28 Old-School Restaurants in NYC for a Classic Night Out
Dining destinations for a quintessential culinary experience in the Big Apple this summer.
Whether you're a native New Yorker or a recent transplant, dining at a legendary NYC food institution on the regular never goes out of style. And although we’re always rooting for the new crop of eateries opening within the city weekly, there’s nothing like a quintessential culinary experience that reminds us of why we love the Big Apple so much.
Over the next couple of chilled-out months and long summer weekends, it’s the perfect time to finally acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with these tried and true go-tos. From steaming dim sum at a Chinatown standby to Italian restaurants with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, here are 28 iconic NYC restaurants that are timeless classics.
Hand-rolled and boiled before popping out of the oven shiny with bite on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, this longtime Upper West Side shop has mastered the classic NYC style bagel. Top it off with cream cheese, lox, and all the fixins, or order it with butter while walking down the street or for your next park hang. There’s nothing more iconically New York.
Opened in 1900, this spot is a relic of another era—harkening to a time when Williamsburg was more known as a thriving community of Italian immigrants and not as a hub for NYC transplants and warehouse clubs. With its dim, velvet-curtained interior and tuxedo-clad waiters, Bamonte’s is a stellar testament to old-school red sauce spots. Order an appetizer of Clams Oreganata, a heaping plate of pasta, and a bottle of red wine, then picture yourself in a scene from The Sopranos (which filmed a few episodes here).
Famous across all five boroughs for its Puerto Rican homestyle cooking, this local favorite in Alphabet City has been open since 1976. Founded by beloved matriarch, Adela Fargas, who passed away in 2018 at 81 years old, Casa Adela continues to serve its beloved dishes and is now run by her descendents. Popular items include the Mofongo (fried crushed plantains made with garlic and pork crackling); Tostones; and Chicharron de Pollo (chicken crackling served with rice and beans).
If you're looking for the ultimate dive bar burger, this is it. While other burgers in the city may be topped with truffles and gold leaves, the standard Bistro Burger at Corner Bistro remains one of the most beloved in the city, because eight ounces of beef with American and crispy bacon on a paper plate can make even the worst NYC day tolerable.
Since 1965, when it comes to classic NYC pizza, Di Fara has been considered the gold standard. This legendary shop from Domenico “Dom” DeMarco (who recently passed away at the age of 85) specializes in round and square pies topped with high quality ingredients from Italy. And while DeMarco tweaked his recipes over the years and allowed much of his pizza-making to be dictated by feel rather than a strict recipe, the joint has continued to maintain the reputation as serving one of the city’s best slices.
Eleven Madison Park
When Eleven Madison Park reopened during the pandemic, chef Daniel Humm redesigned his menu and mission. Since then, the highly-acclaimed fine-dining restaurant has been meat-free and offers a fully vegan 8-10 course tasting menu. Filled with ingenious plant-based creations that model how the textures and flavors of meat can be achieved without animal products, fans can also get a taste of the restaurant at home with the recently-launched meal kits, Eleven Madison Home.
The crowning glory of influential restaurateur Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire in NYC is undoubtedly Gramercy Tavern. Among his other popular spots under the Union Square Hospitality Group umbrella—including Ci Siamo; Daily Provisions; Blue Smoke; and Manhatta—this dining destination stands out for its refined farm-to-table American fare. Depending on your particular mood, there’s a more casual à la carte option in the front tavern space accompanied by a more elevated tasting menu experience in the main dining room.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
This 109-year-old seafood-centric eatery, tucked in the bowels of Grand Central Terminal, is as iconic to NYC as the transportation hub’s famous starry ceiling over the cavernous Main Concourse. Grand Central Oyster Bar is worth the visit just to see the bar’s beautiful vaulted tile ceilings, but for the full effect, secure a seat at one of the counters and dig into a dozen raw oysters or opt for the creamy, butter-laden Oyster Pan-Roast.
The Halal Guys
Street food carts of all types can be found everywhere in NYC, but there’s no other classic like The Halal Guys. What originally started as a hot dog cart in 1990 at the intersection of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue at one point shifted to serving halal food to Muslim taxi drivers. The items then became popular with office workers and late-night partiers, and gained legendary status as a must-visit spot in town. In addition to offering its Beef Gyro, Chicken, and Falafel platters with its signature white sauce from the same corner, the brand now has multiple storefronts and carts across NYC, including a new Yankee Stadium location, along with 100+ spots globally.
