Food & Drink

The NYC Secret Restaurant Primer

Published On 04/20/2015 Published On 04/20/2015

NYC loves making things hard to find: cabs at 4pm, any place you can afford to live without having to sustain yourself on ramen flavor packets and saltines, and things that are actually fun -- like secret bars, supper clubs, sex parties, and secret and hidden spots to eat around the city. So, we’re arming you with this beginner’s guide to 23 great restaurants you might otherwise not be able to find.

Happy hunting.

Courtesy of Gabi Porter/SRO

SRO

Noho

Behind a door in tapas spot Espoleta, this pizza speakeasy from pie champ Giulio Adriani is firing off clandestine goods like the Monatanara (deep-fried pizza, bro), or a lardo, burrata, truffle, and leek pie.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien

Midtown West

This one’s not such a well-kept secret anymore, thanks to how excellent the burger is, but hidden by a curtain just off the lobby of Le Parker Meridien you'll find this down-and-dirty patty stand.

Flickr/’Nino” Eugene La Pia

Ganesh Temple Canteen

Flushing

Located in the basement of a Hindu temple out in Queens (wait, wut?), this Indian counter has some of the best buttery dosas around; order the Pondicherry dosa with spicy chutney, onion, green chili, and fiesta potato masala.

Bohemian

Noho

Only accessed through a reference and a secret phone number, this Japanese spot is one of the top trophies of the NYC secret restaurant game.

Flickr/Eric Konon

La Esquina

Soho

Below the taqueria, which is delicious, there’s a brasserie where you can snag margaritas, queso fundido, chile relleno, and carne asada with chimichurri in decidedly sexier environs.

Hudson Clearwater

West Village

Enter through the side door on Morton and walk through the garden to gain access to this charming spot, hidden away from its Hudson St storefront, and reap the benefits of your adventurous nature via dishes like grilled leg of lamb and pan-seared gnocchi.

Courtesy of Claudia Zimmer

Back Room at Cafe Select

Soho

Hidden inside the already glamorous confines of this Soho staple is a back room that operates as an apres ski chalet in the colder months and an oyster shack in the warmer months.

Kuma Inn

Lower East Side

Inside a graffiti-tagged door and up a flight of stairs you’ll get to this Filipino/Thai fusion spot from whence Chef King Phojanakong slings flavor bombs like deep-fried pork belly lechon kawali, drunken spicy shrimp finished with sake, kalamnsi, and Thai chilies, and saffron rice loaded with chicken, sausage, shrimp, and mussels.

Le Train Bleu

Midtown

Secreted away beyond aisles and displays of whatever it is they sell at a Bloomingdales (doilies probably), LTB is modeled after an old-school French train car and serves fare to match, like croque monsieur, steak frites, and a burger topped with bleu cheese.

Flickr/David Creswell

Sakagura

Midtown

With approximately a billion sakes (200-ish, really) to choose from, this underground Japanese izakaya/sake bar reveals itself after heading below a standard office building. Once inside, it plies you with pairings to go along with eats like slices of chilled roasted duck wrapped around scallions, pork shumai, or fried, sake-marinated chicken.

No Name Bar

Greenpoint

There’s been ramen, and Thai, and now there seems to be a Korean restaurant underneath this unmarked bar. Theoretically, you can now get knife-cut noodle soup with beef flank and bi bim bap here, but check it out before it changes again.

Flickr/Aaron van Dorn

Beauty & Essex

Lower East Side

“Hidden” through a pawn shop, this one is relatively easy to spot due to the large groups of people usually milling about and waiting to get in. Grab some grilled cheese, smoked bacon, tomato soup dumplings, or duck confit chilaquiles -- this place is a party scene for sure.

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Sons of Essex

Lower East Side

Similar to nearby Beauty & Essex, the secret is out on this joint situated behind a coffee shop/commissary. There’s a party atmosphere inside and dishes like sweet tea-brined fried chicken, lobster tostadas, and the Essex St Burger with cheddar and applewood smoked bacon.

Tehuitzingo Deli

Hell’s Kitchen

Protected by the Mexican grocery up front, this 10th Ave spot holds stools and a kitchen that’s kicking out some excellent tacos filled with everything from pork ear, to al pastor, to barbacoa, plus burritos and quesadillas.

Flickr/Jason Lam

Zaragoza Mexican Deli

East Village

A late-night staple, this unassuming Mexican deli and grocer has a few tables in the back and an excellent selection of tacos.

Flickr/Edsel Little

Luksus

Greenpoint

If you manage to avoid the allure of one of the best beer bars in the city and make it all the way to the sliding door in the back of Tørst, you'll be rewarded with avant garde tasting menus.

Flickr/Anita Singh

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare

Downtown Brooklyn

It’s one of the best restaurants in the country and it’s in a grocery store. Pull up a stool at the counter and experience 20+ courses of culinary bliss.

