photo by Nicole Franzen
When Anita Lo opened Annisa on a quiet West Village street in 2000, she envisioned a space where she could cook personal food, an essentially American menu with touches that reflect her history. But Lo’s story didn’t stop when the doors opened, and her restaurant continues to reflect her tale, via continuity-providing mainstays — the foie gras soup dumplings, the sablefish in bonito broth, the chicken stuffed with pigs feet — and reference points inspired by Lo’s travels, relationships, and team. There have been high points in this story — Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award, Michelin stars — and there have been moments of intense drama, like the fire that nearly finished off the space. Fourteen years in, Lo’s kitchen is turning out its best food to date, and this is a saga that resonates: By spinning her tale on the plate, Lo has inspired a generation of chefs to tell their own stories in the kitchen, and her story has become an integral part of New York City’s dining record.
photo by Jeffrey Prehn
Jonathan Waxman had no intention of cooking Italian food in the meatpacking district; were it not for a coercive partner, he might have brought his simple, grounded Californian cuisine to the Upper West Side. It was a fortunate twist of fate that Barbuto landed here, though: While it’s a good bet the chef would have lasted in any neighborhood, this white-washed, understated restaurant just celebrated 10 years of hosting boisterous, poultry-mad downtown crowds. The à la carte menu brings numerous delights like greenmarket specials and seasonal bruschetta, but the restaurant also offers a $65 family-style meal for groups of six to 10, including Waxman’s justly famous roast chicken. The chef admits his pollo al forno will haunt him for the rest of his life; he has been serving some variation on it since his days at Santa Monica institution Michael’s, a restaurant he helped open in 1979. At Barbuto, the burnished bird arrives crowned with a vibrant salsa verde that perfumes the table. For a man whose fate is inextricably entwined with a flightless creature, Waxman soared to the heights of celebrity chefdom long before the term solidified in the public consciousness.
photo by Liz Barclay
Buvette has held court in the West Village for a mere three years, but it hums with the energy of a long-entrenched neighborhood joint. Residents meet for croissants, croques monsieur, and cappuccinos by day; at night, the narrow space picks up convivial steam as people pour into seats at community tables, at the bar, and — in summer — in the back garden, where they sit elbow to elbow with strangers and sip wine. A friendly, efficient staff doles out simple, well-crafted bistro fare, including one of the best renditions of cassoulet you’ll ever have. You’ll want to start with charcuterie and a tartinette; you’ll want to finish with the chocolate mousse. Chef-owner Jody Williams wants her place to be accessible, and so she has crafted her lists accordingly: Wine comes priced at thinner-than-normal margins (especially at the high end), encouraging guests to imbibe; and a number of budget-friendly dishes make the menu. A no-reservations policy encourages spontaneity, and that creates a charming energy you can settle into for a while, often without realizing it, nursing a bottle of Vouvray, say, until 2 a.m., when the restaurant closes.
photo by Liz Barclay
Not long ago, Cafe Cluny was the daytime spot for celebrities and the downtown elite, and the restaurant still sees famous faces aplenty. But it has also become a place where West Villagers go for a quick (or leisurely) lunch or brunch, for counsel over coffee and cheese, for weeknight dinners, for special occasions, for birthdays. For anything, really. That’s because chef Phillip Kirschen-Clark puts out effortless, elegant dishes like a crisply bitter frisée salad with Fourme d’Ambert cheese, a poached egg that’s perfect every time, and bacon vinaigrette; and seared yellowtail with roasted baby fennel. There’s also the burger, a fat, half-pound affair that oozes juice and comes without cheese (because you don’t need it) or its surf-borne cousin, the tuna burger, which we like seared black-and-blue with as much spicy wasabi mayo as the staff is willing to fetch us. And textbook-perfect steak frites, the meaty drippings seeping into a heap of salty potato sticks. Owners Lynn Wagenknecht, Judi Wong, and Steve Abramowitz opened Cluny in 2006 hoping to become a fine-but-friendly neighborhood joint, and today they say they’re grateful their baby has grown into exactly what they intended: a place where anyone can come and enjoy a great meal, day or night, in a stylishly sweet setting with enough personality to charm but not distract from the meal at hand.
