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Photograph: Ariel Efron for Malka

Let me tell you—these are my wishes for NYC’s kosher dining scene in 2024

News Editor Anna Rahmanan says some kosher restaurants need to step it up.

Anna Rahmanan
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Anna Rahmanan

"Let Me Tell You" is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Tuesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, News Editor Anna Rahmanan reminded everyone why the West Village will forever be cool.

The kosher dining scene in New York is a unique one.

According to the Gateway Center for Israel, New York is the most Jewish city in all of America, after all. As a result, there are many kosher eateries around town, including outside of the five boroughs and especially when compared to quotas across other American cities.

That being said, this is New York, the land of complaints and the perennially unsatisfied—whether we’re talking about folks who eat pork or don’t. Plenty of local restaurants are therefore held to pretty high standards, which may be why eateries seem to constantly shutter here, despite hearing about novel openings every few months.

And yet, if the clamor that followed the opening of beloved Tel Aviv restaurant Malka on the Upper West Side is of any indication, there is a solid clientele demanding the presence of kosher locales in New York that get to shape the way these businesses actually function. 

I, for one, like to think of myself as part of this self-anointed, at-times irrational elite by mere Jewish and kosher-eating status, which is why I decided to dedicate this month’s column to the local kosher dining scene, offering some advice to the restaurants I hold dear, as a Jew, but have no problem criticizing, as a New Yorker.

Without further ado, here are my wishes for New York’s kosher culinary scene in the year 2024:

1. Expand your horizons—but be specific

If there is a common denominator among kosher restaurants, they tend to include the cuisines of the world in a single menu. Only at a Jewish establishment will you get to order Japanese sushi followed by Italian fettuccine Alfredo, a French-sounding fish dish and German treats as dessert.

The thinking, it seems, falls under “the more, the merrier.” 

At Midtown East’s Barnea, for example, arguably one of the most high-end kosher steakhouses in town, the menu also features a pasta and fish section and the list of cold appetizers includes a pretty hefty number of raw fish dishes.

As excellent as the steaks at Barnea are, I can’t help but wonder whether solely focusing on the meat might propel the restaurant to new gastronomic heights. 

Alas, we cannot all be masters at everything, a fact that leads me to my very first wish: kosher restaurant of New York, feel free to expand your gastronomic horizons and start focusing on cuisines that have not yet received the attention they deserve (Ethiopian food especially lends itself to the kosher treatment) but please stop trying to take diners around the globe during a single meal.

Simply put: choose one type of food, and do it well. 

2. Remember that the setting in which you eat is just as important as what you’re munching on

Countless studies have shown that the environment in which you eat is just as important as the food you’re consuming, both in terms of physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, in my experience, not many kosher restaurant owners focus on the space as much as they pay attention to the food.

Consider this my plea for change.

Turquoise in Queens, for example, is arguably one of the most delicious kosher restaurants in the five boroughs: the fish is always on point, as are the salads and side dish options. Most importantly, the food is light, airy and indirectly begs you to return week after week. 

And yet, the locale itself reeks of whatever the opposite of high-end culinary efforts may look like: the tables are old, the tablecloths anonymous, the lighting is too bright and the space feels like a school cafeteria. How about sprucing things up a bit? Give us a reason not to get takeout instead!

3. Don’t be too afraid of trends, especially when it comes to the bar

Although the likes of Le Marais, Noi Due, Colbeh and Bison and Bourbon are certainly perennial favorites, there’s something to be said about the lack of development within tried-and-true establishments of the kosher variety. 

Sticking to the traditional is always safe, especially when dealing with a clientele as volatile and complaint-prone as the one in New York, but leaning into innovation can lead to benefits.

Although laws of kashrut heavily limit the sort of food items that can be offered in a kosher restaurant, when it comes to drinks, things are a bit easier as most ingredients are considered OK to use. 

Why not lean into the permissiveness of kosher cocktails to tell the city that you are operating in 2024 and deserve as much attention as your non-kosher counterparts? 

I’m not a fan of culinary social media virality, but I have to admit that going viral can help any restaurant expand its client base and, when it comes to kosher operations, even attract non-Jewish audiences—always good for business.

So here’s my advice for kosher eateries: get in on that martini and fries trend or, perhaps, start offering the sorts of booze-free cocktails that used to only gain traction during Dry January but now seem to be permanent staples across menus presented in a city that’s all about year-round wellness. 

4. Invest in exemplary staff

Perhaps one of the chief complaints by kosher diners is the lack of proper service when it comes to Jewish restaurants. 

Sadly, as hinted by many industry folks throughout the years, the objections are not baseless ones. In fact, given the fact that most kosher restaurants are closed on Saturdays for the Sabbath, one of the main “tip days” when it comes to gentile eateries, people who agree to work there are usually not the most dedicated waiters, cooks and staff members.

Here’s my idea: let’s start compensating workers for the tips they don’t get to earn on Saturdays by increasing their wages. That will not only benefit them financially but it’ll let them know that, “Hey! You are needed, loved and appreciated” and should really consider working at a kosher restaurant!

Time Out Tip: Support the kosher restaurants that are doing it right all around, including Abaita in Midtown East (excellent wood-fired pizza abounds!), Akimori in Brooklyn (a new Manhattan outpost is opening on the Upper East Side this week), Pongal in Kips Bay for some laid-back Indian fare and Izzy’s Brooklyn Smokehouse, setting the standard for smokehouses both kosher and not.

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