In a city of near-constant change, neighborhoods can reinvent themselves seemingly overnight. The 1840-era cast-iron buildings that are near synonymous with the tony streets of modern-day SoHo were once occupied by grand private homes, and, later, oversized, industrialized warehouses. Later, by the middle of the 20th Century, SoHo's wide, often cobblestoned streets were transformed into gigantic (well, by New York standards) lofts, most of which were occupied by artistic up-and-comers staying in live-work collectives.
Nowadays, SoHo is better known for luxury shopping than the artistic avant garde: outposts of Coach, Tod's, Burberry and the sleek downtown Bloomingdale's have replaced the majority of the district's residential spaces, artist-affiliated or not, and the neighborhood's trendiest galleries moved to West Chelsea and Williamsburg. The contemporary district's concentration of popular shops can result in crowds of consumers looking for a restorative cup of coffee, mid-day meal or evening feast -- all at the same time, of course, and all with cumbersome shopping bags. Fortunately, with just a bit of foresight, long lines and mediocre meals can easily be avoided. Keep your eyes peeled for our 10 favorites, where SoHo's trademark style and substance come together in one, decidedly delicious shopping break. Spanning historic bistros and quirky-cool cafes, we have a recommendation for every appetite.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
When pastry chef Dominique Ansel opened his eponymous bakery on a tree-lined SoHo side street in 2011, it immediately won scores of local fans loyal to his miniature meringues, chocolate-covered canelle and flaky French pastries. But it's the preternaturally popular Cronut, a fusion favorite that is half croissant and half doughnut, that has garnered countless headlines. Skip the long line of Instagram-ing tourists by placing an advance Cronut order by telephone. Call 212-219-2773 on Mondays at 11:00 am EST. Operators are standing by for orders of up to six pastries at a time. So get on the horn, and get ready for a taste of the sweet life. (212-219-2773)
Keeping thirsty New Yorkers sated since 1847, Fanelli's sits on the cinematically cobblestoned intersection of Prince and Mercer Streets. Surrounded by tony Tory Burch boutiques and a bi-level cosmetics counter, this historic pub is the second-oldest continuously operating drinking establishment in New York City. The culture and cuisine is fittingly old-school, with a wink in the eye of the occasionally gruff servers. The kitchen turns out consistent, crowd-pleasing pub grub like fried calamari and well-charred burgers with fries, and bartenders pour no-nonsense drinks and draughts from a 100-year-old bar in the center of the space. Go ahead, have a second round. After a long day of dodging the shopping masses, you've earned it. (212-226-9412)
This contemporary Thai restaurant is a buzzy spot in SoHo's 60 Thompson, one of SoHo's hottest, see-and-be-seen-in-designer-sunglasses boutique hotels. The restaurant too attracts a well-coiffed crowd carrying au courant handbags and iPods in bejeweled cases. But none of this would matter if the food did not hold up to all that glitz and glamour. Fortunately, it does. Diners tuck into fresh sea bass with yellow beans, braised short ribs in green curry, and an endless stream of frosty cocktails. In 2012, the restaurant introduced a new Executive Chef, Vancouver's Angus An. His thoughtful takes on grilled arctic char and the classic papaya salad are already winning rave reviews. (212-219-2000)
Spring Street Natural Restaurant & Bar
On a bright, airy corner near Nolita, Spring Street Natural is a democratic place that specializes in organic produce, free-range poultry and a general sense of culinary consciousness. The complimentary slices of tomato-rosemary quick bread is one of the best meal-starters in the world. Better still, no one will judge if you ask for a second basket. Afterwards, tuck into farm fresh omelettes during popular weekend brunch, or go for the gold with a Marcona almond-encrused salmon for supper. Wash it all down with a house-made vegetable juice, or a microbrew from the bronze tap atop the century-old mahogany bar. (212-966-0290)
This timeless French bistro has sat on a commercial stretch of SoHo's main drag for over 30 years, but it wears its age well, n'est-ce pas? Its picture-perfect, candlelit interiors surround an impressive art collection (Why, that is an original Martin Schreiber print! Bien sur!) including one larger than life, redheaded nude who some patrons liken to Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. But none of that exterior beauty can compete with the inviting menu of Parisian brasserie favorites. A convivial crowd of up-and-coming models, elderly neighborhood regulars and the sort of women who look like they work in galleries happily convene for hearty glasses of Gamay and perfectly prepared steak au poivre. (212-966-3518)
On a small stretch of bars and restaurants favored by brunch-ing fashionistas and club kids heading to top secret dance halls, Osteria Morini is a class act. The large dining room and front bar are filled with business suits by day and Balenciaga bags by night, all there to sample Michael White's impressive northern Italian fare, such as homemade pastas, slow-roasted short ribs and an impressive salumi bar. Those with a thirst for the Old Country can order a glass from the well-priced Italian wine list, or perk up with the substantial affogato, a shot of espresso served over vanilla ice cream in a sizeable soda glass. (212-965-8777)
Blue Ribbon Sushi
This sleek sushi bar is part of an award-winning network of restaurants that also includes a bakery, after-hours chefs' hangout, an elegant cocktail bar and brand new fried chicken outpost in the East Village. Located on a leafy stretch of Thompson Street, Blue Ribbon sushi has intimate interiors and oodles of fan. Fight your way to the front to try to grab a seat at the sushi bar, where masterful chefs serve ultra-fresh fish, flawless sticky rice and an array of sake samplers. Daily specials can prove pricey, but it's hard to resist decadent monkfish liver or buttery sea urchin topped with sauteed shallots and succulent roe. Diet starts Monday, right? (212-343-0404)
The long, well-lit space combines a 12-seat bar, perfect for grabbing a glass of rosado and a few pinxtos, as well as high-top tables and inviting leather banquettes toward the back. A young, good-looking crew, replete with designer shopping bags from the surrounding SoHo stores, fill all three spaces, chattering over glasses of house-made sangria and lightly sparkling cava. The crowd-pleasing Catalonian and Iberian cuisine is the true star, though. Tables runneth over with small plates like Medjool dates wrapped in salty bacon, plus silky slices of jamon Iberico with marcona almonds, as well as more substantial dishes such as grilled trout over lentils, or seared cubes of tender lamb. (212-343-4255)
A neighborhood favorite for locals and travelers alike, The Dutch serves elevated takes on Southern American classics like seared scallops with citrus and slivers of radish, rabbit pot pie and perfectly fried local oysters. The buttery, jalapeno-studded cornbread is what other bread baskets aspire to be, and the inventive cocktails, solid beer list and carefully selected international wines by the glass keep things hopping at all hours. At the chic cocktail bar, a stylish, multi-generational crowd sips house-infused gins and classic Manhattans prepared by smiling, plaid-shirted professionals. Got a sweet tooth? Don't miss the house-made pies, which change with the seasons. (212-677-6200)
The perennially packed Balthazar serves French bistro fare to an impossibly stylish crowd of media moguls (oh, bonjour, Gawker's Nick Denton), models and the people who break freshly baked bread with them. The escargot, braised in garlic and white wine, are a favorite, as is the classic tarte tatin. Linger over a glass (or bottle) of wine, and you're sure to see at least one boldfaced name. The highly coveted rear booths are unofficially reserved for the truly elite, so let your glance pass over all the restaurant's flatteringly lit nooks and crannies -- but don't stare, of course! This is New York, after all. (212-965-1414)
About Emily Saladino
Emily Saladino has spent over a decade eating her way through New York City. She has collaborated on cookbooks, developed original recipes and voyaged from Philadelphia to Papua New Guinea as a food and travel writer.
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