The blocks around Union Square have plenty of lauded dining options -- Pret A Manger, Le Pain Quotidien, and Au Bon Pain, just to name a few sparkling and possibly French examples. But, as a handy reference for when you get greedy and need something even better, here are our 13 favorite spots.
Most beautiful servers (at least by reputation): Coffee Shop
29 Union Square W
The vaguely Brazilian restaurant and late-night hot-spot (DO YOU GET IT?) has had a weird mystique surrounding its alleged model servers for years, but, honestly, they're kind of overrated. The pressed Cuban and herbed fries are crazily tasty, although eating too many will guarantee you never work here.
Best restaurant in a department store: ABC Kitchen
35 E 18th St
It's inside home decor shop ABC Home, so you can shop for vintage Turkish tulu rugs and then eat Chef Jean-George's unreal seasonal farm-to-table fare, which is a unique/mildly pretentious experience, but quite apt because this is a seen-and-be-seen, erm, scene.
Best bagels: Murray's Bagels
500 Avenue of the Americas
You have a former Merrill Lynch vice prez and his big-city bagel shop dreams to thank for these chewy, delicious dough rings. The line takes forever, but that's expected -- these are some of the best bagels in the city.
Best sushi: 15 East
15 East 15th St
Specialties like ice-cured wild sea bass are prepared minimally so all the different flavors and textures can shine in all their unadulterated glory. The Michelin-starred Japanese eatery also augments its super-fresh ingredients with seasonal produce from the Union Square Market.
Best carnitas burrito: Dos Toros
137 4th Ave
It's basically the love child of a dirty Mission burrito joint and Chipotle, but more importantly, it's owned by the former bassist for Third Eye Blind. The one-of-a-kind, custom, industrial-strength carnitas-braising machine will ensure your burrito life is fully charmed. Oh god.
Best steakhouse: Strip House
13 E 12th St
Think of a typical steakhouse, then unthink of it. The tiny, velvety lounge feels like the kind of place showgirls would've eaten at in the '50s, probably because there are pictures of 'em all over the wall. Also, the creamed spinach is the sh*t, which is not something often said about creamed vegetables.
Best pizza: Joe's Pizza
150 E 14th St
The original Greenwich Village location is a Spider-Man-approved institution, but that doesn't make the East Side outpost any less of a destination. Over-the-counter slices are simple, classic, and heavily New York.
Best bakery/hot chocolate: City Bakery
3 W 18th St
A different hot chocolate flavor like ginger, malted milk, or bourbon is offered every day of the month from a steamy vat that sits right on the countertop. Topped off with a giant, homemade marshmallow, it's thick and indulgent and basically just tastes like a melted chocolate bar, which is actually what it might be, and that's perfectly fine.
Best Venetian: All'onda
22 E 13th St
Fine dining without the fancy, this rustic-industrial restaurant offers up a familiar Italian menu with some help here and there from Asian cuisine. For example, you can't go wrong with the creamy, briny, perfectly al dente uni bucatini.
Best seafood: Blue Water Grill
31 Union Square W
With simply prepared cuts, shellfish plate towers, Alaskan King Crab, super-fresh oysters, fantastic outdoor seating, and live jazz, it's one of the best options for seafood in the city, let alone Union Square.
Best Asian fusion: Republic
37 Union Square W
All the East Asian-influenced cheap eats are excellent -- look out for the dark horse crispy tofu. With high ceilings, a completely open floor plan, and communal seating, it's also great for groups, if not for acoustics.
Best coffee shop for spotting famous people: Joe Coffee
9 E 13th St
The coffee is high quality, and you'll definitely probably run into a celebrity here. Or at least Bill Hader. Yeah, I ran into Bill Hader here once.
Best icon you need to visit soon, because it's closing: Union Square Cafe
21 E 16th St
Pleasant and welcoming in a way that fine dining typically is not, Danny Meyer's five-time James Beard Award winner employs this rare genius, and does American-Italian classics as well as anyone out there. Better get in here for that banana tart with macadamia brittle quick, though -- it's moving out of its 30-year home at the end of 2015. The rent is too damn high!
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Carrie Dennis is an Associate Editor for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @CarrrieDennnis.
