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Best New York bagels: Murray's Bagels
500 Sixth Avenue
Forget any notion that Murray’s can’t possibly be good because they are infamous for refusing to toast their bagels. Firstly, fresh bagels aren’t meant to be toasted. Secondly, even this old-school shop gave in to the toasting lobby a couple of years back, and now warms its bagels on request. Toasted or (preferably) not, these are the best bagels in the area, with a light golden crust and dough chewy enough to keep your dentist in business (which is just the way it should be).
Best unpretentious sushi: Japonica
90 University Place
Japonica started serving sushi in 1978; 40 years later, it’s a neighborhood institution with a fierce local following. They might have downsized a couple of years ago, but their commitment to the craft remains the same. The extensive menu is dotted with teriyaki and miso soup, but stick to the sushi and house specials. No visit is complete without the Japonica Invention, a roll so stuffed with tuna, slices of avocado, and bright red fish eggs that it’s almost impossible to lift with chopsticks.
Best modern Indian: Babu Ji
22 E 13th Street
Once a cramped space in a bustling Indian community over on Avenue B, Babu Ji recently relocated to a two-story location in Greenwich Village. It’s still decked out with Indian paintings and a projector playing Bollywood movies, as well as a self-serve beer fridge on the second floor. Chef Jessi Singh serves up a combo of street food and modern Indian -- highlights include Colonel Tso’s cauliflower (an Indo-Chinese fusion of flash fried cauliflower in a spicy tomato and chili sauce) and the famous, wonderfully inauthentic butter chicken (yogurt-marinated chunks in a bright tomato, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek curry). Order it à la carte, or through the $62 tasting menu.
Best bistro: MIMI
185 Sullivan Street
MIMI is nestled into a quiet nook of Sullivan Street, but it’s anything but muted. The tiny bistro has just a dozen-or-so tables, and each one is highly coveted, as proven by the line spilling out onto the street. It’s a little bit of France in the Village -- the quiet particularity of the food, the staff rattling away in French, the hand-written chalkboard menu, the windows flung open in warm weather. Once you manage to get a seat, gorge on the classic French fare: smoked pork rillettes to share, crispy boudin noir with soft-shell crab, and buoyant rounds of gnocchi swimming in uni cream.
Best market-fresh New American: Loring Place
21 W Eighth Street
Chef Dan Kluger (formerly of ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina) creates dishes for his seasonal menu based on what’s available at the greenmarket. Everything is made to share, like the wood-grilled broccoli salad with pistachios, orange, and mint, and the sweet-and-sour house-made cavatelli pasta with duck and charred cabbage. It nails dinner and lunch, but really excels at brunch, with eccentric specialties including cheddar waffles and eggs, and crunchy French toast coated in cinnamon crumbs and chocolate.
Best exotic ice cream: La Newyorkina
240 Sullivan Street
Mexico native Fany Gerson (founder of Dough) first set up La Newyorkina as a simple market stand selling paletas -- Mexican-style creamy, spicy, or fruity ice pops. Nowadays the shop has a brick-and-mortar location, and has expanded its offerings too, with nieve de garrafa (handmade Mexican sorbet) and traditional ice cream on the menu. Flavors come in the likes of mango chili, horchata, and roasted banana; you can also go all-out for an ice cream sundae extravaganza, drenched in Oaxacan hot fudge, spiced pumpkin brittle and/or galletas.
Best French wine bar: Amélie Wine Bar
22 W Eighth Street
This cozy, sleek wine bar is a popular haunt of French speakers, perusing an exhaustive list of their native wines. It’s the kind of place where you pair the food with the wine, rather than the other way ’round. In any case, they’re a perfect match. On the menu are the likes of chicken liver mousse, beef tartare swirled with a quail egg, duck leg confit, along with cheeses and cured meats to share. Très, très bien.
Best Mediterranean brunch: Shuka
38 MacDougal Street
This bright, breezy brunch restaurant from the people behind Rosie’s and Cookshop pops open its floor-to-ceiling windows in the warm weather months. The menu draws from around the Mediterranean: there’s an array of small dips (beet hummus, whipped feta, labneh), along with bourekas (feta, parsley, tomato, spicy zhoug, and lettuce in puff pastry), and the ever-popular shakshuka. Order the cinnamon rolls for the table, or the chocolate babka French toast, stuffed with milk chocolate streusel and blackberries.
Best innovative vegetarian: Nix
72 University Place
Nix is a bona fide vegetarian restaurant -- that much is true. But while vegetables are at the forefront of the menu, it doesn’t mean everything is necessarily healthy. General Tso would be proud of the cauliflower, which comes fried in soft, half-moon steamed buns. Tandoor bread (made in the tandoori oven left by the previous tenants) is served with house-made hummus, pistachio-topped labneh, and spiced eggplant. The shiitake cacio e pepe is poached in butter and tossed with creamy polenta. It’s certainly possible to dine healthily here, but it’s more fun not to.
