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Want to have what they’re having? Head to Katz’s Delicatessen.
Andy Schwartz, Castle Rock Entertainment
With 24,000 places to eat in New York to choose from, a list recommending the “best” is going to be more or less those that are unique to the city and of a kind unlikely to be found in any other city. New York’s restaurants come in every size, style and price point, as well in every ethnic variety.
The city has more than one Chinatown and Little Italy, whole neighborhoods full of Greek, Albanian, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Korean restaurants, and you’ll find endless debates among New Yorkers in each borough as to who serves the best pizza, sushi, ramen and pastrami.
Add to this bounty the cityscape itself, with its skyscraper views, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and quaint old and newly gentrified neighborhoods, and eating choices are endless. Remember, too, it was New York that gave America bagels, negimaki, Eggs Benedict, lobster Newberg, clams Casino, vichyssoise, gyros, knishes, pasta primavera, lox, the Reuben sandwich, egg creams, the English muffin, chocolate fondue, frozen custard, Turkish Taffy, the Bloody Mary, the Manhattan, the Gibson and more.
(Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)Le Bernardin (151 West 51st Street | 212-554-1515)
It is usually futile to declare any one restaurant the best in a city as diverse as New York, but if you totaled up every accolade—including four stars from the Times and three Michelin stars—given to Le Bernardin over 30 years, it would be laps beyond every other.
There once was a Le Bernardin in Paris, but when Maguy Le Coze and her brother, the late chef Gilbert Le Coze, opened in New York in 1986, they closed the former to devote all their Gallic finesse to the latter. It’s one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city, which the very chic, very Parisian Maguy keeps refreshed, as does her partner-chef Eric Ripert, who has maintained Le Bernardin’s devotion to impeccable seafood. Each dish is enhanced, yet never drowned in or overpowered by ingredients.
Aldo Sohm’s wine list doesn’t have a single bottle that does not complement the menu. Lunch is priced $90—which would cost twice that in Paris—and at dinner $160, with an amazing range of dishes to choose from, like seafood carpaccio (created by Gilbert on opening) to seared langoustines with foie gras croutons and morels. Everything from bread and rolls to end-of-the-evening chocolates are as delicious as any anywhere.
There is also a separate lounge menu, which, for once, deserved to be called soigné. If you’re a guest at the Michelangelo Hotel, the London NYC or need to escape the madness of Midtown Manhattan—reservations at Le Bernardin should be on your to-do list.
The 21 Club in Midtown Manhattan is a former prohibition-era speakeasy, features a colorful collection of small painted cast iron lawn jockey statues which adorn the balcony above the entrance. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Getty Images21 Club (21 West 52nd Street | 212-582-7200)
No restaurant has a more raffish history than The 21 Club (which regulars call “the numbers”), dating back to the Prohibition era as a speakeasy, then as the postwar watering hole for everyone from Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles to Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall, and every president since Eisenhower. Movies like Sweet Smell of Success and Wall Street used scenes at 21 to immediately signal how much power the characters had in New York. With its main dining room hung with corporate toys and John McEnroe’s tennis racket, its ancient bar, its magnificent collection of graphic artwork and a secret wine vault behind a six-ton concrete door (ask for a peek), 21 has more stories than the Arabian Nights.
Once an intimidating place for newcomers, the greeting has never been more egalitarian, the American food never better (including the famous “21 burger”) and the wine list has bottles going back to the Nixon era (his bottles are still down there).
You’ll know 21 when you see it. It’s the building with two-dozen jockey statues arrayed along the terrace and shiny wrought iron doors beneath them.
Il GattopardoIl Gattopardo (13-15 West 54th Street | 212-246-0412)
It’s said that New York has more Italian restaurants than Florence, Italy, and in addition, more regional types. Il Gattorpardo (the Leopard) is a stylish three-story restaurant in a former Beaux Arts Nelson Rockefeller townhouse where owner, Sicilian-born Gianfranco Sorrentino and his wife Paola, together with Naples-born chef Vito Gnazzo offer a mix of the most refined cucina all’italiana. It includes a crudo of branzino and a timbalo of wild mushrooms and potatoes, as well as luscious pastas ranging from maccaroni with a Genovese sauce to lasagna di carnevale with mini meatballs, ricotta and smoked mozzarella.
