Hi fam! About 2.5 years ago, I created a “NYC Essentials List” – the 20 places in New York City that I couldn’t possibly live without. And while I still hold the same sentiment for some of the restaurants I listed back at the end of 2015, I can’t help but recognize that I’ve now tried so much more and there are simply ones that must be added and ones that no longer make the cut. So yearly, I’m going to update this list of my essentials. This doesn’t mean I think they are the best of the best or the trendiest establishments in NYC.
These spots are my staples: ones I would recommend to First timers and locals. New York would no longer be the same for me if I had lost them. These places have changed me, make me realize why I love food so much, and I know once you try one of these spots, they will also change you. So here it goes:
(Click on the titles to see Instagram Posts on these spots!)
As evidenced by the long wait times, this is one of the TOP ramen spots in NYC, and for good reason. Each ingredient is so carefully prepared and combined with others to create a nearly flawless bowl. It’s refined without being lifeless or bland – the flavors are bold and comforting. Exactly what a bowl of ramen should be. Go to the westside location for shorter wait times.
- They also own the fast-casual Kuro Obi (in various NYC food markets), which is just as great
Another classic with a cult following, Totto is a close second when it comes to ramen. With a slightly more homey feel than Ippudo, this comes through in how the ramen tastes. Consistently good with almost consistently shorter/faster lines than Ippudo.
This spot, to me, is a classic to bring a group of visitors or friends for great ambience, cool NYC-basement vibes, and quality food at fantastic prices. I LOVE this place, and it reliably pulls through and proves why this Japanese/Korean Izakaya needs to be on this list
- Highlight dishes: MEW Special Roll, Omu Soba, Kakuni Pork Belly, Agedashi Tofu
2 small izakayas right next to each other on St. Mark’s Place, and almost identical in quality and taste. I was drunk my first time here (such a horrible mistake – sorry to my cousin and his girlfriend that had to take care of me), but trust me, I’ve been back plenty of times sober to tell you it’s a classic. It’s not the best Japanese food you’ll ever eat, but it does the trick, especially for late nights. Do yourself a favor and order the Chicken Skin well done/extra crispy
For quality and price, the $45 Omakase (12 Nigiri Sushi + 1 Handroll) is unbeatable. Make sure you eat this AT the sushi bar, it makes the whole experience better. I’d consistently choose this over the $100+ omakases in the city.
A speakeasy/loose-members-only club in NoHo, this Japanese-inspired restaurant proves time and time again why it’s phenomenal. The setting is cozy and intimate, they make some of the best cocktails in NYC, and their food is unique and playful while remaining comforting and delicious.
- Highlight Dishes: Mac & Cheese, Foie Gras Sushi, Foie Gras Soba, Pan Roasted Branzino, Southern Grilled Chicken
A Korean gastropub that takes Korean flavors to the next level – this spot is untraditional and trendy, yet doesn’t thrive off being so. The food is excellently executed and interesting compared to many of the other Korean options around the area.
There’s take out Thai, and then there’s Fish Cheeks. Unafraid to use spice, and lots of it, they take authentic home-cooking and elevate it with quality ingredients and trendy vibes. Prepared to be blown away by the boldness of flavor and this high-quality, slightly upscale restaurant. The owners here, at this family-owned spot, take their culture and food seriously, and it shows. It’s authentic (they swear off Pad Thai), it’s IG friendly, and it’s delicious.
Is it the best Chinese food you’ll ever have? Probably not. But if you want down-right comfort food in a real, gritty Chinatown setting with authentic Chinese flavors, come here. The guys here wear Hawaiian shirts, an oddity that makes this quality place even more charming.
Ever since Drake’s hit song, dim sum has been trending. But before that, Delight 28 has been hopping with locals and well frankly, lots of Asians, getting quality dim sum from the fast-moving carts. Be prepared to sit with people you don’t know and to point at and guess what you’re ordering if you’re not accustomed to it.
