As anyone who’s dined out while seated next to a plexiglass screen or inside a plastic igloo knows, it’s not the restaurants that went away during the pandemic but the packed dining rooms that give them life and spirit. Finally, in this post-vaccination phase, something resembling normalcy has been restored. If you’ve been away from the scene, cooped up in your apartment subsisting on ghost-kitchen burritos and fried-chicken sandwiches, however, you’ll find that the restaurant landscape looks very different. Exciting new spots have managed to open against the odds; old favorites were transformed by a hopping alfresco ambience; popper-uppers have settled down into a permanent neighborhood groove. There are so many new things to eat, places to go, and chefs to discover that it’s hard to keep track. So we joined forces with our colleagues at Eater and came up with the following list. Consider it your official summer 2021 restaurant guide, a snapshot of all the best places to go right now with the people you’ve been missing the most.
Anyone concerned that the pandemic killed the notion of dressing up for dinner should book a table at Kokomo. We were caught slack-jawed during a visit when we found ourselves in the company of men and women wearing full ensembles. Bright lips and long lashes, killer heels and colorful dresses were on full display. This restaurant is a vibe; it’s a proper night out; it’s a party. And it attracts a diverse crowd for an area of Williamsburg that feels overwhelmingly monochrome. Of course, it’s not only about the stylish clientele. People are coming because chef Mitchel Bonhomme nails classic Caribbean favorites and adds his own inventive creations (callaloo frittata, jackfruit tacos) and because owners Ria and Kevol Graham have created a space that feels transporting, from the live DJs to the tropical cocktails adorned with flowers to the plant-filled patio. —Amanda Kludt
It’s one thing to offer a $335 meat-free menu for the one percent (see Eleven Madison Park 2.0). It’s another to charge $10 and under for veggie-centric Chinese food for everyone: the curious carnivores, the certified vegans, and the dedicated superfans like Deborah from the Upper West Side, who loves the food and the vibe so much she literally hiked down the West Side Highway from 88th Street to Broome and Orchard one recent Saturday afternoon just to tuck in to paper-boatloads of chewy rice rolls topped with gai lan and juicy bok choy showered with crispy fried garlic. We know she did this because Fat Choy is the kind of place where diners who have navigated the scrum of Lower East Side streeteries — bars, vegan-cupcake shops, more bars — start conversations with strangers to recommend dishes, offer bites, and generally share communal moments of vibrantly flavored, inventively conceived culinary bliss. —Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
This elegant Greenwich Village establishment has flown so far under the radar that many regulars (ourselves included) were afraid it would close forever when disaster struck. Miraculously, unlike with the still-shuttered Gotham Bar & Grill across the street, the opposite has happened. Owner Catherine Manning fitted the space out back with tables and little enclosed “garden rooms” that have become a hit during the outdoor-dining craze. The Sazeracs we enjoyed on a recent summery evening were exceptional, and you can also addle yourself with $9 cocktails during the new happy hour. The talented young chef Tyler Heckman (Ferris, Le Turtle) took over the kitchen last fall, and he’s slowly added the kind of variety and style to the aggressively seasonal menu (braised spring lamb on our visit, white-asparagus velouté, gnocchi with escargot) that threatens to turn this sleepy local favorite into a proper big-city dining destination. —Adam Platt
Sample the Latest Fusion Cuisine on New York’s Original Open Street
Long before 2020 brought alfresco eating to every corner of our city, Stone Street was a pedestrian paradise, and it still is, a cobblestoned car-free wonderland for outdoor pints, pizza, and mozzarella sticks. The Migrant Kitchen, which opened last fall, brings Middle Eastern–Latin fusion to this Fidi pub-grub zone. Owner Nasser Jaber, who operates out of the Dubliner bar’s kitchen, sends out sumac-butter-slicked fried-chicken-and-falafel waffles, mariquitas (fried plantain chips) nachos, and pastelon mahshi, a Dominican-style maduros-and-beef riff on the traditional Palestinian stuffed gourd. And since many office workers are still Zooming in from home, Stone Street feels distinctly chiller and less suits-y these days. —Ryan P. Sutton
About one-third of all foreign-born nurses in the U.S. are Filipino, with many residing in New York. And this new Filipino restaurant — strategically located near the Upper East Side’s hospital row — was founded by three of them. If you want to break out of your morning-meal rut, do as the early-shift staffers from Weill Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering do and tuck into a silog: the traditional garlic-fried-rice-and-egg dish, variously topped and garnished. (Try it with the sweet Pinoy sausage longaniza.) Or end your own evening shift with a bowl of kare kare (oxtail-in-peanut-butter stew) or the sizzling platter of pig parts called sisig. —Robert C. Sietsema
There’s bad timing. There’s unfortunate timing. And then there’s Gage & Tollner timing. After many months of preparation and renovation, the new owners of the 125-year-old chophouse had scheduled the grand reopening for March 15, 2020, the very day before indoor dining came to a halt. Thirteen months later, the restaurant finally opened. Now, just stepping into the place, with its restored antique-mirrored walls, golden chandeliers, and ornate wallpaper, transports you to another era.On a recent visit, the room was buzzing with folks dressed up for a big night out, and it finally felt like we were dining in a proper sit-down restaurant. Although the menu includes the expected steaks and seafood towers, we went for updates on classics like chef Sohui Kim’s Clams Kimsino topped with bacon and kimchi, a rich clam-belly broil swaddled in miso butter, and a whole broiled porgy served with creamed spinach — all of which paired perfectly with an ice-cold martini or two. In short, dining here felt like the embodiment of “New York is back!” —Bao Ong
You see traces of far-west Spring Street’s past at the still-swinging Ear Inn and symbols of its future in the luxury apartment towers that have sprouted along Renwick and Greenwich Streets. Coco Pazzeria, with its raw bar and sparkling-wine list (liquor license pending), is the perfect pizzeria for this newly ritzy part of town, if the steady flow of neighbors stopping in for takeout orders is any indication. But thanks to the reputation of owner Pino Luongo and the presence of homegrown pizzaiolo Ciro Verdi, who can be seen slinging thin-crust pies and his trademark focaccia robiola at his oven in back, the restaurant also attracts couples on dates, travelers from other Zip Codes arriving on fancy folding bikes, and young families taking full advantage of the BYO policy (a must when your dining companions are an infant, a toddler, and a juvenile-delinquent tween). The menu extends to pastas and salads, but dough is the thing, fried into mini-calzones or formed into loaves for sandwiches, including a recent lobster-roll special. —R.P. & R.R.
