After a year of eating and drinking my way around NYC, I’ve put together The Wine Chef’s annual where-to-eat list. Far from comprehensive, it’s based solely on restaurants I went to and enjoyed in 2018. Many of my favorite places (special occasion spots like Le Bernardin or The River Café, and casual, fun places like La Esquina) didn’t make the list only because I never made my way to them in 2018 — hopefully they will be included in my 2020 edition.
Those followed by an asterisk will be participating in NYC Restaurant Week (January 21st - February 8th) and will offer a 2-course lunch for $26 and/or a 3-course dinner for $42. Check them out!
I would love to hear about your favorite places in the comments section below. And make sure to follow my instagram @nycrestaurants all year round for more top restaurants.
May your 2019 be filled with amazing food, wine and spirits!
Aureole,* 135 West 42nd Street - Joel and I dine here every year to celebrate our wedding anniversary and it always delivers an exceptional experience. The original Upper East Side townhouse may have been more charming than the current Times Square location, but the food and attention to detail are constants year after year.
Bâtard,* 239 Broadway - I went to Bâtard twice in 2018 and the first time everything was perfect, but the second time was a service nightmare that almost ruined the evening. I’m hoping it was just an off-night because the food is excellent, the atmosphere is lovely and on Monday nights you can bring wine without paying a corkage fee.
Bin 71, 237 Columbus Avenue (at 71st Street) - This cozy, candlelit restaurant and wine bar has an inviting horseshoe-shaped, marble bar. The interesting beverage menu is full of off-the-beaten-track wines, artisanal craft beers and cocktails to go with a small menu of delicious bites. Perfect for a pre-Beacon Theater bite.
Bombay Bread Bar,* 195 Spring St. Get the party started at Chef Floyd Cardoz' colorful and festive restaurant that’s a showcase for the flavorful foods of his native India. Enjoy one of the Indian breads (I love the garlic nan) served with an assortment of chutneys before digging into the many small and large plates — two favorites: paneer and roasted cauliflower with fenugreek and braised beef short rib curry. Choose from a wide selection of cocktails, beer and wine — Domaine Ostertag 2014 Fronholz Dry Riesling from Alsace was a great choice — to wash it all down. Be prepared for a lively spot that gets packed on the weekends.
Boqueria, 171 Spring Street - Tasty tapas and a selection of Spanish wines, including sherry and a light and refreshing red sangria. There are two other locations in Manhattan. A lively, fun spot, great for a birthday celebration. Don’t miss the paella.
Casellula, 401 West 52nd St. The philosophy of this cheese and wine bar is to “share our passion for hand-made cheeses with as many people as possible.” The menu lists about 40 cheeses from around the world and over 100 wines. Select a flight of cheeses paired with condiments like pistachio sesame cotton candy, creamed spinach or red wine braised onions. It doesn't stop with cheese and wine, though. There’s a complete menu of shareable dishes available — all served in a small, cozy, candlelit space with friendly service.
Cervo’s, 43 Canal Street - Cozy spot on the LES with a nice selection of Spanish and Portuguese-inspired small plates.
Charlie Bird, 5 King Street - This hit from chef Ryan Hardy and sommelier Robert Bohr, now five years old, is still going strong. The simple yet elegant comfort food - crudo, pasta, killer desserts — pairs well with the great wine list. Our Chateau du Pelican Jura red wine had a lightness and mouthwatering acidity that was perfect with all of the food, from the razor clam crudo to burrata with caramelized acorn squash and tagliatelle with truffle. Note: all bottles of wine on the list can be ordered as a half bottle. Great experience all around: staff, food, wine and atmosphere.
Chef’s Club, “Located in the iconic Puck Building, Chefs Club is a restaurant in Nolita where the best chefs from around the world take over the kitchen for several months to offer diners a unique culinary experience.” (from the website). I really enjoyed the meal we had last Spring from the chef of DC’s The Dabney.
