New York City is a cultural melting pot, and many of those cultures are represented somewhere in the city’s 25,000-plus restaurants. Given this, it’s little surprise that the Big Apple is one of the best food cities in the U.S. and in the world.
While there are dozens of decades- and even century-old mainstays in New York City, the metropolis is also teeming with new restaurants, and these kitchens are making waves in their own way, be it in the form of a Michelin star, an innovative chef, or an eclectic menu. With so many choices, it’s hard to decide where to go for breakfast or a midnight snack or any meal in between. So with the help of players in New York’s culinary scene and travel experts, we rounded up 22 famous New York City restaurants that both locals and visitors should have on their lists, plus what to order at each one. We’ve also included a handful of lesser-known, chef-approved picks throughout all five boroughs.
“The Odeon in Tribeca is a quintessential NYC restaurant,” says Caroline Schiff, executive pastry chef at Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn. Schiff, who is also a member of the Food & Wine Best New Chef Class of 2022 — as well as a James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist — tells Travel + Leisure, “You just feel fabulous sitting at the Odeon; perched at the bar enjoying an order of profiteroles blanketed in glossy chocolate sauce is my idea of heaven.” To beat the crowds, Schiff recommends ducking in for a weekday lunch, which “feels particularly luxurious.”
Must order: Steak tartare
Founded in 1904, Ferdinando’s Focacceria is “about as close to old Sicily as you can get before hopping on a plane,” says Schiff. The low-key Cobble Hill haunt is the oldest Sicilian restaurant in the city, and folks flock here from all over to feast on classics like rice balls and vastedda, or Sicilian-style sandwiches. Per Schiff, “The panelle are so delicious and not to be missed — crispy chickpea fritters, hot out of the oil, with the milkiest ricotta around.”
Must order: Panelle
“I love The Grill because it brings you back to what it was like eating in New York City in the ‘60s, with big band music playing while your captain flambés a baked Alaska tableside,” says Chris Caliso, executive chef at Rosemary’s West Village. A few of his favorite must-have menu items at this Midtown Manhattan spot include caviar served with “a plethora of accouterments, like Jidori egg and small potato pancakes,” plus littleneck crabs, avocado crab Louis, and steak tartare.
Must order: New York strip
Those craving upscale French fare in the heart of The Big Apple need not look further than this haute eatery. Helmed by chef Daniel Rose, “Le Coucou is a great place to celebrate a special occasion, because the atmosphere and service do not miss,” says Caliso. “My favorite dish there is sweetbreads with maitake mushrooms — such a rich and satisfying dish that you would probably find in France.”
Must order: Gratin de fruits de mer au Champagne (sweet shrimp, urchin, mussels and lobster, Champagne sabayon)
Wu’s Wonton King
According to Caliso, this BYOB Chinese eatery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood is especially popular amongst people in the restaurant industry. Caliso-approved picks include the roast suckling pig, the razor clams with black bean sauce, or the wonton soup. “Its called Wonton King for a reason,” he says.
Must order: Roast suckling pig
JG Melon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side offers a delicious taste of old-school New York. Open since 1972, the cash-only tavern serves classic cheeseburgers that Caliso describes as “simple, straightforward, and always solid.” His other tips? “Put on your favorite song at the jukebox, order a cheeseburger, a side of cottage fries, and a bloody bull or martini.”
Must order: Cheeseburger and cottage fries
For prime people-watching opportunities paired with mouthwatering cuisine, Chef TJ Steele, owner of Brooklyn’s Michelin-starred Claro restaurant, recommends Balthazar. Set in SoHo, this swanky eatery is a favorite amongst trend-forward travelers and locals, including many a celebrity. “I love sitting at the bar and having a martini, steak tartare, and fries,” Steele tells T+L.
Must order: Steak frites
Russ & Daughters Cafe
This family-owned, New York City establishment has been serving up traditional Jewish comfort food for over a century. While there are now four locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, we recommend visiting the original one on Houston Street in the Lower East Side. When Steele’s here, he orders an Aquavit Bloody Mary with a platter of assorted fish and spreads. “While [the shop is] obviously known for bagels, I am gluten-free, and they are always very accommodating,” he adds.
Must order: Classic bagel sandwich with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel or bialy
“When I hear ‘famous restaurant in New York,’ without fail, I think Rao’s,” says Fora travel advisor Karen Hart. “There is truly nowhere as cozy and as classic feeling.” Snagging a reservation at this ten-table haunt is next to impossible; visitors should attempt to book a table six or more months out to increase their chances. However, if you’re a local, Hart recommends trying to get a spot last minute. “That’s what works for me,” she says.
Must order: Lasagna
Dating back to the ‘80s, “Indochine is an iconic cornerstone of the New York City dining scene,” says Fora travel advisor Julia Flood, who notes that the restaurant was once “the stomping grounds of Warhol and Basquiat.” According to the travel pro, this restaurant is not only the “epitome of timeless New York cool,” it serves some seriously delicious food, too. “Don’t skip the fried spring rolls or the gorgeous cocktail menu.”