photo by Melissa Hom
We’ve asked many chefs to name the most underrated toque among their ranks, and one of the most common answers is Harold Moore, the hard-working guy who commands the line at Commerce, named for the tree-lined West Village street it’s tucked into. Moore burned out on fine dining after years in respectable kitchens, and so he opened a place where he could make food with world-class ingredients and serve it in a warm, casual environment. His approach is embodied in his green salad with 20 herbs and lettuces, a thoughtful take on a dish that’s normally an afterthought — here, we’d never start a meal without ordering one. The rest of the menu is personal and eclectic, and though it’s rooted in America, it draws influence from many traditions. Moore’s regulars love the chicken for two, the short rib ravioli, and the coconut cake; marinated hamachi and Thai-style red snapper, he says, will never come off the menu, either. Moore is friendly with much of NYC’s industry, so you’ll often see chefs in on their nights off. Maybe it’s just our luck, but every time we’ve been in the dining room here, we’ve also spotted a celebrity, presumably trying to fly under the radar over a low-key meal and drink.
photo by Mike Morales
In the seven years since dell’anima debuted, chef Gabe Thompson’s downtown dining domain has grown to include L’Artusi, Anfora, and L’Apicio, while his original spot has remained true to its original intention: to cater to the neighborhood and the industry alike through surprising and memorable Italian fare. A convivial mix of patrons buzz under Arcade Fire tracks, and six counter seats beckon neighborhood regulars and the city’s top chefs (Alfred Portale and Anita Lo among them). House-made pastas put Thompson and his team on the map, but it’s the pollo al diavolo — a boned, skin-on half chicken that packs a punch of smoked paprika, fennel pollen, and chile flakes — and the octopus appetizer, charred and accompanied by chorizo and chicory, that have gained a permanent place on the menu. Dishes find good company in Joe Campanale’s wine list, a compilation of 150 small-production selections and curiosities (think cellar-temperature orange wine by the glass). Service is serious here, creating a striking balance between uptown sophistication and downtown charisma. That’s perhaps most apparent during the warm months, when a mini-cluster of sidewalk seats becomes one of the city’s most charming settings for a meal.
photo by Robert Menzer
Naples-born Joe Pozzuoli opened venerable slice joint Joe’s Pizza on Bleecker Street in 1975, forever marking the West Village with one of the city’s best versions of its iconic foodstuff (though he moved his restaurant a few doors down to Carmine Street nine years ago). The plain and pepperoni pizzas are standard-bearers, with thin but pliant crusts, a sweet herb-tinged sauce, and enough cheese to leave an oil stain or three on your paper plate. And forget about ordering non-pie pizzeria staples like calzones and chicken rolls — Joe’s only offers three basic items (which can be customized with toppings): shredded mozzarella pizza, fresh mozzarella pizza, and a slightly puffy Sicilian pie. The institution recently expanded to the East Village, but the newer storefront can’t match the charm of the original location, which is littered with celebrity photos and numerous accolades from past and present, and whose façade practically bleeds tomato sauce, so pungent is the smell that wafts onto the street. When you want a quintessential New York slice, Joe’s is it.
John’s of Bleecker Street
photo by David Frank
You won’t find kale, truffles, fried eggs, or anything else trendy atop the pizzas at John’s of Bleecker Street. Nor can you pay with a credit card or buy by the slice. That doesn’t deter the crowds — a mix of tourists, locals, and celebs like Jon Stewart — from lining up for iconic New York pies. Founded by Italian immigrant John Sasso in 1929, John’s was originally located on Sullivan Street, but it lost its lease and in 1934 moved to the spot where it is today. Since then, not much has changed. Now owned by Sasso’s great-grandnephew, the 80-year-old space shows its age, with stiff wooden booths covered in carvings from customers past, and faded murals of Italian coasts. Regulars from the old days swear the coal-fired brick oven pizzas still taste exactly the same. Sporting a thin, crisp, and slightly charred crust imbued with the flavor of century-old brick, pies here are layered with sweet and tangy tomato sauce and paved with bubbling mozzarella. Like John’s, this is pizza built to stand the test of time.
photo by Henry Hargreaves
Gabe Stulman and his Little Wisco team have built six restaurants in the past five years — an impressive feat made more spectacular by the fact that the ventures don’t share a common culinary tradition (he now counts among his collection a raw bar, an izakaya, an Italian joint, and a French bistro). His landgrab began in 2009 at Joseph Leonard, an all-American spot on a corner plot in the West Village that set the tone for what was to come: While Stulman’s places don’t share dishes, they do share an essentially neighborhood vibe and a penchant for a good time. Diners here are crammed haphazardly into this small and dim split-level space, but no one seems to mind. Instead, they ask their neighbors to recommend a few dishes, ordering mussels and fries, brussels sprouts with sriracha, and crisped braised pork hock, while knocking back cocktails and bottles of wine. If you’re the brunching type, this is an excellent place to find yourself on a Saturday morning, not least because the bloody marys are exceptional.