Blanca

Bushwick

Past some of the best pizza in the city at Roberta’s, the Tiki hut out back, and through the garden is this chef’s counter where Carlo Mirarchi and team plate course after course of amazing, boundary-pushing eats.

Flickr/T.Tseng

Ichimura

Tribeca

This sushi counter inside of David Bouley’s Brushstroke offers omakase menus to a very small number of people nightly. It’s worth getting one.

Sushi Azabu

Tribeca

Accessed through the soba izakaya Daruma-Ya, this tiny basement sushi bar hooks up next-level sushi, like the signature ikura nigiri topped with a quail egg, flash-fried tile fish with ponzu sauce, and lobster tail with uni sauce.

Flickr/Guian Bolisay

Turntable

Koreatown

Located on the second floor above a souvenir shop, a juice bar, and a slice joint on 5th, this flashy Korean spot specializes in Korean fried chicken (Hot & Spicy, or Soy Garlic) and Korean/American grub like panko-breaded cheese sticks, pork fat edamame, and a twister -- a spiral potato with Parmesan and chef’s sauce.

Andrew Zimmer/Thrillist

Benkei Ramen

Lower East Side

Available only at certain times (Monday-Wednesday after midnight, and Sunday after 5pm) inside Hill & Dale, this late-night ramen spot, formerly housed in Ushiwakamaru, does some amazing tonkotsu miso ramen with a soft-boiled egg, tender pork, and buttered corn.

El Sabroso

Midtown West

It’s not exactly hidden, since there’s big sign out front, but it is in a loading dock in Midtown. Load your face up with heaping offerings of Ecuadorian food like stewed chicken and roast pork with yellow rice.

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Andrew Zimmer was Thrillist’s NYC Editor and he’ll always tell you his secrets. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

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1. SRO 334 Bowery, New York, NY 10012 (Noho)

It’s a pizza speakeasy from Giulio Adriani. That’s right, a pizza speakeasy. Enter through a “hidden” door in Espoleta Tapas & Wine Bar that reads vacancy or "no vacancy." Except for the margherita and the deep-fried montanara, the pizzas all change daily.

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2. Burger Joint 33 West 8th St, New York, NY (Greenwich Village)

Burger Joint's a, well, joint in the Village that comes adorned with Simpsons posters and Woody Allen mugshots, and grills up the same simple-but-delicious hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and grilled cheeses called the "Cheeseburger, Hold the Burger".

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3. Ganesh Temple Canteen 45-57 Bowne St, Flushing, NY 11355 (Queens)

Authentic, buttery dosas are waiting for you in the basement cafeteria of a Hindu temple in Flushing. Open to anyone, Ganesh Temple Canteen serves a full menu of vegetarian south Indian food that includes tiffin items like puri roti and deep-fried lentil donuts, rice dishes, and of course, the aforementioned dosas. Made from a thin dough of rice and lentils, the dosas are huge, flaky, and served with toppings like red chutney and green chiles.

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4. Bohemian 57 Great Jones St, New York, NY 10012 (Noho)

This referral-only East Village Japanese eatery (tucked in the back of a butcher shop!) is a white-walled room containing just 25 seats and a tiny bar. A central skylight allows for the practice of "tsukimi sake," or drinking by moonlight. The eclectic menu features a mixture of American, Japanese, and French small plates, and later in the evening the space takes on more of a lounge atmosphere, with jazz and Japanese music. Don't know anyone who's been? Try emailing Bohemian for a reservation.

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5. La Esquina/Corner Deli 114 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

The outstanding tacos -- served individually -- are the real deal at this perpetually popular outpost on Kenmare. Below the taqueria is a not-so-secret secret subterranean dining room, where you can snag margaritas, queso fundido, chile relleno, and carne asada with chimichurri in a decidedly sexier environment. Search for the door with the "Employees Only" sign behind the bouncer inside.

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6. Hudson Clearwater 447 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

Enter through the side door on Morton and walk through the garden to gain access to this charming spot, hidden away from its Hudson St storefront. It has the feel of a hidden bar without the headache of a reservation or a referral, and with only five tables in the garden, the space invites you to stand with a drink and mingle with other patrons who are in on the sort-of secret. If you're looking for something to eat, head inside to the collection of two-tops for rustic American fare amidst floral arrangements and tea lights.

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7. Back Room at Café Select 212 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

Hidden behind the already-glamorous confines of this SoHo staple is a back room that operates as an après-ski chalet in the colder months and an oyster shack in the warmer months.

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8. Kuma Inn 113 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

It's highly unlikely that you'll find this hidden gem just wandering by chance, so here is what you need to know: Chef King Phojanakong owns and runs Kuma Inn, a Filipino-Thai eatery hidden behind a graffiti-tagged door and up a flight of stairs in the Lower East Side. Growing up, Phojanakong ate foods from both regions -- his mother is Filipino and his father is Thai -- and his restaurant seamlessly brings together the two Asian cuisines. The menu is always changing, and loaded with flavorful, innovative bites, like drunken spicy shrimp finished with sake, kalamnsi, and Thai chilies.

