No doubt about it, NYC is a foodie town. Not only do our hole-in-the-walls and bodegas whip up some super satisfying cheap eats, but our fine dining restaurants are some of the best on the planet. And we have the stats to prove it. Currently, 71 restaurants in the city serving Japanese, French and Scandinavian cusines, have been awarded with a total of 109 Michelin stars. Below is the list of those who made the cut for 2018.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC
Csar Ramirez is a former David Bouley understudy who turned up on a characterless Brooklyn corner, serving rich food to rich people in a grocery-store kitchen. This unlikely locale, annex to the Brooklyn Fare supermarket—where the chef spends his days preparing deli-case items—also serves one luxurious, daily-changing, 15-course meal to diners perched on stools around a stainless-steel prep table each night. It’s not quite the Brooklyn Per Se, but it certainly harbors that type of ambition. There are no waiters, mood lighting, candles, music or coat check, and unless you bring your own wine (there’s no corkage fee either), you’ll only get water to drink. It’s not a restaurant, really—a dinner party’s more like it, served five nights a week in a chef’s atelier.
After shuttering its doors at the beginning of the summer and opening a pop-up in East Hampton, the world’s best restaurant (which closed immediately after winning the top spot) is back. In addition to the 8- to 10-course tasting menu for $295 in the dining room, you an order a more affordable tasting menu for $155 at the bar, which also offers snacks and cocktails (or choose from its 20,000 bottles of 4,000 wines). The seasonal menu is packed with hyperminimalist treats such as two foie gras dishes or a smoked sturgeon cheesecake with caviar. Regulars of the previous iteration will be happy to know that its signature savory black-and-white cookies are back in town.
New York dining mores have experienced a seismic paradigm shift in the past decade, toppling Old World restaurant titans and making conquering heroes of chefs that champion accessible food served in casual environments. But Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze brought their Parisian eatery to Gotham in 1986, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation in the decades since. Le Bernardin is still a formal place, with white tablecloths, decorous service and a jackets-required policy in the main dining room. But a recent overhaul (executed by design firm Bentel & Bentel) modernized the room with leather banquettes and a 24-foot mural of a tempestuous sea by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner. Guests who find the $190 tasting menu or $120 four-course prix fixe out of reach can still experience the kitchen’s finesse in the lounge area, via stunning bar snacks: raw kanpachi topped with beads of wasabi tobiko, for example, or gorgeous scallop ceviche resting in a pool of grassy olive oil. Beverage consultant Greg Seider’s cocktails, meanwhile, are alone worthy of a special trip: The baroque creations include a Pisco Gaudi—a lush drink made with the Peruvian brandy, a smoked paprika and saffron tincture, and egg whites.
When world-renowned sushi chef Masa Takayama arrived in New York, he came offering the most expensive dining experience in the city’s history: $300 per person for his cheapest tasting menu, not including tax, wine or sake, or the mandatory 20 percent gratuity. To be clear, Takayama doesn’t overcharge for his meals: He overspends, and the mystique of it all—his exquisite materials, his rare ingredients and his labor-intensive techniques—can be lost on a diner who doesn’t know that the top-grade matsutake mushrooms, used in a small kettle of soup and again on a piece of sushi, cost around $50 a pound. Takayama doesn’t distract diners from the meal: The space is windowless and virtually colorless, and the tables are bare. The effect is that of eating in a temple. Takayama prepares each perfect bite-size gift, then places it in front of you on a round slate; you almost eat out of his hands, and the sushi seems to melt in your mouth. This process is, to some serious food lovers, a priceless experience.
The dismal state of the restaurant business has pushed many chefs into survival mode. With even the most exorbitant venues slashing prices or introducing prix-fixe steals, New York has become a far more democratic place to dine out. The new lounge menu at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s response to these trying times, may be the city’s most tepid recession concession. Instead of offering a bargain-basement version of his justly celebrated New American oeuvre, the star chef—perhaps the most gifted American cooking today—has simply unshackled his dishes from the three-hour tasting menu commitment. Walk-in diners can now pop into his Manhattan flagship’s former waiting room for mix-and-match meals of indeterminate length. Despite the more casual setting, meals begin here with the same tiny tease Keller’s served for years at the French Laundry in Napa: his trademark salmon-tartare--filled cornets. Portions, too, stick to the chef’s usual formula.
In 1987, Aquavit introduced New York to modern Scandinavian cooking, and for the first few years, its elegant upgrade of the region’s stereotypically bland fare did well enough. But when Marcus Samuelsson, a Swede of Ethiopian descent, took over the kitchen in 1995, it signaled a new era for Aquavit. His food—integrating Asian, African and Middle Eastern flavors into the Nordic repertoire—transformed it one of the city’s most exciting restaurants.
“Wait, do I eat the rock, too?” It’s an admittedly odd-sounding question, but it’s a legitimate one to ask while dining at Aska 2.0, the revival of the Michelin-starred Scandinavian kitchen helmed by Swedish wunderkind chef Fredrik Berselius. “No, just the two leaves on top,” the server replies without judgment. Those leaves are dried bladderwrack sourced from Maine, which Berselius and his workhorse band of sous chefs fry to a crackle and bead with blue-mussel emulsion. The plating you might not immediately understand, but the taste you do: It’s staunchly sea, with the briny funk of seaweed and shellfish. That inventiveness—rendering uncommon ingredients familiar (and common ingredients unfamiliar)—is what reaped Berselius much critical acclaim at the original Aska, which operated out of Kinfolk Studios until 2014.
