The 20 Best Restaurants In New York City, Ranked

Thinking up 20 places you want to eat in New York City is easy. But trying to select a list of restaurants as the best in the city? This is a dilemma that makes you pine for the easy dialectic of Sophie's Choice while we spend a half hour agonizing over Sophie's Cuban. While a single dish can recommend a venue, we want eateries that excel across their menus. Their décor, service, food, and atmosphere all factor into answering our main rule: Would you travel just to be there?

The first test is that there doesn't need to have wait service, but the dining area must include tables that are discrete from any line to order. Sorry, this is unfair to White Bear, as well as many of New York's favorite pizza places. (Don't worry, the upscale pizza restaurants are still covered.) Second, you have to be able to actually eat there. While we're not cutting out the tough reservations, we can't recommend Rao's for the ten people who might slip in — even though the meatballs and salad, yes, really are that good. Third, it needs to be, inarguably, at its core, a restaurant. We could park it all day at Caffe Dante for impeccable food and a beautifully relaxing atmosphere, but it feels more like a (very fine) bar than a dining-first establishment.

And finally, it needs to feel special: A place where you don't just eat but luxuriate. With those terms, here are 20 of the 200 best restaurants in the city.

20. Jiang Nan

You can't praise New York restaurants without enumerating its Chinese venues, yet picking one for this particular list was a surprisingly tough task. Then we remembered Jiang Nan.

While it declares its menu to be fusion, the culinary principles of the Jiangnan region drive these dishes: Simple combinations using delicately salted and sweetened sauces that let the freshness of their ingredients shine. The food here strikes a perfect chord, and with a famous diversity of cooking styles even within Jiangnan, the Flushing Jiang Nan (and its outposts) have a lot of options to create hybrid dishes. Seafood features appropriately throughout the menu, as do dishes that let vegetables like shredded potato or loofah melon be the star. And even though Beijing is several hundred miles away from the Yangtze River, the Peking Duck is a must-order item here. 

The décor is sturdy vintage in a space that feels like dining in a sheltered garden. (The koi fish help.) Dragons patrol the walls with fluidly twisting bodies. Jiang Nan is exactly the kind of place where you can soak in the surroundings as hungrily as you'll consume the food. It's a place you want to sit with a friend for as long as you can, sampling artfully presented dishes with a mini-cask of pineapple beer.

19. Sofreh

Sofreh brings a spotless aesthetic and fine dining to amazing Persian homestyle dishes without getting hoity-toity about it. Here it's elevated in the stark contrast between the plate settings and the variety of colors sitting on them. Chef and owner Nasim Alikhani ambitious sublimation without resorting to a trendy litany of tricks that turn so many cuisines into import editions of one another in the city's restaurant scene. Perhaps more importantly, it's a non-vegetarian restaurant where vegetarians don't have to feel like they're missing out. The recommended orders here frequently tilt towards vegetarian if not vegan, so it's a great place for a mixed-diet date that doesn't leave one wondering why they just ordered $30 in steamed green beans. Not the case here. Sofreh is one of the very few places that "You've got to go there to try their rice."

Elegance and class reign here, and yet the entire affair has a homey vibe — perhaps because elements of its interior design stem from Alikhani's life and hometown. The best restaurants always seem to embody some aspect of their chefs' personal experience or opinion rather than shooting for broad appeal. Sofreh does, in fact, feel like a culmination of a lifetime of experiences and learning — as well as an experience that visitors might learn from.

18. Rubirosa

As with Chinese food, picking the best pizza restaurant in NYC is harder than it sounds, and not just because there are so many great options and quite a few styles to choose from. Prince Street Pizza's greasy cups of pepperoni are wonderful, but that's a takeaway counter, so that's out. Joe's bears the NYC standard but is also the same deal. All around you are Emmy locations, a Detroit-style pizza so good it's vying here in New York. Lombardi's to the south: the scion of all American pizza!

But in the end, it's Rubirosa. That's the place where you want to sit and stay. While the TIE DYE pizza, a three-sauce swirl of pesto atop tomato and vodka, is the big Instagram star, hear us out. Yes, we know that pizza is, pardon the pun, baked into the brand identity from the slice-shaped signage out front. But have you scoped that pasta? Maybe we should actually shift the window to encompass all Italian here.