Covina, 127 East 27th St. The Californian-inspired Mediterranean cuisine here is excellent — great pizza, salads, appetizers and entrées. There are beautiful private dining rooms, great for a business lunch, as well as the spacious and inviting main dining room for a fun night out with friends.
Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar, Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue - This seafood restaurant inside Chelsea Market is my all-time favorite oyster happy hour (4-6 pm, Mondays-Fridays). Get there early (by 3:45 pm) to snag a seat at the bar. Order the house white wine of the day (usually around $28 per bottle!) and watch your oysters and other fresh seafood being expertly prepared. With a selection of 10 different fresh and briny oysters to choose from, you will have lots to sample. A MUST-HAVE warm appetizer is called Pistols on Horseback. Click here to read more!
Dirt Candy, 86 Allen St. This vegetarian restaurant has a great vibe to go along with its creative and delicious dishes – eating your vegetables can be fun! My daughter and I enjoyed the “Vegetable Patch” menu ($63) with an excellent wine pairing ($45).
The East Pole, 133 East 65th St. The Upper East Side isn’t where I usually think of going for a night out, but I keep going back to this neighborhood favorite. I love its lively downtown vibe and tasty farm-to-table cuisine.
Kings County Imperial, 168 1/2 Delancy Street - This baby brother to the Williamsburg original serves very good Chinese food and great cocktails in a fun, hip setting. Don’t miss the dumplings, garlicky eggplant and the Pineapple Rum cocktail.
La Vara, 268 Clinton St, Brooklyn, NY. Flavorful Spanish tapas in a fun, convivial setting in Cobble Hill with an interesting selection of natural wines and sherry. From their website: “La Vara celebrates the Jewish and Moorish legacies in regional Spanish cuisine- perfumed with aromas of saffron, cumin, and orange blossom. … food and wine that is contemporary, original, and authentic all at once.”
Leuca,* 111 N. 12th St, Brooklyn. Andrew Carmellini’s popular spot in the William Vale Hotel offers delicious pastas, wood-fired pizzas and more in a spacious and handsome setting. Make sure to visit Westlight, the bar at the top of the hotel, also run by Andrew, for a pre-dinner cocktail and amazing views.
Legacy Records, Celebrate a special occasion at this beautiful Hudson Yards spot owned by the team behind Pasquale Jones and Charlie Bird. I love the fresh-from-the-sea crudos, the house made pastas and the out-of-this-world honey lacquered duck for two!
Lil’ Gem, 29A Clinton Street - Chef Melissa O’Donnell serves up a feast of homey, delicious Middle Eastern Mediterranean cuisine in a cozy space with high-top tables, an exposed beam ceiling, brick walls and an open kitchen.
Lilia, 567 Union Ave, Brooklyn - Chef Missy Robbins, awarded “Best Chef in NYC” for the 2018 James Beard Awards, is cooking up some crazy good pasta (and lots of other delectable food) at her small restaurant located in a former garage. Don’t miss the soft and creamy sheeps milk cheese-filled agnolotti with saffron, dried tomato and honey (to die for!). The soft serve ice cream desserts are pretty special too. I love the one sprinkled with fennel dust.
Little Owl, 90 Bedford Street - This tiny restaurant in the West Village is very popular for its friendly service and delicious Mediterranean-inspired food. The crispy chicken is, hands down, the best item on the menu.
Lincoln*, 142 West 65th St. Executive Chef Shea Gallante is serving up phenomenal dishes at this beautifully modern Italian restaurant with glass walls and an open kitchen.
The Lobster Club, One of Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone's hip, happening restaurants, The Lobster Club oozes glamour and style. You feel like you are stepping back in time surrounded by the mid-century modern 1950s decor. The food — high-end Japanese — is unlike anything you would have found in Manhattan back in the ‘50s though. Yes, it’s pricey, and, yes, it’s worth it! Don’t miss the wasabi lobster appetizer, served cold (but not too cold!).
