Best Restaurants in NYC: Top 20 Places For a First Timer

Contributors:
Brooke Eliason

New York City is unquestionably one of the most visited cities in the world with an estimated 60 million people traveling from near and far every year. And what’s a vacation to NYC without standout amazing food? After taking a trip few trips to The Big Apple myself it occurred to me that most food lovers visiting New York are looking for something similar- most want an experience where they’re completely immersing themselves in some of the greatest dining experiences New York City has to offer, which more often than not are the famous, iconic NYC restaurants that their friends are posting about on Instagram and talking about for the months and years to come. And I’m completely in this boat myself.

Which is exactly why I have formulated this list of the best restaurants in NYC for a first timer, categorized by genre. In making this list I understand and realize that it would be nearly impossible for to try every last burger, pizzeria, ramen shop, and so forth. But the main idea here is that I’ve done all the work and research for you trying the so-called “best restaurants in NYC”, the spots with the most buzz and hype, and provided a list of not only some of the most iconic NYC restaurants but ones that will taste amazing too.

Because this list of best restaurants in NYC includes (for the most part) extremely popular restaurants, you need to plan accordingly and prepare to wait. I like to make reservations (check on Open Table, Yelp, or the restaurants website) or if you’re really eager to try a particular spot and they don’t take reservations give the restaurant a phone call and ask them what their typical wait looks like on the day of the week and time that you’re considering stopping by. I hope that you love my list of best restaurants in NYC! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these NYC restaurants or think that others deserve a spot on the list. Please note that this post features restaurants in Manhattan only.

SEE ALSO: TOP 20 DESSERTS IN NEW YORK CITY 

20. Chinese Noodles: Xi’an Famous Foods (Multiple)

Xian Famous Foods is one of the best restaurants in NYC if you’re on a budget in the big city with a hankering for Chinese noodles. They’ve got an entire menu to choose from with several different options, but the most popular menu item is undoubtably the spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles. This dish is going to satisfy your noodle craving and has the perfect kick (but not too much). The best part is they’re located in several different places across town and still regarded as one of the best NYC restaurants for Chinese food.

Xi’an Famous Foods

14 E 34th St, New York, NY 10016, USA 212-786-2068

19. All-Around Crowd Pleaser: The Smith (Multiple)

Traveling with an eclectic group? We’ve all been there. Between your 85 year old grandmother, teenage brother, and middle aged mother-in-law sometimes it can seem next to impossible to find a place that will make everyone happy. The Smith is one of the best restaurants in NYC when you’re looking for a spot that has a little something for everyone. Serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they have quite the variety of menu options. Some of our favorites include the avocado toast or the skillet roasted mac and cheese.

The Smith

55 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003, USA 212-420-9800

18. Casual Burger: Shake Shack (Multiple)

Shake Shack is unquestionably one of the most iconic NYC restaurants and there’s good reason for it. Truly some of the best burgers I’ve ever had have come from this NYC original (and now thriving American chain). If you want to experience it in true New York City fashion, go to their original Madison Square Park location and order a ShackBurger with a chocolate shake and a side of fries. Did you miss your chance at the ShackBurger? Never fear JFK has a location in terminal 4 and serves, in my opinion, just as delicious food. I’m also a huge fan of the breakfast sandwiches here, especially after arriving at JFK after a redeye.

Shake Shack

Madison Ave &, E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010, United States 212-889-6600

17. Dumplings: Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine (Lower East Side)

If you know anything about authentic Chinese dumplings there are a few short and simple rules: 1) The dumplings should be simple and fairly uniform in appearance. Even though I am a big fan of fried dumplings now and then they should taste great when steamed as well. 2) The dumpling should have excellent flavor on its own- it shouldn’t have to be drenched in any kind of sauce to be complete (although I do like to mix some soy and vinegar for dipping). 3) A really great dumpling shouldn’t cost you more than a few bucks for a plate at best. After doing some research in Chinatown and being a bit disappointed by the cleanliness and taste of some other popular options (not going to mention names), I was extremely pleased to find that Shu Jiao Fu Zhou serves some of the most inexpensive delicious and authentic Chinese dumplings among other NYC restaurants. They have other great and inexpensive menu items but the pork and chive dumplings cannot be missed!

Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine Restaurant

118 Eldridge St New York, NY 10002 (212) 625-2532

16. Pizza By The Slice: Joe’s Pizza (Multiple)

There are few things more iconic to New York City than pizza by the slice, and you better believe that there are about 1,000 NYC restaurants when it comes to enjoying this cheap local favorite. Look no further, because some of the best pizza you’ll find in the entire city is by the slice and comes from Joe’s Pizza for a whopping $3 per slice (start with a slice of the fresh mozzarella). It’s convenient, fast, and something that everyone in your group will guaranteed enjoy. Joe’s Pizza has multiple locations in the city, all serving up the same fantastic pizza.

Joe’s Pizza

7 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014, USA 212-366-1182

15. Upscale American: Blue Ribbon Brasserie (Soho)

When I picture a classic New York City dining scene it looks something like a dimly lit restaurant with couples enjoying an intimate meal together and warm American classic dishes being brought out from the kitchen. One of the best restaurants in NYC for a fantastic and traditional American meal that completes this picture is Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Unquestionably iconic and a favorite among locals and travelers. This is a great option for a nicer meal in the city or a late night fix (open until 4 a.m.). Don’t miss out on the beef marrow & oxtail marmalade or the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens.

Blue Ribbon Brasserie

97 Sullivan St New York, NY 10012 (212) 274-0404

14. Breakfast Bagel Sandwich: Black Seed Bagels (Nolita)

Some of the best bagels in the world are in NYC and (not surprisingly) some of the greatest breakfast bagel sandwiches are too. There are several to choose from but one of the most famed and hype-worthy for a quick morning bite in the city are found at Black Seed Bagels. Situated in Nolita this cozy bagel shop takes pride in rolling each bagel by hand and boiling them in honey water for a touch of added sweetness. The sky is the limit when it comes to great menu items but we recommend the bacon, egg, and cheese with avocado on an everything bagel.

Black Seed Bagels

170 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012, USA 212-730-1950

13. Lobster Roll: Luke’s Lobster (Multiple)

When on the east coast it’s almost necessity to enjoy fresh seafood in some form or the other including a classic lobster roll. You’ll find plenty of options to try this east coast favorite out at NYC restaurants but the best (and by far the most popular) are found at Luke’s Lobster. They keep things simple- a quarter pound of lobster served on a buttered, griddled New England split-top bun with a swipe of mayo, a dash of lemon butter and a sprinkle of our Secret Seasoning. Are you drooling yet?

Luke’s Lobster

93 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009, USA 212-387-8487

12. Sandwich: Katz’s Delicatessen (Lower East Side)

Serving up arguably some of the greatest sandwiches not only in NYC but in the world, Katz’s has been open since 1888 and is nothing short of an institution in New York City. Grab your ticket, decide between ordering at the counter or sitting in the back, and enjoy the greatest pastrami hot sandwich your taste buds will ever encounter at one of the most famous NYC restaurants. Not a fan of pastrami? Try the corned beef hot sandwich or a square potato knish.

Katz’s Delicatessen

205 East Houston Street New York City, 10002 (212) 254-2246

11. Casual Breakfast: Clinton Street Baking Co. (Lower East Side)

No foodie city is complete without a classic go-to breakfast spot that has a cozy, homey feel to it with incredible food to match the environment. Which is exactly what how I describe Clinton Street Baking Co. Situated in the lower east side of town, CSBC is known for serving some of the best breakfast in town among several NYC restaurants and arguably some of the greatest pancakes, too. If it’s your first visit try the wild Maine blueberry pancakes with warm maple butter, and if you’re lucky enough to visit in February make sure to try one of their specials in celebration for Pancake Month, served all day all night. Cash only here, kids.