17. Claro

If you want a snapshot of Claro, know that the Michelin-starred Mexican hotspot stone-grinds its own corn meal tortillas from non-GMO corn sourced from Oaxaca. Their contents focus on organic produce, locally sourced as much as it can be. If you know where to sit, you can watch them being pressed and grilled, and Claro's open kitchen plays a big part in turning these devoted dishes into a full-on experience. While the tortillas form the basis for much of the menu, don't miss the mole.

For the bigger picture, Claro is dynamic. The foods change frequently, making it a different experience even for regular devotees. Fitting our mandate for this article, the reservations-only restaurant recommends a two-hour experience with no rush: Only good friends and good times recalling chef T.J. Steele's time in Oaxaca. It's a love letter to authentic Oaxacan cooking and genial eating that's right at home in Brooklyn.

16. Pugsley Pizza

The pizza here ever only improves by the year, but that's not really why you're going to Pugsley. The true get is the chicken roll, a pair of chicken strips and stretchy mozzarella in tomato sauce, topped with a magical sprinkling of seasonings that illuminates the pizza dough. It would be unfair to call this a calzone because after you have one, you're never going to consider calzones remotely in the chicken roll's league.

But even that is not why you should go to Pugsley pizza.

The cozy '70s den vibe in the shadow of Fordham University mixes with homemade art and philosophical musings that are unlike anything else in the city, and if you sat here for an afternoon, you would watch as many local luminaries come in as Fordham students. All of them pay their respects to Sal Natale, the owner and resident philosopher who welcomes everyone with stream-of-consciousness poesy about life, love, and beauty. If things slow down, he might break out his saxophone, or you might just bump into him playing it at Arthur Ave. market when he's not holding court.

This isn't a pizzeria; it's a symposium. Everyone who passes through the former stable's doorway becomes part of its endlessly appending history. Natale and his wife Pina, and now their son Pete, have extended their family to the Belmont community and created a welcoming place to unwind for countless thousands of homesick college students.

15. Contento

We maintain that East Harlem is the most overlooked eating neighborhood in Manhattan. Apart from the can't-miss Mexican on 116th Street, bested by mainstays Sidewalk Tacos and Cascalote around the corner, there's New York's best Cuban sandwich at Bermudez and the king of chopped cheese at Blue Sky Deli. Despite the recent loss of Mountain Bird, its surviving sister Gaudir still serves up the best tapas in town. Supernice's yeasted doughnuts are actually worth their hefty price. CakeBurger and Amor Cubano could not be more different, but both belong on this list in every way. And when they bounce you from Rao's, at least you've got Patsy's a short stroll away.

Having enumerated all that, know what it must take to arrive in such a scene and make a splash: That's Contento, which rocked all of your won't-travel-uptown minds upon opening its doors. Contento embodies the spirit of this article. Everything is just right: décor, ambiance, food, a fun staff who are attentive but never hover. And while lots of restaurants are wheelchair-accessible, Contento goes beyond accommodation by integrating the design to serve all patrons an equal experience. Intimately sized yet privately arranged, it's both cozy and elegant, making it as comfortable for a first date as it is conducive to an anniversary. The ultimate effect makes this a place to sip an exceptional wine and snack on the bowl of hominy as you peruse the Peruvian menu and admire the floral design. You're lucky to be here.

14. Keens

We're not going to try to figure out the best steak in NYC, something this city has made its point of pride for over a century and a half. We're just going to tell you it's not Gallagher's, and you're all deranged if you think so. But the best steakhouse? Ah, that's Keens. The Palm is a wonderful experience that's a visual walking tour of American cartooning. Smith & Wollensky feels like an oasis on a windy night. Peter Luger is, despite Pete Wells calling it a perfectly acceptable shrug, still a fun way to eat your weight in cream and beef fat. But none of them is Keens, a steakhouse so good it shames most of Midtown, and steak isn't even its star dish (get that lamb chop if you've never been).

Outside Herald Square is bustling with towering shops, a chintzy mall, and the high speed foot traffic where K-town bustle meets Empire State Building magnetism, but here inside Keens, it's a New York of another era, where you join countless New Yorkers across the ages. It's a necessary trek in the NYC experience, even if you don't eat meat. There's more history in these walls than New York City has managed to preserve on the streets of Manhattan, and you'll seldom have a finer or richer dinner. It's perhaps the finest place to reunite with a friend in this city.

