Cash Cows: New York’s Highest-Grossing Dishes


Save for the four-stars and the true dives, all of the most successful restaurants have one offering that everyone orders: the destination dish. In addition to the simple delight of eating these undeniably fantastic things, these items are also huge moneymakers for their restaurants. So, in the biggest restaurant city in the world, which are the highest-grossing dishes? And what kinds of ridiculous sums are they pulling in?

Here are our educated guesses at New York’s top five cash cows. Volume numbers are straight from the restaurateurs, except in cases where “est.” is used. As restaurants are (sensibly) unwilling to release their food costs, we spoke to an industry chef who gave us his best, anonymous guess. We also called a couple of purveyors for comparison pricing. For yearly gross we did the math, assuming a 365-day year (most of these places do not close for holidays).

1. The Spotted Pig, Cheeseburger: $17
Description: Char-grilled eight-ounce burger with Roquefort cheese and shoestring potatoes
Daily Volume: Approx. 200 orders
Food Cost: 19 percent or $3.25 (La Frieda ground beef at $3.99 per pound, or $2 for eight ounces; brioche bun, $0.50; Roquefort cheese, $10 per pound, or $0.50; fries and garnish, $0.25)
Yearly Gross: $1,241,000

2. Balthazar, Steak Frites $30.50
Description: Classic steak frites with maître d’ butter or béarnaise sauce
Daily Volume: 85 orders
Food Cost: 24 percent or 7.24 (La Frieda petit tender steak, $5.99; frites,
$1; butter or sauce, $0.15, garnish, $0.10)
Yearly Gross: $951,600

3. Nobu, Black Cod with Miso $26
Description: Two four-ounce sablefish fillets, marinated
Daily Volume (est.): Approx. 100 orders
Food Cost: 13.5 percent or $3.50 (eight-ounce sablefish, $3; miso glaze and garnish, $0.50)
Yearly Gross: $949,000

4. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Pork Bun $9 for two
Description: Two steamed buns filled with marinated pork belly, hoisin sauce, and a few cucumber slices
Daily Volume (est.): Approx. 200 orders
Est. Food Cost: 20.5 percent or $1.85 (two steamed buns, $0.50; one-to-two-ounces prime pork belly at $3 per pound, $1; hoisin, cucumber, scallion, garnish, $0.35)
Yearly Gross: $657,000

5. Waverly Inn, Macaroni and Cheese $55
Description: Macaroni with cheese and shaved white truffle
Daily Volume: Approx. 20 orders
Food Cost: 9 percent or $5.10 (elbow pasta, four ounces, $0.50; cheese blend (Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano), $0.50; garnish; $0.10 cents; shaved truffles,* $4)
Yearly Gross: $501,875
* We believe the house uses canned white truffles most of the year, if for no other reason than the volume of truffles needed for this much macaroni and cheese would be an importation challenge — and the U.S. Customs office might have something to say about it.

Honorable Mention
Freemans, Artichoke Dip $10
Description: Artichoke and Parmesan dip, served with sliced, toasted baguette
Daily Volume: 35 orders
Food Cost: 33.5 percent or $3.35 (canned artichokes, $2.15; mayo/Parmesan cheese, $0.80; one quarter of a toasted baguette, $0.40)
Yearly Gross: $127,400

But don’t think that a $1.2 million gross in cheeseburgers at the Spotted Pig, for example, translates into $972,000 net revenue. Food cost is but the tip of a restaurant’s operating cost. Labor and operating costs (rent, insurance, etc.) generally wipe out another 60 percent of gross, give or take. However, there’s no disputing the virtues of seven figures of burger business.

Cash Cows: New York’s Highest-Grossing Dishes