Guide Books

Zagat 2009: Per Se, Ko, Asiate, USC Emerge Victorious

Determined not to let the Michelin guide steal its thunder, Zagat has sent us the press release for its 30th-anniversary edition, out today. Of course, it starts by informing us that New Yorkers are eating out less and less restaurants are opening, but it’s not all gloom and doom — at least, not for Momofuku Ko (top Newcomer), Per Se (top Food & Service), Asiate (Décor), and Union Square Café (which once again stays above its sister restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, in popularity). The full release, with highlights bolded (Lucali overtakes Di Fara for Best Pizza!), after the jump.

New York, NY. October 7, 2008 - Thirty-eight percent of New Yorkers say that one way they are responding to the economic crisis is by eating out less, according to Zagat Survey, which today released its 30th annual New York City Restaurants survey based on the collective experiences of a record 38,128 local diners. While this year’s Survey reflects current hard times, it also celebrates the enormous progress in the industry since Zagat Survey started in 1979. To celebrate its 30th birthday, Zagat has launched, which offers a look back at the dramatic changes in dining over the past 30 years, while recognizing the original Zagat-rated New York restaurants (See attached). To lend a hand in tackling global hunger, Zagat is teaming up with Action Against Hunger this year.

The 2009 New York City Restaurants guide covers 2,073 eateries across the five boroughs. The surveyors ate out over 6.6 million meals this past year. It shows that the number of restaurant openings declined for the first time since 2003 (from 163 to 119) and that diners are downsizing their restaurant-going by eating in less expensive places (38%), being more attentive to menu prices (35%), skipping appetizers or desserts (21%) and cutting back on alcohol consumption (19%). At the same time, the demise of financial institutions such as Bear Stearns and Lehman and general belt tightening by many other companies are cutting into year-end party giving.

“Restaurants are clearly feeling the pinch from the economic crisis,” said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. “But in the long run they will weather this storm, just as they did after 1987’s Black Monday and 2001’s 9/11. The culinary revolution that began two generations ago and the demographic changes underlying it are now part of our culture. While we foresee some hard times, New York is likely to remain the world’s leading restaurant city.”

Winners: Two of this year’s top spots share a single address: Columbus Circle’s Time Warner Center. Thomas Keller’s New American Per Se was voted No.1 for both Food and Service, and Asiate was chosen No. 1 for Decor. Rounding out the five top food rankings are Le Bernardin, Daniel, Jean Georges and Sushi Yasuda. When it comes to Overall Popularity, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe had its sixth win in the last decade - followed in order by its sibling Gramercy Tavern, Babbo, Le Bernardin and Gotham Bar & Grill.Top Newcomer Momofuku Ko scored with its “flawless” Asian-accented New American cuisine, even though its small size and Internet-only reservation policy make it almost impossible to get a seat. Rounding out the top five newcomers are Scarpetta, Adour, and Westsiders Dovetail and eighty one.

Economics 101: At $40.78, the average cost of a meal in New York City is up 3.3% over last year’s $39.46 and well above the Zagat national average of $34.09. The only U.S. city more expensive is Las Vegas ($44.44). Following Las Vegas and NYC are Miami ($38.86) and San Francisco ($38.70); while Austin ($26.74) and New Orleans ($26.18) are the nation’s best buys. At NYC’s 20 most expensive restaurants, the average cost of a meal is $156.49, up 9.4 percent over last year and more than double the $76.40 countrywide average. It is this high priced category that is most likely to suffer from the economy’s downturn. One thing’s for sure - it’s easier to get into these restaurants these days.

Cheap Eats: To give diners’ strained budgets a break, a spate of economical restaurants such as pizzerias, burger joints and BBQ places have been popping up around town. There were upsets in each of these three hotly contested genres with first-time winners: Top Hamburger went to DuMont, Top Pizza to Lucali, and Top BBQ to Fette Sau. Interestingly, all three are located in the burgeoning borough of Brooklyn. To help cost-conscious diners, the new guide lists four pages of Best Buys, including bargain prix fixe meals at many of the city’s most revered restaurants, e.g. Jean Georges, Le Cirque, and Milos. In addition, there are 648 restaurants reviewed at which dinner costs less than $30, and lunch is likely to come in under $20.