It's pretty safe to say that Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que is NYC's current 'cue king. With locations in Red Hook and Industry City (and also Miami), Durney’s spots serve up Brooklyn-style barbecue (true to the namesake) that utilize southern cooking techniques reflecting the diverse flavor profiles found in Durney’s home borough. Vietnamese Hot Wings, Caribbean Jerk Baby Back Ribs, Oaxacan Chicken, and Korean Pork Ribs are just some of the items to enjoy along with Texas-style Brisket, Pulled Pork, Collard Greens, and Hometown slaw.
Way back in 1897, founder John Jahn opened the first Jahn’s in the Bronx as a part diner, part ice cream parlor. Following the original debut, at one point in time there were nearly three dozen locations spread across the boroughs and even a few branches in Florida. Today, under different owners, the Jackson Heights location is the last remaining location. Local customers pop by regularly for its diner classic breakfasts, traditional Greek favorites (like Spanakopita), and specialty sundaes.
This landmark restaurant, open since the ‘50s at the corner of DeKalb and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn, is known for its iconic signage and signature orange-and-white logo. At Junior’s, along with a full menu of breakfast, seafood, barbecue, and diner-style food, order signature varieties of cheesecake like the Original NY Plain and Brownie Explosion, to Red Velvet and Raspberry Swirl. There are also now two restaurant locations in Midtown Manhattan as well.
Among the pastrami community in NYC, Katz’s is often deemed the undisputed reigning leader. Serving up thick-cut, tender pastrami with a smear of mustard on rye since 1888, the deli hasn’t lost any of its popularity over the years. If you can’t make it to the OG location, there’s also a booming nationwide delivery service and an outpost inside DeKalb Market Hall in Brooklyn.
When Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes made a cameo on a Sex In the City episode in 2000, it catapulted the unassuming spot to stardom. And with lines at the original West Village location perennially snaking around the block since then, true insiders also know that the Classic Banana Pudding is a must-try. Made with decadent layers of vanilla wafers, bananas, and vanilla pudding, the decadent dessert is a creamy and wonderful concoction that’s so good that it should be the new replacement to the customary birthday cake.
Although we’re all familiar with the recognizable green and yellow packaged bags of hot dogs labeled Nathan’s, Coney Island is also home to the company’s brick-and-mortar humble beginnings. Started in 1916, by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker as a hot dog stand on the boardwalk, the brand is now globally renowned and has franchises spread across the U.S. and world. But for the traditional experience, the original restaurant stands strong at the corner of Surf and Stillwell and continues to host the (somewhat questionable) annual Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Run by the Wijesinghe family (their daughter Julia also founded the nearby Sri Lankan Art & Cultural Museum), this Sri Lankan eatery first laid down its roots in 1995 near Times Square, but after a fire, relocated outside of Manhattan in 2010. Joining a vibrant Sri Lankan community in Staten Island, the food at New Lakruwana features several signature highlights but namely there’s the Lamprais, which is a centuries old recipes consisting of a protein, basmati rice, banana curry, seeni sambal eggplant moju, cashew nut curry, and an egg cooked then served in a banana leaf.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
For the quintessential food ritual of dim sum with a group (especially on the weekends), head to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, NYC’s first dim sum parlor. With its origins dating back to 1920, here, popular items include the “O.G.” eggroll (which actually contains egg!), Siu Mai, Har Gow, Turnip Cakes, Pork Buns, and more small plates of Cantonese-style dishes. And if you’ve got time to kill before or after your meal, be sure to explore its infamous Doyers Street home, also nicknamed “the bloody angle” from turf disputes between local gangs in the early 1900s.
Open since 1887 (yes, 135 years), Peter Luger has been in existence longer than the Williamsburg Bridge it sits next. For New Yorkers, a meal at this restaurant has long been considered the ultimate reward to any great accomplishment and this classic steakhouse remains a favorite. And while they don't accept credit cards (although props to the recent allowance of debit cards) and the check can definitely be pricey, it’s still one of the most legendary local spots to grab a steak, burger, and stiff martini. Must-trys include the Steak for Two, Luger-Burger, and Ice Cream Sundae.
With its origins dating back to 1896, this legendary restaurant on a quiet East Harlem corner is notorious for its impossible-to-score reservations. However, once in the door at Rao’s, diners can expect year-round Christmas lights adorning its walls while enjoying home-style Southern Italian cuisine served family-style. Signature dishes include the Pasta Alla Vodka, Double-Broiled Lemon Chicken, and Rao’s Meatballs. And if there’s a silver lining that’s come from the pandemic, the eatery now offers its food through delivery platforms, along with a product line of sauces, dry pasta, and more that are available throughout retail stores nationwide.
