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. By the middle of the 20th Century, SoHo's wide, often cobblestoned streets were morphed 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 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. 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)
La Esquina Taqueria and Cafe
The neon sign above this corner restaurant beckons to weary and hungry passersby, promising wallet-friendly and edible snacks for the late night munchies. The taqueria does not disappoint, with tasty chorizo tacos and plates of enchiladas. However, La Esquina does more. In the cafe around the corner, aged wood paneling and recessed bookshelves give off an air of worn-in familiarity, like the creases and contours of a favorite leather chair. You can enjoy more substantial fare like a pulled chicken stew with chipotle and cinnamon in this relaxed atmosphere. (646-613-7100, 646-613-1333)
Spring Street Natural Restaurant & Bar
On a bright, airy corner 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)
Legend has it that the two brothers from Alsace, France came to Soho and were so poor they threw nothing out, not even the salt. But they did buy a little restaurant that was on sale. And soon, people trickled downstairs out of their illegal lofts to try the steaks and fish at low prices, even cheaper at the bar. That was over 30 years ago, today its picture-perfect, candlelit interiors surround an impressive art collection. 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)
Blue Ribbon Brasserie
From sushi to bakeries to fried chicken, Blue Ribbon Brasserie has become an institution in NYC, LA, Las Vegas and London. Rumor has it that the best steak tartare in town can be had here. The Brothers Bromberg's menu also boasts a variety of heavenly, chocolate-themed desserts that are perfect for late-night fits of entropy. Truth is the Bromberg brothers consistently get it right whatever it may be, from matzo ball soup to the fried chicken, to the beef marrow and oxtail marmalade eaten with hot crusty bread, no kidding. Blue Ribbon is a SoHo standby. Don't skip the Sullivan Street Spritz, by the way, a refreshing mix of Kronan Swedish Punsch and Hayman Old Tom Gin. (212-274-0404)
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)
The perennially packed Balthazar serves French bistro fare to about 1500 impossibly stylish guests of media moguls, 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)
A neighborhood favorite for locals and travelers alike, The Dutch blends urban Italian and American flavors serving 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. Care for the briny and sophisticated? Check out the Prince (raw) Plate at $120. (212-677-6200)
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. Never mind who walks in, the atmosphere is still a bit rustic yet sophisticated. And, all the guests no matter how high and mighty are 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 sizable soda glass. (212-965-8777)
About Maria Lisella
No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.
Maria writes about New York and other destinations for outlets including NYC & Company, AFAR, Travel and Leisure, Wells Fargo Conversations, and others.
As the Queens Poet Laureate, 2015-2018, she observes, listens and captures the urban energy of NYC in poetry and prose.
Her book Thieves in the Family has been described as “… a collection of postcards from the Global Village…”
Read more about Maria Lisella here.
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