On a recent Thursday night, the neo–Tex-Mex Yellow Rose hosted a birthday party for ten inside while managing a full set of tent-covered tables outside. The quoted wait for two: 45 minutes. Waiters in baggy T-shirts sprinted around, bringing inky carne guisada tacos to some groups while placing brain-freeze-inducing frozen margaritas — served in goblets lined with chile-lime powder — in front of others. Chef Dave Rizo, true to his Superiority Burger training, likes to keep things plant-forward and hyperseasonal when possible, which means that a plate of wild boar and grits gets a garnish of ramps and that the creamy queso for tortilla dunking is made from cashews. Drop inside after dinner to play a round of Pac-Man on a full-size arcade stand, then order a homemade cherry cola to chase a shot of bourbon. —R.P.S.
When we visited Eric Ripert during the depths of the crisis last year, he gave us a tour of his deserted kitchen and the grand, empty dining room, which, he gloomily explained, had to be vacuumed and fumigated regularly to keep mold from creeping into the curtains and up the walls. But these days, with his staff almost entirely vaccinated and old regulars beginning to stream back in for a fix of “barely touched” lobster tail, the great seafood maestro is in a much better frame of mind. The dining room is fully booked month to month, the menu is back to what it was during the glory days, and although lunchtime service hasn’t returned yet (Ripert’s hoping for the fall), he wants the world to know that for a variety of reasons (changing styles; the cumbersome, not entirely sanitary habit of handing out loaners at the door), they’ve abolished the restaurant’s longtime “jackets required” policy forever. —A.P.
This airy greek restaurant opened in 2018 on a rather unfavorable Upper West Side side street, facing a soon-to-be construction site, at a remove from the buzzier stretches of Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. But when COVID hit, Eléa was one of the first places in the neighborhood to build a beautiful, greenery-draped outdoor seating area, complete with inviting flowers, twinkly lights, and copious heat lamps. The kitchen didn’t miss a beat, turning out zesty shareable small plates like fried-zucchini “chips” and sesame-crusted feta. Now, Eléa has blossomed into a local go-to for date nights and other special occasions — the kinds of dining excursions that feel more celebratory than ever. —Ellie Krupnick
Omar’s channels Jamaican island vibes so convincingly you may forget for a moment that you’re on the Lower East Side. Reggae of an arcane sort thrums onto the sidewalk between the jazzy interior with its busy open kitchen and the busier outdoor-dining setup. Oxtail curry with flour dumplings and a side of callaloo suggests there is a traditionalist in the house. But modern notions fly out of the kitchen too, such as coco bread — not to put a patty in but to use as a cradle for a lamb slider and slather with what the menu describes as ackee tartar sauce. Cocktails garnished with fruits and tiny paper umbrellas abound. —R.C.S.
This Vietnamese restaurant smack in the middle of prime Bedford Avenue opened just before the pandemic and managed to soldier on throughout thanks to its backyard — small and slightly suburban-feeling with its wooden fence and strings of tiny lights. Pots of herbs grown on the restaurant’s farm in Pennsylvania line that yard; sometimes a cook will wander out and clip a fragrant betel leaf or a sprig of rice-paddy herb. It’s the ideal setting to enjoy chef Matt Le-Khac’s neo-traditional Vietnamese dishes, such as an unusual pho topped with coarsely ground beef and a vegetarian bun bo Hue chay made with mushrooms as opposed to the customary pig’s blood. —R.C.S.
What do you do when your wine bar has little street frontage to colonize? You expand around the corner behind an accommodating dentist’s office, build a wooden overhang that evokes an upstate summer camp, and position tables with a view of Ditmas Park’s stately Victorian homes. The locals have embraced the place, buying provisions from the impromptu pandemic market that was set up inside and congregating for alfresco light bites and drinks. As at its affiliated liquor shop, Kings County Wines, a few blocks away, selections lean toward the organic, biodynamic, and natural. But the food’s a lure too — especially the fondue, and especially when ordered with a Schaller & Weber hot dog for dipping. Also consider the chicken schnitzel and a grilled cheese that rates among the borough’s best. —R.C.S.
Plumb the Plant-Based Future of Next-Gen Ethiopian Cuisine
This high-energy Crown Heights spot opened just before the pandemic, and as soon as outdoor dining kicked off, owners Romeo and Milka Regalli — they’d met working at Milka’s mother’s Upper West Side Ethiopian staple, Awash — built a plant-lined patio that attracts a diverse crowd of the young and the meatless. “Everything is supposed to make you feel like you’re in a backyard in Ethiopia, somewhere fun and funky,” says Milka. In the newly unveiled dining room, graffiti adorns the walls and ’90s R&B pulses from the speakers. This cuisine inherently serves vegetarians well, but the kitchen here goes even further, creating vegan versions of beefy classics like tibs out of mushrooms and kitfo from pea protein. They’ve just added frozen cocktails to their already extensive list, but the big news is that at long last, any day now, they plan to bring back weekend brunch. —Rachel T. Sugar
Quick-serve grain-bowl spots don’t typically attract bustling social scenes. Not so this Chinese-inspired rice-bowl specialist, whose customers like to gather as much as they do grab and go. On a recent weekday evening, the restaurant’s breezy curbside shed drew a practically rowdy group of bowl aficionados: young women in NYU Dental School scrubs letting off steam, two skate punks hogging four seats, and, in a sure sign of the return to normality, rival parties aggressively eyeing a table whose occupants kept looking like they were about to bolt but never did. On weekends, we hear, things get even crazier. Chalk it up to an elegant-for-fast-casual design; cozy indoor booths; a short but sweet list of wine, beer, and sake; and chef Connie Chung’s savor-worthy cooking, especially her Yunnan brisket bowl — sticky, ripply, caramelized nuggets of meat candy with perfect rice and marinated cucumbers. —R.P. & R.R.
