Where To Find The Best Meals in NYC

12 min read by  •  Time Visited: June 2022

I went wayyy above and beyond on planning and researching where to find the best meals in NYC. It was worth it and always is, but I’ll save you the hours I spent in this post. From tips on securing reservations to reviewing the old favorites we revisited and discovering new favorites to sharing places still on my wishlist, keep reading below.

A line outside Lilia in Williamsburg for one of the best meals in NYC


Some of my favorite resources for trip research are:

  • Friends/Family/Followers – Because they know you and what you like best, plus you can ask them all the questions!
  • Blogs/YouTube/Social Media – I love looking for other bloggers travel guides, searching by location or hashtag on Instagram, and asking for recommendations in Facebook groups – I’m in many that influencers have created as well as travel-specific ones. I’m happy to share these, so if you’re interested, reach out to me @adventuresingourmet or leave a comment below.
  • Reviews & Roundups – Sort reviews on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google Reviews by most recent, check the reservation platforms and awards, and look at The Infatuation (a personal favorite), Eater, Thrillist, and Time Out.

There are a few ways I like to compile my research depending on the trip. I personally do the top 3 in the order as shown for bigger trips, but that’s not necessary for everyone.

  • Google Drive – If I’m planning and researching with other people I’ll be traveling with, this keeps everything in one place that all parties can easily view and edit. I also like creating a spreadsheet when there are a lot of places to comb through or that are spread out, like NYC.
  • Google My Maps – I absolutely love this method for cities where there will be a lot of walking. I’ve created custom maps for 15 cities and counting, so you know it’s a tried, tested and true method. I’ll be sharing a dedicated post to my method soon!
  • Notes app on my iPhone – I always end up using Notes at the end of my planning when things are a bit more buttoned-up. I also love sharing it with my boyfriend so while I’m getting ready in the morning, he can look at it to see what I had in mind for the day and look up some of the restaurant options if we don’t already have a reservation.
  • Another idea is Notion travel planning templates – I admittedly haven’t tried using it yet but I’ve heard great things.

Making Reservations

As I mentioned in 4 Simple Tips for Planning a Perfect NYC Trip, Resy is king. When I saw this article from Eater pop up in my email, I couldn’t click it fast enough: “How Resy Won Reservation Wars.” Needless to say, NYC has always and will always have a reputation for hard-to-book restaurants. The only trick is to do your research on the restaurant and/or the platform you’re booking a reservation through. Oh, and you’ll need some luck too – use that Notify feature! I’ll call out some restaurants below that were challenging to secure a reservation for.

Here are some other articles worth checking out on the topic:

Now let’s get to the food!

The moment you’ve been waiting for – my list of where we went, where we wish we went, and our top 10 dishes.

Old Favorites We Went Back To

  • Buvette – I love this French restaurant so much! It’s super charming, authentic, and down right delicious. Fellow gourmets, this is a must. I initially wrote about it on the blog here.
  • Maison Premiere – An incredible variety of oysters and excellent cocktails (including absinthe)…need I say more? This trip, we ordered the Chef’s Selection of oysters and yellowtail curd with Meyer lemon, which was so refreshing on a warm afternoon. This is a popular spot so I recommend a reservation, getting there right as they open (there will probably be a line), or being a small group of 2 willing to sit at the bar and hope to get lucky.
  • Rosemary’s – This restaurant has the best location at a popular corner in West Village. Everyone will love it for any occasion. A few memorable dishes include the focaccia bread, brussels sprouts, and the Rosemary Spritz to drink. Don’t forget to check out the rooftop garden – no drinking/dining, just a hidden gem with pretty views).
  • The Garret West – I always end up having so much fun at this speakeasy cocktail bar in West Village. It’s on the second floor and you have to go through Five Guys to get there.
  • The Wren – I spent many, many happy hours here due to its close proximity to the office in Astor Place I used to work at. It’s a great location for a meeting spot or in between spot, but no where that you need to go out of your way to go to specifically. I included my review of The Wren in this post.

