Ed’s Lobster Bar: casual New England style eatery, great for two people to sit at the bar for lobster, good wines, beautiful oysters. They have daily chalkboard specials. 222 Lafayette south of Spring St.
Balthazar: enough has been said. There is a reason it’s a Manhattan classic after ten years. It’s GOOD and it’s FUN. Breakfast, lunch, cocktails, dinner, dessert. 80 Spring bet Crosby and Broadway.
Lure Fishbar: I liked this place from the moment I saw the chic ocean liner decor. But I fell in love when they introduced their happy hour a couple of years ago. It’s arguably the best happy hour in the city. 5-7, Mon-Friday, $1 oysters, $5 dark’n’stormy’s, and $6 apps that include caviar topped deviled eggs and a shrimp tempura that could easily pass for a poor man’s Nobu rock shrimp. Happy hour isn’t the only reason to go…they have a full menu that is absolutely excellent, with a full sushi bar to boot. But if your credit card is maxed and you’re living the high life on what’s left of the paycheck after rent, then HH is the way to go. 142 Mercer at Prince.
Café Habana: solid, cheap, if not authentically Cuban, then reasonably latin food. They make an incredible café con leche served in a milkshake glass. Their sweet plantains are perfect. The grilled corn is yummy and the Cuban sandwich aint’ bad. Plus where else can you go and spend $10 on dinner? Read about my brunch here. 17 Prince at Elizabeth St.
Café Gitane: a glass of lillet, taken outside at one of the little tables, followed by an endive salad and perhaps some couscous- that’s heavenly. This French Moroccan spot is mostly jammed, but it’s a smart and surprisingly relaxed scene. Read the NY Mag review here. 242 Mott bet Prince and Houston.
Lombardi’s: they claim they are the first pizzeria in America. I know that doesn’t make them number 1 (and they are not, in my opinion), but the coal-oven pizza is divine, and definitely earns my beloved #2 spot for best pizza in the city. 32 Spring St at Mott St.
Raoul’s: It’s been around for a gazillion years, but somehow manages to keep it sexy. No pretense, no trend-following, no fancy cocktail list. Just really nice French bistro food with a good-looking crowd and an unassuming vibe. Where do you ever find that? 180 Prince bet Thompson and Sullivan.
Blue Ribbon: It’s not a secret, but they serve good food late. They also serve a great bloody mary, which goes nicely with the the raw bar. 97 Sullivan bet Spring and Prince.
Blue Ribbon Sushi: I wish I could say my favorite sushi is some weird hole-in-the-wall in midtown, just to be cool and off the beaten path. But I’m not, and I’m like everyone else: I love this place. 119 Sullivan St.
LUPA: One of Batali’s oldies but goodies, still packed. Rustic Italian, nightly specials, great pastas and overall just a really fun, casual atmosphere.
Salt: One of my favorite go-to spots in the entire city. It’s mostly communal tables, with a small bar in the back (it’s one room a bit larger than a typical NYC living room.). It’s relaxed, the service is super friendly, and it’s a straight-forward menu of mostly new American items that are done impeccably well. A great spot for sharing, and one of the few spots I go where I can order an app and a bunch of sides (their brussel sprouts rule) and feel totally blissful. Their risotto is always amazing. Oh, and the wine list is great. This is an ideal spot to go with a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with, or someone you’d like to get cozy with. 58 Macdougal bet Prince and Houston.
LOWER EAST SIDE favorites:
Sorella- in the LES- small plate rustic Italian. It’s wonderful. Good spot for a date because the wine bar is super dark and intimate, you share the food… you get the picture.
Inoteca: small plates, cleanly presented, strong on flavor. Happening scene, fantastic wine list, and service until 4AM makes this a great spot for any occasion. Rivington at Ludlow.
Brown: A tiny new American spot that focuses on organic, local food. Laid-back, this is a great spot for brunch with a girlfriend or an intimate dinner with someone unafraid of bio-dynamic wine.
Little Giant: Charming corner spot with great food.
Azul Bistro: Argentine steakhouse, LES style. Come at 8PM, this place is empty. Come at 11, it’s packed with mostly European expats sharing sizzling cast-iron platters of steak and passing bottles of Malbec.