To an outside observer, Ayat may look like any other new falafel joint, a convenient pit stop for Arab cooking in a neighborhood teeming with it. But there’s more to this Bay Ridge Palestinian restaurant than street food. There’s homemade bread, griddled on a special domed sajj by the door. There are homestyle dishes, such as mansaf, lamb stewed in a yogurt sauce and laid over rice and a layer of that bread, and a sumac-seasoned roast-chicken dish called m’sakhan. And, above all, there are groups of families and friends coming together after the long, socially distanced winter to eat these reminders of home, to hear Palestinian dabke music playing in the background, maybe to break into spontaneous dance. And if you want falafel, they’ve got that, too. —Erika Adams
Another day, another Ravi DeRossi East Village vegan restaurant. This one, though, distinguishes itself with a southern menu executed by chef Shenarri Freeman, who channels the cookouts and family reunions of her Virginia upbringing. Hearts of palm cakes mimic salmon cakes, macaroni and cheese is imbued with jerk seasoning, and the lasagna (inspired by Freeman’s mother’s recipe) is southern-fried. Freeman prepares all this behind an eight-stool chef’s counter, the sort of tight-squeeze seating arrangement that social distancing rendered obsolete. Diners seem glad to be back: If not yet rubbing elbows, they’re at least communing with the chef and one another. As an alfresco alternative, a cluster of tables outside absorbs the slightly manic atmosphere of East 7th Street, half a block from Tompkins Square Park. —Emma G. Alpern
At this lively Bed-Stuy café, the yellow, blue, and red corn masas are all milled on the premises, yielding pliable, made-to-order tortillas and forming the basis of signature antojitos like tetelas filled with hibiscus flower and tlayuditas drizzled in salsa macha. These colorful Oaxacan snacks draw a bustling mix of 20-to-30-somethings sampling this food for the first time as well as Chicanos looking for a taste of home, but tables turn quickly, so there’s never much of a wait. Quench your thirst with a cinnamon-spiced horchata or an iced atole, a milkshake-thick beverage made from the versatile house masa. —Luke Fortney
Amy Pryke, who opened Native Noodles in February, has gifted a rare Singaporean restaurant to the city — great news for workers at nearby New York–Presbyterian Hospital and the Washington Heights neighborhood in general. On a recent weekday, two silver-haired folks slurped thick rice noodles in a shrimpy yellow curry as the scent of coconut-jam waffles perfumed the air. Others went for the roti john, a squishy sandwich stuffed with ground beef, soft omelet, and sweet-spicy chile ketchup. If the small dining room is full, take your lunch over to nearby Highbridge Park. —R.P.S.
Mark Coleman (Rezdôra) and Jacob Siwak (Olmsted) are the captains of this snug little establishment, which began life as a pop-up many months ago and is crowded now with a rabble of Italophiles, off-duty cooks, and carbonara loons, all clamoring for a taste of the city’s latest haute-pasta menu. The small, blond-toned dining room is nice, but if you want to feel like you’re dining on a side street in Bologna or Rome, ask for a table in the sidewalk cabana, which is strung with lights up in the rafters, lined with baby pine trees, and filled, on temperate evenings, with the bouncy sounds of Italian pop tunes. Pay special attention to Coleman’s elegant interpretations of the old Roman classics, like eggy tangles of tonnarelli pasta tossed alla gricia with pecorino, little chunks of guanciale, and plenty of black pepper.—A.P.
Work Your Way Through the Brand-New Menu at Brooklyn’s Best Thai Restaurant
At Ugly Baby, New Yorkers exchange glances and ask their neighbors for recommendations — yes, even during a pandemic. The great unifier? The incendiary cooking of southern Thailand. After a winter restricted to delivery, the neighborhood rejoiced when chef-owner Sirichai Sreparplarn reopened for indoor dining in April. Even more exciting: His new menu was nearly three times as long as the original, comprising mostly new dishes like peek gai (ground-pork-stuffed chicken wings over green beans) and kang leung (sour sea-bass curry). While on a recent visit, the restaurant’s laab ped, labeled “stay away duck salad” on the menu, lacked some of the promised heat, Ugly Baby remains a place where napkins are reserved for wiping noses, not hands. —L.F.
Tucked away in a residential corner of Ridgewood, Rolo’s began selling sandwiches and slices of grape-and-olive focaccia when it opened last winter as a grocery store. Those items have now joined a full Italian American menu served at an outdoor seating area furnished with picnic tables, market lights, and artificial grass. By day, it functions as a casual neighborhood hangout; by night, young couples and large parties toast with glasses of orange wine. Of all the dishes on the menu of crowd-pleasers (grilled patty-shaped meatballs; double-cheeseburgers), the best options come from the wood-fired oven. Consider starting with polenta bread, which is made by combining pizza dough with polenta and achieves a miraculously moist puff. —L.F.
Zero Otto Nove has been a mainstay of the Bronx’s Little Italy since it opened in 2008. But Open Streets’ weekend transformation of Arthur Avenue into the car-free Piazza di Belmont has brought a fresh and breezy feel to this first-rate southern Italian trattoria. Previously, restaurants along the strip rarely set up for outdoor dining, confining the festivities to the often-curtained dining rooms. Now and hopefully forever, the celebratory and communal open-air atmosphere brings the action (and all the neighborhood characters) outdoors, where diners partake in lively people-watching while enjoying dishes like citrusy seafood salad, butternut-squash pizza, and mafalde cooked in tinfoil.—Terri Ciccone
With its pink neon sign, piano for live jazz, and bamboo placemats, this subterranean spot on the border of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights feels more like an artsy friend’s basement than an austere sushi counter. The $89 15-course omakase — including Hokkaido scallops, fatty tuna, and lobes of uni one recent night, among other pristine morsels — is exactly the sort of meal one should experience in person. While the sushi is top-notch, it’s chef Atip “Palm” Tangjantuk’s ability to turn a hushed culinary ritual into what feels like a fun night at a piano bar that makes the place so special. If you’re lucky, you may even be handed a blowtorch to sear your own fish.—B.O.