Old Favorites To Visit Next Time

  • Ess-a-Bagel – Nothing beats a NY bagel and this is my preferred spot, specifically the one in Midtown East. In case you were wondering, I’m an everything bagel w/lox, tomato, capers & cream cheese gal. P.S. They now have a location in Newark Airport Terminal A!
  • Russ & Daughters – Similar to the appear of Ess-a-Bagel is this NYC establishment that will make you feel like you’re in an episode of Seinfeld as I mentioned in this previous post. Plus, the quality is top notch. So yummy!
  • Freemans – We love a hidden gem, and while Freeman’s has peaked in popularity, it still manages to maintain it’s tucked away feel. I love the atmosphere here so much, I even dined solo once on my lunch break during jury duty! Read more about my review of Freeman’s in this post.
  • Jeffrey’s Grocery – In a busy city, this small, charming restaurant feels like it belongs in a small town. It’s friendly, welcoming, delicious, and they have oysters! Similarly, check out their sister restaurant nearby called Joseph Leonard.
  • Locanda Verde – When I lived in FiDi, I was closer to Battery Park City and Tribeca than I was to Stone Street or South Street Seaport. Locanda Verde was a favorite spot that I tried to take all my friends and family to just so I could go again. I always had great service, great food, and great drinks. What more could you want? Here’s my latest review of Locanda Verde.
  • Sofia Wine Bar – This neighborhood wine bar comes with special memories of me getting to know my boyfriend of nearly 7 years now. We loved ordering a big glass of wine and their incredible mac & cheese with prosciutto. It’s so cozy and perfect.
  • Raoul’s – Similar to Sofia Wine Bar mentioned above, this is another restaurant with special memories with my boyfriend. We went to Raoul’s for dinner the day before he finally and officially asked me out. I was sure it would be this night, because we had so much fun and such a great meal, but nope…he waiting one more day! LOL. This was the epic caramel dessert dome I shared on Instagram.
Sake Bar Decibel

