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Mr. Donahue's
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz Mr. Donahue's

The best Nolita restaurants in NYC

Above Little Italy, you’ll find the best Nolita restaurants in NYC, from Israeli cafes to pizza parlors

By Christina Izzo

There’s more to the best Nolita restaurants in NYC than just Italian food, though the neighborhood’s got New York pizza bona fides in spades. (The first pizzeria in the United States can be found in Nolita). You can find Thai restaurants, top-notch Japanese food and some of the best bagels in NYC. Need proof? Check out the best restaurants in Nolita.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Little Italy, NYC

Best Nolita restaurants in NYC

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

1. Estela

Restaurants Contemporary American Nolita

The fashionably cookie-cutter decor—exposed brick, globe lights, hulking marble bar, you know the drill—suggests you’ve stumbled into another bustling rustic restaurant-cum-bar that’s not worth the wait; they’re as ubiquitous now as Citi Bikes. Far less common are talents like Ignacio Mattos, the imaginative Uruguayan-born chef cooking in this Mediterranean-tinged spot. Mattos has reined in his modernist tendencies at Estela, with an ever-changing, mostly small-plates menu that pivots from avant-garde toward intimate, bridging the gap between space-age Isa and the homey Italian he used to cook at Il Buco. But even if he’s tempered his vanguard streak, his primitive urges are alive and well.

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

2. Rubirosa

Restaurants Pizza Nolita

Owner Giuseppe Pappalardo of Staten Island pizzeria Joe & Pat's enlisted his son Angelo (Esca) as chef and pizzaiolo at this Italian restaurant, offering simple, thin-crust pizzas and classic red-sauce fare. Rubirosa's crisp yet pliable pies have a delicate char and a small ring of crackerlike crust around the edges. We've yet to go wrong with the no-frills vodka rendition, which boasts a layer of creamy, booze-spiked tomato sauce and a gooey patchwork of fresh mozzarella.

Uncle Boons
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

3. Uncle Boons

Restaurants Thai Nolita

At this dark-wood-paneled rathskeller, you’ll find tap wine and beer slushes, vintage Thai flatware carved from teak and brass, and perhaps a food-world luminary, like Eric Ripert on a recent night, plowing through noodles in the back dining room. The stereo blares old Thai covers of ’70s American pop and rock. And the kitchen has fine-dining muscle: Husband-and-wife team Matt Danzer and Ann Redding met while cooking at Per Se. Uncle Boons’ closest brethren may be Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok restaurants. But unlike Ricker, who hews closely to recipes as found in the motherland, Danzer and Redding (who is from Thailand) have unburdened themselves with a close reading of tradition.

Pasquale Jones
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

4. Pasquale Jones

Restaurants Italian Nolita

Pasquale Jones, a sequel to Ryan Hardy, Grant Reynolds and Robert Bohr’s jaunty, wine-charged Soho spot Charlie Bird, is a touch warmer than neo-Italian brethren like Café Altro Paradiso. That might be due to Reynolds’s graciously priced wine list or the Prince hits on heavy rotation overhead (what Charlie Bird did with blaring hip-hop, Pasquale does with foot-tapping funk) or to the actual glow emanating off a pair of wood-burning ovens in the nimble open kitchen, the promise of pizza within. Manned by San Francisco chef Tim Caspare, those roaring hearths produce one of the city’s best new pies: the clam pizza ($23), a char-puffed beauty covered in briny littlenecks, wilted rapini and a delicate garlicky cream.

Jack's Wife Freda
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

5. Jack’s Wife Freda

Restaurants Contemporary American Nolita

Keith McNally protégé Dean Jankelowitz (Schiller's, Pastis, Balthazar) is behind this morning-to-evening café. The 40-seat restaurant—sporting dark-green leather banquettes, brass railings and marble counters—serves homey fare, like Jankelowitz's grandmother's matzo ball soup made with duck fat, a skirt steak sandwich served alongside hand-cut fries, and piri-piri-hot-sauce-marinated chicken kebabs. In the morning, find Stumptown coffee, homemade croissants and full breakfast plates, including soft-boiled eggs with challah "soldiers" (strips).

Mr. Donahue's
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

6. Mr. Donahue’s

Restaurants Soul and southern American Nolita

The pint-size restaurant from married co-chefs Matt Danzer and Ann Redding—who, following Michelin-starred acclaim for their electric Thai cooking at Uncle Boons, pivoted to soft-focused Americana for this Nolita follow-up—boasts just nine seats: five tall vinyl stools at a lunch counter and a pair of two-tops tucked in a corner. It’s named after Danzer’s grandfather, and geriatric-chic curios abound in the wood-paneled nook: Places are set with dainty doilies, vases of pale carnations and vintage china; and, by meal’s end, nondescript hard candies find their way into your pocket. The menu is inspired by the South’s hearty meat-and-three tradition: Choose a protein (“Swedish-American” meatballs, chicken-fried pork cheeks) along with a sauce and two sides.

Pearl & Ash
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

7. Pearl & Ash

Restaurants Contemporary American Nolita

Pearl & Ash occupies a long space in the ground floor of the Bowery House, a flophouse turned chic hostel. It smacks a bit of Momofuku with bare wooden tables, backless stools at the bar and a fresh-faced sommelier sporting a Joy Division tee. But here the seats are lined with blue velvet, and a ’90s soundtrack of Sublime and Marcy Playground warbles through the speakers. Dishes are globe-trotting: the Ethiopian spice blend berbere is paired with raw diver scallops; North African marinade chermoula seasons skate.

Photograph: Tova Carlin

8. Lombardi’s

Restaurants Pizza Nolita

Gennario Lombardi opened his shop in Soho in 1905—the first pizzeria in the U.S. It’s hard to vouch for how the pizzas tasted a century ago, but there’s more elbow room now after a renovation, if not the charm of the old joint. Still, Lombardi’s continues to bake a hot contender for best pie.

The Musket Room
Photograph: Krista Schlueter

9. The Musket Room

Restaurants Global Nolita

From Mexican to Malaysian, New Yorkers have a world’s worth of cuisines at their fingertips, yet New Zealand fare is as scarce as on-time subways. Auckland native Matt Lambert (Public, Saxon + Parole) aims to change that with this rustic Nolita den, decked out with lime-washed exposed brick and midcentury brass chandeliers. Lambert’s contemporary menu melds his French training with the Asian influences of his hometown: fried bone marrow with citrus and uni; slow-poached Ora king salmon with quinoa, wasabi and roe; and venison saddle spiked with gin, fennel, lychee and licorice.

Black Seed Bagels
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

10. Black Seed Bagels

Restaurants Bakeries East Village

Noah Bernamoff (Mile End) and Matt Kliegman (the Smile) are behind this Nolita bagel shop, serving hand-rolled, poached bagels and house-made spreads (scallion cream cheese, smoked mackerel).

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