To write a list about the ten best restaurants in New York City is to call upon yourself a certain sense of doom and gloom. For one, there are so many to wade through, and then to choose from - think for a moment of every small patisserie hidden down an alleyway to the sprawling dining rooms that stand guard over Central Park. And then there's the personal opinion of every New Yorker and visitor - each with their own favorite fare and neighborhood gem.
Now that we've all agreed it's fully impossible to write a list of the ten best restaurants in New York City, let's get down to business presenting you with a list of contenders for best restaurant. By no means is this list comprehensive, but it does offer a glimpse into New York's culinary greatness. From obvious front runners like Eleven Madison Park and Jean-Georges, to rough-and-tumble shops packed with character like Black Tree, we're willing to bet that these restaurants will leave you supremely satisfied no matter their price point, location or crowd.
Below, we take a look at ten of the best New York City restaurants and break down exactly why you should add them to your list of musts on your visit to the Big Apple.
Unless it's freakishly low, or ridiculously lofty, a restaurant's ceiling probably isn't the first thing that draws your attention. At Keen's, it'll be all you can look at - that is, until they bring your meal. Keen's Steakhouse - established in 1885 - is one of New York's oldest and most revered eateries. It also happens to have the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world literally hanging from its rafters. The tradition stems from the days when travelers left their delicate pipes at their favorite inns until they returned. Today, Keen's is well known for its mutton chop - a deep cut of meat so succulent you'll wonder why its popularity ever waned. (212-947-3636)
Usually prix-fixe dinners can be a tad annoying, if for no other reason than their exorbitant costs. But at Contra in the Lower East Side, the prix-fixe is a welcomed surprise: a seasonally-focused, 5-course menu for just $55. An unassuming exterior and quiet interior make room for the food to shine, which it does on nearly every iteration of the menu that's been rolled out since Contra opened up shop in 2013. The beauty of Contra lies in the notion that it's possible to create beautifully elaborate and innovative meals at a fraction of the cost without losing any clarity, vision or brilliance. (212-466-4633)
Tucked at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets in the West Village, this small eatery is the perfect place for a romantic date night rendezvous. Serving up winning Mediterranean fare, The Little Owl utilizes seasonal ingredients to enhance its menu, which features fresh fish, hearty meats and other flavorful concoctions, like the mouth-watering ricotta cavatelli. Diners enjoy watching the activity street-side via floor to ceiling windows, while stealing peeks into the open kitchen. If you're visiting with 4 people, opt to sit at the chef's favorite table (hint: it's also the bar), and keep in mind that if you're planning to dine here with a party larger than 2, reservations are required. (212-741-4695)
Helmed by two former Eleven Madison Park alums, Betony earned its Michelin star in 2015. But lest you think that the restaurant caters to the corporate suit environment of its Midtown neighborhood, you'll be pleased to know that the atmosphere at Betony is anything but. Warm and welcoming with Goldilocks-esque portions (not too small, or too large), cuisine is consistently delicious, never fussy and appropriately avante-garde. Alongside the food, you'll find creative cocktails - try the tequila hot chocolate in the winter months - and a collection of somms who earned Wine & Spirit Magazine's title of Best New Sommeliers in 2014. (212-465-2400)
Celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongrichten has a culinary empire that spans the globe, but his eponymous restaurant connected to the Upper West Side's Trump Hotel remains a gold standard for the chef's subtly Asian-inflected, French haute cuisine. His now-legendary tuna tartare and young garlic soup remain enormously popular with Harry Winston-wearing hotel guests, well-dressed ladies who lunch, and top-tier executives from the neighboring high-rise offices. Expect stalwart service and expense account-worthy cuisine while taking in the views of Central Park West and Columbus Circle from the dining room's floor-to-ceiling windows. Without interruption, Jean-Georges has held three Michelin stars since it opened its doors in 1997. (212-299-3900, 212-356-0688)
Upon entering Sushi Yasuda, one is immediately aware of the absence of art, decorations, or anything that might attract the eye. It is minimalist to the extreme with bamboo-plank walls and open spaces. This simplicity is reflected in Chef Naomichi Yasuda's cuisine as well. The fillets of fish are custom-cut for each order, as pre-cut fish begins to break down almost immediately, losing some of its delicate textures and flavors. The pure and clean dishes are built out of respect for tradition have helped this restaurant to earn a three star review in the New York Times, and numerous accolades on lists like these ones the city over. (212-972-1001)
The bar at Black Tree doesn't stock limes. It doesn't stock lemons or oranges either, and you can kiss the prospect of avocados goodbye. That's because the restaurant cultivates their cuisine by following a strict 100-mile rule: if it isn't raised or doesn't grow less than 100 miles from New York, you won't find it on the menu. This dedication to all things local culminates in owner and chef Sandy Dee Hall using the entire animal - snout-to-tail - to concoct a regularly changing menu based on the seasons. Aside from being impossibly fresh, it's also wildly affordable and served up on cedar boards at low-rise tables in the tiny dining room. Don't miss the seasonal cocktails, or the kale caesar salad with fried egg. (212-533-4684)
Eleven Madison Park
Winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Daniel Humm creates innovative combinations to match the over-the-top opulence of Eleven Madison Park's dining room. Vaulted ceilings and wrought iron chandeliers create a truly Gotham-like atmosphere that sets the stage for Eleven Madison's traditional French cuisine with a twist. The restaurant has also racked up its fair share of accolades, including three Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times. Tasting menus start at $225 per person before beverage pairings, so while you won't save any dough when you dine here, you'll add plenty to your waistline. (212-889-0905, 646-747-2583)
Oh, Keste. Let us sing your praise. As a relative newcomer to the New York pizza scene, Keste has carved out a space for itself in the center of the West Village's historic pizza row. Located on Bleecker Street across from John's, Keste's Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas have won over the neighborhood with their elevated toppings and ::gasp:: gluten-free offerings. Before you go running, know this: if someone hadn't told you these pies were gluten-free, you'd be none the wiser. Plus, for pizza aficionados, a non-gluten-free menu lists options like the Ricotta E Noci – a pie piled high with cream of walnut, fresh ricotta, homemade mozzarella, pecorino romano, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Seriously, you can't go wrong here. (212-243-1500)
Yes, Semilla is "veggie-forward" but that's not to say it's lacking style, substance or taste. In fact, everyone in town is buzzing about this new spot on Havemeyer Street, tucked between some unlikely neighbors and serving to a crowd willing to make the trek. That trek is certainly worth it if it's good food you're after. The menu is "based solely on the best of what's available from the farmers." On any given night, that could include roasted carrots, fat fava beans, or plump potatoes. Expect meat and fish to make a smaller impression, though they're not entirely out of the game. Need to know more? Here's their tagline: come hungry. 'Nuff said. (718-782-3474)
About Andrea Wien
Andrea Wien was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
Read more about Andrea Wien here.
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