AOL PICK from our Editors
How do you find the best places to eat in New York City when the city is considered the best restaurant city in the country? Or should that read the best restaurant city in the world? We’ll let you decide, but first here’s an amuse bouche on what you may find: there are more than 20,000 restaurants in the Big Apple, all encompassing just about every single cuisine the world has to offer. There’s way upscale and super no-frills low scale. Midtown has a lot of tourist-trap eateries as well as once-in-a-lifetime celebrity chef restaurants that will cost a pretty penny. Downtown—that is, say, below 14th Street—some of the best New York restaurants are more casual, more eclectic, and in many ways even more cutting edge. And don’t forget: tipping in New York is generally 20 percent.
Neighborhood: East Village Price: Expensive
Caramelized fig with mascarpone and gorgonzola mousse? Prosciutto and melon-stuffed ravioli? Parmagiano crème brulé? That’s right. Welcome to Simone Bonelli’s world. Or, rather, his kitchen. This rustic-looking off-the-radar restaurant in the East Village is like a laboratory of deliciousness for Italian-born chef, formerly top toque at two-Michelin-starred Osteria Fracescana in Modena. Bonelli plays with seemingly disparate tastes and textures in a fun way, flirting with molecular gastronomy, but usually leaving the dishes still recognizable. But do these “experiments” pay off? Certissimo!
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Neighborhood: Upper East Side Price: Expensive
Lyon’s loss is New York’s gain. This elegant Upper East Side restaurant is the flagship eatery of French chef Daniel Boulud. It’s not cheap, but then again, if you don’t like gambling, this three-Michelin-star eatery is a winner chicken dinner every time. The cuisine may be French, but it’s not stodgy. In fact, what comes out of Daniel’s kitchen is new and inspiring yet offering hints of the past as well as some international flair. A duo of beef, for example, matches Wagyu tenderloin with Blank Angus short ribs to great effect.
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Neighborhood: Tribeca Price: Expensive
Housed in Tribeca’s Greenwich Hotel, which is partly owned by actor/god Robert DeNiro, this wood-bedecked Italian restaurant is more than meets the eye. That’s because super chef Andrew Carmellini is working the stoves in the kitchen. The chef, who made a name for himself at acclaimed A Voce, serves up authentically prepared bold-tasting staples from the Italian peninsula: crispy grilled octopus nicely matched with saffron-laced potatoes, orecchiette, or “little ears,” with duck sausage and broccoli rabe, and perfectly seared scallops paired with faro and almonds. The all-Italian 100-bottle list is a good one and nearly all are priced at under $150. And don’t be surprised if Mr. DeNiro asks you to pass the salt.
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Neighborhood: Flatiron District Price: Expensive
Housed in a jaw-dropping Art Deco-flavored Metropolitan Life building, this Flatiron District restaurant at Eleven Madison Park is an epicurean feast for eyes. But Swiss chef Daniel Humm does not disappoint the taste buds, either. Since he took over the kitchen in 2006, he’s made the restaurant one of the most acclaimed in the city. The restaurant’s signature dish is suckling pig, which chef Humm serves like a candy bar, complete with a hard top compot and soft slow-cooked meat inside. Service is on equal footing and the globe-spinning wine list is out of this world.
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Neighborhood: Lower East Side Price: Expensive
Located on one of the coolest streets (that would be Clinton Street) in one of the coolest neighborhoods (Yes, that’s right, the Lower East Side), the brick-and-glass façade of this 65-seat restaurant screams “unassuming.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Meet Wylie Dufresne, mad genius with a spatula in his hand. Chef Dufresne deconstructs dishes and then puts them back together again, creating a culinary art that manages to rock taste buds at the same time. You were just thinking you wanted Campari-infused smoked eel? Had a hankering for venison atop freeze-dried polenta? It’s here and it tastes a lot better than you think. So much so wd~50 has earned a coveted Michelin star as well as a three-star review from The New York Times.
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Neighborhood: East Village Price: Moderate
The first restaurant of David Chang’s Momofuku is also his most affordable and accessible. This is the restaurant that started the ramen craze in New York City and should be on every foodie’s “to eat” list. Chef Chang has a magic touch, as everything he sends out seems to have a transcendent air to it…even simple fare. First timers should start with the steamed pork buns: soft bread concealing saliva-inducing tender pork. Then dig in to a steaming bowl of ramen, filled with pork belly and pork shoulder.
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Neighborhood: Little Italy Price: Moderate
Mulberry Street may be the last remnant of Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood. And this standout Italian restaurant could be the last place to get a good bite to eat there. Skip the red sauce joints and the menu-holding waiters who beckon passersby into their mediocre restaurants. Head straight for Torrisi. That is, if you don’t mind the inevitable wait. By day, chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone serve up hearty, thick sandwiches; by night, the place transforms into full restaurant with a rotating menu. Diners might be offered fluffy sheep milk gnocchi or an ultra juicy rosemary-spiked pork chop. Mulberry Street has never tasted better.
