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).
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.
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 duck confit hash (with poached eggs and fingerling potatoes). 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.
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 aloof hipsters fiddling with their smart phones 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.
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 lesser-known treasures like Muji (muji.us) 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).
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
If you're looking for something a little different, of course you'll want to head to Brooklyn. Taqueria de los Muertos (663 Washington Ave) in Prospect Heights is a Day of the Dead themed Mexican restaurant that offers to-die- for brunch options at affordable prices. In addition to Mexican classics, like huevos rancheros, they also serve inventive originals, like a breakfast enchilada or Mexican french toast stuffed with Mexican chocolate and caramelized bananas. Best of all, your meal comes with a tropical fruit mimosa or a chipotle bloody Mary. Viva los muertos!
While you’re in the area: Prospect Heights is right in the center of north Brooklyn, so there are many things to do in the area when you're done eating. 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 walk or short taxi ride away (look for those lime green Boro Taxis trolling the streets).
This article was originally written in May 2013; updated most recently by Robert Balkovich in December 2016.