Ah, the parent visit. If your parents are anything like mine, their favorite part about coming to New York—besides seeing their darling children, of course—is the restaurants.
But what my parents want from a restaurant is a little different than what I do. They appreciate great food—but only when that great food comes with good lighting, comfortable chairs, friendly servers, guaranteed seating, and as little ambient noise as possible. Finding those restaurants can be a challenge. So, in honor of Mother's Day, our guide to parent-approved restaurants. Consider it our gift to you.
Great Breakfasts: Joseph Leonard, Maialino, Locanda Verde, Pulino's
These four newish restaurants tend to be slammed at night, but in the morning, each one is light-filled, pleasant, and serving food that's just as memorable. Maialino has fantastic pancakes and bacon; Joseph Leonard, an egg sandwich that might be the best you've ever had; Pulino's, some first-class breakfast pizzas; and Locanda Verde, sublime pastries and sheep's milk ricotta.
Joseph Leonard: 170 Waverly Place, New York NY 10014 (at Christopher; map);646-429-8383; josephleonard.com. Maialino: 2 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10010 (map); 212-777-2410; maialinonyc.com. Locanda Verde: 377 Greenwich Street, New York NY 10013 (at North Moore Street; map); 212-925-3797. Pulino's: 282 Bowery, New York NY 10012 (at Houston; map); 917-289-9357.
Civilized and Delicious: ABC Kitchen
One of the better new openings this year is Jean-Georges's ABC Kitchen just north of Union Square. If Mom wants you to eat more healthfully, she'll love what this kitchen does with carrots and sugar snap peas. It's a spacious restaurant, with the bar set off up front so the noise doesn't spill back. And though it's not a cheap restaurant, entrees don't climb north of the mid-$20s, so by New York standards it's not a pricey one, either. And Dad won't leave hungry.
ABC Kitchen: 35 East 18th Street, New York NY 10003 (map); 212-475-5829; abckitchennyc.com
Civilized and Delicious: Perilla
Perilla is a terribly cute restaurant, on a charming West Village street, but the charm extends beyond the entrance. The New American fare is creative but not too avant-garde, pleasing both adventurous and less adventurous eaters. And if either of your parents watch Top Chef, they'll be happy knowing that the kitchen is run by Season One winner Harold Dieterle.
Civilized and Delicious: Balaboosta
This part of the city isn't exactly known for parent-friendly fare, but Balaboosta manages to be both comfortable and sophisticated. The Middle Eastern food shows chef Einat Admony's skill and creativity, but the relatively straightforward entrees—a fantastic half-chicken, a beautifully cooked butcher steak—will make less adventurous eaters feel comfortable. And I can just imagine my mom clapping her hands at the idea of smashing her own hummus.
Balaboosta:214 Mulberry Street, New York NY 10012 (at Spring Street; map); 212-966-7366
Brooklyn Options: Grocery, Saul, Dressler
The above restaurants are all in Manhattan, but there are plenty of parent-friendly options in Brooklyn, too. Saul in Boerum Hill is a homey neighborhood restaurant whose food won a Michelin star. Grocery, a little farther down Smith Street, is as friendly and welcoming as the food is unpretentious; if it's nice, grab a table in the garden. And if you're out in Williamsburg, Dressler is a beautiful and sophisticated restaurant that's not stuffy in the slightest. If you're coming from Manhattan, take a cab; it's a quick hop over the Williamsburg Bridge, but not the easiest to access by subway.
Saul: 140 Smith Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 (map); 718-935-9844; saulrestaurant.com. The Grocery: 288 Smith Street, New York NY 11231 (map); 718-596-3335; thegroceryrestaurant.com. Dressler: 149 Broadway, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map); 718-384-6343.
'Different,' But Not Too Different: Kefi
If you're looking for something a little more interesting than Italian, go for Greek food at Kefi on the Upper West Side. It relocated from a smallish, cramped, subterranean space on West 79th Street to a multilevel dining area on Columbus Avenue, with more than 200 seats; reservations are taken, and the prices are still friendly. We recommend the meatballs.