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Neighborhood: Tribeca Price: Moderate
This Tribeca restaurant is no secret, but for the uninitiated, here’s a tip: you can have your Nobu-grade sushi here without having to make a reservation in advance --and for less money, too. How? The more casual version of Nobu (which, as the name suggests, is the neighbor to the venerable sushi spot) doesn’t take reservations and is more casual in style. So beat the wait by having an early (or a very late) dinner and let your eyes feast on the sleek David Rockwell design of the place and your mouth soak up the ultra fresh fish.
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Neighborhood: SoHo Price: Moderate
Overshadowed by the city’s celebrity-chef-driven Italian restaurants, this SoHo eatery has more credibility in its pinky finger than most Italian restaurants in New York. That’s because Sora Lella is an outpost of the legendary restaurant of the same name in Rome, which has been cooking up comfort food since 1959. This newer version might not look like the Eternal City, but it tastes like it. Tuck yourself into a big bowl of pillow-soft gnocchi topped with an amatriciana sauce (and tender chunks of pig cheek) or the signature tonarelli pasta with pork and walnuts. Heartier fare includes grilled Cornish hen and braised oxtail.
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Neighborhood: Flatiron District Price: Moderate
Combine one of New York’s hippest hotels with a British chef who has earned serious cred with Big Apple foodies at her West Village gastropub, The Spotted Pig, and you’ve got the Breslin. This porklicious dark-wood-bedecked Flatiron District restaurant excels at snout-to-tail dining. Chef April Bloomfield is at her best with dishes like crispy sweetbreads and bacon, gooey slow-roasted pork belly, and deep-fried pig’s foot stuffed with pork and veggies. There’s also a juicy lamb burger (topped with salty feta) and, for the less adventurous, roasted chicken paired with pumpkin. Wash it all down with one of several cask-conditioned ales.
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Neighborhood: West Village Price: Budget
When the chef/owner of a pizza place is the president of the Associazone Pizzaiouli Napoletana, the Neapolitan Pizza Makers Association, it would be a good idea to get in line outside. Part of the much-welcomed pizza craze that hit New York City in 2009, this West Village pizzeria is one of the best in the city. The 12-inch pies, as one would expect, come thick and, as in Italy, sparingly topped. The best bets are the simpler sets, so go with the Margherita: mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. Wash it all down with a class of the fizzy red northern Italian wine Lambruscho.
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Neighborhood: Lower East Side Price: Budget
Vietnamese-born chef Michael “Bao” Huynh’s ode to the Vietnamese beer garden has been a hit since it first opened in 2009. Bia, which simply means “beer” in Vietnamese, lives up to its name, offering a wide selection of southeast Asian beers (and some hard-to-find Vietnamese brews, like 333). The menu is chock full of above-average south Vietnamese staples such as semi-sweet clay pot pork with pineapple and grilled lemon grass-laced chicken. But Bia shines with lesser-known dishes like catfish satay (which comes with lettuce to wrap it in) and banh xeo, a pork-and-shrimp loaded crepe. For the really adventurous, order the off-the-menu embryonic duck egg and watch your tablemates squirm as you eat it.
Neighborhood: East Village Price: Budget
This popular Japanese chain’s first foray in the United States is a hit. The greeting the staff yells out in unison is a nice touch. So is the funky design of the place with its retro 1960s furniture. But even without the frills, this is still one of the best places to eat ramen this side of the Pacific Ocean. Choose from one of many huge bowls of steaming noodles and be prepared to be shocked and awed. Melt-in-your-mouth Berkshire pork is intertwined with homemade noodles that float along with various other ingredients (depending on what your order), including ginger and scallions or even tender beef ribs. They don’t take reservations, but the wait is worth every slurp.
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Neighborhood: Midtown Price: Budget
Located in the lobby of the Le Parker Meridien Hotel, this aptly named burger spot is surprisingly hard to find -- mainly because it’s hidden. Look for the only sign: a neon-lit burger, and then peel back the floor-to-ceiling curtain and you’ll be rewarded with something akin to hamburger heaven: the no-frills wood-paneled room bustles with burger-loving patrons, the sound of deep-fat fryers and sizzle of stovetops pervading the space. On everyone’s “best burger in New York” list, Burger Joint’s $7 signature offering is dripping with beefy goodness. Just remember how to come back.
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Neighborhood: Brooklyn Price: Budget
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Barbeque with a twist. An Asian twist. Zak Pelaccio made a name for himself at 5Ninth and then went on to a few questionable gigs in other kitchens. But his mini “Fatty” empire—that would be Fatty ‘Cue and two outlets of his Fatty Crab Malaysian eateries—has given the hipster chef some of his cred back. This popular Asian barbeque joint in Williamsburg, Brooklyn might be his best effort yet. Messy pork ribs and hand-pulled lamb shoulder will satisfy the carnivore, but don’t overlook the chili-laden Manila clams (bolstered with smoked bacon) and red curry duck. Wash it all down with a Chupacabre (tequila, chili, ginger, watermelon, and lime).
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