The Absolute Best Brunch in Manhattan

Barney Greengrass will always be the spiritual home of the great New York brunch. Photo: Bobby Doherty

When it comes to things to eat and drink on weekends, few rituals are more popular (or controversial) than weekend brunch. Our slightly unorthodox, highly subjective list of picks, below, includes trendy restaurant bars, several ambitious chef-driven restaurants, and, for nostalgia’s sake (and because brunch isn’t only about Bloody Marys and eggs Benedict), one or two classic seven-days-a-week breakfast hangouts.

The Absolute Best

1. Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 86th St; 212-724-4707

No, this venerable establishment doesn’t serve a Bloody Mary, and on weekend mornings it can feel like you’re marooned inside a tiny, desperately crowded train terminal. But the location (the brunch-mad Upper West Side), the selection of iconic breakfast nosh classics (the bursting bagel bins, the shimmering slabs of lox, the legions of omelettes and egg scrambles), and the timeless gestalt (we once enjoyed our sturgeon-and-lox scramble sitting next to a stone-faced Philip Roth) make everything worthwhile. Until the Amsterdam Avenue lease goes through the roof, or the aged, cranky countermen pack their knives and aprons and head south to Miami (or west to L.A.), this will always be the spiritual home of the great New York brunch.

2. Estela
47 E. Houston St., nr. Mulberry St.; 212-219-7693

In our humble opinion, Ignacio Mattos’s buzzy Nolita bar and restaurant is a much more peaceful, pleasant place to dine on weekend mornings than during the raucous evening hours. Even more important, the spare, carefully edited breakfast menu (blood cake with eggs and marmalade, the exceptional avocado sandwich, the English muffin with whitefish) is a thing of beauty.

3. Cosme
35 E. 21st St., nr. Broadway; 212-913-9659

This is another popular, chef-driven establishment that slows down pleasantly during brunch time. Go for the wet, purist bowl of huevos rancheros, the buttery, crumbly fried johnnycakes, and Enrique Olvera’s superb lamb barbacoa tacos, which we like to wash down with the intoxicating house “Bloody Marías,” made with tequila, instead of the usual cheap vodka, and real muddled tomatoes.

4. Shopsin’s
Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St., nr. Rivington St.; no phone

Kenny Shopsin and his eclectic, voluble crew are avowed brunch haters, it’s true. But there’s no more sprawling, creative, generally delicious short-order breakfast menu in the city (or possibly the world), and as long as the great man keeps this Essex Market operation open on weekday mornings, he makes the list.

5. Upland
345 Park Ave. South, nr. 26th St.; 212-686-1006

Justin Smillie is a master of high-end hungry-man cooking, which puts brunch squarely in his sweet spot. There are many delicacies to graze on here (yes, the eggs Benedict, the baccala cakes topped with fried eggs), but the dish we keep returning for is the porchetta sandwich, made with ribbons of the chef’s famous Tuscan-style pork, a toasted ciabatta roll, and a single fried farm egg.

6. Joe Jr. Restaurant
167 Third Ave., at 16th St.; 212-473-5150

You can’t guzzle Bloody Marys at this classic dining counter either, but the wizard cooks will whip up a serviceable eggs Benedict in about five seconds, if you ask politely. No less an authority than Wylie Dufresne himself told us once that he likes to visit on weekend mornings, to listen to the vanishing short-order patois of the staff, and enjoy what he considers to be the finest glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice in New York.

7. Dimes
49 Canal St., nr. Orchard St.; 212-925-1300

This little taste of L.A. down on eastern Canal Street is perpetually jammed during the brunch-time hours, but the purist West Coast breakfast specialties — the power bowls, the egg tacos, the excellent scrambled-egg-and-avocado sandwich — are worth the wait.

8. Russ & Daughters Café
127 Orchard St., nr. Delancey St.; 212-475-4880

The faux-deli setup is a little twee by downtown fresser standards, it’s true. But if you don’t feel like gobbling your Russ & Daughters bounty (the lox, the sable, the endless delicious varieties of herring) outside on the sidewalk, or in the comfort of your own home, you could do an awful lot worse.

9. Cherche Midi
282 Bowery, at E. Houston St.; 212-226-3055

The grand weekend spread at this Bowery brasserie is our current favorite Keith McNally breakfast, thanks to the roster of lavish egg dishes, like the classic eggs Benedict, and the lobster scrambled eggs, which the kitchen makes with chunks of Maine lobster, a sprinkling of fresh-cut chives, and spoonfuls of crème fraîche.

The Absolute Best Brunch in Manhattan