In New York, brunch is more than a meal—for some, it’s a religion. Each Sunday morning (or late afternoon!), rain or shine, believers swarm their places of worship: those lively temples offering Benedicts, breakfast and Bloody Marys as holy sacraments. But how do you bypass all the mediocre noise and discover what’s truly brunch gospel? We’re here to help. We take the guesswork out of the weekend meal and award the very best dishes and drinks this city has to offer, from syrup-drenched pancakes to, of course, that picture-perfect avocado toast. Happy feasting.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best brunch in NYC
Photographs: Paul Wagtouicz
Ultimate brunch in NYC
Choosing between Bubby’s sourdough and sour-cream pancakes (each $19) is like a parent picking which child they love more. But we’d make terrible parents, so we’re standing behind those sour-cream–fluffed flapjacks as the city’s best stack. Served since the comfort-food den first opened in Tribeca in 1990 (and later in the second Meatpacking District location), the griddle cakes are adapted from an heirloom recipe by famed food writer James Beard: Half the milk in Beard’s recipe is subbed out for delicately tangy Hudson Valley sour cream, yielding tender, golden pancakes with a supremely airy crumb. The stack is dressed with real-deal maple syrup, copious pats of butter and your choice of fruity accoutrements, from caramelized bananas to wild Maine blueberries.
120 Hudson St (212-219-0666) · 73 Gansevoort St (212-206-6200) · bubbys.com
Runners-up: Clinton Street Baking Company (4 Clinton St; 646-602-6263, clintonstreetbaking.com) · Shopsin’s (120 Essex St; 917-907-4506, shopsins.com) · Tom’s Restaurant (782 Washington Ave, Brooklyn; 718-636-9738)
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette
Sliced, smashed, spread—however you choose to eat it, avocado toast has rapidly risen from morning novelty to brunch ubiquity, thanks in part to the fruit’s renewed health-food status as a “good fat” and its popularity as a social media pinup. The simple dish is a bright, sunny exemplar of millennial excess—most New Yorkers wouldn’t blink at paying double digits for the stuff—but at the Cali-cool café El Rey, you can get a high-wire, Instagram-primed avo smash for less than a Hamilton: Buttery slips of avocado are fanned atop half-moons of pita bread and festooned with the bright-pink pop of pickled red onion, hickory-smoked sea salt and extra greenery, courtesy of a vibrant, garlicky chimichurri ($8). Slap a pair of rich, runny poached eggs on top if you want (extra $3)—anything for more likes, right?
100 Stanton St (212-260-3950, elreynyc.com)
Runners-up: Dudley’s (85 Orchard St; 212-925-7355, dudleysnyc.com) · Jack’s Wife Freda (224 Lafayette St · 50 Carmine St · jackswifefreda.com) · Café Gitane (242 Mott St; 212-334-9552, cafegitanenyc.com)
Not all brunch burgers play fair; some are clear dinner dishes barely repackaged for the late-morning meal. But at this Flatiron power pub inside the New York EDITION hotel, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton doles out a brunch-specific analogue to his acclaimed nighttime burger. The juicy, dry-aged sirloin patty is the same, as is the glossy brioche bun, but in the a.m. Atherton adds a hearty spread of tomato jam, plenty of smoky, streaky Nueske’s bacon and, the indulgent cherry on top, a freshly fried egg ($26). Forget ketchup: That rich, oozing yolk is all the sauce you need.
The New York EDITION, 5 Madison Ave (212-413-4300, theclocktowernyc.com)
Runners-up: Cherche Midi (282 Bowery; 212-226-3055, cherchemidiny.com) · Emily (919 Fulton St, Brooklyn; 347-844-9588, pizzalovesemily.com) · The Spotted Pig (314 W 11th St; 212-620-0393, thespottedpig.com)
Some brunch dishes benefit from reinvention—we’d very much like to thank whomever invented stuffed French toast—but when it comes to eggs Benedict, we’re total purists: All we want is a perfectly poached egg, a slice of crispy-edged Canadian bacon and a smooth, sunny-yellow hollandaise drenched over the whole thing. You get all that and more at Tartine, a West Village institution that’s been attracting in-the-know brunchers for more than two decades. From-the-package Thomas’ English muffins are toasted and topped with thick-cut Canadian bacon and two supple eggs, poached classically in water and white vinegar ($16). But it’s that cloak of hollandaise that elevates the dish to brunch greatness: The velvety emulsion, fortified with clarified butter and tangy from lemon, seeps off the eggs into the accompanying hash, adding a slightly sweet, rich counterpoint to potatoes, scallions and tomatoes. Plate-licking stuff.
