Mother’s Day brunch doesn’t have to be the only time you treat mom. She gave you pretty much, well, everything, so why not take her out on the town? Whether she’s into upscale Italian restaurants, afternoon tea or trendy sushi restaurants, we’ve rounded up the best restaurants to take mom to in NYC. Don’t worry, it's probably still on her.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Mother's Day in NYC
Best restaurants to take mom
A Golden State glow radiates throughout Upland, a glossy tribute to chef Justin Smillie’s hometown nestled at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. The big, buzzing room is damn near sunny on a drab stretch of Park Avenue South, a testament to designers Roman and Williams who, between this and the similarly luminous Lafayette, prove to have a gaffer’s eye for great lighting. Smillie’s cooking is fittingly vibrant: Torpedo beets with white chocolate, chili-zapped brussels sprouts, and pizza and pastas that act as ample reminders of Smillie’s Italiano finesse.
The gourmand mama will eat up this lauded eatery with an impressive history: Gramercy Tavern is the restaurant that transformed Danny Meyer from a one-shop restaurateur to a full-blown impresario, made Tom Colicchio a star and launched a citywide proliferation of casual yet upscale American eateries. Take mom to the farmhouse-style setting, with its decorative brambles, pinecones and intoxicating smell from the wood-burning oven. Meals include delicate constructions of vegetables and fish from Blue Hill at Stone Barns alum Michael Anthony.
The bi-level space, nearly doubled from the 6,000-square-foot original, offers a sense of design déjà vu that mom will appreciate if she was a fan of the original: There’s still plenty of cherrywood, forest-green wainscoting and a colorful collection of paintings from the likes of Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg and Richard Polsky. Executive chef Carmen Quagliata, a decadelong veteran of the original USC, serves favorites like a lunchtime tuna burger in the 95-seat downstairs dining room, but expands the menu with new dishes like tortellini en brodo, “baked potato” beets with sour cream and braised lamb shank with salsa verde.
Andrew Carmellini's return to French food at Lafayette was rightfully anticipated: Heads would turn; fireworks would ensue, and mom will get the downtown-cool vibes in a classy dining room. Everything in Lafayette glows: the blue-flamed rotisserie and wood oven, the soft lamps and candles, and the gently backlit bar. The large room enjoys a proper bustle, not a din. Lithe young things tilt their heads over glasses of Sancerre in that golden light at tables, enjoying the moules frites or the smoked trout amadine.
The old-world charm of well-worn communal tables, dangling copper cookware and flickering lamps is the ideal way to transport mom to the Italian countryside without the plane ticket. Seasonal produce shapes the menu of executive chef Joel Hough. Dunk the warm country bread in Umbrian olive oils produced exclusively for Il Buco. You’ll have no trouble finding a wine to match your meal; Il Buco’s list is one of the city’s best.
Daisuke Nakazawa's West Village sushi bar looks like something out of a luxury car commercial, with black leather swivel chairs, sake sommeliers in tailored dark suits and a soundtrack of classical strings–for the moms who are looking for something super city-slick. Whereas Jiro Ono was stoic, Nakazawa is a jokester who places a live squirming shrimp on your plate just for a laugh. But his pranks don’t undercut the seriousness of his nigiri. Nakazawa swiftly sets each of the 20 or so pieces on your plate in succession, drifting back to his post like Kobe Bryant swishing a fadeaway. Enjoy fresh swaths of pike mackerel, wild yellowtail from Hokkaido, scallops and fluke.
If mom isn't counting calories, bring her to this pasta-focused eatery. Missy Robbins revamps a former auto-body shop as a 70-seat dining room decorated with handmade tiles, natural-wood tables and iron-casement windows. From an open kitchen, Robbins oversees rustic plates like cacio e pepe frittelle, pappardelle with veal bolognese and a wood-fired leg of lamb with Roman spices. A small adjacent take-out café will serve pastries, frittatas and focacce, before converting to a cocktail bar at night.
At this uptown offshoot of Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng's West Village dim sum house, located in the former Fatty Crab annex, dumpling-loving moms can find signature plates and Asian-inflected fare that, while wildly inventive, relies on classical Chinese technique. The soup dumplings are an absolute must-order, packed with pork and crab in a rich, flavorful broth.
Think pink at this Nolita hot spot. The Italian restaurant is bedazzled in blushing shades that would make even Elle Woods do a double take. The food might not be wow-worthy, but it will surely be a dining experience you and mom will be chatting about over mimosas the next morning–or adding to Insta, if she's the social-media type.
John Fraser—chef-owner of Michelin-starred Dovetail—was an early adopter of the vegetable high altar, and his meat-free dishes offer up a fittingly sublime hymn, perfect for the herbivore mother. The restaurant space itself in the Standard East Village hotel, has a main dining area chopped up by wooden masts and zigzag banquettes. This carpeted room is filled with black-clad art directors, with a large outdoor patio in the warmer months.
Treat mom to a spa day!
This Financial District outpost offers burgers for the conscious carnivore: The restaurant serves only meat that is hormone- and antibiotic-free and comes from family-owned farms. First, choose your meat: sirloin ($11 for a quarter-pound patty, $17.50 for a half-pound patty), Kobe beef ($12.95 for a quarter-pound patty, $19.95 for a half-pound patty), turkey ($9.75), grilled chicken breast ($14.50) or a veggie patty ($9.25). Then, doctor it up with toppings like bacon ($2.75), mushrooms ($3), avocado ($1.50), Vermont cheddar ($1.50) and sausage ($3). All that’s left to do when your cooked-to-order burger arrives on a fluffy Portuguese roll is dig in. Still hungry for more? Order up some regular or sweet potato fries ($5.25 each). After all, you can’t have a burger without ‘em! To drink, Zaitzeff offers a selection of craft beers, plus Pellegrino ($1.75) and Little Rabbit sodas ($2.50).
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