It’s easy to go to New York City and find 7,000 options perfect for when you want to go out for a really special dinner. It’s not easy to go to New York City and identify which bakery has the best cookies, which pizzeria has the best pizza, or which café has the best soups and sandwiches.
I lived in New York and the surrounding area for a few years and I visit frequently, so I’ve racked up quite a few favorite places to eat, drink and hang out. Some of these restaurants would also befit a special night out, but are best known for their pizzas, sandwiches, brunches and other goodness that doesn’t require a dress code to enjoy.
Here are a few of my favorite places to eat in New York when you’re looking for lunch, something quick and easy or a laid back meal that you know you’ll enjoy no matter what.
Everything you’ve heard is absolutely true. The cookies from Levain Bakery really are the best in Manhattan. I mean…the best that I’ve tried, and I’m a reliable source when it comes to cookies.
I know I said that New York City pizza can be overrated, but there are times when it does deliver – and maybe even defy expectations.
Otto, a Maria Batali/Joe Bastianach joint, serves gourmet pizzas, pastas and Italian-inspired Prosecco cocktails.
It’s large bar is great for catching up with friends over a bottle of Pinot Blanco and an intimate dining room is perfect for date night.
Mae Mae Cafe
Off the beaten path in Tribeca, this small, mostly-organic, mostly-local menu features fresh sandwiches and salads and the walls of the cafe lined with vintage book cases.
Bottles of wine and gourmet condiments line the shelves, lending a rustic, country ambiance to the cafe. It’s a great place to go for lunch, or for a quick after work drink. If I still lived in the city it’s where I would take my laptop to work remotely from lunch until cocktail time.
Friend of a Farmer
If you want to eat in New York City but pretend you’re not in New York city, this warm and comfortable country cafe has a seasonal menu and a bar with specialty cocktails.
You can sit outside when the weather cooperates and overlook some of the beautiful brownstones on Irving Place in the Gramercy neighborhood. Or you can cozy up in the dining room, which truly feels like someone’s living room.
Cacio e Pepe
Italian restaurants in New York City might be a dime a dozen, but this rustic joint with a backyard garden is worth the trek to the East Village for the signature fettuccine with “cacio e pepe” or cheese and pepper.
Did you really think I’d write about NYC eats and not include Danny Meyer’s legendary burger and shake joint in Madison Square Park?
You don’t have to be a hardcore carnivore to enjoy the luscious vanilla or chocolate custard from the Shake Shack. They’ll even make you what they call a “Concrete” – custard with the ice cream toppings of your choice mixed in. When I worked in the area, I had a concrete for lunch on more than one occasion.
Even though Shake Shack has made it to numerous cities including Chicago, I just think the food from Madison Square Park tastes best.
Charming and cozy, Penelope cafe has a unique variety of local wines and microbrews to complement a menu that boasts creative salads, soups and sandwiches.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, their chicken meatballs over arugula and their classic hummus plate are both must-trys.
One of my very favorite dishes ever is the Pad Thai at Republic in Union Square. You could call me biased because my uncle is one of the owners, but I think I’m purely knowledgable because I’ve eaten this so many times and it’s so so so so good.
I also love the grilled Japanese eggplant, the fried wontons, the mini dumplings, the Vietnamese chicken salad, the seared marinated salmon and the BBQ pork noodles.
Go for lunch or go for a low key dinner that won’t cost you a billion dollars.
It was when I lived in New York that I discovered tapas and it’s my very favorite concept ever: shared small plates. Boqueria does an exceptional job delivering great cuisine and the most perfect sangria in a variety of flavors. I love the classics: pan con tomate, patatas bravas, tortilla Española, and gambas al ajillo.