New York’s oldest restaurant might also be its most innovative. In 1838, when “eating out” in New York meant eating whatever was on hand at the local boarding house, Delmonico’s revolutionized the city’s dining scene by giving patrons something they had never had before: a menu. Soon, high-profile patrons such as Theodore Roosevelt, Napoleon III, and the Prince of Whales were dropping by to try new, never-heard-of delicacies such as eggs benedict and baked Alaska, solidifying New York City’s place as a culinary capital of the world.
Of course, you don’t have to be royalty to eat like one in New York. Manhattan is as renowned for its humble food trucks as it is for its upscale establishments, ensuring diners can enjoy a bite of the Big Apple, no matter their budget.
Today, New York City’s restaurants continue to set the standard for refined dining. At Midtown’s Per Se, it’s hard to say what dazzles more, the signature “Oysters and Pearls” appetizer––Island Creek oysters paired topped with sturgeon caviar––or the Limoges china it arrives on. In the West Village, rich fabrics, fireplaces, and candlelit chandeliers inspired Zagat to proclaim One if by Land, Two if by Sea “devastatingly romantic”. Though pricey, the three-course prix-fixe menu provides a taste of black bass tartare, beef wellington, and a chocolate-caramel pot de crème by award-winning pastry chef Ilan Ades. A James Beard Award distinguishes the chef at The Modern, where roasted diver scallops and ravioli stuffed with veal sweetbreads are served in full view of the MoMA sculpture garden.
Middle of the Road
New York City is ripe with restaurants that walk the line between haute cuisine and hot dog cart. At Five Napkin Burger, gruyere and rosemary aioli top the signature sandwich that first tempted diners at Upper West Side hot spot Nice Matin. The latter also showcases reasonably priced French dishes such as escargot and hanger steak au poivre. In the East Village, Momofuku Noodle Bar, tops Japanese ramen with sumptuous pork belly or spiced Sichuan sausage and parties of four or more can reserve a dinner that pairs Southern- and Korean-style fried chickens with mu shu pancakes, veggies, and four sauces. Still hungry? Try a slice of history at Lombardi’s, the 100-year old establishment widely lauded as the birthplace of New York-style pizza.
Whether it’s a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery or a potato knish from a sidewalk cart, many of New York City’s best eats are grab-n-go. For a truly moveable feast, track down the Wafels & Dinges food truck, which Zagat named the city’s best in 2010 for its waffles topped with BBQ pork or nutella. Of course, no guide to New York’s restaurants would be complete without a stop at one of its world-famous diners and delis. Try Brooklyn’s Mile End Delicatessen for classics like smoked brisket on house-baked rye, or grab a counter seat at East Village staple Stage Restaurant to sample homemade corned beef hash and pierogis with fried onions.