The Loyal*, 289 Bleeker Street - This West Village gem is cozy yet sophisticated. Delicious seasonal American cuisine with great cocktails and interesting wine selections.
Manhatta, 28 Liberty Street - Danny Meyer has another hit on his hands with this upscale French-inspired restaurant in the financial District, perched high above the city on the 60th floor.
Marta, The Redbury Hotel, 29 East 29th Street - Thin-crust pizza, pasta, meats, fish and vegetables — it's all good here! Another Danny Meyer hit with a large, airy space and an open kitchen. A nice selection of wines, beers and cocktails as well.
Pearl Oyster Bar, 18 Cornelia Street - One of my all-time favorite restaurants that transports me back to the coast of Maine. I always order the creamy, bacon-infused clam chowder, the meaty, bursting-with-flavor lobster roll, and the best-ever butterscotch parfait. In the summer, I also have the blueberry pie! A transplanted New Englander's heaven!
Pisticci, 125 La Salle St. This homey, lively Italian trattoria, located in Morningside Heights near Columbia University, grows some of its own vegetables and offers boldly flavored southern Italian home cooking. I love the rustic, long wooden tables, flowered wallpaper and exposed brick walls. The warm, welcoming service makes you feel like you’re visiting your Napolitano family in the south of Italy on a hot summer evening. (Note: I went there this week, after writing the above, and the food and service weren’t nearly as good. I’m hoping it was just a blip — a quiet Monday night after the holidays — so I’m still recommending it).
Racine's, 94 Chambers St. I’ve always loved this fabulous little restaurant with its hip, Parisian flair, delicious food and friendly staff. It's a lot of fun sitting at the small bar overlooking the kitchen to take in the view of the chefs in action. Under star sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier’s tutelage there's an excellent selection of organic and biodynamic wines. And as of January 2019, there’s a new chef, Diego Moya, who owned a great place called Hemlock on the Lower East Side. I like to go on Monday nights for the BYOB with no corkage fee. For dessert, the chocolate caramel tart makes me swoon — the best in NYC!!
Scampi, 30 W 18th St. An airy restaurant serving southern Italian-inspired cuisine with a focus on seafood in the heart of Manhattan's Flatiron district.
Shuka, 38 MacDougal St. Whether you sit at the long bar, the dining room or outside on the back patio, you will feel welcomed at this bustling restaurant serving delicious Eastern Mediterrannean cuisine with bold flavors. The menu is divided into dips, mezzo, kebabs and plates, all great for sharing. The wine list provides many interesting choices like an aromatic Zibibbo from Calabria, a dry Furmint from Hungary, or a rich Nero d’Avola from Sicily.
Speedy Romeo, 63 Clinton St. Everything here is good — the octopus, steak, salads — but the reason you’ll be going here is for the pizza, cooked in a hardwood fired oven. Busy and bustling, this is a fun restaurant to catch up with friends at.
Sushi Of Gari, 370 Columbus Ave. The sushi here is alway fresher than fresh and beautifully presented. There are a couple of other locations but I have only been to the one on the Upper West Side in 2017.
Toloache*, 166 East 82nd St or 251 West 50th St. Creative and delicious Mexican food in a fun, colorful, and upbeat atmosphere. Great margaritas! There’s also a downtown location at 205 Thompson Street.
Trattoria Italienne*, 19 West 24th St. A beautiful and spacious restaurant with a friendly and attentive staff serving well-prepared Mediterranean cuisine. Make sure to try one of the the housemade pastas or the amazing gnocchi with smoked bacon and gorgonzola.
Via Carota, 51 Grove St. Located in the heart of the West Village, this joint venture of Buvette's Jody Williams and I Sodi's Rita Sodi is a neighborhood gem. (Both restaurants were in previous “Where To Eat” posts). Open all day long, delicious Italian cuisine is served in a bustling and rustic gastroteca. Make sure to order one of the homemade pastas.
And there you have it. A small, but worthy, sampling of excellent NYC dining possibilities awaiting you in 2019! Happy New Year!!