It seems everyone is a restaurant expert these days, from your overly opinionated office mate to anonymous Yelpers with an axe to grind. But if there’s one group that truly knows how to pick a good place, it’s a chef.
Where do the best professional cooks go to eat in New York when they’re not doing it as part of their job?
It turns out, they go everywhere: to after-hours joints in Little Tokyo, cosy neighbourhood spots for date night, and the hottest dining rooms in midtown.
Café Luxembourg has been an art deco escape on the Upper West Side since the 1980s. Craig Koketsu of Quality Meats goes there on nights off with his wife. “I am hard-pressed to recall an experience that is as comforting and enjoyable as any of my frequent dinners at Cafe Luxembourg, a few blocks from my apartment,” Koketsu says. His go-to meal is a Boulevardier – shaken not stirred – with mixed green salads – “I know, you’re yawning, but their shallot vinaigrette is delicious” – and either a Luxemburger medium-rare with Cheddar, extra lettuce and tomato, and fries or a tuna burger medium-rare with extra lettuce, tomato and wasabi mayo. Favourite dish: Harry’s Hot Fudge Sundae – “the toasted almonds are truly incredible”. 200 W. 70th St.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster and Food Network’s Chopped likes the food and the vibe at Estela, the stylish restaurant that famously hosted President Barack Obama. The eclectic Mediterranean menu includes burrata with salsa verde and torn chunks of charred bread. “I love that it’s almost like a secret. It’s on a main street, but up a few steps, so it removes it just slightly from the hustle – and the expansive layout inside is very smart.” Favourite dish: Lamb ribs with charmoula and honey. 47 E. Houston St.
When James Beard Award-winning chef Marc Vetri, of Vetri in Philadelphia, comes to town, his go-to spot is Barbuto, the rustic Italian hang-out with a serious wood-burning oven and glass walls that open onto a West Village street. “I love Barbuto. It’s like an old pair of jeans that you always feel good in,” Vetri says. “My order is always the same: kale salad, smashed potatoes, and chicken.” Favourite dish: Pollo al forno with salsa verde. 775 Washington St.
Great N.Y. Noodletown
Chinatown institution Noodletown is known for being open practically around the clock, from 9am to 4am, with an array of roasted, bronzed ducks and pork hanging in the window. Josh Capon, who runs Bowery Meat Company, started going there after service when he was a line cook because it was open so late. “Now I go whenever I have jury duty or whenever anyone is the mood to head to Chinatown for some killer Chinese food!” Favourite dishes: Salt-crusted jumbo shrimp with shaved jalapeños and “anything that’s got roast pork and noodles in it”. 28 Bowery
Stephanie Izard, chef and co-owner of Girl and the Goat and winner of Top Chef, is a big fan of the modern Italian restaurant Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In fact, she calls it her favourite, in all New York. “I love the mafaldine,” Izard says. “I think Missy’s use of pink peppercorn is creative, and I fell so in love with the shape of the pasta that I went out to buy the same die for my pasta machine!” Favourite dish: Mafaldine with pink peppercorn and Parmigiana. 567 Union Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This destination pizza spot is set inside an old candy store on a residential Brooklyn street. Missy Robbins, chef and co-owner of Lilia (see above), adores the thin-crusted pies owner Mark Iacono turns out from his brick oven. “Lucali feeds my stomach and my soul. It is like walking into someone’s home, where Mark, the owner, welcomes you as family,” raves Robbins. “His passion is infectious. And you can bring your own wines, which is always fun.” Favourite dish: Pizza with hot peppers and onion, with a calzone on the side. 575 Henry St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
For Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, the Lobster Club, from the Major Food Group, is his new favourite. “I love the Peter Marino decor, especially the elevated booths that let you watch the action of the entire restaurant and bar scene. The service is friendly and the wine team is knowledgeable. The Japanese-inspired dishes – such as the yellowtail and matsutake and barbecue pork jowl – are easy to share, making it a great place to enjoy with friends.” Favourite dish: Wagyu and uni. The Seagram Building, 98 E. 53rd St.
High-end sushi counters have become almost as ubiquitous as coffee shops in New York. For Dan Kluger of Loring Place, one of the most notable is Shuko, run by two Masa veterans, Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau. “As long as my list of new, must-try restaurants is, I am a neighborhood guy and find myself revisiting old haunts to support and see my friends. Since I’m usually going to or coming from my restaurant, my go-to spots are also in Greenwich Village. Shuko is tried and true – any fish they have is always amazing.” Favourite dish: Spicy tuna roll. 47 E. 12th St.
Andrew Carmellini, whose restaurant empire includes SoHo hang-out, the Dutch, favours this unconventional spot in Long Island City, where chef Joshua Smookler uses the skills he honed at Per Se to tweak traditional tonkotsu and fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras and brioche. “I like to pop in on the way back from the North Fork, especially in winter, for the corn-and-uni pancakes. So good!” Carmellini says. Favourite dish: Spicy ramen. 1209 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, Queens
Located a few steps up in a Greenwich Village residential building is this elegant Taiwanese tea room that offers classes and carefully sourced varietals. Eiji Ichimura, who now serves sushi at Uchu, goes there for cups of tea and small plates. “I helped Frederico [Ribeiro, the co-owner] learn how to make rice that he now uses for the rice bowl; I also enjoy their delicious pineapple yuzu biscuits.” Favourite dish: Taiwanese rice bowl. 163 W. 10th St.
With brick walls stocked with random, framed pictures, transportive Thai restaurant Uncle Boons feels as if you’ve walked into a cosy Bangkok home. The place sits a few blocks above Chinatown on the fringes of SoHo, with a street food menu that includes beer slushies and “Muay Thai” rotisserie chicken. Joe Ng, a master of dumplings and dim sum at Red Farm, recommends it. “I like the cooking, and the atmosphere is a lot of fun,” he says. Favourite dish: Crab fried rice with egg. 7 Spring St.
On the second floor of a building in the East Village’s Little Tokyo, next to cult favourite bar Angel Share, is this long-time izakaya. The Japanese comfort food menu has a vast assortment of yakitori, a long list of beverages that include sochu cocktails, and late hours. All of the above appeal to Justin Smilie of Upland, who likes the okonomiyaki with pork, shrimp, and cabbage. “It’s crispy, a little fatty and pungent, and great with an ice-cold beer.” Favourite dish: Okonomiyaki. 8 Stuyvesant St.
Wa-Jeal Sichuan Chili House
Abram Bissell of the Modern loves everything about this Sichuan chilli house on the Upper East Side, which boasts tablecloths and a long menu. “It’s just classy enough that I feel like an adult, but loud enough that I can bring my kids,” he says. “I usually get chilli-marinated ox tongue and tripe, and steamed mini pork buns, but everything on the menu is crave-able. There are few things better on a night off work than the warm burn of Sichuan peppercorns with an ice-cold beer.” Favourite dish: Dan dan noodles. 1588 Second Ave.