1. Coffee Shop29 Union Sq W, New York
2. ABC Kitchen35 E 18th St, New York
3. Murray's Bagels500 Avenue of the Americas, New York
4. 15 East15 E 15th St, New York
5. Dos Toros137 4th Ave, New York
6. Strip House13 E 12th St, New York
7. Joe's Pizza150 E 14th St, New York
8. The City Bakery3 W 18th St, New York
9. All’onda22 E 13th St, New York
10. Blue Water Grill31 Union Square W, New York
11. Republic37 Union Sq W, New York
12. Joe Coffee9 E 13th St, New York
13. Union Square Cafe101 East 19th St, New York
This bustling Brazilian cocktail lounge and cantina is known its extensive menu, which runs the gamut from Cuban sandwiches and steak & eggs for brunch, to grilled seafood platters and mango mojitos (served late-night). Often packed with trendy clientele, Coffee Shop's Union Square location makes it the perfect place to people-watch.
Helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, ABC Kitchen serves a locally sourced, ingredient-driven menu from its space within the ABC Carpet & Home department store. The menu, though not vegetarian in the slightest, feels healthy -- an impression that probably has to do with the abundance of vegetable dishes and the use of whole-wheat flour in lieu of bleached white in individual pizzas. Both lunch and dinner are exquisite here, but it's the former that draws the power-lunching masses from the nearby offices of Park Ave South.
Opened in 1996, Murray's is a definitive New York institution. Expect some of the best traditional, hand-crafted bagels in the city, along with delicious smoked fish and pastries.
15 East is a Union Square sushi joint that's doling out some of the best omakase in the city. Specialties like ice-cured wild sea bass are prepared minimally so all the different flavors and textures can shine in all unadulterated glory. The Michelin-starred Japanese eatery also augments its super-fresh ingredients with seasonal produce from the Union Square Market. Sushi bars were made for solo dining and of course your favorite local joint will do, but if you want to up your game, reserve a seat at 15 East’s nine-seat sushi counter and let the magic begin. Order à la carte, or omakase -- $65 for 10 pieces of sushi or sashimi -- and enjoy a personalized tasting from newly appointed Chef Noriyuki Takahashi. Don't be surprised if famed chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten are sitting next to you.
Dos Toros is the project of two brothers from California who were sorely disappointed by the lack of true West Coast burritos in NYC. Rather than fly all the way home and give up on their NY life, the pair decided to address the problem directly by opening up a number of DT shops, all serving massive, filling burritos that feature handmade tortillas, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and your choice of meat. In case you aren't looking to go into calorific shock, go relatively lighter with one of their tacos or quesadillas. And wash it down with a cold Corona, because no burrito joint is complete without a liquor license.
Done up in bordello shades of gold and red and lined with burlesque photos, the cheekily named Strip House delivers top-notch steak cuts and creative sides. They do tableside carvings and have an extensive wine list, and the steak has been lauded as some of the best in the city. Save room for dessert, because the 24-layer chocolate cake is legendary.
Joe's Pizza is the epitome of an NYC slice joint, having served perfectly simple New York and Sicilian-style pies since 1975. Though the West Village location is the original, the 14th Street outpost operates much the same way: wait in line, pay for a slice, fold it in half, and eat it while standing.
This bakery-cum-farmers market is an exceptional place to dive into to get away from the bustle of Union Square. They're acclaimed for their hot chocolate, but are still front-runners in mostly everything.
Located right near the heart of Union Square is All'onda, a Japanese and Venetian hybrid restaurant housed in a rustic duplex building. The first floor has a spacious bar (complete with sake) where you can drink or dine without having made a reservation, and the second floor is dimly-lit with cozy booths and wooden rafters. The menu is limited, but the smoked uni bucatini is a must-try.
With simply prepared cuts, shellfish plate towers, Alaskan King crab, super-fresh oysters, fantastic outdoor seating, and live jazz, Blue Water Grill is one of the best options for seafood in the city, let alone Union Square.
This long-standing noodle shop in Union Square serves up fresh and lively Thai food in an open space with high ceilings and communal seating. Small dishes like dumplings and skewers satisfy the mildly hungry, while big portions of pad thai and broth-soaked noodles provide a more filling experience.
The coffee is high quality, and you'll definitely probably run into a celebrity here. Or at least Bill Hader.
After 30 years on 16th street, Danny Meyer's trailblazing Union Square Cafe found a new home a few blocks up in late 2016. The five-time James Beard Award winner still serves American-Italian dishes, but with updated elements. The larger space and expanded staff allows the restaurant to bake its bread in-house for the first time, and former specials like braised lamb shank with salsa verde have found a permanent place on the new menu (but old favorites like gnocchi and pan-roasted chicken are still there). The Park Ave South space looks and feels like the cafe you know and love: the David Rockwell-designed dining room captures a modern yet nostalgic country-kitchen aesthetic that makes diners feel as if they never left.