13. Malii

The recent closing of Malii's northern location was a gut punch, but the Gramercy edition is looking forward, not backward. It expertly replicates the cozy charm of its sister restaurant without duplicating its exact design. It remains an incredibly adorable date night spot. The food is stupendous, and you would never be wrong to get takeout, but when you're here, it feels almost secondary to just how perfectly you could sit and watch the world stroll by on a summer night. The An Chan, a butterfly pea flower cocktail, was made for the 'gram, and Malii's very savvy social campaign has substance behind the glamor. If anything, the actual experience more than lives up to the social posts.

The same team also operates When in Bangkok, a Flushing spot with beauty to spare and personality to back it up. Not only is it the most delicious Thai you're going to find (or at least argue gladly about between Woodside and Hell's Kitchen options), it's a perfect spot to hold your special somebody's hand and just...exhale. Then inhale deeply because the smells coming out of this kitchen are phenomenal.

12. Hometown

Hometown springs straight to mind for our criterion of whether you would travel to get it. Those who say New York has no good BBQ are either out of touch or married to a particular regional style, or perhaps most forgivably, native southerners who have a fixed idea of what barbecue should be (and cost). All of them will be satisfied — even if it's grudgingly in spite of their preconceptions — here. Brooklyn's long led the northern charge with places like Pies & Thighs and Fette Sau, but who could impeach the pick of Hometown as the king of NYC BBQ?

Cozy, classic, and a good fit for Red Hook in a way that Tesla and IKEA will never quite match to the brick waterfront history here, Hometown brings the bonafides of chef Billy Durney, who studied the way of the 'cue down south, uses oak wood, and pulls menu items as they run low, rather than rush reinforcements out of the smoker. The restaurant isn't against closing up shop if it runs out of food to serve. Those are all authentic features of a classic barbecue joint, even if Durney's Red Hook roots run deep.

But who said authenticity was necessary? Combinations like the lamb banh mi here are far more authentic to New York city's role as America's melting pot. Hometown states its Brooklyn-style barbecue with a tip of the cowboy hat to Texas (itself home to Queens's fiercest competitor for the most diverse county in the nation).

11. Masa

We thought for a long while about whether or not to pick Masa in what we have dubbed The Rao's Rule. Ultimately, we said yeah, because the bar is not getting a reservation but paying the bill. Here's New York City's most expensive sushi, and it isn't even close at $1,000 a seat. We're not going to debate Masa vs. Nobu vs. Noz, which don't even place by price tag, but let's leave dollar value aside for once. If you can drop a key on sushi, you can afford not to do the mental evaluations about what it's worth. When you expect perfection, everything above a certain level is diminishing returns, so let's leave it at Masa is keenly aware of the value in its entire experience, so the restaurant bans cell phones and photos. 

Masa embodies chef Masayoshi Takayama's philosophy of sublimating a project to the best version of itself, amplifying its essence. It's a tough table to get even for the rich guys, so why wouldn't you practice, however briefly in this nonstop city of distractions, a little focus on the easily contemplated three-Michelin-star experience?

10. Flip Sigi

The original location of this merger of American classics with Filipino ingredients was a trip through chef Jordan Andino's personality in a tiny space that let everyone feel like they were dining and drinking at a supper party. Bartenders and frequently Andino himself poured drinks freely and served up secret menu items with a wink to keep the companion vibe going. Now that it's relocated to 7th Avenue South, it's finally getting the acclaim and elbow room it deserves in the pathway of an audience that fits it better than the high-heeled West Village crowd on Hudson Street. And if the arrangement has turned it more into a private dining experience, when the food is this stellar, your mouth will probably be too full for much conversation anyway.

Flip Sigi is exquisitely engaging comfort food at a very budget-friendly price that plays well with the NYU orbit and anyone exploring the vibrant nightlife in the area. But still, if the communal feeling has given way to new success, it's the kind of place where every time feels like the first time because the food is so zestily fulfilling, and you get to do some great people watching. The restaurant has adapted well to its new digs and has become a destination in the neighborhood. Amid numerous other successes this past year, including a Netflix show, Andino's set to excite again with Employees Only alum Chris Maier at Carriage House.