New Favorites We Discovered

  • Via Carota – This Italian restaurant in West Village is the one we can’t stop talking and raving about. We sat at the bar, had great service, and the cacio pepe pasta was the best we’ve ever had. It was so good, we went back again for lunch! Highly recommend making a reservation; she’s a busy one! 
  • Saint Theo’s – We stopped in Saint Theo’s to check out their bar (called Venice Bar), which I expected to be more hidden in the restaurant but the curtain was wide open behind the host stand. Nevertheless, the bar was made of a beautiful terrazzo and the cocktails were great. We didn’t order any food but since we loved the vibe, we’ll definitely be back to eat.
  • Kyu – This fairly new spot, popular in Miami, intrigued us with the menu. Upon arrival, we were impressed by the open kitchen and dining room, elevated ambiance, and big chef’s table for larger groups. Everything on the menu is small plates and meant to be shared so expect smaller portions. The hamachi crudo with mint was fantastic as was the bone marrow – surprisingly large and meaty, the best we’ve ever had. We didn’t like the lychee pink cocktail. The stone pot fried rice was mixed table side and tasty but nothing too exciting. The fried stone crab bao buns were good but not as good as the crudo and bone marrow. 
  • Sake Bar Decibel – We got here right before they opened and there were a few other people waiting outside. It feels like a very authentic (as I would imagine) Japanese dive bar. The inside walls are covered with graffiti and lighting is very dim and dark. The unagi eel was insanely good…the best we’ve ever had (yes, that is the third time I’ve said that in this post!). Literally melts in your mouth. I would go back just for this!
  • Rosella – This small restaurant had such high reviews and was featured in many articles I read so we had to check it out. We ordered the crudo pesto, bagel roll and chirashi bowl. The green strawberries with the crudo were a fun pairing, and the bagel roll really did taste like an everything bagel sushi roll! The chirashi bowl was beautifully presented, included high quality fish, and was a good portion for the price. The owners were so sweet too! It was a little out of the way in Alphabet City, but I’d consider going back.
  • Shuka – Since we had dinner plans at Lola Taverna across the street, we decided to go early to check out Shuka first for some taramasalata and a cocktail. I love a good Mediterranean restaurant and this was no exception. I’d love to go back for dinner sometime.
  • Lola Taverna – Similar to Rosemary’s, Lola Taverna has a really busy corner location that adds to the hustle & bustle atmosphere of the city that we love. We ordered the pikili dips, chicken gyro bao buns, grilled lamb chops, and lavraki market fish from Greece. The fish was the clear highlight! It was very well seasoned, fresh and well cooked. I’d definitely go back.
  • Lilia – Quite possibly the most recommended place on the list. There was a line outside when we arrived so we were happy to have a reservation! The service was excellent – our server in particular was super knowledgable, friendly, made great wine recommendations, and overall, was a total pro with timing out our dishes. To eat, we ordered the little gem salad (the cheese was very good), roasted garlic scape focaccia with avocado spread (nothing not to like), chicken liver crostini (super unique; we said it was unlike anything we tasted before in the way it was prepared), grilled scallops, sheep’s milk filled agnolotti with saffron, sun-dried tomato and honey (really different but good), ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto, pecorino, pistachios (our favorite), and a yummy lemon dessert. I’d love to go back to try more, plus maybe order that gnocchi again!
  • Peter Luger Steakhouse – We certainly didn’t only just discover Peter Luger’s – it’s so famous and world-renowned, and yet we BOTH hadn’t been before! We went here for lunch having booked their first reservation time and there were about 20 people waiting outside for them to open. Crazy! We got the single steak, creamed spinach, burger and fries. The steak house sauce surprisingly kind of tasted like it had cocktail sauce in it, which was odd – not our favorite. The steak was definitely good (nice and sizzling!) but not quite a stand out. The creamed spinach was much more spinach than creamy/cheesy, as you can tell by the color in the photo below, but still had a good flavor. To our surprise, it was the burger that was the big stand out! Seemingly simple but the quality of the ingredients was great and the white onions seem to have done the trick. The fries were good too. As for the service, it was fast…you can tell they are a well-oiled machine. Note that it is (STILL) cash only! They have an ATM outside if needed. Overall, we were glad we went for the experience but probably wouldn’t go back. If we did, we’d stick with the burger.
Peter Luger Menu

Other Places We Went That You Should Skip

  • Mekelburg’s – We only had a drink here, and while the food menu looked good, I didn’t care for the vibe. There are better in Williamsburg.
  • Temple Bar – This was the most disappointing place we went to. I was torn between going here and The Nines, and regret not going to The Nines. They seemed very similar to me in vibe/price point and are also located in close proximity to each other. The service was poor, we didn’t like our cocktails (especially for the price), it was SO dark you could barely see anything, and the vibe was nothing special. The bar is more charming in design, but crowded. Save your money and skip this one.
  • Gemma – I love the location and the atmosphere that Gemma provides at a popular street corner on the ground floor of the Bowery Hotel, as previously mentioned in this post. However, the food this time around wasn’t anything exciting. I’d go back for the vibe and a drink, but would look elsewhere for a better Italian meal.

Top of Our Wishlist for Next Time

Some old, some new…the restaurant and bar scene in NYC is truly ever-changing. The best part? You have a 85%+ chance you’ll have a great meal at most places in the city if you do even just 10 minutes of research. We stayed so busy this trip that we didn’t end up going north of 34th Street or south of Canal Street!