Thai spot Tong occupies the ground-floor storefront of one of those Anywhere, U.S.A., new developments, a few blocks into Bushwick from the Queens border. At night, the space has a warm glow, and the dining room opens to the street and an outdoor encampment with strewn lights and some sidewalk tables. While it’s got an easy-going atmosphere — two pushed-together chairs make for a sidewalk lounge — the kitchen is anything but. The menu is built around kub klaem, or drinking snacks, of which there are plenty: grilled octopus electric with a chile-lime sauce, fried banana-blossom pancakes to nibble on, pork jowl smoky from the grill and ready to be dipped in tamarind jaew, and a beef tartare that’ll light up your tongue.—Chris Crowley
At Mark’s, which opened in November, the Queens-born chef Mark Strausman (Freds at Barneys, Coco Pazzo, Campagna) delves into the Jewish and Italian dishes that have come to define his 30-year career: lush eggplant parm, rich pappardelle with brisket ragù, and a killer chicken soup named after his grandmother Estelle. In nice weather, the outdoor terrace, with its view of Madison Square Park, gets fairly packed with a tony mix of locals and Strausman groupies from his Freds days. On weekends, starting at 9 a.m., the place doubles as a Jewish bakery whose bagels and bialys and black-and-white cookies put most of the competition to shame. —R.C.S.
This recently opened barbecue joint is located at the southern tip of the Bronx on a street once populated by antiques shops, and you can smell the ’cue as you walk by. The corral seating in front catches the sun during the daytime, and inside there’s a high-ceilinged room where social distancing isn’t a problem. The meats include great fatty brisket, pork ribs worth gnawing, and pork-belly burnt ends that make deliriously good bacon. Even the beer list, with many mugs originating in the Bronx, draws you in.—R.C.S.
The Oropeza brothers have pulled off a rare pandemic feat: They closed their tiny takeout outpost in midtown, which focused on soupy salteñas (Bolivia’s take on the empanada), and rebooted in Sunnyside with a sit-down location serving creative South American fare. On any given Saturday, a young crowd may show up to eat (and ’gram) craggy fried-chicken chicharrón sandwiches with spicy Llajua-spiked mayo, stark white bowls of sopa de maní (peanut soup), vegan “chola” sandwiches crammed full of charred jackfruit instead of the usual pork, and cherimoya birthday-cake ice cream. The best time to swing by is just before dusk, when you can grab a seat on the streetside terrace and take in the Empire State Building framed against a pink sky while Andean music plays from the storefront.—R.P.S.
A nine-month-old restaurant from the butchers behind Williamsburg’s the Meat Hook, Cozy Royale sets fairly basic expectations — a casual neighborhood spot with a burger on the menu — and overdelivers. The food is assertive and delicious with a whimsical streak (the kitchen has been known to garnish a steak with a hot dog), relying on high-quality ingredients, many sourced from the butcher shop a block away. Seasonal vegetables make more of an impact than you’d expect from such a nose-to-tail operation. And the bar takes its classic cocktails seriously, but not too seriously (fans of the Tequila Sunrise, be advised). As was the case on many sleepy side streets during the pandemic, the outdoor-dining patio — complete with rain cover, lighting, and sturdy tables and chairs — brought liveliness and a certain vibe to the area when it badly needed it. Now it’s settling in as the neighborhood spot we all want to have at the end of the block.—A.K.
With its heated communal blankets and gently twirling sidewalk disco ball, this quirky establishment on the southern fringes of Chinatown was one of the unexpected smash hits of the long, chilly outdoor-dining season. The proprietor, Yudai Kanayama, comes from the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido, and his menu is filled with jingisukan tabletop-grill specialties and many things (squid, pasta, risotto) dressed with that favorite local garnish: uni. The cooking can be uneven, but the late-night outdoor scene continues (scruffy young dogecoin moguls, poshly dressed members of Chinatown’s new hipster gentry, Champagne-drinking revelers freshly arrived from their lunchtime sessions at Dimes), and should you get caught in a summer rainstorm, the high-design indoor space has its charms too. —A.P.
Last fall, the abandoned Arcade Bakery space came back to life as Frenchette Bakery, ready to fulfill the carb-craving needs of Tribeca moms, the doctors in the medical practices upstairs, and passersby lured in by the sweet, yeasty promise of croissants and baguettes. Happily, the new owners have retained a big part of what made Arcade so special. Its unique design, using drop-down table ledges and inset benches, transforms a generic hallway into a gathering place for impromptu meetings, shared pizza lunches, and the kind of coffee breaks office workers never knew they’d miss. The bakers line the display case with their own enticements, too: exceptional loaves of sourdough and rye; savory breakfast pastries like the mortadella, egg, and Comté; and rich and flaky pain au chocolat. —Adam Moussa
Pre-pandemic, Via Carota was one of those restaurants West Villagers despaired of getting into. Mainly, it was first come, first served, with a system that involved scrawling your name on a chalkboard, then waiting forever in a knot for a table. Yes, the food was fantastic, a collection of Italian classics that observed the seasons with an emphasis on vegetables. But the pandemic changed the place. Tables spilled out onto the street, neighboring offshoot Bar Pisellino reopened, and suddenly it was possible to stride up and claim a seat, especially mid-afternoon or late in the evening. And what a scene! The menu continues to evolve, but the deep-fried rabbit, voluminous insalata verde, and svizzerina (the bunless house burger) are still the ones to beat. —R.C.S.