The main dining room is minimally decorated, but the lighting is perfect, the ambience is warm and the welcome is effusive but never indulgent. Celebrities like Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart know they won’t find people here asking for autographs. The wine list is more than 250 labels strong. Italian restaurants of this style are rare even in New York, and, yes, even in Florence.
Porter HousePorter House Bar Grill (10 Columbus Circle | 212-823-9500)
New York has a slew of top-quality indigenous steakhouses, from the legendary Peter Luger in Brooklyn to the Palm and Smith Wollensky. Needing to compete in such a high-end market, they all choose, age and serve the best USDA Prime to be found. But only Porter House has such a spectacular view of Columbus Circle and Central Park. Set in the Time Warner Center, Porter House is a swank, enjoyably sophisticated steakhouse where women feel just as well taken care of as men, and chef-managing partner Michael Lomonaco is always there to make sure every dish comes out perfectly cooked (just don’t ask for well-done). If you plan to stay at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental, see a show at Lincoln Center or plan to stroll the Central Park West area, make sure to book a table. The bar is very popular from 5:30 p.m. on, the cocktails generous and lunch is mostly business. At dinner, the spacious room with its leather banquettes is both handsome and softly contoured for maximum views of the panorama.
Start off with jumbo lump crabcakes or a roasted marrow bone, then choose among the namesake porterhouse or New York strip or the great prime rib. They do serve wagyu beef, but who ne such excess when the USDA Prime on the menu is so magnificent.
Mouthwatering pastrami from Katz’s deli
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYCWFFKatz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston Street | 212-254-2246)
Sadly, most of New York’s old-fashioned Jewish delis—is there really any other kind?—are now gone, but Katz’s, has always had the best, and it is certainly the one with the most history, opened in 1888, on Houston Street. It’s as packed with as many locals as international tourists who come for the best pastrami and corned beef, cured for 30 days and still sliced by hand.
The never-changing premises have appeared in a slew of movies, not least the hilarious scene in When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm and elicits a woman’s response to her waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.” You’ll also notice the classic World War II neon sign, “Send a Salami to your boy in the Army.”
Katz’s is always busy, and there is a ritual: You order from the counterman, who will ask you if you want your meat fat or lean and then will punch your ticket, you move along to get potatoes and drinks, more punches, then you sit down, eat and pay the cashier as you leave. Cash only (they have an ATM machine in the back). The sandwiches are so enormous you’ll take a lot home. The drink of choice here is Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray’s Soda, which is definitely an acquired taste.
The Modern NYCThe Modern (9 West 53rd Street | 212-333-1220)
No city has anything resembling the richness of holdings as the Museum of Modern Art, with its stunning Sculpture Garden beyond a glass wall. So any restaurant emplaced in this awe-inspiring institution had better fit impeccably into the character and style of the place. As does The Modern, as wonderful in sunlight as in starlight, right next to the Garden. The restaurant was designed by Bentel Bentel (the same architects behind Le Bernardin).
The food, by Chef Abram Bissell, in the main dining room is innovative and contemporary, the service faultlessly civil. Dinner is a six-course extravaganza at $188, with wine pairings $168 additional.
Adjacent is the more casual Bar Room, which is a happy choice for lunch or before or after a visit to the Museum. Wine director Courtney Wieland is one of the most respected in the business and stocks a list of daunting depth and breadth. If you dine at The Modern, you will know you have dined at the center of all that makes New York the world’s cultural capital.
Just think of it: the chutzpah of opening in 1913 as a vast 440-seat seafood restaurant in the belly of New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Its gorgeous arched-tiled ceiling was done by Rafael Guastavino, who also did Ellis Island, and there’s a curving counter and window service for the wonderful oyster roasts.
Since the kitchen has such clout in the seafood market, whatever’s best and freshest that morning is added to the menu in season—20 varieties of oysters, soft-shell crabs, shad roe, bay scallops, abalone—along with daily specials. The wine list, properly geared to whites, is very carefully chosen to pair with the food here. The waiters can be on the brusque but not rude side of hospitality, but they’ll ask the kitchen to make anything you want if they have it.
