A good restaurant provides comfort, a place to meet a friend, or a way to celebrate a milestone. Here, some familiar names share their go-to restaurants.
Cookbook author and PBS chef
I can never have enough slices of the Spicy Spring pizza from Prince St. Pizza. Especially if it is in between meals or late at night. The Spicy Spring has a generous amount of Fra Diavolo sauce (I like my pizza saucy!), tons of spicy pepperoni that comes out from the oven perfectly crisp around the edges and with a soft, greasy and meaty center and enough melted fresh mozzarella to sink your teeth into. It is just the perfect ratio of everything I need in a pizza.
The first thing I crave when I get out of the train from D.C. into Penn Station is a full order of the steamed Kimchee Mandoo dumplings at Mandoo Bar. They are filled with kimchee, tofu, pork and vegetables. I prepare a mixed soy sauce with their vinegar and spicy sauce and eat them in just a few minutes. It is a very low-key place, they serve super fast and I always have fun chatting with the waiters.
When I head back home, this is an even more low-key place, but so New York to me, I stop at Gardenia Deli. The same guy is always there and he sees me and knows exactly what I will bring back on the train: toasted whole wheat sandwich with baked ham, swiss, mayo, mustard, ripe avocado and lots of pickled jalapeños that I requested they carry — and they did after I asked just once!
When I come to New York with any of my boys, I treat them to Buvette for some amazing coffee (for me) and the best ever chocolate mousse and tarte tatin (for us all!).
4 Charles Prime Rib: I can’t actually explain how much I love this restaurant. Small, intimate, gracious, delicious — it makes me feel so special every time I walk through their doors, as if you’re going back in time and the past is pure perfection. Start with a martini, get a cheeseburger, a French dip sandwich and every single side. It’s as close to a perfect restaurant as there is.
Crown Shy: a reasonably new place by our former chef James Kent and my really good friend Jeff Katz. You have to travel down to the financial district, but everything about that restaurant makes it worth the trip. The restaurant appears casual, understated, but everything is done with intention. The service is on point, and the food is incredible. Bread service is one of the best in the city, and the chicken is exceptional.
Rezdôra: I’ve only been once, but I loved it so much. The entire team is so lovely. So many people can cop an attitude after getting as much praise as they’ve gotten, but the vibe there is so welcoming. It’s really refreshing. And the pasta? Some of the best in New York City. Check it out soon if you haven’t already.
Columnist and former restaurant critic, The New York Times
During the five and a half years when I was The Times’s restaurant critic, I was often — maybe too often — looking for and swooning over food that stopped me in my tracks. Ever since, I’ve been more taken with food that keeps stride with me.
I mean food that gives me great pleasure without asking me to bow down to it or demanding so much attention that it competes with the conversation or with the blissed-out jig in my brain as I get to the bottom of my martini. I mean food that doesn’t let the element of surprise completely crowd out the air of the familiar. And I mean food working in concert with the setting, the combined force of which should make me feel relaxed as well as special.
I find this in New York City at Upland, at Lilia, at 4 Charles Prime Rib, at Uncle Boons, at Charlie Bird, at Cookshop. It helps that in most of these places I’m a regular. I’m falling into familiar arms whose embrace I know and can trust. In an era this suffused with anxiety and a city this agitating, that means everything to me.
And then there I am again, inexorably, at Frenchette, my wallet squealing. I can’t help thinking Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, the chefs and owners, are cooking better than they ever have in their careers — and that includes at Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, and even way back when at Daniel, when they first met, in 1993. I sit at a corner table there and think: This is the greatest restaurant city in the world.
Former restaurant critic, The New York Times, and author, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir”
I’m a New Yorker, so some of my favorite places are pure nostalgia. I love the counter at the Oyster Bar, where the same men have been making incredible oyster stew for most of my lifetime. Just the warm, round smell of that stew reminds me of my childhood. Afterward, I go outside and whisper into the echoing walls.
I like Gray’s Papaya hot dogs for the same reason. It is, to me the purest flavor of New York. I even like the papaya drink (although I suspect you have to be a native to appreciate the taste).
For new restaurants, my favorite is Atomix; it is an astonishing homage to the culture of the chef’s native Korea. A beautiful experience in every way.
Estela is another favorite; Ignacio Mattos is a fascinating chef who never puts a foot wrong. His food is simple, but in his hands a simple salad becomes something exciting and new.
But for a taste of the future — and a modicum of hope — there’s nothing like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in Westchester County. Everything is raised right here, and everything is recycled. In this elegant atmosphere, Dan Barber aims to serve more than simply a great meal: His goal is to offer you food for thought that will linger long after the flavors have become mere memories.
Host, “Bizarre Foods”
I was born in New York City in 1961 and will always consider myself a lifelong New Yorker despite living in my adopted home state of Minnesota for the last 28 years. Technically I think my legal address is listed as airport; at least that’s how it feels most of the time.
Because my heart is in New York, because it’s the greatest city on the planet, because my work still happens there, I make it a point to be in town every month for at least a few days. I wish I could tell you what the hot new places in town look, feel and taste like. I have no clue.