Ruta Oaxaca puts out colorful plates of the type you might enjoy in that southwestern Mexican state today, including several of its famous moles in shades of red, yellow, green, and the deepest brown. Last winter, we practically luxuriated outdoors in the restaurant’s beachy streetside shack, but now a lot of the action has moved indoors to a dining room with bright murals, an energetic open kitchen, and one of the better mezcal selections in town.—R.C.S.
International destination dining took a long hiatus during the pandemic, but Chintan Pandya’s homage to the regional culinary traditions of India, which opened recently at the new Essex Market, is packed these days with mobs of gastronauts from around the city. The space inside is strung with colored lights and includes an increasingly crowded, lively bar, but if you wish to feel the full heat of the fresh, made-to-order cooking, we suggest you secure a table within the sidewalk enclosure, where there’s more space to spread out. Order a round of Brooklyn’s fine, Indian American–owned 1947 beer, then begin merrily working your way through the menu, which is filled with dishes that even the most knowledgeable food scholars from India may not have tried, like pots of Bihari-style mutton infused with garlic and crunchy-topped biryani folded with bits of chopped goat’s neck. —A.P.
Co-owners Christopher Cipollone (formerly of Piora) and John Winterman (Bâtard) opened their posh South Williamsburg establishment in an old bank building down the street from Peter Luger as best they could in December, but when the shutdown came, they never installed any tattered dining yurts outside, and takeout demand wasn’t huge. With indoor restrictions lifted, however, a roof deck under construction, and a freshly minted Michelin star in their pocket, they’re busy making up for lost time. When we dropped in the other day, the brasserie-style banquettes were occupied by a festive mix of tourists from across the river and local burghers dressed in their muted Sunday best. The menu is filled with the kind of classical, slightly dated flourishes beloved by stodgy Michelin inspectors (lobster-stuffed ravioli, caviar-topped “soufflé cakes,” and sweet-and-crunchy-skinned “Crown of Duck” for two). But if you’ve been subsisting on pantry recipes and bags of carryout for the last year or so, it tastes pretty damn good.—A.P.
When the Shanghainese CheLi opened two doors down from sister restaurant Szechuan Mountain House on St. Marks Place last November, it only offered its food to go. But now the fantastically elaborate dining room is open, its bamboo-hut-like booths attracting Chinese expats and regional-Chinese-food lovers of all ages and stripes. The menu, like the mazelike décor, offers surprises at every turn, including the showstopping giant Song Dynasty steam bun. Much of the cooking is based on centuries-old recipes, but for something more contemporary, try chef Qiling Wang’s tofu-and-egg-drop soup thickened with sea urchin. —R.C.S.
Descending into the new subterranean Thai dining room–slash–cinema Mao Mao feels a bit hallucinatory, like suddenly finding yourself at a rave: The room is dimly lit by multicolored lights, and the walls are plastered in movie posters to induce sensory overload. Thai movies show on a big projector, while speakers play Thai funk. On a recent visit, most of the young clientele looked like they were there to just kick back. Some gossiped loudly; others were more focused on the screen above; a few coy customers were clearly on first dates. Seated in theater chairs at squat wooden tables, you’re meant to pick from a variety of Thai snacks — crunchy fried chiles, sticky chicken wings, and plump Isaan sausages — while drinking Beerlao or litchi-infused sake. If you’re looking for a meal, try the northern Thai beef soup with liver and tripe.—C.C.
Sometimes, the contemporary New York social experience translates to bar patrons sitting six feet apart, and sometimes it means meeting up with friends for a boozy outdoor brunch. In the case of Ursula, however, social interaction amounts to queuing up with hungry strangers, some of them homesick New Mexico expats, for one of the city’s finest breakfast burritos. There are stunning green-chile burgers, beef sopaipillas, rose-tea oat-milk lattes, and mezcal-lime doughnuts that glisten, but the real draw is the burrito. Chef-owner Eric See stuffs his warm flour tortillas with fluffy eggs, crisp hash browns, smoky chorizo, and incendiary red and green Hatch chiles. When a counter worker finally brings over this masterpiece, take a seat at a patio table or bench and dig in.—R.P.S.
When you’re at one of Saigon Social’s sidewalk tables, biting into the shell of a meaty tiger prawn lathered in garlic-butter sauce, it’s easy to imagine you’re at a backyard barbecue — despite the place’s location in the thumping heart of the Lower East Side. The setup feels relaxed and neighborly, festive and unpretentious. There’s even a burger, albeit one dressed with oxtail-Maggi gravy and bánh mì garnishes. But the crab-and-tomato soup is the highlight of a menu that lists traditional Vietnamese dishes like bun cha alongside creative innovations (the Saigon dip). As the city opens up and the pendulum swings back from takeout to dine-in, chef-owner Helen Nguyen will add more grilled items and crêpes, restoring the kitchen’s output to her pre-pandemic plan.—C.C.
In a fluke of real estate, Hunky Dory, a bar and restaurant in Crown Heights that was only a year old when the pandemic hit, sat next to an empty lot — that just so happened to be owned by its landlord. So as restaurants across the city scrambled to co-opt former parking spots, owner Claire Sprouse was able to build a patio larger than her bar and dining room combined. Last summer’s bare-bones setup evolved to include lighting, haystacks in the fall, a hoop tent with garlands in the winter, and a built-out roof offering full shade and rain cover. Now, as the weather heats up, locals are swarming the place more than ever for its fun cocktails, straightforward seasonal menu (from spring ceviche to “fancy chopped salad”), and exciting lineup of pop-up chefs. The patio may be reclaimed by the landlord come October, but Sprouse plans to keep the party going for as long as she can.—A.K.