9. Laser Wolf

Hard to forget or discern a name like this, Laser Wolf serves kabobs and dips in a competitive-reservation club setting worthy of its name's intensity. Yet despite its hot moment, the food remains at the four rather than this just being a place to be seen. Or to see the views of Manhattan. Nothing breaks the heart like world-class food wasted on a crowd that barely touches it after snapping pics, and thankfully that's not the case here. That said, this is a great place to go when you want to actually enjoy your meal with friends and still have your bragging rights. Getting in won't be easy; getting out will be just as difficult, but more on an emotional level than a reservation one.

Open coals and even wider views of the city make this a fun place to be while further helping to cement the unthinkable: that Brooklyn might have become more crucially cool than Manhattan. The latter has exclusivity, the former has novelty, and we live in an attention economy these days. Laser Wolf gets that (again, see the name) and lives it on a rooftop of a cool hotel. Let the debate begin in the manner of our people: Dancing till the break-a-break-a dawn.

8. Minetta Tavern

There's a certain species of old NYC bistro ceaselessly firing on all cylinders for decades, seemingly since the days when firing on all cylinders was a new expression. A place where you might sit in order fries with a smell of beef fat feeds your appetite for free, soaked into the walls. Minetta is hard to walk into, crowded to the gills even with a reservation, and always the right call. It's so consummately New York, particularly lower Manhattan, that it feels like it'll be here for the lifespan of the city. This is such a New York institution; it's hard to imagine the city without it. (Sorry, Balthazar, you lose this round of MFK.)

And, of course, it's worth mentioning that this place serves two of the best burgers you've ever had. Half the fun of coming to Minetta for the first time is getting a Black Label Burger alongside the Minetta Burger and comparing and assessing which is better with a friend or date. But nobody's stopping you from conducting your tests solo if you think you can handle the umami.

7. 4 Charles Prime Rib

If you can even get a reservation here, the best prime rib in New York awaits you in a setting that feels like something out of a period drama. You don't have to grow a handlebar mustache and doff a bowler hat to dine here, but it can only help the experience. 4 Charles is a stout brick of rich perfection, serving up beef, shellfish, chocolate, digestifs, and atmosphere.

Other meats await, and even the odd vegetable, very good but just as calorically dense after all the added chicken jus and cream sherry. A short but — no surprise here — very respectable assemblage of incredibly intense beers will help seal up that case of gout you began working on with the cocktail tour of the James Bond franchise listed on the 4 Charles menu. You couldn't eat here too often even if you could get the reservation, but when the meal's this dense, it will live forever in lush detail pressed upon your stomach's memory with the subtlety of the Chicxulub crater. Now that's an experience.

6. Indian Accent

Have you ever eaten so well it makes you furious? Like you know you're going to reach the end of your meal, and that's an unforgivable betrayal after you let yourself fall in love just to get hurt again? That's how good Indian Accent is, yet we're willing to put our hearts out there, even knowing how it ends. And yes, we've been to Jackson Diner.

You think we don't want to say Jackson Diner? We'd take Mughlai over Jackson Diner and Mughlai is no Adda, and Adda is not quite Indian Accent. (Though its sister restaurant Dhamaka might be...Chintan Pandya has been on an exciting tear with each new venue.)

At Indian Accent, Chef Manish Mehrotra's extension of the New Delhi original location caters to the Carnegie crowd, so reservations are highly recommended. (Or time your entrance five minutes after the show starts.) Dress nicely; you're at Thompson Central Park, after all. For your efforts, you'll savor the staggeringly innovative work of one of the world's most luminary chefs. You really can't ask for a higher pairing of venue, talent, and tone.

5. Red Rooster

There are a hundred restaurants that make Harlem a phenomenal destination, and hold down an inimitable community and character. Sylvia's may be the official heart of Harlem dining, but even so, Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster feels like the next statement in its development.

A multi-cameral venue that continues to add experiences, including a to-go counter that also serves up ice cream, and a new party room with gorgeous design by manager Charles Washington, Red Rooster never stops growing, changing, innovating, and building itself into the surrounding neighborhood. It's impossible to visit and not feel like something important runs through here. It very often manages to feel like multiple celebrations at once, and there's amazing music and food in all of them.