Clinton Street Baking Company

4 Clinton St New York, NY 10002 (646) 602-6263

SEE ALSO: TOP 20 DESSERTS IN NEW YORK CITY

10. Ramen: Ippudo (Multiple)

In New York City there’s an absolute overwhelming wealth of incredible Asian restaurants, Japanese included. Ippudo, one of the best restaurants in NYC, is argued by many locals and tourists as home to the best ramen in the entire city. You can definitely expect a wait when you come here unless you’re visiting between lunch and dinner rushes (which is exactly what I did) but in hindsight I certainly would have waited because this ramen truly lives up to the hype. Order the shiromaru hakata classic ramen with a poached egg and slurp to your heart’s content.

Ippudo NY

65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003 212-388-0088

9. Casual Italian: Osteria Morini (Soho)

Everyone needs a great Italian joint where you can bring the entire family and gather around for incredible food, warm service, and a place that you can go back to over and over again. Osteria Morini, one of the best restaurants in NYC, is just that place. The food is hard to forget and prepared with a northern Italian influence. The flavors for every dish from the salads to the appetizers to pasta are nothing short of fantastic. The house made pasta dishes are the shining star of the restaurant, and while you can’t go wrong with any of them we recommend the tagliatelle with bolognese ragu and parmigiano.

Osteria Morini Manhattan

218 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012 212-965-8777

8. Fancy Breakfast: Norma’s (Midtown West)

All it takes is one look at this crunchy french toast to be convinced that Norma’s is an absolute must when it comes to the best restaurants in NYC! Tucked away inside of the Parker Meridien Hotel is home to some of the best breakfast in the entire city. The food is fantastic, the portions are incredible, and the service is unparalleled. Be forewarned that this is not your $10 diner breakfast. With bottomless freshly squeezed orange juice at $9 per glass and most entrees averaging $30, come ready to spend. The perfect place for a fancy breakfast in NYC.

Norma’s

119 West 56th Street New York, NY 212-245-5000

 7. NYC Style Pizza: Rubirosa (Nolita)

Rubirosa offers everything you could want in a classic New York City style pizza. True to form, the crust is on the thinner side and crispy on the edge but still chewy and soft where the cheese and toppings collide. New York City locals rally around Rubirosa for their delicious consistent pies and several claim that it’s the best pizza the entire city. Give their vodka sauce pizza one shot and you’ll see why it’s one of the best NYC restaurants. Rubirosa (235 Mulberry St, New York, NY // 212.965.0500)

Rubirosa

235 Mulberry St., New York, NY 10012 (212) 965-0500

6. Classic NYC Bagels: Russ and Daughters (Lower East Side)

Bagels and NYC are practically synonymous so of course we couldn’t leave the OG bagel spot off of our list. Without question one of the most simple yet divine things you can eat in NYC restaurants is a bagel from Russ and Daughters. This tiny Jewish shop is undeniably charming and sells everything from dried natural fruits to homemade sweets and of course their famous bagels and lox. Order the Scottish smoked salmon with scallion cream cheese and red onion on an everything bagel. At first bite you’ll simply die and go to heaven. If you want to make it even more of a date, walk around the block to their cafe, Russ and Daughter’s Cafe to enjoy their delicious food in a full-service restaurant setting.

Russ & Daughters

179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002 212-475-4880 ext. 1

5. Tacos: Los Tacos No. 1 (Chelsea Market)

Once I really got into the foodie scene years ago and started chatting it up with others who were also searching for the best restaurants in NYC, it became apparent that I’d have to check out the tacos at Los Tacos No. 1 in the Chelsea Market before any kind of list would be made. I love this restaurant for three reasons: 1) A refreshingly inexpensive meal at one of the best NYC restaurants, 2) it’s situated inside of one of the greatest food markets I’ve yet to experience and, 3) fantastically delicious and unforgettable tacos. The line goes super fast and you better believe you’re going to try the tacos adobada on a corn tortilla. Come to mama!