St. Marks Place became one of the city’s great boulevards for outdoor dining last year, especially on weekend evenings, when tables were set up on the sidewalk and skateboarders ground up and down the street. This antic scene will only heat up this summer, and there are few better places to take it in than this deceptively sophisticated little Korean tapas spot run by the talented chef Kay Hyun. Hyun offers two selections of Wagyu, which is not an ingredient commonly seen in this part of town; sticks of plantain fried like pork katsu in clouds of panko; and fat little dumplings folded with deposits of sweet-corn purée. And there are plenty of fine sakes and Korean spirits with names like Seoul Night and Golden Barley. —A.P.
Last summer, as restaurateurs hastily built makeshift patios, Silver Apricot partners Emmeline Zhao and Simone Tong created a space that truly translated the dining experience to the street without sacrificing a bit of elegance or refinement. (Being situated on one of the West Village’s quieter blocks didn’t hurt.) Purse hooks on the plastic dividers, lavender planted along the perimeter, and quality glass and plateware made for a setting worthy of Tong’s inventive Chinese American dishes like chile-crab rangoon dip and burnished scallion puffs. Now they are renovating the dining room in preparation for indoor service and plan to reopen June 17 with a new seasonal menu.—A.K.
There are many good reasons to revisit Manhattan’s Chinatown these days. But if you’re in the mood for a quick Peking-duck banquet or a taste of Shorty Tang’s famous dry-sautéed crispy beef in a crowded, near-celebratory post-pandemic atmosphere, this East Broadway destination is the place to be. When we dropped in on a Friday evening not long ago, the streets outside were still eerily empty, and so were the dining booths set up on the sidewalk. But inside the brightly lit two-floor restaurant, parties of revelers from uptown, across the river, and around the neighborhood filled the round tables. For those acclimated to dining in the great indoors, we guarantee a bite of Peking duck (or crispy beef) never tasted so good.—A.P.
As you probably know, plant-based cuisine is already a major thing in the post-pandemic dining world. We’re also betting that eminently Instagrammable comfort food will be a hot trend this summer (mostly because it was never not a hot trend), along with wild bouts of tequila drinking. The tequila will have to wait until the liquor license comes through (anytime now, we’re told), but if you want to indulge in an inventive, not-too-expensive brand of “mostly vegan” Mexican cooking, you won’t find a better venue than this stylish Oxomoco spinoff on the fringes of McCarren Park. The white-tile dining space is already filling up; the café tables outside along Nassau Avenue are the perfect place to enjoy the passing scene on a warm summer’s evening; and the plates of carrot tostadas, potato tacos, and “green chorizo” quesadillas emanating from the kitchen are almost too pretty to eat.—A.P.
Veteran chefs John Nguyen and Nhu Ton began peddling their Vietnamese sandwiches and crispy pork-belly salad rolls from an empty pop-up space on the upper reaches of Amsterdam Avenue last summer, and the operation was such a hit that by January they’d put down permanent roots in the neighborhood. There are five varieties of toasty bánh mìs to choose from (when in doubt, order the charcoal-grilled pork), numerous sturdy classics from Ton’s native central Vietnam (try the Frisbee-size rice-noodle delicacy called bánh dap), and a deeply flavorful beef pho. —A.P.
You won’t find the usual crowd of day-trading, trophy-watch-wearing sushi bros at this chill, neighborly, mostly locally sourced East Village establishment, which features an elegant wooden wraparound dining bar inside and a small pavilion out on the sidewalk that can fill up, on balmy evenings, with the breezy smells of newly legalized weed wafting from Tompkins Square Park across the street. But don’t let this pleasantly shambolic vibe fool you. The best of the cooking — by Jeff Miller, who started studying the craft of sushi in Australia, and his Baton Rouge sidekick, Yoni Lang — combines technical skill with the kind of innovation that you rarely see at pricier omakase joints around town. You’ll find “shrimp étouffée” hand rolls enlivened with a classic New Orleans roux on the tasting menu and strips of big-eye tuna sashimi from North Carolina flavored with mango and plated in pools of coconut milk. The chefs mix their special soy blend in house, and the signature tamago omelet is Tokyo quality, but all of the fish comes from sustainable or local sources, and if the sweet Montauk scallops are on the menu in any form (nigiri style, in a hand roll, or as part of the exceptional chirashi rice bowl), order them.—A.P.
The trapezoidal windows at Teranga have long afforded patrons panoramic vistas of Central Park North, but the city’s embrace of outdoor dining has made Pierre Thiam’s West African–leaning venue even more appealing than before. Now you can snack on kelewele (spicy roast plantains) right at the edge of the park, overlooking the verdant trees while enjoying a warm summer breeze. On a recent Friday, I sat near a pair of diners, one of them relaxing in a jujitsu T-shirt, as I made quick work of a yassa bowl: tender chicken thighs slathered in saucy golden onions. If indoor dining is still quiet here, you’ll never feel alone in the alfresco area. Folks zoom by on hoverboards and messenger bikes, shaved-ice vendors pour polychromatic syrups into snowy cups, and people flood in and out of the park.—R.P.S.
Veteran chefs and longtime collaborators Ian Alvarez and Ryan Angulo (French Louie, Buttermilk Channel) have taken over the old Freek’s Mill space in Gowanus, and the result is an effortlessly cool neighborhood gem that affords you the illusion that you are also effortlessly cool. Nearly everything on the Mediterranean-ish menu at some point passes through the enormous wood-burning oven — the whole fish, the asparagus, the shishito peppers dressed with squid ink, even the roast grapefruit, a recent star of Sunday brunch. Whatever else you order, though, do not miss the deep-fried dates stuffed with macadamia nuts and sprinkled with manchego. —R.T.S.
If you’re like us, you spent part of the past year dreaming of the kind of plutocrat pleasures that Daniel Boulud has specialized in over his storied career. They’re all on display at his newest midtown venture, a grand setting with vaulted, cathedrallike windows ascending to the ceiling and an azure-colored bar designed for the sipping of lavish aperitifs before you catch your train out to Westchester. The three-course prix fixe features a mix of fussed-over vegetables (grilled avocat with einkorn berries) and high-French seafood (ask for the oysters Vanderbilt). At this early date, the place is filled with worshipful food journalists snapping pictures of their drinks at the bar (yes, we did that), Polo Bar refugees stopping in for a look on their way out to the Hamptons, and staid uptown couples dressed in their tastefully patterned summer dresses and newly pressed suits. As usual with Daniel, it helps if a really rich friend is paying.—A.P.
