Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
Best Thai: Uncle Boons
Expect a wait at any hour of the evening in this subterranean Thai spot. Unlike the countless generic pad Thai and pineapple fried rice spots around town, this Michelin-starred basement bungalow serves authentic Thai cuisine broken up into drinking snacks, small plates, large plates, and dishes off the charcoal grill. The Khao Soi Kaa Kai is an absolute must -- a steaming bowlful of yellow curry-soaked noodles and an almost impossibly tender chicken drumstick. Frozen beer slushies pair well with spicier dishes, and the small, always-packed space lends itself to trading a caramelized riblet for a bite of garlic-coated pea shoots with a nearby neighbor. It’s very not New York in all the right ways.
Best brunch: Hundred Acres
A seasonally focused menu that changes daily is the key to Hundred Acres’ successful brunch reign. Expect fruits and veggies to mysteriously and deliciously find their way alongside smoked bacon and fluffy French toast, or even whipped cheese and honey. A plotted-out menu allows you to feast on starters like ricotta beignets and dig into some serious yolk porn as a main dish, all while bouncing to ‘90s pop, which surrounds the dining room, often packed with millennial brunchers on the weekends. Save room for dessert, and morning-friendly cocktails, like a peach margarita decked out with fresh fruit. Unlike other brunch spots that fetch a mid-morning line outside, Hundred Acres takes reservations. Make them in advance, or you’ll be huddling with a crowd on Macdougal.
Best under-the-radar deal: $10 pasta night at Osteria Morini
The free cupcake of the day at Georgetown Cupcake is old news; the best lesser-known ongoing deal in the neighborhood is Osteria Morini’s $10 pasta night. On Industry Mondays (don’t worry, it’s not exclusive to people in the “industry”), all pastas are available for just for $10 (for comparison, they’re usually $21-24) to guests seated after 9pm. Until close, lambrusco is also offered by the glass for $7 and by the bottle for $28 to chase down rich pastas like garganelli coated with cream, peas, truffle butter, and prosciutto.
Best spot for off-season summer cravings: Ed's Lobster Bar
It’s beach season in New England year-round at this iconic seafood spot on Lafayette. Lobster every which way -- as a galette, pot pie, ravioli, burger, bisque, chowder, grilled, steamed, or baked-- is available, but the lobster roll can’t be missed. Chunks of lobster studded with crunchy celery are coated in the perfect amount of mayo and served in a toasty split hot dog bun -- i.e. everything a lobster roll should be and beyond. Fried clams and calamari also help add to the beachy vibe.
Best coffee shop that's like a club: Joe & The Juice
Scandinavian import Joe & The Juice has two stores just blocks away from each other in SoHo, and though a constant rotation of juice addicts and caffeine fiends trickles through the shops, you’re almost always guaranteed to find a seat in a cozy armchair or communal table in the disco-esque cafe on Spring St. Bumping music, a photo booth in back, and a cast of good-looking baristas keep this place trendy, but with noise-cancelling headphones, it’s the ideal venue to chill out with a laptop or a good book. On the menu you’ll find over a dozen fruit & veggie juice combinations, shakes, and acai bowls, as well as a handful of decent coffeeshop sandwiches and a ginger latte that caffeinates as it cleanses -- allegedly.
Best casual lunch spot: Lovely Day
For a no-frills lunch in a neighborhood that can be all about the frills, this easygoing side-street spot is your destination. A menu of mixed Asian and American dishes, both equally appealing, pleases both indecisive diners and lunch groups split between cuisine preferences. Slide into a cherry-red booth and order a fried egg sandwich with avocado or coconut curry udon and flank steak with tamarind sauce. At just $12, a noodle dish served with a side of dumplings, edamame, and coffee or tea may be the best mid-day deal in town.
Best spot to read alone with a fresh sandwich: McNally Jackson
Bookstore cafes are few and far between in this city, but McNally Jackson’s in-store coffee and lunch counter is worth a visit. Grab an obscure literary magazine or a bestseller from the bookstore (and pay for it…), then head to the cafe, where fresh pastries from local purveyors like Ovenly and Balthazar are available, as well as seasonal quiches, soups, salads, and made-to-order sandwiches served on crusty bread. The $6 cheese melt with tomato may be one of the best unexpected bargains in SoHo.
Best vegetarian spot: The Butcher's Daughter
Leave it to the daughter of a butcher to shun meat, but the veggie-fueled rebellion sure is delicious. A favorite with the fashion crowd -- blame the rainbow-hued breakfast bowls, perfect for professional fashion bloggers who can brunch at 10am on a Tuesday -- this seasonally focused restaurant has a menu changing more often than the nearby boutique window displays. Allow kale chips, vegetarian pastrami sandwiches, and berry-topped avocado toast to make you feel better about that late-night pizza binge, while you toast $11 cold-pressed juice cocktails (think carrot juice with tequila) with your friends.