253 W 11th St (212-229-2611, tartine.nyc)
Runners-up: Petite Abeille (401 E 20th St · 44 W 17th St · petiteabeille.com) · Norma’s (119 W 56th St; 212-708-7460, parkermeridien.com) · Vinegar Hill House (72 Hudson Ave, Brooklyn; 718-522-1018, vinegarhillhouse.com)
King Cole Bar
Whether you want to get rid of yesterday’s hangover or start working on tomorrow’s, brunch isn’t complete without a Bloody Mary. And while the modern-day Bloody is known primarily as a vehicle for over-the-top garnishes—from slabs of bacon to skewered Tater Tots to an entire fried chicken—the pared-down elegance of the iconic version at the drink’s rumored birthplace, the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar, is the one that steals our heart. Dubbed the Red Snapper ($25), bartender Fernand Petiot created the recipe eight decades ago by, and it graciously hasn’t changed much since: Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice are seasoned with celery salt and equal parts black and cayenne peppers in a cocktail shaker; Belvedere vodka, Sacramento tomato juice and ice are added and shaken until fully incorporated. A simple wedge of lemon is the only garnish, because when you have a cocktail this bloody good, you don’t need anything more.
2 E 55th St (212-339-6857, stregisnewyork.com)
Runners-up: The Long Island Bar (110 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn; 718-625-8908, thelongislandbar.com) · Mother’s Ruin (18 Spring St; mothersruinnyc.com) · Prune (54 E 1st St, #1; 212-677-6221, prunerestaurant.com)
Pies ’n’ Thighs
Buttery, flaky and hot out the oven—the biscuits at Pies ’n’ Thighs are just like the ones Grandma would make, if Grandma were a hipster Southern cook living in Williamsburg. Baker-owner Sarah Sanneh gives a lot of love to these buttermilk beauties, which are served as a $4 à la carte side with cream cheese and your choice of hot-pepper or strawberry jam. The golden-brown, high-rising rounds are made with pastry flour and enough pats of butter to put a smile on Paula Deen’s face; they’re then brushed with egg and cream before taking a turn in the oven, resulting in a crispy edge that gives way to a tender interior. Elsewhere during brunch, those same biscuits act as an ultra-fluffy base for everything from scrambled eggs to sausage gravy. You can have an all-biscuit meal if you want; just tell your friends you’re carbo-loading.
166 South 4th St, Brooklyn (347-529-6090, piesnthighs.com)
Runners-up: Country-fried bacon at Joseph Leonard (170 Waverly Pl; 646-429-8383, josephleonard.com) · Parmesan grits at The Queens Kickshaw (40-17 Broadway, Queens; 718-777-0913, thequeenskickshaw.com) · Sweet-potato hash browns at The Smile (26 Bond St; 646-329-5836, thesmilenyc.com)
Surfing and slang aren’t the only things Australians do better than New Yorkers; those Aussies know how to make a killer cup o’ joe. Down Under’s renowned coffee culture has proliferated in New York in the past five years, and no shop eases you into that flat-white phenomenon quite like Bluestone Lane. The charming café chain—which cooks weekend brunch at its West Village and Upper East Side locations—sources Brazilian and Colombian beans for its drip and cold brew and roasts them in its Dumbo shop to bring out hints of flavors such as toasted almond, vanilla and milk chocolate. But the lion’s share of drinks are made with an espresso blend of Brazilian, Guatemalan and Ethiopian beans, which has sweet notes of cocoa, clove and honeycomb specifically designed to complement espresso’s best friend: milk. Java geeks can taste that dark, heady Maverick blend in the café’s toasty flat whites (a double ristretto shot with steamed milk; $4) and long blacks (a double espresso shot with extra-hot water; $3).
Various locations (bluestonelaneny.com)
Brunch is the most indulgent and escapist of meals; its relegation to long, leisurely Sunday afternoons instead of the too-real rise-and-grind of the work week is no mistake. And the meal is all the better when presented in a space that embraces its transportive staycation ideal: Enter Santina, a glass box of coastal Italian exoticism opened by Major Food Group titans Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick in the Meatpacking District in 2015. Lofty floor-to-ceiling windows, custom-made Venetian floral chandeliers, ocean-blue banquettes and potted palm trees inside the glossy, Renzo Piano–designed space fuel the feeling that you’re dining on the sun-kissed hills of the Amalfi Coast—rather than tucked in the underpass of the High Line. The Hudson River might not be the Italian Riviera, but Santina sure is bellissimo.
820 Washington St (212-254-3000, santinanyc.com)