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9. Le Train Bleu 1000 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown)

Discreetly located above the Bloomingdale's housewares floor, this French-American restaurant is New York's best-known secret. Le Train Bleu is modeled after an old-school French train car -- a fact made immediately apparent by its narrow shape -- and serves fare to match, like croque monsieur, steak frites, and a burger topped with bleu cheese.

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10. Sakagura 211 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017 (Midtown East)

Tucked below a standard Midtown office building, this Japanese izakaya/sake bar offers more than 200 sakes to choose from. The extensive menu is color-coded and cross referenced to give you hints to what bites to pair your drink with, from slices of chilled roasted duck wrapped around scallions to pork shumai. Most dishes are served in small, tapas-like portions, and are meant to be shared. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of options, Sakagura offers almost all sakes by the glass, carafe, or bottle, so you can start slowly while you refine your tastes.

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11. No Name Bar 597 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222 (Greenpoint)

This unmarked Greenpoint bar has intimate decor, great drinks, and good music. There is also a hidden restaurant underneath it, the cuisine of which changes frequently.

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12. Beauty & Essex 146 Essex St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Beauty & Essex is a multi-level clubby restaurant and bar from the folks behind LES brunch behemoth Stanton Social Club. The pawn shop facade opens into a glam dining room filled with a high-rolling clientele. The menu features trendy food like steak tartare, amped up avocado toast, and lobster tacos.

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13. Sons of Essex 133 Essex St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Sons of Essex sports a full-blown deli, a barroom with a long wooden bar and bread station, and a full dining room filled with mix 'n match antique furniture.

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14. Tehuitzingo Deli 695 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036 (Hells Kitchen)

Behind the Mexican grocery up front, this 10th Ave spot holds stools and a kitchen that’s kicking out some excellent tacos filled with everything from pork ear, to al pastor, to barbacoa, plus burritos, and quesadillas.

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15. Zaragoza Mexican Deli-Grocery 215 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

A late-night staple, this unassuming Mexican deli and grocer has a few tables in the back and an excellent selection of tacos.

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16. Luksus 615 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Located in the back of the popular beer bar Tørst in Greenpoint, this 26-seat modern Danish resto serves a tasting menu consisting of four main courses, three snacks, and a beer pairing (if you're lucky enough to get a reservation).

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17. Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare 200 Schermerhorn St, New York, NY 11201

Having already received three Michelin stars for their epic, 30-course counter prix fixes, BF's just been bestowed an even greater honor in the form of a liquor license, which they're immediately using to install a 200-bottle vino list, meaning you won't have any reservations about going, assuming you can get one.

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18. Blanca 261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206 (Bushwick)

Past some of the best pizza in the city at Roberta’s, the Tiki hut out back, and through the garden is this chef’s counter where Carlo Mirarchi and team plate course after course of amazing, boundary-pushing eats.

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19. Ichimura at Brushstroke 30 Hudson St, New York, NY 10013 (Tribeca)

This upscale sushi bar located inside David Bouley's Brushstroke in TriBeCa serves Edomae-style sushi, an old-world Japanese style of sushi-making which typically highlights a specific ingredient or type of fish. While the resulting dish may appear deceptively simple, rest assured it's anything but: and at Ichimura, chef Eiji Ichimura's focus on rare and seasonal ingredients ensures your meal will be one to remember.

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20. Sushi Azabu 428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013 (Tribeca)

Accessed through the soba izakaya Daruma-Ya, this tiny basement sushi bar hooks up next-level sushi, like the signature ikura nigiri topped with a quail egg, flash-fried tile fish with ponzu sauce, and lobster tail with uni sauce. All of that and more makes Sushi Azabu one of the best sushi restaurants in all of New York City.

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21. Turntable 314 5th Ave # 2Fl, New York, NY 10001 (Midtown)

At this trendy Midtown spot, spicy soul food mash-ups are served alongside a soundtrack of vintage vinyl provided by an in-house DJ. A popular late night spot, Turntable offers Korean interpretations of classic Southern fare, including fried chicken, hush puppies, and mint juleps in a hip, industrial setting.

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22. Benkei Ramen 115 Allen St, New York, NY 10012 (Greenwich Village)

When the moon is at it's highest, this ramen noodle house opens it's doors slinging Tonkotsu Ramen with it's assorted pig parts and a Gyoza you won't want to share with your tablemates. In the same space as the Hill&Dale gastropub, the spot is known for quite a bit of a wait, but is well worth the effort.

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23. El Sabroso 265 W 37th St, New York, NY 10079 (Midtown West)

It’s not exactly hidden, with a big sign out front, but it is located in a loading dock in Midtown. Load your face up with heaping offerings of Ecuadorian food like stewed chicken and roast pork with yellow rice.

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