Classic New York: Katz's, Gray's Papaya, and Pizza
If you're up for a little "classic New York" food searching, there are some well-known spots worth your time, touristy though they may be: a big pastrami sandwich from Katz's, hot dogs from Gray's Papaya, and pizza from Totonno's in Coney Island (whole pies only), John's of Bleecker Street (ditto), or Joe's in the West Village (slices, too).
Great Dim Sum Above Canal Street: Chinatown Brasserie
If you're looking for fantastic dim sum that doesn't require puzzling out an unfamiliar menu, we recommend the beautiful Chinatown Brasserie, where prices are a bit higher but the food is almost uniformly spectacular. Here's what Nick Solares had to say:
In light of its proximity to Chinatown, it may seem preposterous to dine at Chinatown Brasserie (which is confoundingly located in Nolita) and consider it a bargain to pay $15 for four selections of dim sum--even if that includes soup or cold noodles. But it is delicate, beautiful food that is as compelling to the palate as it is to the eye.
Great Dim Sum For the Adventurous: Flushing
Flushing, the Queens neighborhood at the end of the 7 train line, is just one of the many Chinatowns in NYC, but one of the most exciting. More on Dim sum at Ocean Jewel, Dim sum at Asian Jade, and Dim sum at Perfect Team Corporation »
Celeb-Chef On A Budget: Otto
My mom is a huge Mario Batali fan, but that's not the only reason she loved Otto, his casual West Village outpost. There's an incredibly extensive wine list, friendly if relaxed service, and all manner of delicious veggies, meats, and cheeses to start. The best part? The prices. A party of three or four could order a dozen dishes, eat themselves silly, and end up with a food tab of under $25/person. Note: go early or for lunch if noise is a big issue.
Parents Who Like To Feel Young: Scarpetta
"Scarpetta is my favorite restaurant in Manhattan!" proudly declared my dad's young-at-heart best friend, the last time he was in the city. It's a gorgeous space and a great choice for parents who want to feel like they're out on the town, while still being able to make a reservation and dine without elbows knocking theirs. And the food—particularly the starters and pastas—is pretty phenomenal. Note: dinner won't come cheap, and Scarpetta can get loud later at night.
The Best Walk-Ins: Gramercy Tavern Front Room
Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern is one of Manhattan's finer restaurants, but we prefer the casual front room, the "Tavern," to the more formal dining room. Same quality food, fraction of the cost. They don't take reservations, but if you're in the Madison Square area looking for a nice meal, this is your place.
There are plenty of terrible, pricey restaurants in the Theater District, but Esca, the Italian-ish seafood restaurant from chef Dave Pasternack, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich, is a great place by any neighborhood's standards. If you like crudo, you're in the right place.
Affordable Splurge: 4-Star Lunches
Want to experience some of New York's finest dining, without maxing out Mom and Dad's credit card (or picking up a painful tab yourself)? Go at lunch. Many of Manhattan's most highly reputed restaurants offer lunch deals with two or three courses for under $30—usually well under half of what you'd spend at dinner. And it's easier to get a reservation, too.
Splurge: The Modern
Like Gramercy Tavern, we recommend getting a table in the more casual "Bar" section; unlike Gramercy Tavern, the Bar Room at the Modern actually takes reservations. Former contributor Tia Kim recommends it for "quality mother-daughter time."
It's not a cheap date, but Convivio is the most approachable of recent Beard Award winner Michael White's fantastic restaurants, with reasonable prices and cuisine that's a little more rustic. Particular recommendations: fusilli with pork shoulder ragu, the stracciatella, and a beautifully grilled quail. Over near the United Nations, it's a very civilized place—so quiet that I booked my hearing-aided grandfather a table.
Convivio: 45 Tudor City Place, New York NY 10017 (at 42nd Street, b/n 1st and 2nd Avenue; map); 212-599-5045; convivionyc.com
Splurge With A View: A Voce Columbus
It's hard not to love a good view, and A Voce Columbus sits right at Columbus Circle, with expansive views of the park. Regardless of the surroundings, though, the modern Italian menu from chef Missy Robbins (recently named one of Food + Wine's best new chefs) is worth a visit.
Any more suggestions on where to take the parents?