Greenwich Village and Noho
photo by Reimy Gonzalez
Iconic duo Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have built a New York empire so prolific it resounds internationally, and it all began at Babbo, the Village restaurant they opened in 1998. Batali was one of the first to make us love cured meats and offal, and his menu here is still rife with sausages and salted slices of pork, with calf brains and pig’s feet. But 16 years and several additional restaurants later, Babbo deals best in impeccable but unfussy dishes, like fennel-dusted sweetbreads and beef cheek ravioli (two of the plates that will never leave the menu), black spaghetti with spicy Calabrese salami, and grilled octopus with limoncello vinaigrette. (And it’s friendly to vegan and gluten-free diners.) You’ll find more upscale service at the partners’ swanky Del Posto, and less circumstance (and more cured meat) at Lupa. But at Babbo — with its whimsical tasting menus, its deceptively casual service, its tight Italian wine pairings, and its sound system blasting bands like the Pixies — you get something more: a restaurant so quintessentially NYC, it’s hard to imagine it existing anyplace else.
photo by Jen Munkvold
When Dan, David, and Laureen Barber opened Blue Hill in 2000, it was an early outpost of the farm-to-table movement that would come to define New American dining in the subsequent decade. In his lowlit, garden-level dining room, Dan meshed simple, farm-fresh food with the demands of fine dining at the peak of the era of molecular gastronomy. Here you’ll enjoy fun, innovative platings — a vegetable crudité speared to a block of wood, a carrot grilled as one would a steak — as well as more traditional offerings, like tender medallions of grassfed lamb served in jus with an endless array of seasonal vegetables (endive in winter, greens in spring). There are few menu stalwarts here, as the chef is constantly rotating dishes on and off the list to accommodate what’s in season on his upstate farm Stone Barns and from local purveyors. After nearly 15 years in business, Blue Hill has steadfastly adhered to the Barbers’ original vision of a cozy neighborhood restaurant where you can come for a special dinner and never have to eat the same thing twice.
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria
photo by Dominic Perri
Donna Lennard captured the hearts of New Yorkers when she opened Il Buco on antique-shop-lined Bond Street in 1994. She sold “primitive American furnishings and a growing collection of European imports,” she says, while a kitchen turned out lauded small plates and wine. Two years later, she gave us Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, another market-restaurant hybrid, albeit one that vends food instead of housewares. The flagship’s original neighbors have long since closed up shop and the antiques have become a backdrop, but the market portion survives on Great Jones, where you can pop in during the daytime for bread, house-cured salumi, and an espresso. Just be sure to return at night, when the dining room fills with chattering regulars who’ve relaxed into this humming, homey, and casual rustic Italian trattoria. Greenmarket-obsessed Justin Smillie has helmed the kitchen for the past few years; you’ll want to try his bucatini cacio e pepe and, if it’s cold, his braised short ribs. The whole grilled fish makes an impressive showing, particularly because your server will bone it for you. Start with some of that salumi, though, and order a bottle of wine or two. No one’s going to object if you get louder as the night progresses.
photo by Reimy Gonzalez
When Mamoun Chater opened Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village in 1971, he wanted to support his family, and cooking the food from his native Syria was the best way he knew how. But his falafel gained a fervent following, and that has seen the eatery, now a family business, through more than four decades in a neighborhood where most mom-and-pops have been replaced by corporate chains. Chater’s four sons — Galal, Kinan, Nedal, and Hussam — now run the restaurant’s five locations (another in Princeton, New Jersey, is coming soon), and Galal, who began helping his father in the kitchen at the tender age of 11, says the brothers are dedicated to keeping tradition alive. That’s lucky for those of us who occasionally find ourselves in the Village late at night: Mamoun’s is open until 5 a.m.
photo by Sylvia Paret
Keith McNally bought Minetta Tavern five years back and gave it a facelift, but the restaurant precedes him by decades. Open since 1937, the dining room is steeped in history, and you can practically breathe in the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas while you eat. Shiny red banquettes line dark-wood walls adorned with framed caricatures of esteemed guests, and lampshade chandeliers fill the room with a warm yellow glow — it evokes a New York of a different era, when the city was at its best and most resilient. One big advantage of having McNally on board was the resulting menu upgrade; the list fondly recalls a time when fine food in New York was French. Sides like “Pommes Anna” — a skillet stacked with thin-sliced, buttery spuds rendered crisp and brown in the oven — are fine supporting actors to a dry-aged côte de boeuf for two. It’s a wallet-lightening $145, but if you can swing it, you’ll be glad you splurged. Tighter wads may opt for the burger, which, with its closely guarded, proprietary blend of beef, streams with fat-speckled juices and puts even the finest-ground patties to shame. Or opt for the mouclade: bouchot mussels steeped in a wine-infused crème fraîche curry.
photo by Reimy Gonzalez
New York’s parks are home to some prolific food vendors: Central Park has its elegant and historic Loeb Boathouse; Madison Square Park has its vibrant Shake Shack. And Washington Square Park has its NY Dosas cart, where Thiru Kumar, a mustachioed Sri Lankan immigrant, has been vending knockout vegetarian stuffed crepes to long lines since 2002. It’s a simple formula: Slightly sour rice and lentil batter is painted on a grill and griddled into a pancake, then rolled around spice-inflected potatoes and vegetables. Drizzle on your own coconut chutney to taste, and pair your lunch with a fried veggie samosa if you’re starving. It’s worth the struggle to find a bench nearby to eat this meal.
photo by Robert Menzer
If you like your meal at Ushiwakamaru, buy sushi master Hideo Kuribara a pint — he’ll toast you from his post behind the bar. This wood-paneled spot a few steps down from the scream of street-level traffic on Houston Street opened in 2003, when the vibrant neighborhood’s need for elevated but accessible Japanese fare coaxed Kuribara to this downtown address from his Cliffside Park location in New Jersey. More than 10 years later, the restaurant fills with daters and regulars, who huddle up for top-notch fish at below-market prices. At the sushi counter, 12 diners hold front-row seats for the night’s omakase show, where five chefs, including Kuribara, prepare a raft of sashimi and sushi offerings: Lush pats of salmon and baby yellowtail give way to silver strips of needlefish and aromatically charged kelp-cured fluke. If you have the wherewithal to look beyond the raw bar, a lobster claw peeking out of a soul-warming bowl of miso soup will demand immediate action; same goes for a scallop shell that houses a dashi-broth-bathed arrangement of scallops and enoki mushrooms. There’s no hushed pretense here, just a neighborhood-friendly, doors-open policy.