 212.245.7400
This Greek seafood mecca launched the whole fish trend in NYC, and still does it to perfection. This, paired with delicious Greek mezze like grilled octopus, fried zuchinni, fresh salads, dips, and more in a beautiful whitewashed dining room with some of the highest ceilings in the city, is as close as you’ll get to the islands. The tuna burger with lightly fried zucchini sticks at lunch is pretty insane. Plus, their private room upstairs is perfect for an intimate dinner with a killer menu.
Norma’sLe Parker Meridien New York, 119 W. 56th St., Midtown | 212.708.7460
This beloved restaurant in The Parker Meridien does breakfast and brunch insanely well, offering an encyclopedia's worth of offerings from potato latkes to perfectly fluffy pancakes. It's a big hit with kids.
P.J. Clarke’sBrookfield Place, 250 Vesey St., Financial District | 212.285.1500
The P.J. Clarke’s on 55th Street—it’s been there since the 1880’s—is one of those classic NYC institutions where everyone who grew up on their burgers can think of nothing better. That sensibility translates to the downtown outpost, which seems to play particularly well with bankers who are thrilled to have a burger and a beer to wrap up the day. The Lincoln Square location is a hit with kids walking home from Central Park.
Per Se10 Columbus Circle, Upper West Side | 212.823.9335
Napa's French Laundry may have put Thomas Keller on the map, but Per Se, which is perched above Central Park, confirms his legendary status. Chef Eli Kaimeh's menu changes daily, and the meal itself can last for hours as you advance from seasonal course to course, but it's all superb. Having one of the best meals in New York City comes at a price, though, as the set dinner menu starts at $325 (you can now order á la carte). The private room also happens to have one of the best views in town.
Peter Luger178 Broadway, Williamsburg | 718.387.7400
For many years—well before Williamsburg was hip—New Yorkers flocked to this 100-year-old steakhouse for its famously perfect cuts of meat, which, along with the excellent service, have earned it a Michelin star. The space is old-school, with dark wood paneled walls and bentwood chairs. Many come just for the atmosphere and the “Luger-Burger,” which is one of the best in the city—it also happens to be a steal at lunch. Famously, they don't take credit cards (though they do accept debit).
Raoul’s180 Prince St., Soho | 212.966.3518
Run by the Raoul brothers and their family, and open in Soho since before the neighborhood scrubbed itself clean, patrons return again and again for the bistro fare, and the charming, authentically eccentric vibe. It genuinely feels like a secluded little Parisian nook, where you can find great French staples and a late night scene at the bar.
Sarabeth’s1295 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.410.7335
Sarabeth’s started out as a bakery in Chelsea Market in the 80s, where owner Sarabeth Levine perfected cookies, scones, and cakes (with unabashed amounts of sugar, flour, and butter). After she became legendary, she opened Sarabeth’s and basically launched the craze that is weekend Brunch. Years later, it’s still hard to get a breakfast reservation at any of her roomy, all-American, restaurants, but it’s so worth it for luscious pancakes and french toast, not to mention ideal omelettes. There are additional locations in the Upper West Side, Midtown, Gramercy, and Tribeca.
Sasabune401 E. 73rd St., Upper East Side | 212.249.8583
Inspired by the LA original of the same name, this is a “trust me” sushi spot, which means you’re at the mercy of Chef Takahashi and his team behind the bar. The barely seasoned omakase they make consists of incredibly fresh fish—sourced at the fish market early each morning—served on warm, perfectly moist rice. It’s a tiny, no-frills nook, and the best seats in the house are at the bar.
The 21 Club21 W. 52nd St., Midtown | 212.582.7200
While there are several dining areas at the 21 Club, the most energetic by far is the Bar Room, where the ceiling is famously covered in toys donated by the club's famous regulars (they've hosted every president since FDR). But even in the bar, men have to comply with the dress code, which was only recently adjusted to allow men without neckties at lunch—you'll still need a jacket any time of day. The menu is classically American (the burger is actually really good), but it's much more about the atmosphere than the food.