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New York is perhaps the most competitive food city in America. But these restaurants—too new to be storied establishments and too seasoned for that opening buzz—have hit their stride in a big way, continuing to draw crowds with no signs of letting up. Below, eight restaurants we believe could become the city's new classics.
Chef Justin Smillie first received critical acclaim cooking Italian food for Donna Lennard at her Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria on Great Jones Street, so it’s no surprise that Nomad's Upland has been packed since he became the opening chef in 2014. The menu leans more California-style Mediterranean, but the ‘nduja (spicy Calabrian pork sausage) is some of the best outside of Italy. Smillie mixes it with bok choy, parsley, and breadcrumbs as a topping for his razor clam starter, but you must try the ‘nduja pizza for the full effect—one of the tastiest pies in town.
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria
The menu at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria hasn’t changed much under the helm of chef Garrison Price, who took over after Justin Smillie’s departure. That’s because owner Donna Lennard is the guiding hand behind every detail of this charming NoHo trattoria, which opened in 2011. There’s a grocery store in the front (the alimentari) selling Italian imports like olive oil, vinegar, cheeses, and even tomatoes. These ingredients are used in the restaurant as well, so the rustic Italian fare—calamari, rabbit ragu, porchetta—boasts authentic flavors. Lennard takes her house-cured salumi program seriously as well, so be sure to start with her selection of prosciutto, guanciale, and culatello among others.
At 13 years old, The Modern is the oldest on this list, but it seems like a mere baby compared to owner Danny Meyer’s other iconic restaurants Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern, which opened in 1985 and 1994 respectively. The interior’s sleek and soothing lines are a perfect fit for its home inside the MoMA: the restaurant overlooks the sculpture garden of Calders, Picassos, and rotating exhibitions. Nomad alum Abram Bissel serves a fixed menu of artfully presented contemporary American with French influences (honey-glazed foie gras tart, chicken poached in Champagne) paired with outstanding wines curated by Master Sommelier Michaël Engelmann.
Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau were head chefs of Masa and Bar Masa respectively, the main restaurants of sushi master Masa Takayama. After a brief stint running the popular pint-sized Greenwich Village sushi bar Neta, Kim and Lau left to open Shuko nearby in late 2014. The 20 seats surrounding an ash wood sushi bar (it’s sandpapered by hand every morning) make the warm minimalist setting intimate enough for watching Kim or Lau craft delicate slices of sashimi, but just big enough for relaxed conversation. The menu offers a sushi omakase, a kaiseki, or both for those seeking the full experience. Don’t miss the impressive Japanese whisky collection.
Even two years after an extremely buzzy opening, it’s still impossible to score a reservation at Le Coucou. That’s not because chef Daniel Rose was particularly famous beforehand (though his since-shuttered Parisian spot Spring did have quite a following), nor is it because it trades in funky, Instagram-worthy dishes—it's because Le Coucou is another brainchild of restaurateur Stephen Starr (Upland, Buddakan, Morimoto), so you can expect skillful chefs like Rose in the kitchen. The restaurant's traditional butter-and-cream French food is simply delicious: poultry crepe with foie gras, and warm oysters drenched in seaweed butter. It also won the 2017 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant—a discerning recognition that looks well beyond the flash-in-the-pan hype.
Uruguay-born Ignatio Mattos was mentored by Argentinian grill legend Francis Mallman and spent five years as the chef at Donna Lennard’s flagship Italian restaurant Il Buco (already an icon and not to be confused with its newer, more casual offshoot above). Now, at Estela—which opened in late 2013 to glowing reviews—Mattos serves his own distinct creations of small plates that he defines as New American: fried black rice with squid and romesco sauce, lamb ribs with Middle-Eastern charmoula sauce and a touch of honey. Fun fact: President Obama famously ate at the restaurant in 2014.
Located in a single square room on a quiet stretch of Christopher Street, I Sodi is small, yes, but that combined with white tablecloths, mood lighting, and friendly staff make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon an undiscovered gem. You haven’t. It’s been positively reviewed everywhere, re-reviewed, and has remained on critics’ lists since it opened ten years ago. Nevertheless, the atmosphere has remained as stress-free as Florentine chef-owner Rita Sodi’s consistent cooking, which focuses on traditional and uncomplicated Tuscan recipes she learned mostly from her mother.
Chef and pasta master Missy Robbins is alive and well in Williamsburg with her fully owned and operated Lilia. Robbins came up through running the kitchen at Chicago's Spiaggia and became then-Senator Barack Obama’s favorite chef; From there, her tenure as executive chef at Manthattan's A Voce Madison and A Voce Columbus Circle (both are now closed) earned her Michelin stars almost immediately. So now that she’s found a home in a spacious former garage in Brooklyn—serving pasta like glistening agnolotti stuffed with fresh sheep’s milk—her fans have followed, and so has the James Beard Foundation, which awarded her 2018 Best Chef: New York City. In a neighborhood that's growing up as fast as its transplant residents, Lilia provides mature dining with elevated service that never feels fussy.