Best shopping fill-up meal: Galli
Given its proximity to Little Italy, SoHo has no shortage of great pasta spots. Those looking for pasta to cook at home should stop in at Raffetto’s, and those in a rush can fuel up at Pepe Rosso To Go, but a meal at Galli is just what you need after hours lost trekking through Uniqlo and hauling heavy bags from Bloomingdale’s. Lunch and dinner pastas, available in gluten-free and whole wheat varieties for the carb-conscious, are served in luscious puddles of homemade Italian sauces, including vodka, amatriciana, Bolognese, and beyond, along with special in-house creations like the P.S. 45 Funghi, a creamy spaghetti dish twirled with wild mushrooms and truffle oil.
Best sushi splurge: Blue Ribbon Sushi
If you’re in the mood for a sushi splurge, head to Blue Ribbon Sushi (yes, it’s related to the also-excellent Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken), for a well-deserved treat. The wide range of sushi fished from both the Pacific (king salmon, Tasmanian sea trout, Japanese red snapper) and the Atlantic (arctic char, fluke, lobster) are a major upgrade from your takeout spicy tuna roll lunch special. Go for the $160 Blue Ribbon Special for the most variety (serves two sushi gluttons; four regular sushi eaters if they’re also filling up on appetizers), and consider the meal a well-advised investment in your sushi education.
Best patisserie: Dominique Ansel Bakery
The Cronut® kingdom named for the genius patissier who launched the hybrid dessert fad is still a major SoHo destination -- and for good reason. But if you don’t want to wait all morning for the still-impossible-to-order Cronut®, you can easily opt for a DKA, or Dominique's Kouign Amann (pronounced like “Queen,” because it pretty much is pastry royalty), a twisted croissant-like creation with extra butter and sugar. Other French treats like eclairs and Madeleines as well as made-to-order specialties like the chocolate chip Cookie Shot can be enjoyed in the bakery’s backyard garden.
Best place for pasta & hip-hop: Charlie Bird
Since 2013, locals and visitors alike have been flocking to this trendy Beastie Boys-meets-upscale-Italian restaurant, where you can always expect an excellent bowl of pasta and some ‘90s hip-hop. Pair a warm bowl of pappardelle with lamb ragu and Calabrian chile (or the cacio e pepe at lunch) with a sommelier-recommended glass of wine, and share a few small plates around the table to see what’s kept this cozy corner restaurant packed throughout the years.
Best after-work margarita and nachos spot: Lupe's East L.A. Kitchen
A hot-pink neon sign outside Lupe’s lures in the thirsty post-work crowd with California vibes and scents of fresh Mexican food. When the weather is right, a handful of outdoor tables are the perfect spot for sipping fresh house margaritas with a side of fresh salsa and a constantly replenished bowl of chips. Known for its chilis (both red with shredded beef and a vegetarian green), Lupe’s is also the place to warm up in cooler weather with a tequila-filled booze jacket; cozy up in the booths with some Mexican comfort food.
Best power lunch spot: Lure Fishbar
While dining high up may be a power trip for some, this slightly-below-street-level dining room shaped like a boat is still the ultimate neighborhood power lunch spot. Let it reel you in with both lunch and late-lunch menus plush with seafood platters, oyster trays, seemingly endless sushi options, and fish dishes. During the day, expect to see high-level CEOs, power execs, and important-looking crowds in gingham button-ups. As the sun sets, the crowd shifts more to models, wannabe models, and their friends eager to toast a $10 happy hour cocktail in a banquette.
Best taco takeout: La Esquina
While the actual restaurant is a fine place to grab a meal, La Esquina’s corner taqueria is your best bet for a quick order of to-go tacos for either lunch or a late-night dinner (open ‘til 1:45am!). Steak, carnitas, barbacoa, chicken, and two types of fish tacos are all on the menu to easily be mixed and matched. If you’re looking for something slightly more filling, opt for a number of tortas, quesadillas, or tortilla soup.
Best place to pretend you're Beyoncé: Pasquale Jones
Queen B has dined at the Charlie Bird team's new SoHo/Nolita spot not once but twice now (the second time was post-VMAs with a few other notable friends). While we can't be certain what she ordered, we're going to take a guess that it was the famed littleneck clam pizza, made with cream sauce, lots of clams, and a little garlic and lemon on a soft but charred wood-fired crust.
Best tourist trap worth a visit: Balthazar
You’ve probably had Balthazar’s crusty breads on sandwiches around the city, but nothing compares to a visit at the tourist-heavy, Sex and the City-famous Balthazar. It’s nearly always swarmed with those hoping to get a glance at a celeb stopping in for their daily baguette (check Instagram, it happens), but the buzzy restaurant also serves up an egg-heavy power breakfast starting at 7:30am that may just make you a morning person -- that is, if your eyes are open wide enough to spot Victoria Beckham sauntering through. Though pricey, lunch and dinner are also worthwhile indulgences, featuring French bistro classics like pate, moules frites, chicken paillard, steak frites, and duck confit.