photo by David Penner
New York City may be protective of its pizza style, but over the years, it has embraced a few guardians of the Neapolitan version. The best in Lower Manhattan is Kesté, presided over by chef-owner Roberto Caporuscio, a pizzaiolo decorated with credentials for his expertise in dough, tomato, and mozzarella. When he’s not busy presiding over the U.S. chapter of the Associazone Pizzaiuoli Napoletani or up in midtown slinging pies at Don Antonio, he’s in the West Village at his home base with the brown awning, tweaking his lengthy, reliable menu for the fervent fans who crowd Kesté’s hallway-size dining room. Despite his résumé, Caporuscio is no purist: Here, there are spicy pizzas loaded with hot sopressata; white pies spread with walnut cream, green zucchini, and smoked mozzarella; pizzas dripping Nutella; and, nowadays, gluten-free options. But the obsessiveness of his craft comes across best in the margherita, topped with homemade mozzarella and bright tomato sauce, then blistered and charred in a Neapolitan oven until the seasoned crust is just-right chewy.
The Little Owl
photo by Jon Selvey
An owl is a wise and mysterious bird. See one in your daily travels and it feels magical, like an omen. Sometime circa 2006, as chef-owner Joey Campanaro was prepping his yet-unnamed new restaurant for opening, he stepped outside, looked up at the building across the street, and saw a little owl perched on the threshold. So he named the place after it, and it fits well enough: The Little Owl is small in size, and it’s also wise. Campanaro says he knows he’ll “never be all things to everyone, so we just ‘do us,’ in the best way we know how.” “Doing us,” to Campanaro, means being a neighborhood place locals can depend on night and day. It means serving fresh, responsibly sourced, seasonal foods, taking the time and trouble to prepare them well, and hiring caring people who will make you smile. The menu here changes often, but a couple of favorites are untouchable: gravy meatball sliders served on chewy housemade garlic buns and pork chops with butter beans deepened with ham hock. The list is rounded out with homey salads, soups, and sides, and it’s accompanied by a wine list that means to be accessible in price and flavor.
Mary’s Fish Camp
photo by David Penner
A boom in the lobster population brought a number of lobster-roll concepts to our fair burg, and plenty of them vend serviceable versions stuffed with butter-soaked claw meat. But the reigning queen of this shellfish sandwich is Mary’s Fish Camp, which has been turning out toasty buns full of sweet, supple, mayo-coated crustacean since 2000. Owner Mary Redding split from West Village seafood shrine Pearl to open this rival fish shack in a different part of the neighborhood, channeling the spirit of the coast in her tiny, bar-anchored dining room. Start with oysters, steamers, or chowder, and finish with a hot-fudge sundae. On Mondays, you can pair your feast with a bottle of wine for just $20.
photo by Dominic Perri
Rustic-chic Mas (farmhouse) evokes a country house in France, and it celebrates the farm. While many restaurants have jumped on that bandwagon in the decade since this one opened, few are serving dishes with the precision lent by chef Galen Zamarra, who continues to apply masterfully refined French techniques to New York’s rural bounty. Choose from à la carte options or one of two tasting menus: a four-course prix fixe (which you’re welcome to customize) or the six-course, off-menu chef’s selection, a run of hyperseasonal dishes that exhibit Zamarra’s best work. If you’re going à la carte, don’t miss the burrata with house-made pumpkin seed granola, or the house-cured Arctic char with purple potatoes in a grapefruit-vanilla sauce. But if you can’t decide between kale-stuffed roasted chicken breast with hedgehog mushrooms and the delicate skate wing with baby turnips and carrot purée, there’s a way to have them both: If you’re having the four-course prix fixe, you'll get two half-entrées instead of one.
photo by Dominic Perri
From its tucked-away little corner, the West Village’s intimate Recette, all tall white windows and warm incandescence, practically begs you to fall in love — be it over dinner, with dinner, or both. The space may be small, but chef Jesse Schenker’s aspirations sure aren’t, from the magnificently turned-out minimalism of sliced, marinated hamachi with uni, sea beans, and harissa, to the deep richness of Berkshire pork belly with rock shrimp, turnips, romesco, and sherry caramel, or a duck breast served with a confit leg, beluga lentils, and maitake mushrooms. We state this not as opinion but as fact, having savored all three. Our only regret was not leaving room for one of pastry chef Christina Lee’s over-the-top desserts. (Not to worry; we fell back on a selection of her sorbets.) Next time, it’s the seven-course tasting menu or bust.