There’s always a mad rush here, with commuters dashing for trains, hungry business people from the surrounding area, tourists, all converging here before lunch to get a table position. Their orders continue into the evening hours as the noise bounces off the tiles and the trains rumble above and below them.
Delmonico’s SteakhouseDelmonico’s (56 Beaver Street | 212-509-1144)
Well, this is where it all began: Delmonico’s was the first full-service restaurant in America, opened in the Wall Street area in 1827 by a Swiss sea captain and in business ever since. It was quite a novelty back in the day. Guests were seated at their own table, received a menu, with French wines, paid only for what they ordered and entered and exited through a revolving door. The current location, its second, opened ten years later and has marble columns, expanses of mahogany, tiled floors and evocative murals. If you’re staying at the nearby Four Seasons or the Hotel Andaz Wall Street, make sure to stop by Delmonico’s for your favorite cut.
At the turn of the century “Del’s,” as it was called back in the day, broke the barrier to women dining without men in a restaurant. And from one of its dining rooms the first transatlantic cablegram was sent by Samuel F. B. Morse. Charles Dickens had one of the few meals he ever enjoyed in America in Delmonico’s; and Mark Twain was feted here.
Today Delmonico’s retains remnants of every era since it opened, and it’s a big place with a big fat welcome for everybody. There’s a “Taste of the Classics” at lunch for $45, a pretty extensive Grill Bar Menu, and the main dining room menu that features a lavish chilled seafood “chateau,” the signature Delmonico steak, macaroni and cheese stuffed with King crab, and gargantuan desserts, with a New York style cheesecake and festive baked Alaska.
The River Cafe in Brooklyn overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River and lower Manhattan.
mark peterson/Corbis via Getty ImagesRiver Café (1 Water Street | 718- 522-5200)
Think of any Woody Allen movie about New York and chances are the opening or middle or ending is a shot from under the Brooklyn Bridge looking at the skyline of Manhattan. Cue “Rhapsody in Blue.” And right there, on a moored dock, with the grand, lighted expanse arching its way above you, you’ll find the beloved River Café, opened by Buzzy O’Keeffe in 1977. It’s long been considered one of the city’s most romantic dining areas, not just for its glass-walled view of the East River and cityscape but for its attention to detail, flowers, table settings, music, wine list and to special celebratory evenings. Just about every night one or more men will pop the question while couples toast their anniversaries, and children take their mothers and fathers out for their special days.
Breakfast and brunch are as popular as lunch and dinner here, while dinner is still in the cast of what was once called “New American Cuisine,” which River Café helped pioneer. So expect dishes on Chef Brad Steelman’s $145 menu like roast rabbit with 21-layer rabbit bolognese, Amish chicken with chestnuts and Vidalia onion pasta, and butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster with Chardonnay sauce. The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is a nearby hotel that, like the restaurant, boasts waterfront views.
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Mario’s Arthur Ave
Mario’s Facebook PageMario’s (2342 Arthur Avenue | 718-584-1188)
You can fuggedabout eating in downtown Manhattan’s Little Italy, which is now largely devoid of Italian residents and whose restaurants operate as tourist traps. The real Little Italy is up in the Bronx, less than half a mile from the New York Botanical Gardens and Bronx Zoo and 4 miles from Yankee Stadium. (If if goes into extra-extra innings and you’re looking for a hotel in the middle of it all, check out the Residence Inn.) In the Belmont section of Fordham, better known as Arthur Avenue after its main street, you’ll see a line of Italian-American restaurants, bakeries and markets. On the corner of 187th Street, Dion and the Belmonts crafted the doo-wop sound, and (though not filmed here) the neighborhood was the backdrop for the Robert DeNiro movie A Bronx Tale.
Mario’s is the oldest restaurant on the block, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the Miglucci family changes nothing if it isn’t going to be better. They still serve one of the best pizzas in New York, and their pastas, chicken parmigiana and linguine with clam sauce are nonpareil. Generations have celebrated birthdays, baptisms and the signing of a new Yankee pitcher, and the walls are lined with photographs of everyone who ate here, from Muhammad Ali to Clint Eastwood. And no one ever left hungry.