Expect to exclusively hear hip-hop and R&B as you wear plastic gloves and bibs to devour pounds of garlicky, lemony, and deliciously saucy seafood out of plastic bags. This seafood spot in Chinatown is no frills and finger-licking good. Literally come with a group and hound on all the goods. PRO TIP: Order vermicelli noodles to soak up that sauce.
I’m a huge believer in pretty much all things David Chang, because he hasn’t given me a reason not to be yet. But this remains my favorite out of all his different ventures. The flavors are distinctly Asian, yet have influences from everywhere, and the dishes are all high-quality and interesting. Plus, it’s right across their famous Milk Bar where, if you still have room, can grab some great dessert.
Another David Chang baby, this started as a delivery-only service, with the goal of providing the best quality delivery food you can eat. Now with an outpost in Union Square, Ando is a go-to for lunch. There is no specific theme, but they specialize in Sandwiches – fantastic ones at that.
Every New Yorker has their favorite deli/bodega. This one’s mine. Is it the best? Maybe not, but it is for me. I’ll always love their Bagel with Lox and Cream Cheese, and their $6.99 Salads with 5 Free Toppings. They also have some pretty bomb sandwiches too.
This was my college diner mostly because it’s open 24 hours, 7 days a week, and my friends and I would go after a long night out. Although that’s how it started out, I’ve grown to also go at regular times during the day. Their corned beef hash with scrambled eggs and fries is my JAM, and their mozzarella sticks are the best you’ll ever have. Is everything on the menu great? No. Is it overpriced diner food? Yes. Is it the best meal you’ll ever have? No. But it will be the best thing at 3AM every damn time.
Quintessentially New York, this New-American spot never lets me down. It’s an ideal place to bring visitors and a solid staple to rely on if that new, trendy place doesn’t work out. It’s great in it’s own right and somewhere I go back to time and time again.
A whole lotta Southern Comfort with a pinch of creativity and a dash of love, this is an UWS institution. The food is not only gluttonous, but it is extremely well-executed with precision and thoughtfulness. Chef Brown knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing it with finesse.
Say hello to iconic Filipino-Mexican taqueria that I love for its food and people. This came onto the scene as 2nd City only about 2 years ago, but now I can’t imagine nYC without it. Jordan Andino and team are consistently putting out fun, creative bites that keep me coming back
- Highlight Dishes: Sinigang Bowl, F.U.C. Me, Dan Dan Noodles
$2 Peanut Noodles and $2 Dumplings (for 6) or $3 (for 10) – need I say more? This place is pretty grungy, but it’s just so damn good.
Classic NY slice that no one does better. Period.
What’s not to love about Rubirosa? From their classic and creamy Vodka Pizza with a perfectly thin and crispy crust to their fantastic handmade pastas, this classic Italian spot is a must have.
Chef White takes Italian flavors and gives it an excellent upgrade and delivers really high-quality yet comforting Italian food. Focus on the appetizers and pastas, order a bunch, and share.
Chef Walter Manzke makes the best Italian sandwiches in the city. The truly superb ingredients, Walter’s technique for creating the perfect ratio of bread vs. filling, and creative combination of flavors and textures all come together to set this place apart from the rest.
Both of these taco spots are in Chelsea Market, and they are owned by the same people, and both are the best tacos you can get in New York. One is focused on seafood tacos while the other is more traditional, but you simply cannot go wrong by choosing either.
This is my favorite oyster happy hour deal anywhere because of 1) the amounts of different types of oysters you can order and 2) the quality and distinction between the copious options you can choose from. From 4-6 on weekdays, head to Cull&Pistol and start shucking. Their other happy hour options are great too.
- L’Artusi – I’m sure this place is still just as great as it was when I tried it, but I haven’t been in years and cannot personally vet it
- Blue Bottle Coffee – I still love Blue Bottle, but you can get it in almost every major city now
- San Marzano – Cheap, good quality Italian spot in the East Village that was great when I had it, but I need to go back and try it again
- Local 92 – another fantastic Mediterranean spot that I’ve only had once
- Blue Ribbon – their Oxtail Bone Marrow Fried Rice is still one of my favorite dishes, but you can get it at one of their many locations not in NYC.