Los Tacos No.1 at Chelsea Market

75 9th Ave. New York, NY 10011 212-246-0343

4. Neapolitan Pizza: Motorino Pizzeria (Multiple)

If you’re looking for a fantastic Neapolitan style pizza in New York City, Motorino is 100% worth the hype and one of your precious meals. If you visit their original location in the East Village their cozy wood-fired oven is tucked in the corner and you can instantly smell the amazing aroma of hot pizza as you walk in. There are several great menu items including delicious appetizers and salads to choose from, but the main focus of your meal should be the classic margherita. Adorned simply yet perfectly with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil, you certainly can’t go wrong with this classic. Many New Yorkers argue that the white brussels sprouts pizza is the best option here. Not a fan of green things on your pie? Try the soppressata piccante pizza for the perfect touch of heat and and flair.

Motorino

349 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003 212-777-2644

3. Brunch: Sadelle’s (Soho)

If you’ve made it this far into the post, there’s a high chance you’ve taken note of the fact that there are three mentioned NYC restaurants from the breakfast family in total, the third being Sadelle’s for downright fantastic brunch. Sadelle’s has one brunch menu serving up their incredible dishes morning and afternoon, every day. If you’re dining with a group of three or four treat yourself to Sadelle’s Tower of house salmon adorned with a side of bagels and all the fixings. If you’re positioning yourself for something more personal the Scottish smoked salmon eggs benedict cannot be beat and their blueberry pancakes are some of the best I have ever had.

Sadelle’s

463 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012 646-757-5477

2. Upscale Italian: Scarpetta (Flatiron)

Next on our list of the best restaurants in NYC is one of the greatest upscale Italian restaurants in the entire city, Scarpetta. This phenomenal Italian restaurant will make your heart sing with some of the greatest house made pasta you have ever tasted. Start with the braised short ribs for an appetizer and don’t even think about skipping the classic tomato and basil spaghetti for your pasta course. Scarpetta is one of the best NYC restaurants for a special date night out with your significant other, a birthday or holiday celebration, or just an amazing meal configured in their gorgeous and romantic ambience. Several locals consider the pasta at Scarpetta to be some of the best in NYC and you’re just a bite away from realizing why.

Scarpetta

88 Madison Avenue New York NY 10016 212-691-0555

1. Gourmet Burger: Emily (West Village)

Eating at Emily was fulfilling a foodie dream that I’ve had for years and was 110% worth the hype. And let it be known that although we are highlighting the burger in this particular post on the best restaurants in NYC, there are several other extraordinary menu options. From the wood-fired pizza to the detroit grandma pies to the cozy dinner plates, you honestly can’t go wrong. But one of the best burgers you can find New York City is the Emmy Burger, a double stacked burger made with LaFrieda dry-aged beef served with Emmy sauce (just as magical as it sounds), caramelized onion, American cheese, and pickles all atop a Tom Cat pretzel bun.

Emily – West Village

35 Downing St, New York, NY 10014 917-935-6434

SEE ALSO: 20 BEST DESSERTS IN NYC

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  1. Love Osteria Morini. My go to Italian in NYC. Casual, great food and service, and, the best, no pretentious scene here. Now my heart is set on Emily,
    Thanks Brooke (my Godchilds name).

  2. We just ate at Osteria Morini, I went with your suggestion of the tagliatelle. It was delicious!! The ambiance, the food.. will definitely be going again.

  3. I LOVE New York City! It’s one of my favorite places ever. We actually made it to more than half of these places when we visited a couple years ago. I wish we had tried Blue Ribbon Brasserie though. Next time. I am so ready to move there for a year and eat my way through the city!