Though he owns restaurants around the globe, Samuelsson has embraced Harlem as his capital. He's half the driving force behind Harlem EatUp!, a food festival that showcases locally-owned businesses and stellar chefs. Red Rooster has achieved primacy not by conquering the Harlem hospitality scene but by elevating everyone around it.

4. Family Meal at Blue Hill

You simply haven't had food like Blue Hill. While the Stone Barn destination is a heck of a getaway for an evening, easily reachable by car from the city, Family Meal brings food just as farm-fresh to the metro set that doesn't drive, all expertly prepared. This phenomenal concept is as direct as farm-to-table gets and feels like as much the Xavier Academy for Gifted Chefs as it does a perennially hot reservation going on two decades now. If it's good enough to be the Obamas' top pick for a midterm date night, it's certainly good enough for the average New Yorker...assuming you can get a seat.

Here's what awaits you if you do: Family-style shared servings at an expensive but also attainable $145 a head. There are no menus, but they do accommodate various dietary needs. Pretty much everything here comes directly from the Stone Barn's gorgeous farms, which grow their own herbs, crops, and livestock with the aim, if not necessarily the success, of regenerative farming. It would be wrong to gloss over Eater's expose and uncovering of Blue Hill's alleged problems, including the mistreatment of staff, but that same staff deserves a salute for its devotion to ensuring patrons thoroughly enjoy their experience.

3. Gabriel Kreuther

What even is Gabriel Kreuther? The creations here are such visual spectacles they seem to have left food behind to become Tiffany glass. If their textures and colors weren't so alluring to the stomach by way of the eyes, we might mistake a gallery of this French fare for pop art (with a heavy dollop of German influence). This is cutting-edge cuisine despite leaning heavily into mid-20th-century staples. The chocolates look like alien gemstones. This place has two Michelin stars and four from the Crab Nebula — a star system which we fully expect GK to cook perfectly.

And yet, despite being a restaurant that doesn't require you to wear a tie but makes you want to be the kind of person who does, it's eminently fair at the $150-250 range per person (or cheaper at lunch.) When you consider what's coming your way in plentiful portions prepared beyond expert level, it feels like a bargain. You may disagree, but keep telling yourself Eleven Madison Park will ever return to glory while you wait for that Dorsia reservation.

2. SpaHa Soul

We shouldn't even be telling you about SpaHa Soul. We can't let too many people find out about the immense love that chef and owner Artist Thornton brings to this space, or we'll never get a table. Let the soul food seekers stay west of 2nd Ave. and never learn about this convivial piece of perfection. Thornton pointedly treats every guest like family because he's preparing his family's recipes for you. There is a sense of something more here, and you might not grasp it without a peek through SpaHa's social media feeds; sharing something he loves with people truly seems to be Thornton's peace.

In fact, going by those sources, running SpaHa Soul is his dream come to life. It's palpable to visitors. You cannot walk into SpaHa without feeling like you've entered a place where the world is what we all agree it should be. Regular live music performances unite the diners in a shared experience. As much as possible in a New York venue, this feels like you've been welcomed into someone's home, and they've been so looking forward to greeting you at last.

And that food! Everything is made from scratch using, as much as possible: local, organic, and sustainable ingredients. SpaHa opened in 2016, but the bone broth had nothing to do with that fad. It's the stock of life here. Reservations are required, but again: We shouldn't be helping you fill a spot here.

1. Via Carota

Forget everything we said: It's the food. It's always the food. It just so happens that the scenery at Via Carota, the West Village's darling Italian establishment among many such fine contenders, sells expectations that the food delivers perfectly. Inspired by co-chef/owner Rita Sodi's home in Florence, in full partnership with fellow chef Jody Williams, Via Carota is perfect. Don't take our word for it — listen to the James Beard Awards, the New Yorker, and anyone else lucky enough to grace its threshold.

Via Carota styles itself like your nonna's childhood home and cooks like her nonna was given unlimited resources to perfect recipes from time out of mind. You can't take a bite of anything less than perfect here, and you'll want to sit at this divinely rustic West Village restaurant for as long as they'll let you. The cacao e pepe is the draw for legions of photo-snapping foodies, and it really is that great, but let us tell you about the wonders this haven can wreak from fresh vegetables, bread, and light cheeses on a starting platter. It's a real testament to a place where celebrity sightings feel like a detriment to the experience. Get out of the way, Franco; we're trying to focus on the meal here.