Must order: Fried spring rolls
New York is renowned for its pizza, and according to Fora travel advisor Michelle Zelena, Rubirosa serves some of the best — and most Instagrammable — in the city. (The tie dye pizza, which features vodka sauce, tomato sauce, pesto, and fresh mozzarella, is just as photogenic as it is delicious). Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood, the Italian eatery has a quaint ambiance that makes it “perfect for date night or a small group of friends.” The shop just began taking a limited number of reservations for parties up to seven; however, if you can’t seem to snag one, consider popping in right when they open. Alternatively, put your name down and stroll around the area before returning a few hours later for your meal.
Must order: Tie dye pizza
You may recognize this traditional Jewish deli from “When Harry Met Sally” and the very famous “I’ll-have-what-she’s-having” scene. This nostalgia-inducing, old-school deli is renowned for its thick-cut pastrami and corned beef, best enjoyed piled high on rye. Place your order at the counter before sitting down to dig into the deliciousness. And don’t forget to try one of the crunchy pickles, which come in half- and full-sour options.
Must order: Katz’s pastrami sandwich
This iconic NYC steakhouse has “the atmosphere of old school New York,” says Caliso. Its legendary pipe display helps — in fact, Keens has the largest collection of churchwarden tobacco pipes in the world. Prepare to drool over the dry-aged porterhouse steaks, which, per the chef, “come sizzling to the table with melted butter.” Caliso also recommends ordering the thick-cut smoked bacon to start, as well as a side of creamed spinach.
Must order: Prime porterhouse for two
For some of the best Italian eats in the city, look no further than Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Mario’s has been a mainstay here since its 1919 debut. Owned and operated by the same family for five generations and counting, the restaurant is beloved today for delicious dishes like stuffed artichokes, homemade gnocchi, Margherita pizza, sausage and peppers, and heaping portions of chicken and eggplant parmigiana. Entering the restaurant, with its long banquette tables, white tablecloths, and dim lighting, feels like a glorious step back in time.
Must order: Chicken Francese
Helmed by chef Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin is one of just a handful of New York City restaurants to receive three Michelin stars. Also a James Beard Award-winning establishment, Le Bernardin is conveniently located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and is a must-visit for any culinary connoisseur. Its seafood-forward menu features everything from charred octopus and crispy black sea bass to poached lobster. The multi-course chef’s tasting menu is the true star of the show here, and there’s even a vegetarian option.
Must order: Tuna carpaccio (layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, toasted baguette, chives)
Diners feast on Shanghainese cuisine at this Chinatown hotspot. The expansive menu includes dozens of time-honored classics like Kung Pao chicken, soup dumplings, crispy shredded beef, lo mein, and whole Peking duck. There’s also braised sea cucumber, smoked fish noodle soup, and fish head casserole.
Must order: Soup dumplings
Expect authentic Southern Indian cuisine at Semma in the West Village. The Michelin-starred restaurant serves flavorful dishes like paniyaram (a rice and lentil dumpling), dosas, and banana leaf-wrapped whole sea bass (meen pollichathu) in a colorful and stylish setting. Wash down your meal with a signature cocktail or mocktail.
Must order: Gunpowder dosa (rice and lentil crepe, potato masala, sambar)
Union Square Cafe
The first restaurant from restauranteur Danny Meyer, Union Square Cafe serves elevated American fare — or comfort food with a slightly fancy twist — in a casual setting. Tuck into appetizers like caviar tater tots and mains like roasted duck while sipping cheeky drinks; options include the “dirty appletini” and the “gin and green juice.” The eatery’s bustling ambiance is a bonus.
Must order: USC Seafood Platter (Island Creek oysters, shrimp cocktail, daily crudo)
Head straight to Junior’s for classic diner fare plus a selection of incredible cheesecakes. While there are two locations in Manhattan, consider trekking to the original Brooklyn diner on Flatbush Avenue for its old-school retro vibes. The menu truly offers something for everyone, be it disco fries and deli sandwiches or steaks or seafood entrees. And since the place is famous for its New York-style cheesecakes, you’ll definitely want to save room for dessert.
Must order: Plain cheesecake
What’s a trip to New York City without at least one hot dog? The original Nathan’s Famous location in Coney Island — which dates back more than 100 years — is arguably the best place to have one. Don’t forget to snap a photo of your beef frank or corn dog below the trademark signage.
Must order: Hot dog with a side of plain or cheese crinkle-cut fries
Next time you find yourself on Staten Island, be sure to dine at Enoteca Maria, where the kitchen is run by grandmas from all over the world — Japan, Italy, Argentina, Hong Kong, you name it. The menu is ever-changing depending on “Nonnas Calendar.” No matter who’s cooking, you can expect fresh, flavorful, and made-from-scratch fare prepared with lots of love.
SriPraPhai is “an all-time favorite,” says Steele. Set in Woodside, Queens, “the backyard is charming, the southern-style Thai food is crazy spicy, and they have terrific vegetarian options.” Steele’s menu picks include the fried watercress salad and the spicy tom-zap soup made with beef, tripe, and liver. “Get sauteed pork with long beans and a whole fish to finish.”
Must order: Tom-zap soup