La Pere Pinard: the food is only mediocre, but who cares when your waiter speaks in that sexy French accent, the rose flows freely, and live jazz plays in the candlelit room? It’s a great spot for drinks and a good salad. The back garden is perfect for summer months.
Spitzers: rustic, “beer hall” with a boutiquey feel. Lots of drafts and a pretty good burger…it’s a fun place if you’re meeting up with a big group- snag one of the communal tables. Rivington and Ludlow.
Schiller’s: it’s been around forever, it’s overrun by wannabes and has=beens, but that doesn’t mean it’s never cool. Afternoons and late nights, it’s a great spot to run in for a drink and a quick bite. Don’t go expecting culinary miracles, however.
Clinton St. Baking: famous for its brunch, dinner is just as impressive. The fried chicken is to die for, and I’m permanently obsessed with their biscuits. This is a great place to go with a best friend or a long-time boyfriend. And if you go for brunch, be prepared to wait foooooorever.
EAST VILLAGE favorites:
Il Posto Accanto
Brick Lane Curry
Caracas Arepa Bar
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Smith and Mills
Macao Trading Co
Union Square Cafe
WEST VILLAGE favorites:
Blue Ribbon Bakery
Little Branch for drinks
GOOD DATE PLACES:
Xicala: super fun Spanish wine bar in Nolita that’s about the size of my thumb. On Wednesdays they have a live Cuban band, a nice complement to the way-too-good white peach sangria, and the little hamburguesa is a must-try tapa. This is a great date spot, not for dinner, but for that first drink to loosen you both up a bit. Or, come here late for a “nightcap” and end up smooching to latin music between sips of tempranillo. NY Mag Review here. 151 Elizabeth bet Kenmare and Broome.
Flex Mussels: because now is the time to eat mussels, lots of them, and what’s more romantic than slurping mussels together? Their donuts for dessert are fantastic. In the Upper East Side and a new location in West Village.
Mary’s Fish Camp: get the whole fish and some sides, it’s a huge treat. Make sure your date loves seafood. This little spot, on a leafy corner of the West Village, is a little more casual, but really fun.
Minetta Tavern: to get in, you might need to show up at 6pm (unless you’re good about making reservations), but the cote de boeuf and chocolate souffle (both excellently shareable things) are supposed to be off the charts. This is a suggestion from my friend Hope, who is very judicious about handing out praise. This is Keith McNally’s latest venture, and the interior is old American (like every other new place in New York).
The made-for-boys lifestyle newsletter Thrillist said it best, saying of New York “we’re the world capital of Crapping Your Pants Over Even Fleeting Opportunities to Not Be Inside.” I agree, which is why this week I’m taking it outdoors.
Mermaid Inn: the front patio at this E. Village seafood spot overlooks traffic-clogged 2nd Ave, so ignore that and ask for a table in their peaceful back garden, a perfect spot to have a lobster roll and a glass of sancerre.
Morandi: The problem with so much NYC outdoor dining is that you’re sitting on a busy, exhaust-filled avenue listening to taxis honk at each other. Not so at Morandi, where a little square separates the sidewalk tables from the craziness of 7th Ave. Love this place for Aperol Spritzes, pasta, and the fava bean salad.
Barbuto- The floor-to-ceiling windows open up wide to let the breezes in down quaint, quiet Washingto St in the West Village. Honest, simple Italian. Not entirely outdoors, but you won’t get a sunburn either.
Bar Pitti- it’s a classic, it’s Italian, it’s a fun scene and it’s a must-do. It’s also cash only so hit the ATM beforehand.
Sant Ambroeus- oh man this place is sooooo charming and on one of the most beautiful W. Village blocks. European in flavor, a bit pricey, I love it for quiet breakfasts.
Other note-worthy gardens: Bobo, Grotto, Le Jardin Bistro, Five Ninth, Relish in Williamsburg
Epistrophe or Cafe Gitane- both in Nolita, both bohemian and charming and wonderful for a glass of Rose.
Bar Carrera- spanish wine bar (Houston and MacDougal location!) whose doors open wide to the sidewalk, allowing for a couple of high-top tables that are perfect for watching the crowds cruise by as you drink Estrellas.
Felix- if you’re feeling awfully European and love a day filled with Italian men in futbol jerseys.