About 3.5 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 in 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 take a look to refresh and update. These are not necessarily the trendiest establishments in NYC, BUT these spots are staples: ones I would recommend to people coming to New York for the first time, and ones I will continuously support and tell others to go to if they have lived here for years. New York would no longer be the same for me if I had lost them. I’ve vetted each and visited multiple times to verify consistency. My official list of where to eat in NYC.
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.
Added: 88 Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles and Dumplings, Boucherie, Ikinari Steak, Ichiran, Prince St. Pizza, Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
Removed: Ando, Delight 28, The Flame, Alan’s – The Flame and Alan’s have been removed simply because I don’t live in this area anymore and don’t consistently go. If I went back, I’m sure I would love it just the same. Every New Yorker has their go-to bodega and diner (at least, they should).
1. Ippudo Ramen
As evidenced by the long wait times, this is one of the TOP ramen spots in NYC and for good reason. Each ingredient is 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.
2. Totto Ramen
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 and feels. For example, this is the ramen I crave when I’m sick. Consistently good with almost consistently shorter/faster lines than Ippudo. Trust me and just get the Spicy Chicken Miso Paitan (or no spice if you don’t like that).
3. Izakaya Mew
This spot 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
These are 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 legit. 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.
5. Sushi Yasaka
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.
8. Fish Cheeks
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. Prepare to be blown away by the boldness of flavor at this high-quality, slightly upscale restaurant. The owners 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.
10. Ikinari Steak
Fast-casual, high-quality steak at a fraction of the price. This is a Japanese brand import that simply has some of the best value for price steak you can find anywhere in the city. I also love their Black Pepper Garlic Rice.
11. The Boil
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.
Some of the best dumplings in NYC, period. Order both the boiled and the fried and douse it in chili oil. I also like their hand-pulled noodles and if you’re with someone, order to share.
My favorite French restaurant in New York for its classic French ambience and superbly executed food. It’s a special occasion meal but worth the spend. They are known for their steak, so definitely order one of those, but don’t forget their other offerings either.
Highlight Dishes: French Onion Soup, Seared Scallops, Steak Frites, Monday Lobster Special
This Japanese ramen import may be triple the price in New York than in Japan (which is certainly saddening), but it is the best Tonkotsu Ramen and it is fully customizable. How can you not like a ramen that you were able to make taste exactly how you ordered for it to be?
16. The Smith
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 its own right and somewhere I go back to time and time again.
17. Jacob’s Pickles
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.
18. Flip Sigi
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 3 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
$2.50 Peanut Noodles and $2.50 Dumplings (for 6) or $3.50 (for 10) – need I say more? This place is pretty grungy, but it’s just so damn good.
20. Joe’s Pizza
Classic NY slice that no one does better. Period. Also, make sure you go to the Greenwich Village location for the OG experience.
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.
22. Osteria Morini
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 Momente 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.
24. Los Mariscos / Los Tacos No. 1
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.
25. Cull & Pistol
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.
26. Prince St. Pizza
A chewy yet light and crispy yet fluffy square slice with glistening and peperoni cups and creamy, cheese. There’s nothing not to love about Prince St. Pizza.
That perfectly thin and textured outer rice roll layer makes these the best in the game. You will inhale this and wish you ordered a 2nd
- Mifune: Had a wonderfully traditional and high-caliber Japanese meal here, but I only went once.
- Noodle Village: their soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are freaking excellent, but they are the only things I’ve ever ordered from here. I need to try their noodles and soups.
- 28. Levain Bakery: for the ultimate chocolate chip walnut cookie. I still love it here, and they are just as good as ever. Idk why it’s not up there actually. You know what: make it Number 28. This list just gets larger, but it’s my blog so I can do that I guess. 😉