I tend to dine at my favorite restaurants, the ones I have always spent time in, most of which four generations of Zimmerns have dined in: Nom Wah Tea Parlor, JG Melon, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s Deli, Jing Fong, Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna, Barney Greengrass, Di Fara, Randazzo’s, Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken, Spumoni Gardens for a trio of corner slices, Wo Hop, Sylvia’s, Peter Luger’s and so on.
There are a bunch of “new” classics I deeply love, too: Gramercy Tavern, New Wonjo, Golden Mall in Flushing, SriPraPhai, Marea, Le Bernardin, Daniel as well as Boulud Sud, Red Rooster, Daxi, The Grill, Cote, all the Momofukus, Misi, Empellón, Cosme, Frenchette, Upland, Shuko, Don Angie, Crown Shy, The Dutch, Toro, Butter, and about a hundred others that I am blanking on as I sit on a plane fearing the wrath of my friends’ emails excoriating me for leaving their place off my list. I hate lists.
National food correspondent, The New York Times
I don’t live in New York anymore, but I visit a lot for work and sometimes for play. I always try to eat at the most promising new restaurants, but I have a few nostalgic stops I make. Because I live in a city without a lot of great Sichuan food, I like to grab at least a lunch with some colleagues at Szechuan Gourmet, China Xiang or, if I can talk someone into a quick trip to the east side, Land of Plenty.
When I travel with my young daughter (or even when I don’t!) I try to grab a recession special at Gray’s Papaya, with a papaya drink. And a really good trip back would include a bialy from Kossar’s and a slice from Upside Pizza or Joe’s in the Village.
Food reporter, The New York Times
There are countless restaurants to love in New York. A small subset of those qualify for my “only in New York” label. Have breakfast downtown with the beautiful people (after 10 a.m., please) at Atla or La Mercerie, or at Russ & Daughters Cafe. Pick up lunch: a slice at Scarr’s or Upside, where N.Y.-style pizza has recently been perfected, or noodles from Xi’an or the original Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Eat dinner at a place that combines New York creativity and cool with food from somewhere else: Shuko for sushi; 886 for Taiwanese; Il Buco Alimentari or Café Altro Paradiso for Italian; Le Coucou for French classics that barely exist in France anymore.
Columnist, The New York Times
I live in Brooklyn and I have managed to concentrate my eating there so effectively that when friends come in from out of town and want me to recommend Manhattan restaurants, they might as well be asking where to go out in Tupelo, Miss.
To anyone amenable to a bridge crossing, I go on and on about La Vara. It’s a fantastic Spanish restaurant on a beautiful residential street in Cobble Hill. The culinary roots are Jewish and Moorish. I love the quietly glam room, the warm, happy spirit that emanates from the big hearts of husband-and-wife chef-owners Alex Raij and Eder Montero, and the fried artichokes that always leave me begging for a second order.
When it’s time to celebrate something big — or when someone else is generously offering to pick up the tab — I head in the opposite direction, down the hill to Dumbo and take in the easy formality of the River Café, which has sat on a barge in the East River since the 1970s. Hurricane Sandy knocked it around seven years ago, and it returned better than ever.
I’ve got a regular dinner thing going with a group of moms and teachers at my son’s school. Inevitably we end up at Rucola in Boerum Hill, a neighborhood Northern Italian place with a country-house aesthetic. Pretty much everything is delicious and the loud, cramped room means our gesticulating — the inevitable result of gossiping about 9-year olds — never feels out of place.
When I am craving pizza, I am craving pizza from Lucali, but the problem is that lots of other people are craving it, too. When you get there and time things right and get a table, you really feel like you are winning at life.
If I haven’t see you in a long time — if we are recapping the end of your first marriage, the long divorce and the uncertainty surrounding the new person you met on Bumble — I’m going to want to go to Periyali. It is a grown-up and subdued Greek place in the East 20s (yes, in Manhattan) where the food is reliably simple and good and where you can have the increasingly rare experience of hearing the person across the table from you.
Sam Kass and Alex Wagner
Former White House chef; co-host of “The Circus”
Diner is a beacon of light and the place to celebrate birthdays, new years, new jobs and everything else over their fries and steaks — especially the fries and especially late at night.
Uncle Boon’s is a place of deep inspiration — amazing betel leaves and eye-wateringly hot banana blossom salad that make both of us hiccup with delight.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor will definitely shape our children’s earliest food memories: We go here regularly for the chicken and pork shumai, steamed shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings and sautéed Chinese greens.
I Sodi is essentially the perfect date — incomparable negronis, perfect artichokes and heavenly pasta limone or their million-layer lasagna.
Estela has such spectacular and perfect food — lamb ribs, mussels escabeche, salads with amazing things hiding underneath them! What’s not to love?
Decoy. If we ever go to jail (separately or together), our last meal will be this Peking Duck. It is sublime, the stuff of emperors and kings. The only thing stopping us from each eating an entire one is the fact that the ducks are limited in number. But we have tried.
Shake Shack, Terminal 4 at J.F.K. Airport. Both of us travel an insane amount, and while we wish our lives were all crisped artichokes and steaming shumai and burrata salads, the reality is that we also have to eat a lot on the road. Shake Shack is an oasis — especially at breakfast, where you can catch either (or both) of us waiting for a fried egg and sausage sandwich (double egg for Sam) and pushing our boarding time to the last minute possible. We have almost missed flights for a Shack sandwich, no joke.