Torrisi Italian Specialties
By day Torrisi is a phenomenal Italian deli, serving the best turkey sandwich in town and a chicken parm that's pretty swell as well. But at night Torrisi magically transforms into a gutsy, thrill-seeking, ambitious-but-insanely-focused twenty-seat restaurant where two of America's best young chefs, Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, ply their craft with a $50 four-course menu that changes every night. Go by day for a killer sandwich. Go by night to be bowled over by the chefs' skill and creativity—and the almost absurd value of the dining experience.
For Top Chef fans, Kin Shop and Perilla
Not every Top Chef star has gone on to a successful restaurant career, but first season winner Harold Dieterle has moved far beyond his fifteen minutes of fame to open, run, and cook at two incredibly good restaurants in the West Village. Perilla is his flagship, a quietly elegant neighborhood restaurant with a focused, sophisticated menu; Kin Shop is much newer, a Thai restaurant deeply influenced by the flavors and philosophies of that country's cuisine, but interpreted as the chef's own. Dieterle didn't just launch these two spots on celebrity: he's there, he's working, and it really shows in the quality of each restaurant.
Kenny Shopsin has attained some notoriety for his macaroni-and-cheese pancakes (yes, that's mac and cheese in the pancake) and er, his colorful conversation with friends and regulars (expect volleying obscenities as you eat). They've got an endless menu of tripped-out diner food; we love their sliders, their doughnuts, and all sorts of pancakes—or if you're really feeling frisky, a macaroni-and-cheese pancake sandwich with eggs and bacon. It's excessive, but it's not just novelty; the Shopsins can really cook, and their dishes tend to be as delicious as they are ridiculous. But the rough charm of Kenny and family is the real reason there's nowhere like Shopsin's anywhere else in the world.
New York's temples of fine dining are up there with any in the world—but it's easy for dinner to end up costing more than your plane ticket. So consider going at lunch. Many of the city's very best restaurants offer phenomenal lunch deals, like the $29, three-course lunch at Mario Batali's Del Posto, or the $16/course lunch at Jean Georges. The quality of the food tends to be every bit as high, the experience every bit as indulgent, with a bill that's halved or cut even further. Plus, you're on vacation; why not while away a few hours over lunch?
Mamoun's Falafel may be the most recommended (and a little bit cheaper), but Taim's falafel is head and shoulders above any we've had in New York (or, so far, the rest of the country). Wander into their West Village shop (or track down their truck), try any of the three flavors of insanely crisp, fresh-tasting falafel cradled in fluffy pita, and no other falafel will ever quite compare.
Xi'an Famous Foods
Xi'an Famous Foods started as a small shop in Flushing, Queens, the best destination for most regional Chinese foods in New York, and they now have three Manhattan locations, too. We've never had anything quite like their slippery, chewy liang pi noodles or "lamb face" salad (not as scary as it sounds), all doused in their alluringly spiced, fiery house sauces. Service is fast and friendly and everything's cheap—it's a great place to push your own boundaries a bit (or just slurp down three different kinds of noodles).
Walk through what's left of Little Italy and you're confronted by a dozen checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurants, with waiters outside hawking their menus. But walk just a block or so north to Rubirosa if you want that Italian-American charm but food that's, well, better. Chef and co-owner Angelo "A.J." Pappalardo is straight outta Staten Island, but then spent time in serious restaurant kitchens; he brings that culinary skill to classics like lasagna, thin-crusted pizza, and meatballs. Incredibly good, soul-satisfying, and not too expensive; they do red sauce right.
Russ & Daughters
Perhaps some tourists do know Russ & Daughters, but we're of the opinion that it should be on top of every must-visit list. You get two things you can't find anywhere else in the world— the finest Jewish appetizing food (smoked salmon, whitefish salad, cream cheese with chives, sable, babka, rugelach) anywhere; and a warm welcome and a singular experience, taking a number and waiting in line making new friends, as smoked fish lovers have done for a hundred years.
We understand why tourists line up at Grimaldi's and Lombardi's, but when it really comes down to it, our favorite pizza in the city might just be the Neapolitan-style pies served at Mathieu Palombino's two restaurants. From his remarkable ovens emerge puffy-edged, lightly charred pizzas topped with any number of delicious things, like spicy soppressata or brussels sprouts and pancetta. It's not classic New York, but it's good enough that we consider it a modern classic. Go. You won't be sorry.
Keen’s Steakhouse Bar
Not too many places in the city endure without change, year after year. But dating back to 1885, Keen's is a rare piece of classic New York, looking every bit its age (in a good way); the no-reservations pub room is our favorite way to dine there, for prime rib hash or an excellent burger.
J. G. Melon
There's nowhere in the world like J. G. Melon, an old-timey joint that dates back to the days when the Upper East Side was the place where people would go out. (The well-worn, kitschy decor makes it look even older than it is.) And the classic order is this burger—that's what the crowds are there for. It's an excellent bar burger, well-griddled, juicy, blanketed in melty American, as appealingly lowbrow-classic as the place itself. Be prepared to wait and to encounter gruff service, but that's just part of the charm.
JG Melon: 1291 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10021 (map); 212-744-0585
For Celeb-Chef Fans, Colicchio & Sons and Babbo
Plenty of celebrity chefs trade on fame to open restaurant after restaurant, relying on their personal brand to sustain a new project. Happily, there are exceptions to that trend, spots that still show real care and personal investment. We're fans of Colicchio & Sons, the newest restaurant of the head Top Chef judge (sitting up in the more casual front room is our favorite way to dine there; hanger steak and beer make for an excellent meal), and Babbo, Mario Batali's now-classic West Village townhouse restaurant where pastas and offal dishes may redefine what you think of Italian food.