Restaurants shoot to the top of our wish list these days via hushed word of mouth, like underground clubs, cult sneakers and hot IPOs. A certain class of gastro-groupie collects eating experiences like Foursquare badges—the more impossible the entry, the bigger the score. But is it really worth all the trouble, time and expense? At Blanca, the new tasting-menu restaurant from the team at Roberta’s in Bushwick, the answer’s not quite as straightforward as you might think. This modern white box, in the pizza joint’s asphalt garden, serves a $180-a-head, 25-to-31-course menu that might be the single most impossible reservation in town, available on 12 stools at a counter just four nights a week.
Even in the worst of times, a world-class city needs restaurants offering the escape of over-the-top coddling and luxurious food, with a star chef who's not just on the awning but in the kitchen and dining room, too—in short, a place like Daniel. The most classically opulent of the city's rarefied restaurants, Daniel Boulud's 15-year-old flagship emerged from a face-lift a few years back, looking about as youthful as a restaurant in a landmark Park Avenue building realistically can. The sprawling dining room no longer resembles the doge's palace in Venice. Instead it's been brought into the 21st century with white walls, contemporary wrought iron sconces and a centerpiece bookshelf lined with vibrant crystal vases among other curios.
Unlike so many of its vaunted peers, Jean Georges has not become a shadow of itself: The top-rated food is still breathtaking. A velvety foie gras terrine with spiced fig jam is coated in a thin brûlée shell; a more ascetic dish of green asparagus with rich morels showcases the vegetables’ essence. Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s dessert quartets include “late harvest”—a plum sorbet, verbena-poached pear and a palate cleanser of melon soup with “vanilla noodles.”
Korean-born Jung Sik Yim honed his haute-cooking chops in New York (at Aquavit and Bouley) and Spain (at Michelin-starred Zuberoa and Akelarre), before returning to his hometown of Seoul to open the first location of Jung Sik to much acclaim. He circles back to New York with this spin-off of the Korean restaurant—a wood-paneled 55-seat spot decorated with small hanging globe lights and an undulating ceiling—in the former Chanterelle space. His background in fine dining and cutting-edge kitchens is reflected in the five-course tasting menu (there are no à la carte options). The bill of fare is composed of mostly signature dishes from the Seoul original, like the Five Senses Pork Belly (confited and seared pork with a potato puree and pickled greens), alongside one or two plates exclusive to New York, such as slow-cooked Long Island duck breast roulade.
Michael White, who built a national reputation at Fiamma in New York and Las Vegas, only to see his fledgling empire squashed overnight in a partnership meltdown, returned stronger than he left. The chef strives to continue the comeback that began at Convivio and Alto with the seafoodcentric Marea, his third and most ambitious venture with partner Chris Cannon. An upmarket shrine to the simple pleasures of the Italian coastline, the project is a gutsy gamble from a chef with bravado to burn.
Good looks aren’t everything, but they’re serious business here, where tables overlook the MoMA’s sculpture garden and diners carve their meat with Porsche steak knives. The pre-fixe menus are as carefully curated as any museum show, from a vibrant opening bite of asparagus tart to a bright green pistachio macaroon petit-four. While servers attend to every detail, Alsatian chef Gabriel Kreuther sends out dish after gorgeous dish: an immaculate cube of warm watermelon topped with tomato confit or a rosy duck breast carved tableside.
After six years in a shoebox storefront on First Avenue, David Chang started thinking bigger for his 12-seat chef's counter, the most expensive restaurant of the Momofuku empire. He closed the original Ko to shuffle it to a triple-the-size space just off the Bowery, kitted out with a massive dark-wood, 22-seat counter at its center and tables for larger parties. At the counter, diners can fishbowl-view the chef-servers as they prepare the 17-course meal from start to finish, from breaking down whole ducks behind a refrigerated glass wall to adding a final lick of sauce to the plate.
“It’s past the hot-dog stand. If you see the homeless guy playing Hall & Oates on the harmonica, you’ve gone too far.” They’re not directions you’d expect on your way to a fine-dining tasting menu, but they’re inevitable for arrival at Agern, the serene Scandinavian spot incongruously set amid the commuting cacophony of Grand Central Terminal. It’s part of a multipronged takeover by Claus Meyer, cofounder of the world-shaking Copenhagen dining room Noma, inside the terminal; there’s also that Danish frank stand parked next to Agern’s entrance, as well as a Nordic marketplace across the way in Vanderbilt Hall.
New York restaurant-scene darling Michael White expands his budding empire with this Italian-Mediterranean restaurant, inside the swank Setai Fifth Avenue hotel. For his fifth venture, White has assembled an all-star team that includes barkeep Eben Freeman (Tailor) on beverage duty, Chris Jaeckle (late of Morimoto) in the kitchen and Robert Truitt (Corton) manning the pastry station. A dark-wood dining room overlooking Fifth Avenue is the setting for savory fare like gnocchi with sage butter, mild boschetto cheese and a red-wine jus; and potato, leek and chard agnolotti bathed in ragù and watercress pesto.