Best fast-casual pasta: Pasta Flyer
510 Sixth Avenue
Newcomer Pasta Flyer is on an under-the-radar strip of Sixth Avenue, priming the area with an appetizing alternative to the restaurant pit on 14th Street. The innovative fast-casual pasta spot is helmed by Mark Ladner, formerly of Del Posto and several other Batali-Bastianich collaborations. Here, his focus is creating high-quality Italian dishes at startlingly low prices. The concept is simple: Select a pasta (fusilli, rigatoni, penne) and pair it with a sauce (pesto, alfredo, marinara, ragu), for a super-quick sub-$10 meal.
Best for a special occasion: Gotham Bar and Grill
12 E 12th Street
Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill is a timeless ode to haute, market-driven cuisine. It’s classically elegant, with impeccable hospitality delivered by smart-suited staff -- in short, this is the place to celebrate an anniversary or promotion. “Vertical presentation” was pioneered here, and the yellowfin tuna tartare is the signature example -- a tower of miso-flecked tuna is stacked alongside crusty bread, rising 8 inches off the plate. The rest of the menu reads New American, with a wine list as thick as a brick -- and don’t miss out on the $38 Greenmarket lunch, a three-course prix fixe meal that shuffles with the seasons.
Best noodles and dumplings: Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu's Kitchen
401 Sixth Avenue
Hao Noodle and Tea has an upscale charm without resorting to the gimmicks that plague certain Chinatown restaurants which shall remain nameless. Come for the clay-pot dumplings (half-moon omelets stuffed with pork and water chestnut, in chicken soup), and the spicy dan dan noodles, which are done just how they are in an actual Chinese food market.
Best classic steak house: Strip House
13 E 12th Street
With a name like Strip House, it’s only natural for this ever-so-sultry steakhouse to be decked out in red velour booths with black-and-white burlesque photos hanging on the walls. Yes, the many cuts of steak are all on-point, the crispy potatoes are roasted in goose fat, and black truffles are folded into the creamed spinach -- but it’s the unmistakable downtown vibe that makes this steakhouse stand out from the haughty uptown-ness of The Palm or Smith & Wollensky.
Best for shareable small plates: Villanelle
15 E 12th Street
The kitchen at newcomer Villanelle concocts vegetable-forward farm-to-table dishes. The menu reads like a list of seasonal ingredients available at the greenmarket: broccoli leaves, late summer beans, Brussels sprouts, shishitos. Plates are on the smaller side and made for sharing -- one snack, small, and large dish is recommended per person. If it’s drinks you’re looking for, station yourself at the wood-paneled bar and let the expert bartender craft you Hands in the Honey Pot, a cocktail of bourbon, lemon, and bee pollen.
Best French fries: Pommes Frites
128 MacDougal Street
After a fatal explosion in the East Village destroyed the old Pommes Frites, they’ve since reopened among the beer-soaked bars and comedy clubs of MacDougal Street. It’s the same kind of space -- a cramped, dark wood-paneled spot burrowed down in a basement. With limited seating, it’s basically a counter-service operation, but that’s OK because the only move here is Belgian fries. They’re fried twice -- once to cook the potatoes, and the second to give them that crisp finish. Pair your cone of fries with one of 30 sauces, including red pomegranate teriyaki, organic black truffle, and Cheddar cheese.
Best fancy Italian: Babbo
110 Waverly Place
If it isn’t Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s worldwide reputation that brings you to Babbo, then it’s the always flowing carafes of wine, or the superlative sweetbreads, tripe, and fresh pasta. It’s Babbo, after all, that made the NYC restaurant scene what it is today: a kooky juxtaposition of fine dining, coupled with bar food and a soundtrack of rock music -- a move that in 1998 was entirely unheard of, yet now has become standard practice.
Best lavish red sauce joint: Carbone
181 Thompson Street
There’s no place like Carbone: For a start, they’ve got the tile floor you’ve seen in The Godfather, but there’s also the unique charm of captains bounding about in suits and bowties, and the old-world thrill of tableside presentation. And then there’s the food -- a homage to New York’s Italian restaurants of yesteryear, with every kind of parm, and pastas drenched in alfredo sauce. But Carbone is that and so much more -- it’s an elevated red sauce joint, also serving the likes of lobster fra diavolo peppered with Calabrian chiles, and spicy vodka rigatoni.
Best negroni: Dante
79-81 MacDougal Street
Locals mourned the loss of the legendary Caffe Dante, but the new owners have revamped the menu with small plates (salads, sourdough flatbreads, house-made pastas) and an extensive cocktail list -- including a dedicated section for negronis. Try the Old Pal with Wild Turkey rye, the Sparrow with cognac and hazelnut, or any of the other dozen $10 options. It’s an ideal spot for a first date or early evening gathering with comrades.
Best farm-to-table pioneer: Blue Hill
75 Washington Place
Dan Barber’s landmark ode to New York’s terroir epitomizes the farm-to-table revolution -- here, vegetables carry just as much prestige as meats and fish, the wheat is grown to the chef’s particular standards, and the single-udder butter owes to the cows who graze at Barber’s farm just outside Tarrytown, New York. The cooks are known to improvise in the kitchen, depending on what’s available on any given day -- one thing’s for sure, you’ll never have the same meal twice.