  • Italian restaurants – Misi (sister restaurant to Lilia), L’Artusi, Bar Piscellino, I Sodi, Don Angie, Saint Theo’s, Emilio’s Ballato, Carbone, Cecconi’s, Uva, Bobo, Piccola Cucina, Estela, Rezdora, Vic’s, Gjelina, Torrisi
  • American restaurants/bars – The Noortwyck, Manhatta, 4 Charles, Polo Bar, Ralph’s Coffee, American Bar, Bemelmen’s Bar, Pebble Bar, The Nines, Charlie Bird, Gramercy Tavern, Waverly Inn, Sunday in Brooklyn, Four Horsemen
  • Asian restaurants – Bonnie’s, Potluck Club, Dhamaka, Ariari, Kru, Tokyo Record Bar, Sugarfish, Fish Cheeks, Wayan, Uncle Boons, Wenwen, Nami Nori, Semma, Kru, Thai Diner, Momofuku Ko, Indochine, Sushi Seki
  • Mediterranean restaurants – Laser Wolf, 12 Chairs, Pylos, Shuka, Meadowsweet
  • French restaurants – Dante West Village, Sel Rrose, L’Appartement 4F, Frenchette
  • Seafood restaurants – Dame, Sea Wolf, El Pingüino
  • Mexican restaurants – Oxomoco, La Esquina
  • Bars – Fresh Kills, The Django, The Hidden Pearl, Do Not Disturb, Gem Wine, Dear Irving
  • Rooftops – PUBLIC Hotel, Laser Wolf, Westlight, Water Tower Bar, Darling Rooftop

Have you been to any of these restaurants or bars? I’d love to know your thoughts and experience(s) in the comments below.

Don’t forget to check out my other NYC articles:

In This Adventure

  • Restaurants

    • Buvette ilovebuvette.com

      Popular, quaint bistro offering a French small-plates menu at breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    • Balthazar balthazarny.com

      Iconic French brasserie with steak frites, brunch & pastries in a classy space with red banquettes.

    • Rosemary’s rosemarysnyc.com

      Airy hot spot with a rooftop farm for seasonal Italian dishes, house-made pastas & notable wines.

    • Jeffrey’s Grocery jeffreysgrocery.com

      This homey American eatery is notable for its oyster bar, creative Caesar salads & Bloody Marys.

    • Joseph Leonard josephleonard.com

      New American fare served from breakfast to late-night in a rustic space with just a few tables.

    • Freemans freemansrestaurant.com

      American fare, craft cocktails & Colonial tavern decor draws a hip crowd to this hidden-away spot.

    • Locanda Verde locandaverdenyc.com

      TriBeCa hot spot showcasing rustic Italian cuisine in a lively atmosphere.

    • Raoul’s raouls.com

      Classic bistro dating to the 1970s with a bustling Parisian atmosphere & a serious French menu.

    • Saint Theo’s sainttheos.com

      Upmarket restaurant with retro-style decor offering Italian-inspired cuisine, plus cocktails.

    • Kyu kyurestaurants.com/kyu-nyc

      American BBQ with Asian inspiration and flavors.

    • Sake Bar Decibel sakebardecibel.com

      Underground sake bar offering a large list of varietals along with Japanese snacks.

    • Rosella rosellanyc.com

      Trendy restaurant offering Japanese cuisine including sushi, rice bowls & soup, plus sake & wine.

    • Shuka shukanewyork.com

      Place for contemporary Eastern Mediterranean food, wine & cocktails in a stylish setting.

    • Lola Taverna lolataverna.com

      Cozy option specializing in Greek classics including seafood & meat dishes, plus a robust wine list.

    • Lilia lilianewyork.com

      In a redone auto-body shop, this Italian place offers wood-fired Italian fare & housemade pastas.

    • Peter Luger Steak House peterluger.com

      Cash-only steak icon where old-school waiters serve aged beef in a German beer hall setting.

  • Bars

    • The Wren thewrennyc.com

      Hearty, upscale pub eats, craft cocktails, beer & lots of spirits in a rustic, happening space.

    • The Garret garretnyc.com

      Handsome second-floor bar with exposed brick, serving cocktails & Five Guys burgers from downstairs.

  • Cafes and Coffee Shops

    • Russ & Daughters russanddaughters.com

      Family-owned shop offering high-end smoked fish, caviar & New York-style specialty foods since 1914.

    • Ess-a-Bagel ess-a-bagel.com

      Bustling cafe serving up bagels (with very large toppings selections) & made-to-order sandwiches.

Leave a Reply