Big Chefs, Smaller Scale: Reflecting the times, a number of celebrity chefs opened places with a decidedly down-market feel. Daniel Boulud debuted Bar Boulud, a wine bar opposite Lincoln Center specializing in charcuterie; Alain Ducasse brought forth French bistro Benoit; Anita Lo rolled out Asian barbeque spot Bar Q; and Jean-Georges Vongerichten slipped a soba shop, Matsugen, into TriBeCa.

Service and Tipping: Although 46% of New York surveyors report service as their No.1 complaint when eating out, this is relatively low when compared with the 54% who griped about service in 2005 - and this year’s national average of 68% who cited service as the principal irritant when dining out. When it comes to rewarding their servers, NY-ers’ tips are spot on with the nationwide average of 19%.

West Side Heats Up: Though voters named the West Village their favorite dining neighbor-hood, the Upper West Side was clearly this year’s winner for the most noteworthy new arrivals given the debuts of Bar Boulud, Dovetail, eighty one, Madaleine Mae and Mermaid Inn. Furthermore, UWS spin-offs of Fatty Crab and Shake Shack are in the works along with West Branch, a new eatery from the area’s favorite son, Tom Valenti of Ouest.

Outer Borough Stars: Once culinary backwaters, the outer boroughs are producing increasing numbers of Top Food-rated restaurants, e.g. Garden Cafe (28 out of a possible 30), Peter Luger (27), Di Fara (27), Trattoria L’incontro (27), Sripraphai (27), Tanoreen (26), Al Di La (26) and Roberto (26). In various major cuisine categories, these restaurants are No. 1 Barbecue - Fette Sau; Hamburgers - DuMont; Mid-Eastern - Tanoreen, Pizza - Lucali (with Di Fara as No. 2); Southern/Soul - Egg; Steak - Peter Luger; and Thai - Sripraphai. What’s more, these restaurants generally cost less than half of what their Manhattan counterparts do.

Opulence Endures: Although diners were looking to economize in the past year, New York’s poshest arrival, Alain Ducasse’s New French Adour in the St. Regis, proved that swank isn’t dead. Also, Drew Nieporent and Paul Liebrandt’s collaboration on Corton (in Montrachet’s former digs) is surely high end. At the same time, David Bouley is moving his flagship to a grand new space, while doubling the size of his Bouley Upstairs and adding two newcomers, BrushStroke and Secession, all within one block of each other in an area we like to call “Bouleyville.”

Favorite Cuisines: This year’s survey found that a 30% plurality favor Italian cuisine, followed by French (14%) and Japanese (13%). Despite this, five of the ten Top Food-rated restaurants are French (Le Bernardin, Daniel, Jean Georges, Bouley and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon). Japanese restaurants, e.g. Sushi Yasuda, Sasabune, Sushi Seki, Sugiyama, Nobu, and Masa (all with food ratings of 27 or above), also figure prominently in the Top Food ranks.

Going Green and Health-Conscious: A growing number of locavores and health-savvy eaters are finding restaurants that meet their needs. The survey shows that 67% of diners feel that eating locally grown food is important, and at least 55% are willing to pay more for organic and 57% for sustainably raised food (both up 5% from last year). And, this past year, the NYC Health Department banned trans fats, a move that 71% support.

Tech-savvy: When asked how they typically make restaurant reservations, 24% of surveyors reported making them online. In 2006 only 9% used the Internet for their reservations. This is on par with diners in Los Angeles (22%), but relatively low compared to San Francisco (49%), the home of industry leader, OpenTable. Diners can make restaurant reservations instantly via and

The Guide in Detail: Ratings and reviews of New York City restaurants can be found in the new guidebook as well as online at and via the award-winning mobile website, The guide also breaks out restaurants by location, cuisine and 70 special features (including Brunch, Business Meals, Celebrity Scenes, Child-Friendly, Group Dining, Hipster Hangouts, Historic Places and even Hottest Servers) and includes a fold-out city and subway map. The 2009 guide ($15.95), edited by Curt Gathje and Carol Diuguid and coordinated by Larry Cohn, is available at all major bookstores, through, or by calling toll free 888-371-5440.
Zagat 2009: Per Se, Ko, Asiate, USC Emerge Victorious