Finally: the big bad list of where the locals actually think you should eat in Manhattan. I couldn’t build this list alone; like every New Yorker, our NYC-based staff have plenty of strong opinions on where to find the best bites and sips in what we believe to be the greatest city in the world. This is a Manhattan-only list, but we have another list for Brooklyn if you’re basing yourself on the other side of the East River. So, let’s skip the chitchat and get into the first course.

Note: This is a reservation-first city, so check how far in advance popular restaurant reservations open, and be flexible with your timing. If you don’t snag one at first, sites like Resy and OpenTable will give you the option to opt into getting notifications when last-minute tables open up, which happens more often than you’d think.

L: bagel with cream cheese from Apollo Bagels; R: exterior shot of Barney Greengrass
L: One chewy sesame bagel toasted with cream cheese, please! © Apollo Bagels; R: Or grab bagels from Barney Greengrass, the self-proclaimed "Sturgeon King" © Ann Douglas Lott

Breakfast

AKA, bagels. Not always, but why visit NYC and not eat one bagel when you have an overwhelming list of options? You’ve got staples like Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side, a classic Jewish deli where lox and sturgeon are the specialties. Tompkins Square Bagels is an East Village favorite for its sheer variety of bagels and shmears (such as apple cinnamon, scallion with bacon, and espresso). Seating is limited, so take it across the street to enjoy in the park. If you like your bagel on the chewier side, Apollo Bagels or PopUp Bagels (get the salt bagel) are fantastic options. Keep in mind that when you’re going for a superior New York bagel, you’ll most likely have to face a very long line to get it. But these places know what they’re doing – it will be worth the wait.

If you’re all bagel-ed out, an egg sandwich on a cheddar buttermilk biscuit from Kerber’s Farm in the West Village will keep you fueled for exploring the city all morning.

L: iced latte and cardamom bun from Smør (Smor) Bakery; R: iced latte and baked goods from Breads Bakery
L: I take home my iced latte and cardamom bun from Smør Bakery to enjoy with fresh berries; R: Or I'll pick up a latte (and perhaps a bureka) from Breads Bakery on my way to the office © Ann Douglas Lott

Coffee and bakery

America might run on Dunkin, but NYC runs on your favorite local coffee shop. And those coffee shops most likely double as bakeries. In the East Village, stop by Smør Bakery for Scandinavian-style pastries and coffee. Smør has a restaurant where you can enjoy a long brunch, but the bakery side next door is perfect for a grab-and-go situation (two words: cardamom bun). Not far from here, there’s also Librae Bakery, a Middle Eastern bakery with really exciting seasonal flavors, like spinach artichoke cheese dip danishes, chamomile rhubarb scones and poppyseed lemon croissant monkey bread.

Breads Bakery is an essential New York bakery that you’ll find at several locations Uptown, Midtown and Downtown. I've run into many of our staff stopping here before work. Their lattes are my favorite, and I like to pick up one of their spinach burekas or a loaf of sourdough on my way home. The Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights is another favorite of our staff and Columbia students. This neighborhood staple, with its red-and-white striped awning, has been around since the 1960s. Order the spinach wheel to-go with your strong cup of Hungarian coffee.

L: Exterior of Tom's Restaurant; R: Fries and onion rings at S&P Lunch
L: Tom's Restaurant – look familiar? © Anne Czichos / Shutterstock; R: Don't skimp on the sides at S&P Lunch © Ann Douglas Lott

Lunch 

Lunch in Manhattan is so much more than a fast-casual salad chain. In the Flatiron District, ditch the mediocre $17 salad for a tuna melt, chicken cutlet sandwich or burger from S&P Lunch in Flatiron. It’s the kind of Jewish-style deli you have to wait in line for, with its counter-bar stools almost always full. Show up at 11:30am for an early lunch, and you probably won’t have a long wait, if any. Or go for a fried chicken sandwich or chicken caesar wrap from Bobwhite Counter in the East Village or Union Square. For soup dumplings, it has to be Shanghai 21 in Chinatown. And just a few blocks away, it’s hard to beat Great NY Noodletown for, yes, noodle dishes, but also Cantonese barbecue.

If you find yourself Uptown, there’s Schaller & Weber on the east side, a German-style deli serving up fantastic sandwiches. On the west side, go to Tom’s Restaurant, a 1950s diner known for its frequent cameos in Seinfeld. Anything you’d think of as diner food (and a few things you might not), they’ve got.

L: Exterior of Caffe Panna; R: mango frozen yogurt from Butterfield Market
L: A sundae at Caffè Panna is always worth the line; R: The most refreshing dessert? Mango froyo from Butterfield Market © Ann Douglas Lott

Sweet treats

Maybe this section should just be called “Ice Cream ” or “Frozen Treats.” For an afternoon pick-me-up, the froyo window outside Butterfield Market on Madison Avenue is best enjoyed on a walk in nearby Central Park. Go for the mango flavor in the summer. Gramercy’s Caffè Panna is on the most charming street – Irving Place – right off Gramercy Park. You can usually spot the line for this place from the park, but it’s worth the wait. They change their flavors daily, offering specialty sundaes, affogatos and soft serve. Whatever you order, make sure there’s freshly whipped panna on top. 