Russ & Daughters
After starting as a pushcart selling herring and then opening a brick-and-mortar store in 1914, Russ & Daughters continues to be a NYC institution for smoked fish, bagels, schmears, and more. In addition to its legendary shop at 179 E Houston Street, Russ & Daughters Cafe (which made a cameo on Broad City) on nearby Orchard Street opened in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the company, and Russ & Daughters Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Navy Yard followed in 2019. And be on the lookout for an upcoming scripted series based on the company.
From a simple hot dog cart in Madison Square Park to a global fast-casual burger empire, the last 21 years have been kind to Shake Shack. Despite its meteoric rise, with more than 250 locations across the U.S. and hundreds more spread across the world, the eatery can still be counted on for quality burgers made from reliable ingredients. Menu favorites include a classic Shackburger, Crinkle Cut Fries, and timely specials like the Chocolate Churro Shake.
Thanks to its consistency, expansive menu, and genuinely delicious food, since opening in 1990, SriPraPhai in Woodside is considered as one of the greatest OG Thai restaurants in NYC. Yes, favorites like Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles, and vivid Tom Yum Soup can be found here—but the popular spot carries some heavy hitters, too. Go for the Shrimp Paste Fried Rice for a unique and umami-forward dish; Tom Zap Soup for a more adventurous version of Tom Yum with liver and tripe; and Rad Na for the saucier version of Pad See Ew. Bonus points: SriPraPhai has amazing vegetarian options for all your plant-based friends and everything is cash only.
By now, most know the story: Daisuke Nakazawa was an apprentice at Ginza’s micro sushiya Jiro, the subject of the cult status Netflix film on the beauty of sushi. In 2013, Nakazawa set up shop in NYC, and has since gone on to open counters in Washington D.C. and Aspen. Here in Greenwich Village, Sushi Nakazawa is serving both lunch and dinner. Patrons can pick from two counter experiences: the meal at the 10-seat main bar runs $180, while the six-seat lounge bar runs $150.
Known for its sublime soul food and for being a hub of Black culture that regularly draws politicians, celebrities, and loads of locals, this Harlem landmark is an undeniable powerhouse. First opened in 1962 by founder and culinary legend Sylvia Woods, aka “The Queen of Soul Food,” the restaurant has operated seven days a week for the last 60 years and remains a family affair, now run by the four generations of her descendents. Popular items include Fried Chicken, Barbecue Ribs, Macaroni and Cheese, and Sweet Potato Pie.
Trattoria Tra Di Noi
At this old-school Italian restaurant located on Arthur Avenue in Bronx Little Italy, chef and owner Marco Coletta brings over five decades of culinary expertise for family-style dishes and more. After you’ve taken in its red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and chalkboard specials, go for Trattoria Tra Di Noi’s signature dishes like the Lasagna alla Bolognese and favorites like Calamari Fritte, and be sure to order a pint (or quart) of their highly-coveted sauce to-go.
Take a trip into the heart of the East Village where this Ukrainian coffee shop and eatery has made a name for itself as an undisputed local culinary destination. Located on a stretch that’s also known as Little Ukraine, its name translates to “rainbow” and has served the community since 1954. The popular restaurant is best known for Pierogies, Borscht, and Goulash, and in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, is a stellar brunch destination as well.
Located at the last stop of the 7 Train and perhaps Queens’ most talked about dumplings, head to White Bear in Flushing to taste some of the city’s finest. Open since 1989, this popular no-frills take-out only spot serves wontons, noodles, dumplings, rice dishes, and more, but is best known for their Number 6: A dozen pork wontons with pickled veggies and a spice rub, all topped by a drizzling of chili oil.
Xi’an Famous Foods
A single location in the basement of a Flushing mall launched the Xi’an Famous Foods empire, which now has locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Taste the flavors of Xi’an, the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi’s capital city, in signature dishes like Cold-Skin Noodles, Spicy Cucumber Salad, Spicy & Sour Spinach Dumplings, and Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles in Soup, many of which are favorites among New Yorkers of all appetites.
Tae Yoon is an editor at Thrillist. You can follow him on Instagram.
Marguerite Preston is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She used to be a professional baker, and still looks for an excuse to make a pie or a fancy layer cake. Follow her @marguerite_s_p