Last summer, Maison Yaki hosted a pop-up series featuring Black chefs, but now the restaurant has returned to its own evolving menu — and just reading it is entertaining. The focus remains on surprising skewers of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetable matter, allowing you to not so much plan a meal as meter it, ordering more skewers or other small dishes as necessary. A brand-new Wagyu burger comes with a skullcap of raclette cheese and an alarming gray sauce that turns out to be a charcoal-powder hollandaise, and chicken wings arrive coated in tonkatsu sauce. Outdoor seating is abundant, and while sister restaurant Olmsted is often difficult to get into, you can usually stroll into Maison Yaki at whim. —R.C.S.
The conga drums are back. Their steady beats spill out onto Eighth Avenue, where outdoor patrons sip minty mojitos on white tablecloths. Although this Hell’s Kitchen Cuban canteen served porky lechon asado and garlicky cassava throughout the pandemic, what was missing for months was the music — the prickly guitars and folksy Caribbean tunes that have made the restaurant an accessible spot for everyday salsa dancing. Ceiling fans spin overhead near the open-air frontage as waiters ferry crisp Cubano sandwiches and some of the city’s finest vaca frita: shredded skirt steak that’s seared until it achieves the texture of soft jerky. —R.P.S.
Last summer, the outdoor-dining setup at downtown Portuguese-Spanish restaurant Cervo’s was a destination almost in spite of itself. Simple wooden folding tables and chairs sprawled across an unadorned and fluorescent-lit expanse of Canal Street. Counter-service orders were called out brusquely over a loudspeaker mounted on the building’s exterior. Serviceware was disposable. You found and bussed your own table. But the Dimes Square denizens flocked nonetheless, pushing together tables laden with dark-pink Spritzes, fried-fish sandwiches, and glistening head-on prawns. It was casual, cool, and as COVID-safe as one could hope for. Now, after a winter hiatus operating as a shop, the scene returns to Cervo’s, but this time the restaurant has full-service outdoor dining on a newly built yellow-tiled patio with proper glassware, plateware, and a menu of old favorites like piri-piri chicken, mussels escabeche, and crispy shrimp heads.—A.K.
Airy and sun-drenched, the dining room pulsates with Israeli pop and a steady conversational hum. If you didn’t know better, you would think you’d wandered into some beachside hot spot in Tel Aviv, not a post-pandemic restaurant in the sleepy West 90s. Chef Ari Bokovza’s Levantine-leaning menu looks similar to others across the city. But the familiar mezze and salads take a fun turn with delectable things like shishbarak (Lebanese mushroom-filled dumplings) and kubaneh, the fluffy Yemenite Jewish bread that you pull apart like Parker House rolls. —B.O.
When the restaurant below their Clinton Hill apartment closed during the pandemic, married couple Katsutoshi and Chiemi Machida found the perfect home for the Japanese comfort-food pop-up they’d debuted at Smorgasburg in 2018. The menu is blissfully straightforward: The marquee Katsu Burgers — panko-crusted cutlets fried and topped with slaw and housemade sauces — plus photogenic rice bowls and a handful of sides. For dessert, the clear move is the doughnut matcha-ice-cream sandwich, unless you happen upon the chef’s elusive hojicha cream puff. And the place to eat it is out in front on the lovely tree-lined street among the work-from-homers and the French bulldogs.—R.T.S.
Lebanese falafel joint Semkeh opened in February 2020 off the Morgan Avenue L-train stop and has managed to attract a mostly young, mostly local, often vegetarian following with its budget prices and bright takes on classic Levantine sandwiches and platters. Chief among these is the seldom-seen samke harra (“spicy fish” in Arabic), a rolled pita stuffed with albacore tuna drenched in toum, Lebanon’s potent garlic sauce. It’s so astonishingly good you may never go back to plain tuna salad. The twice-fried potato cubes called batata harra are another standout, with a crisp, garlicky exterior and lemony finish. Enjoy them both in the street shed graffitied with cheerful red squiggles, a setup that converts harried pedestrians into happy customers.—R.C.S.
Housed in a converted ambulance-repair shop across from McCarren Park, this lounge–slash–tapas restaurant is an over-the-top postindustrial jungle, decked out with Moroccan tiles and overrun with palm fronds. (There is also a disco ball and, on weekend nights, a rotating cast of DJs.) The twist, though, is that the food is excellent, from an heirloom-tomato salad with lemon-tahini crema to the Roman-style pizza, paper-thin and pleasantly chewy. It’s not exactly clear where Fandi Mata (“to connect” in Romani) is trying to take you — somewhere “global” — but after a creative cocktail or two, it’s clear you have arrived.—R.T.S.
Gnaw Tea-Smoked Ribs at a Prospect Heights Block Party
With active community participation, Vanderbilt Avenue has developed into one of New York’s most successful Open Streets, transforming into a bona fide block party every weekend. One of the best places to survey the scene is from within the fenced-in, artificially turfed side “yard” of this recent Thai transplant from Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Chef Pitipong Bowornneeranart landed in the neighborhood with his signature dishes in tow but has since introduced several new ones, like the seven-vegetable dumplings and the jasmine-tea-smoked barbecue ribs, a fittingly delicious addition to any block party. —L.F.
After opening in 2019 with a short-lived Austrian-accented menu, the Ridgewood all-day café became known more for its Kaffeehaus vibe — marble tables, bentwood chairs, plugged-in laptoppers — than for its food, which changed all the time. But last fall, Kate Telfeyan, formerly of Mission Chinese, began hosting her weekly Vaguely Asian pop-up there, and in March, she signed on as chef-partner. Now, friends basking in the sun at sidewalk tables that wrap around the corner have access to a daytime menu of custard buns, savory tofu pudding, and butter-bean crêpes. Sturdier specials, such as a whole branzino with chiles and soy, teased a dinner menu that launched in early June. —E.G.A.