photo by Liz Barclay
Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng’s RedFarm often feels less like a farm and more like a zoo, and it has been that way since it opened in late 2011. A weekend-evening sortie found the 42-seat dining room crammed seatless by 6:15, a line out the door, and no shot at a table for hours. But don’t let that stop you: Once seated, your view of RedFarm becomes that of a raucous garden of earthly pleasures. Pull up to the communal table, which takes up most of the room, and chat with your neighbors while you wait for your food. Ng takes Eastern classics — dim sum, noodles, curries, and rice — and dresses them in fancy new duds. Dumplings are stuffed with lamb, lobster, or duck and crab, fried to a deep golden crisp, and flattened into little flounder-like forms that rest at the edge of a fragrant pool of curry. Ng’s signature starter, “Pac-Man” dumplings, are filled fat with shrimp, dyed in pastel hues, and steamed to a high luster. Schoenfeld and Ng have a gift for kitschy flair, but some things being sacred, they leave classics alone: soup dumplings, generous in size, filled with delicate broth and a loose mass of pork and crab rather than the standard stiff porky ball, are pricier than any you’ll find in Chinatown, but they’re a treat well worth the splurge.
The Spotted Pig
photo by Robert Menzer
Since 2004, when chef April Bloomfield and co-owner Ken Friedman opened this West Village gastropub, upscale bar food has had its ups and downs. But The Spotted Pig continues to serve up inventive British and Italian cuisine from its quirky, bi-level space at the corner of West 11th and Greenwich streets. Order a pint, then smear creamy, house-made burrata onto crisp toast and top it with earthy wild mushrooms. Next, sink your teeth into the char-grilled burger with Roquefort — don’t ever order it without cheese — or slurp up sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi with brown butter and sage. The no-reservations policy keeps wait times here dependably long, so find a seat at one of the bars (each level has one) for a cocktail and a chat with a friendly bartender. Or people-watch: The Spotted Pig buzzes with a lively, good-looking crowd.
photo Courtesy Takashi
Chef Takashi Inoue’s paean to innards has sent exultant fooderati into rapture since it opened in the West Village in 2010. Rightfully so: The Korean Osaka native serves a mashup reflective of his heritage, celebrating horumon, which translates as “thrown-away things.” At Takashi that means a range of offal offerings that spans heart, achilles tendon, first and third stomach, testicles served like escargot, and brain, squeezed from a tube like toothpaste and eaten with blini and caviar. Inoue has had no trouble filling his tables; the cheerful space, framed by a long blackboard explaining why downing rich slice after slice of barbecued meat is actually good for you, teems with diners huddled around grills, where they cook various animal bits themselves. Start with niku-uni — a raw surf-and-turf of beef sashimi and sea urchin wrapped in shiso — and yooke, chuck-eye tartare topped with a delicate quail egg. Both are gorgeous to look at and transcendent to eat.
photo by Liz Barclay
New York doesn’t lack for tapas, but when chef Seamus Mullen opened Tertulia in 2011, he wanted to share a different side of Spanish cuisine. Inspired by northern Spain’s cider houses, Mullen created a warm, unpretentious place where you can drink Basque sidras, of course, but also try Iberico ham and wine from the Canary Islands, then feast from a list of well-executed tapas and shareable family-size dishes. The restaurant is anchored by its wood-fired grill; any item that has passed over that flame, be it octopus, cauliflower, or steak (to name a few), guarantees a deeply satisfying dining experience. Look for classics like potatoes crusted in pimentón and drizzled with garlicky aioli, and anchovies paired with roasted tomatoes and sheep’s-milk cheese.
photo by Robert Menzer
When Jay Strauss opened Westville’s doors in the West Village in 2003, he planned to serve great food at a fair price. That easy formula soon endeared this 18-seat spot to its neighbors, who happily endured brunchtime waits for challah French toast and popped by for a burger, grilled salmon, or a medley of market vegetables, unfancily executed and served without pretense. Eleven years on, little has changed, including the prices — though the specials, scrawled on a trio of chalkboards on the whitewashed brick walls, rotate daily. Strauss has turned his flagship into a mini-chain, with charming outposts in Chelsea, the East Village, and over on Hudson Street.