Dishes and a cocktail from Demo
Don't say we didn't warn you – a drink at Demo will probably turn into dinner © Alex Hodor-Lee

Aperitivo

I must warn you: a drink and a small bite at one of these places will probably turn into dinner – why would you want to go to the next location if the atmosphere is already great? Downtown, Bibi Wine Bar in the East Village is tucked away on the most lovely block, so try to snag one of their sidewalk tables to split a bottle of wine, some deviled eggs, or even the meatballs, during happy hour – which doesn’t end until 8pm. Unheard of. 

Coffee shop by day and wine bar by night, Demo’s a new kid in the West Village, though its classic wood and leather booths might fool you. They take their food as seriously as their wine here, with a knockout menu of dishes like crab casino (a buttery crab dip topped with guanciale and Ritz crackers), fish collars and banana pudding.

Pizza from L'Industrie (left) and San Matteo (right)
Grab a classic New York slice from L'Industrie (left) or San Matteo (right) © Ann Douglas Lott

Pizza

Yes, pizza gets its own category when we’re talking about New York City. There are three unofficial categories of ‘za, depending on what vibe you’re going for. The first tier is the dollar (or in this economy, $5) slice. You’ll grab one of these late-night or as a last-minute takeout dinner when all you’re craving is a crispy, greasy New York slice. There’s usually no seating at these places. Our picks: L’Industrie (they've opened a new location in the West Village) and Scarr’s on the Lower East Side.

The second tier is casual sit-down pizza. You might run into a kids’ sports team banquet at one of these places. They probably have games. It’s very sports bar-esque. Try San Matteo on the Upper East Side (get both a red and a white pie) or Joe and Pat’s East Village location (the TriePie!).

The final tier is the fresh-ingredient, gourmet Italian slice. We’re definitely drinking wine. There might be a tablecloth and cutlery. There will be ingredients on the menu you can’t pronounce. And there will be ambiance, like at Little Charli in the West Village. The $125 meter-long pie is worth the hype (and honestly a good deal when you have a large group). They also offer super fun pizza-making classes.

Left: pasta from I Sodi; Right: exterior shot of JG Melon
Left: Fresh pasta at I Sodi © Serina Patel; Right: JG Melon is a crowd favorite for burgers on the Upper East Side © Ann Douglas Lott

Dinner 

The main event. The big kahuna. There’s a lot of pressure that goes into dinner in NYC, but stick with one of these places, and you’re guaranteed a fantastic meal and an even better time. Starting Uptown, JG Melon is the go-to burger place that’s been around since the '70s, best enjoyed with a brew and a side of cottage fries. The decor is appropriately melon-inspired, and the wood-paneled walls and green and white tablecloths have never changed. Or head a short walk north to Uva for a cozy Italian dinner – the ricotta truffle gnocchi is just dreamy. Uva mostly accepts walk-ins, but there’s a sister restaurant, Uva Next Door, that basically has the same menu and takes reservations.

Downtown, I Sodi is a go-to Italian spot for fresh pasta dishes like cacio e pepe, lasagna (perfect for two) and the light and buttery ravioli burro e salvia. If you don’t have a reservation, walk in early and get on the waitlist to sit at the bar. Or you could head to Shukette in Chelsea for the most innovative Middle Eastern food in town – it’s all shareable, too. Make sure you order the frena – a herby flatbread roasted with whole garlic cloves – and the fish in a cage, which is grilled with vegetables and spices and brought to your table…in its grilling cage. Pig and Khao on the Lower East Side is great for inventive (and also shareable) Southeast Asian fare, like brisket dumplings, crispy brussels sprouts and pork belly.

Left: the bar at HiLot in the East Village; Right: DJ booth at Hi-Note in the East Village
Left: Have a seat at the groovy bar at HiLot in the East Village © Rachel Robshaw; Right: Or listen to a live radio set at nearby Hi-Note © Hi-Note

Bar 

“Drinks.” It could mean so many things in New York City. One casual cocktail could evolve into a whirlwind night of bar-hopping and (hopefully) dancing. If you’re going for just drinks, a martini at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel should be at the top of your list. The atmosphere is just so perfect: dark leather seats, live jazz, servers in white coats, and a gold leaf ceiling. Very old New York. The murals on the walls are by the artist Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the Madeline books and the bar’s namesake. In the East Village, Hi-Note is a fairly new “radio bar” with retro decor and live radio sets that you can listen to while sipping one of their amazing espresso martinis. And if rooftop bars are your thing, New York City has plenty. 

Keep the party going and head to a dancy bar (disco balls everywhere!) like Joyface, with its vibey, retro decor and (appropriately) playing mostly disco. They also have a sister bar next door called HiLot, which has the same retro style but is better for just drinks – make a reservation here. It feels like you’ve stepped into a living room from the 1970s. Or head to Home Sweet Home on the Lower East Side for a divey, no-frills dance spot playing a mix of rock-and-roll throwbacks until 4am.

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