Although there’s a significant Portuguese enclave across the river in Newark, the homeland’s cuisine has never made much of an impact in New York. George Mendes, the Portuguese-American behind Aldea in the Flatiron District, makes a subtle—not bludgeoning—case for his culinary heritage, offering modern cooking that quietly telegraphs Lisbon, the Algarve and the Douro wine region. His long-awaited solo debut—delayed by construction and bureaucratic snafus—is a low-key stage for one of the city’s most original young chefs.
You have to be awfully secure to give a young upstart the spotlight in your own flagship kitchen. Charlie Palmer, auteur chef turned hospitality entrepreneur—with a dozen restaurants, branded hotels and a catering gig on a luxury cruise line—last year tapped rising talent Christopher Lee to run Aureole. Lee, who last made a splash at Gilt as Paul Liebrandt’s short-lived replacement, is a fitting heir to the Palmer legacy. The two men share a reverence for seasonality, a knack with bold flavors and an intensely American sensibility.
Supposedly one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Mario Batali’s Babbo is certainly among the hardest to get into. The warmly lit, white-walled townhouse is alive with reggae, rock & roll and the ambient chatter of diners who enthusiastically lift pasta-laced forks and wineglasses to their mouths.
Drew Nieporent is back—well, sort of. It’s not like the revered restaurateur ever really left, operating celebrated spots like Nobu and Tribeca Grill since the ‘90s. But this latest venture changed gears, enlisting chef Markus Glocker (Gordon Ramsay at the London) to infuse a multicourse European tasting menu with touches of his native Austria: roasted beets "Linzer" with caramelized hazelnuts and red currants; baked turbot with egg yolk and salted pumpkinseeds; and a rabbit "flavors of bouillabaisse" with saffron ravioli and sauce rouille. France dominates the wine list, with a solid lineup of white varietals from the restaurant's namesake, Bâtard-Montrachet.
More than a mere crusader for sustainability, Dan Barber is also one of the most talented cooks in town. He builds his oft-changing menu around whatever’s at its peak on his Westchester farm (home to a sibling restaurant). During fresh pea season bright green infuses every inch of the menu, from a velvety spring pea soup to sous-vide duck breast as soft as sushi fanned over a slivered bed of sugar snap peas. Start to finish, there’s a garden on every plate—from buttery ravioli filled with tangy greens to just-picked cherries under a sweet cobbler crust. Once among the most sedate little restaurants in the Village, this cramped subterranean jewel box has become one of the most raucous.
Venue says: “Join us during Restaurant Week every day for lunch January 22-February 9!”
Even in a city smitten with large-format feasts—whole hogs, huge steaks, heaps of fried chicken—the Breslin breaks new gluttonous ground. The third project from restaurant savant Ken Friedman and Anglo chef April Bloomfield offers the most opulently fatty food in New York—served in medieval portions in a raucous rock & roll setting. Within the casual-restaurant landscape that the pair, also behind the Spotted Pig, has come to epitomize—a world without tablecloths, reservations or haute cuisine pretense—the new gastropub delivers a near-perfect dining experience.
Caf Boulud has been an uptown mainstay for more than a decade, a power room with a loyal neighborhood following and its own seating hierarchy at dinner and lunch. In 2008, Gavin Kaysen took over as executive chef. He gave up the top post at El Bizcocho in San Diego to work under Boulud. Though the menu combines the young American’s whimsy with the older Frenchman’s understated refinement, the restaurant remains a reflection of the icon whose name adorns the marquee.
Chinese cuisine gets a touch of 1930s glamour at this swank Shanghainese restaurant. The 60-seat spot is styled out with blue-painted walls, leather-and-velvet booths and vintage accoutrements (typewriters, suitcases, posters of Shanghainese movie stars). The menu includes regional specialties, like bang bang chicken (shredded chicken in a spicy sesame sauce) and Chungking braised fish with napa cabbage and roasted chili oil, pork dumplings in chili oil and spicy cumin lamb.
And here are our favorite dishes
Inside the 75-seat dining room off the lobby of the Walker Hotel, Society Cafe serves market-to-table American fare. The menu changes regularly, as every dish centers around fresh ingredients from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. On a recent visit, the cocktail list included options like the Kitten on the Keys with chartreuse, sparkling wine and thyme ($14) and the Boogie Woogie with bourbon, rosemary-infused Aperol, grapefruit and honey ($13). Start with appetizers like the Portuguese octopus with fingerling potatoes, Jersey artichokes and green goddess dressing ($18) or the Cherry Lane Farms tomato salad with gooseberries, stone fruit and pecorino ($17). For your main course, you might try the housemade coq au vin ravioli ($18), lamb loin with spiced cauliflower, mustard greens and apple crumbs ($36) or the Long Island duck with chamomile, radish, almond butter and cherry jus ($37). Society Cafe also serves breakfast and lunch daily and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.