The pandemic was a disaster for everyone, but few felt the old “defeat snatched from the jaws of victory” moment more keenly than chef-owner Ryan Bartlow, who had to close this elegant little Basque-themed bar operation just as the buzz for its special brand of convivial tapas-style cooking was building. The bare-bones staff managed to survive on PPP checks and a pickup menu until early summer, before throwing open the floor-to-ceiling windows and filling the sidewalk with rows of tables, which, on a warm night, as the evening light filters through the leafy trees across the street, can feel a little like an outdoor café in San Sebastián. These days, the long, dinner-friendly bar is humming again, and with the first-rate drinks program (try the vermut and tonic), a roster of expertly rendered Spanish classics (the croquettes, the morcilla, the tortilla española), and a peaceful, unhurried vibe, there are, for our money, few more-enjoyable indoor-outdoor-dining options in town.—A.P.
When this terrific Hunan restaurant opened last year just down the street from Trump Tower, the owners had trouble attracting customers because security arrangements limited access to the block. But true fans of Hunan cuisine — which can be just as spicy as Sichuan, with a broader array of sharp flavors — have a way of sniffing out talent and overcoming obstacles in their path, and Blue Willow gradually became a word-of-mouth hit, especially among Chinese Americans. Now, with the barriers gone, the restaurant draws diners looking for dishes like house-smoked Hunan bacon (thick swatches of pork belly stir-fried with cloves of garlic) and “snow red greens” (minced mustard greens riddled with pickled red chiles). —R.C.S.
We’re happy to report that whatever strange alchemy it was (the warming onion soup, the cheeseburger “à la Americaine,” the spacious sidewalk operation sturdy enough for any blizzard) that elevated this fashionable Stephen Starr–Keith McNally Meatpacking District brasserie into one of the go-to destinations during the dark pandemic months is still very much intact. Like everywhere else around town, the dining room is beginning to fill up again, but the best seat in the house is still outdoors, where the sidewalk between the tables along Gansevoort Street has turned into a kind of promenade for the vibrantly reopened city. There was a jazz trio spinning out New Orleans sounds when we dropped by the other day, and couples walking arm in arm on their way to the High Line or an evening picnic in the park. Any picnic here should include some oysters and the bubbly, shell-less escargot, but be sure to save a little room for the baba au rhum, the nougat glacé, and the rest of the underrated brasserie desserts.—A.P.
It’s clear while sitting at Thai Diner’s packed outdoor setup on Mott and Kenmare that Nolita, a reliably bustling corner of the city that felt eerily quiet throughout the past year, is very much alive these days. At this, Ann Redding and Matt Danzer’s latest spot, they’re serving Uncle Boons (RIP) favorites, such as khao soi and crab fried rice, alongside cheeseburgers, fried-chicken sandwiches, and Thai disco fries smothered in curry sauce, which we recommend pairing with a notably strong martini while ogling the ecstatic-to-finally-be-out-and-about passersby. —R.P.S.
Cymande’s “bra” piped through the outdoor jukebox on a recent Friday at the Vietnamese restaurant Di An Di while patrons slurped up brothy vermicelli noodles underneath strings of white lights. Those who arrived after 8:45 p.m. were out of luck, as every table was filled with fashionable young folks in T-shirts and hosts had stopped taking names. Bowls of mi xao bo do bien, firm egg noodles studded with fat slices of squid and shrimp, scented the air with its garlicky perfume. The Before Times menu still hasn’t returned, which means no more rice-paper pizzas for now, but there are newish bánh mì lunch sandwiches stuffed with fried chicken, tofu, or pork belly. And the aromatic shaking beef (bo luc lac), with its wok-seared cubes of medium-rare sirloin and crisp tomato-watercress salad, remains.—R.P.S.
On a recent weekday afternoon at this vegan all-day café and plant store (a spinoff of decidedly non-vegan Mekelburg’s down the street), the neon-pink outdoor piazza was overflowing with the neighborhood’s work-from-home crowd, in groups and on MacBooks, eating bacon, egg, and cheese (make that “bacon,” “egg,” and “cheese”). By lunchtime, the guava-jelly doughnuts were long gone, but there was still solace to be found in a giant plate of piquant chilaquiles verdes or a torta Milanesa that swaps in breaded eggplant for the customary chicken or beef. The owners plan to extend the café’s hours as soon as the liquor license comes through, but the real party may be during the daytime anyway; on the first and third Saturdays of the month, the entrancing Cuarteto Guataca transforms the surrounding sidewalk into a laid-back salsa club. —R.T.S.
The Russian bathhouse isn’t just about cleansing; it’s about restoring and nourishing, which is why the indoor-dining ban hit the banya so hard. You were permitted to sweat it out on Fulton Street, but you couldn’t seek rejuvenation through hot borscht and cold beer. Now, after a few rounds in a sauna set to a screaming 220 degrees, you can once again bring your body back to life in a cafeteria with other dripping-wet patrons wearing very few clothes. Consider filling up on slippery Siberian pelmeni drenched in butter, fried potatoes slicked with enough garlic to qualify as a medicinal supplement, and Georgian lamb soup that will scorch your tongue for days, which means it’s precisely the right temperature.—R.P.S.
It is possible that nobody in New York City (and certainly nobody in Park Slope) is having more fun than whoever happens to be eating at Negril — and it’s only become more apparent with the advent of outdoor dining. Potent rum cocktails and a reggae soundtrack that often spills out into the street might merit a visit for the scene alone, even if the food were nothing special. But it is: D’Roundabout — a shareable feast of oxtail, curry goat, and jerk chicken plus rice and peas, pumpkin rice, fried plantains, and collards — is an obvious starting point, but don’t miss the unassuming but richly flavored stew peas. The dining room takes reservations, but the competitive curbside cabanas are first come, first serve.—R.T.S.