New York is a city of secrets. But when you're a stranger in a city as vast and sprawling as the Big Apple how do you uncover them?
Finding the best local spots in New York can seem like an impossible task. But ya know what's better than finding the spots where all the locals go? Discovering the secrets that even New Yorkers haven't uncovered. These 10 restaurants are so hard to find that even most people who have lived in the city for years don't know about them.
The lobby of Le Parker Meridien is about as grandiose as you’d expect for a stateside hotel with a French article at the beginning of the name: marble floors, neoclassical columns and archways, and undulating maroon curtains. Behind one of those curtains is something you’d never expect: a restaurant that’s the epitome of a dive.
The aptly named Burger Joint is a no-frills, um, joint, with wood floors, wood-paneled walls and a menu comprising little more than burgers, fries and shakes. The burgers – which are served in a grease-soaked brown paper bag – are some of the tastiest (and most reasonably priced) in the city.
One of the best parts about New York is that you can travel to almost any country on earth without leaving the city. When you walk down the stairs into this little subterranean restaurant-slash-sake bar in the East Village, with its dimly lit dining room, large red paper lanterns, and walls covered in graffiti and sake labels, you are immediately transported to the type of underground Tokyo hotspot that people travel to Japan to experience.
Food items like wasabi pork dumplings, raw octopus and pickled garlic complement the pages-long sake list. Just look for the sign that says “On Air” and head down the stairs.
Ganesh Temple Canteen
Any New Yorker will tell you that to find the best “authentic” Asian food, you have to travel to Queens. The problem is knowing where to go once you're there.
Ganesh Temple – an intricately carved, ornate structure across the street of residential buildings – is home not only to the Hindu Temple Society of America, but also a dingy basement cafeteria that serves what might be the best dosa in in all five boroughs. In a city where a burger can easily cost you upwards of $18, nothing on the menu is more than $7.
With a perfectly camouflaged door built into a wooden wall, Zenkichi is hidden in plain sight. This Japanese izakaya is right in the heart of Williamsburg, one of the most heavily-trafficked areas in Brooklyn. But hordes of people walk by it every day without even realizing it's there.
Once inside, you enter a maze-like building filled with bamboo stalks, pebbled walkways and muted lanterns. In favor of a traditional dining room, Zenkichi has private tables separated by bamboo shades, and guests can choose from a selection of seasonal small plates or the omakase (chef’s tasting menu).
In a nondescript building on Great Jones Street – the random two-block stretch between where E. 3rd officially turns into W 3rd – is an unremarkable butcher shop called Japanese Beef. In the back of this butcher shop, however, is Bohemian, one of New York's most in-demand restaurants. It gets its name because the building in which it resides was owned by Andy Warhol (and it’s where Basquiat died).
The restaurant also happens to serve up some of the best cocktails and food – ranging from Japanese to Italian to American comfort food – in the city. Even more secret than the location is the phone number, which is unpublished. In order to get in, you need a recommendation from someone who has already been.
Back Room at Cafe Select
In New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made, there’s nothing you can’t do – except for maybe ski. But you can enjoy a Swiss-style après ski if you know where to look. Hidden through the kitchen at Cafe Select is a cozy little room where the cheese flows like wine.
The back room serves fondue and raclette in the colder months, and if you drink enough of the European beers on tap, you might even forget that you’re roughly 4,000 miles away from the Swiss Alps.
There’s nothing secret about La Esquina. Sitting in a standalone building on a heavily trafficked intersection in SoHo, with a large sign that says "The Corner Deli," La Esquina is almost difficult not to notice. And it’s no secret that this Mexican restaurant serves up some of the best tacos in Manhattan.
What is less well known is that this dingy-looking 24-7 taco joint is actually a front for a trendy Mexican restaurant. Once you're inside, behind a door marked “employees only,” is a stairwell that will lead you to a brasserie that serves up Mexican fare like ceviche, huitlacoche and guava-glazed pork ribs – as well as over 100 types of tequila.
The best hidden gem in Chinatown might just be...a Mexican restaurant? Tucked away in a winding one-block alleyway, through a narrow doorway with a nondescript sign, you’ll find an underground (literally) establishment that serves up everything from guacamole to tacos to lobster with mole butter.
Details like woven reed mats, turquoise mosaics, dripping candles and engraved stone murals will transport you south of the border. With the team behind Apotheke, one of New York’s best cocktail bars, creating the cocktail menu, the drinks are excellent. Pulqueria also claims to be the only establishment outside of Mexico to batch and serve pulque – a beverage made from fermented agave, and one of the world’s oldest drinks.
Sakagura is one of the few restaurants in Midtown – the culinary black hole of New York – where you can actually find a great meal. Even more than the rest of the restaurants on this list, the trouble is finding it. For the last 20 years, Sakagura has been hidden in the basement of a Midtown office building.
Once inside, you’ll find a largely wooden interior, bamboo shades, facades of rural Japanese homes and even autumnal maple leaves or cherry blossoms depending on the time of year. Even the bathrooms are hidden by what look like giant sake barrels. It’s also got some of the best and most varied Japanese food in the city and nearly 200 types of sake.