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A brunch-lover’s guide to New York City

Ahh, brunch. One part omelette, two parts mimosa, three parts coffee  life’s sweet distraction when the workweek is nigh. Though not a uniquely New York 'thing' per se, there’s no other city that takes its breakfast-lunch combustion quite as seriously as the Big Apple and every visitor should take it upon themselves to sample a taste of NYC's bustling brunch culture.

Before you negotiate the endless jungle of eggs Benedict and thick-cut French toast, know this: if the restaurant of your choice offers reservations, make one! And, if you can’t, then plan around prime brunching time to avoid the famously long waits at New York’s most popular brunch spots – either show up early (before 11:30am) or try for a late bite (after 2:30pm).

Brunchers at Cookshop. Photo by Brandon Presser / Lonely Planet. Brunchers at Cookshop. Photo by Brandon Presser / Lonely Planet

For scenesters

A brilliant brunching pit stop for self-confirmed scenesters, Cookshop (www.cookshopny.com) is a lively place that knows its niche and does it oh-so well. Excellent service, eye-opening cocktails (good morning bacon-infused BLT Mary!), buttery baked goods, and a selection of inventive egg mains make this a favorite in Chelsea on a Sunday afternoon.

While you’re in the area: Tack on a leisurely stroll along the High Line to walk off your brunch-y calories. An iron stairwell directly across the street takes you right up to the raised park.

Work off the brunch weight on the High Line. Photo by Brandon Presser / Lonely Planet. Work off the brunch weight on the High Line. Photo by Brandon Presser / Lonely Planet

West Village chic

As the name might suggest, Café Cluny (www.cafecluny.com) brings the whimsy of Paris to the West Village with woven bistro-style bar chairs and a selection of joie-de-vivre-inducing plates like brioche French toast with seasonal fruit, grilled tuna burger with wasabi mayonnaise and short rib hash (with poached eggs and Béarnaise sauce). During brunchtime, sunlight fills the front dining room bouncing off gilded frames, as servers in striped sailor-style t-shirts carry tin carafes of morning brew.

A quiet moment at Café Cluny. Image by Heath Brandon / CC BY-SA 2.0 A quiet moment at Café Cluny. Image by Heath Brandon / CC BY-SA 2.0

While you’re in the area: In warmer weather stroll over to the Hudson River Park, where you can take a scenic stroll along the water. The grassy lawn of Pier 45 (aka Christopher St Pier) is a fine spot for lounging, or if you need a bit more activity, wander down to Pier 40 for free kayaking.

East Village casual

Toeing the line between Middle Eastern and homegrown American fare, Café Orlin is the star of the brunching scene along St Mark’s Place. Find the subtle ‘Café’ sign scribbled in cursive and step inside to discover an unholy assemblage of black wooden furniture separated into the three rooms. Perfect omelettes with fresh fixings folded deep within lure a colorful assortment of characters from angsty hipsters fiddling with their iPads to hung-over Saturday Night Live cast members recovering from last night’s show.

While you’re in the area: These East Village streets are made for exploring. You can browse vintage stores, tiny boutiques and curiosity shops like Obscura Antiques (www.obscuraantiques.com) with its macabre collection of taxidermy and poison bottles. Afterwards, take a break in leafy Tompkins Square Park, which has some prime people watching.

Boho in SoHo

Brunchers at Café Gitane would be excused if they momentarily forgot that they were still in New York City, not in a Parisian artists' den from a bygone era. Trendy shoppers love this authentic bistro, which serves dark, aromatic coffee. Its menu includes a spectrum of Moroccan-inspired dishes from yellowfin tuna ceviche, to spicy meatballs in tomato turmeric sauce, heart-of-palm salads and fresh couscous. There’s a second location inside the Jane Hotel in the West Village that feels like a charming weather-battered café from old Havana.

Man and woman at the counter, Café Gitane. Image by Ricky Montalvo / CC BY ND 2.0 Man and woman at the counter, Café Gitane. Image by Ricky Montalvo / CC BY ND 2.0

While you’re in the area: Shopping arms akimbo! Browse through hundreds of boutiques peppered throughout SoHo’s cobbled streets from big brand names to one-off treasures like Kiosk (www.kioskkiosk.com) and McNally Jackson Books.

Eats for aesthetes

Museum restaurants usually get a bad reputation, but Café Sabarsky, the Neue Galerie’s signature eatery, is one of the most popular spots on the Upper East Side. The café’s interior evokes opulent turn-of-the-century Vienna, and the well-rendered Austrian specialties are made to match. Expect crepes with smoked trout, goulash and creamed spatzle. Dessert here is also a must – save room for the sachertorte (dark chocolate cake laced with house-made apricot preserves).

Pastries at Cafe Sabarsky. Image by Dan Dickinson / CC BY 2.0 Pastries at Cafe Sabarsky. Image by Dan Dickinson / CC BY 2.0

While you’re in the area: There is, of course, the beautiful Neue Galerie upstairs showcasing the best in German and Austrian art, including works by Gustav Klimt. The Frick Collection, a short walk away, is pay-what-you-wish from 11am to 1pm on Sundays.

The Anti-Brunch, aka The Brooklyn Pilgrimage

The owners of Do or Dine (1108 Bedford Ave) are staunch haters of plain-as-eggs brunches. Instead, Do or Dine’s motley crew serves a wildly original menu starting at noon on weekends. Is it worth making the trek out to Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s as-of-yet un-gentrified neighborhoods? YES. Multicolored strobes and a glittery disco ball swirl above as pilgrims savor imaginative appetizers like the foie gras donut followed by ‘eggs bunadict' (a steam bun with bacon and sriracha (chili sauce) hollandaise) or the Korean-style French Fry Bi Bim Bap (with sweet potato, bacon and gochujang (spicy Korean condiment)).

While you’re in the area: Bedford-Stuyvesant (also called Bed-Stuy) is short on traditional sights, but make the most of your Brooklyn foray and check out a few nearby attractions. You can browse the sprawling market stalls at the Brooklyn Flea (held on Saturdays in Fort Greene), lounge in the grass at lush Prospect Park, or take in the flower-filled Brooklyn Botanic Garden. All are just a short taxi ride away (look for those lime green Boro Taxis trolling the streets).

This article was written by Brandon Pressor in May 2013 and updated by Regis St Louis in August 2014.