We’ve already got you covered on the best Upper East Side bars—now it’s time for the best Upper East Side restaurants in New York. Whether you have a craving for one of the best burgers in NYC, world-class Japanese food or gorgeously roasted chicken dishes, the uptown neighborhood has got something for you.
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Best Upper East Side restaurants
The most classically opulent of the city's rarefied restaurants, Daniel Boulud's 23-year-old flagship is still a big-ticket commitment of time and money, but—from the waiters who sweep up to the table like synchronized swimmers, to the whole fish filleted on an old-school cart—you won't find such lavish attention to detail without springing for a ticket to Europe. And with New York's fine-dining restaurants increasingly under siege these days, Boulud and his team make a powerful case for keeping the genre alive.
The only menu you’ll find here is for drinks. The fish prepared at this tiny outpost of a popular L.A. sushi spot is governed entirely by chef Kenji Takahashi’s whim. There’s nothing to fear (except maybe the wasabi—they use the much spicier real stuff): Sasabune’s omakase is culled from Takahashi’s daily New Fulton Fish Market finds. He and his team dole out raw numbers, from favorites like salmon and yellowtail to more exotic sea creatures, including bonito in a spicy-sweet homemade soy sauce and a black cod in an eel sauce you’ll want mop up with your fingers.
The signature offering is a burger that invites comparisons to the revered Corner Bistro’s. Melon’s is pricier, at $11 for the very basic model, but it’s arguably just as tasty. Served austerely with a few slices of red onion and pickle, these handfuls must be eaten quickly, before the juice soaks through the bottom of the bun. Several of the genial bartenders, hosts and servers (in genteel ties and sweater vests) have been greeting patrons by their first names since the pub opened in 1972.
For the best fix for a late-night sushi jones, you’ll need to go east…Far East. No matter: locals, sushi snobs and off-duty chefs alike crawl in to this completely conventional façade on First Ave until 2:30 a.m. to sample an original selection of raw fish. The Sushi Seki formula: unusually flavored variants of popular sushi cuts (milky king salmon, medium-fat tuna, chopped and deep-fried egg) complemented by a dollop of subtly head-turning sauce (jalapeño atop yellowtail, an oniony tofu sauce above leaner tuna, sesame oil bathing snow crab). Although Seki peddles the sushi standards, too, it’s sushi omakase, starting at $50, which keeps the cabbies idling outside. Piece-by-piece, it’s a fun ride that justifies the off-the-track location and steep prices.
While many neighborhood Japanese joints serve sushi rolls with wacky names, Sushi of Gari chef Masatoshi Sugio prefers to play with unusual ingredients and oddball combinations. Adventurous eaters brave long lines to cram into his small place and order a sushi tasting menu (Gari’s Choice) that runs between $70 and $80. Sugio has been known to pair seared foie gras with daikon radish; salmon with tomato and onion; and spicy tuna with mayo, Tabasco and sesame oil. Less adventurous souls can order regular sushi and sashimi—which are supremely fresh, if not especially memorable—or hot dishes like negimaki, teriyaki, tempura, udon, soba and dumplings. If you want sashimi, pay the extra $13 for the “special” version, which swaps in exotic fishes for the usual tuna and yellowtail.
Once confined to the sad heat-lamp preserve of supermarkets, rotisserie chickens have put a little shine on their spits lately—just see the much-ballyhooed versions at joints like Lafayette, Uncle Boons and Mission Cantina. Now, at Rotisserie Georgette, the primitive alchemy of spit roasting takes center stage in a setting more opulent than a deli case. With gleaming rotisseries spinning whole birds in the back, appetizers are a bit of a letdown. Better to beeline straight for the headliner: a silver skillet cradling the regal poule de luxe for two ($72), all crispy skin and juicy breasts. When it comes to the bird, Rotisserie Georgette has its chickens in a row.
Considered by many vegans to be among the best meat-free restaurants in Manhattan, this welcoming restaurant (which has both Upper East and Upper West Side locations) serves healthy, fresh and surprising dishes prepared by a kosher kitchen. For an appetizer, the indulgent nachos—piled high with guacamole, pico de gallo, tofu sour cream, tapioca cheese and grilled seitan—are a must order, while entrées include a curried vegetable cake that’s aromatic with cumin and turmeric.
Since 2008, expansion-minded chef Michael White has focused his restaurants in the upper echelons of soulful Italian cooking—see Marea, Ai Fiori and Costata for proof. But the multi-Michelin-starred toque goes French with this 186-seat dining room, named after a landlocked region in southeastern France and decorated with illuminated banquettes, arched doorways and vaulted ceilings hung with chandeliers. White and Marea chef Jared Gadbaw collaborated on the menu, divided into sections such as Le Potager (seasonal produce) and Les Grillades (meats and fish). Featured brasserie classics include steamed seabass with manila clams and veal filet with seared foie gras. And as is the White way, there are house-made pastas: tricolor farfalle tossed with smoked salmon ribbons and ravioli stuffed with rabbit confit and reblochon. From his perch at a tile-clad bar, wine director Richard Anderson oversees a French-heavy selection of vin.
The onetime East Village institution, now located in Murray Hill, brings its chopped liver, corned beef and pastrami to the Upper East Side. Brothers Josh and Jeremy Lebewohl, the founder's nephews, stay true to the original with the same menu of Jewish standards at this 70-seat location.
The Anglophilic Fat Radish folks bring their downtown dandy-baiting brand of cool to the Upper East Side with this bi-level seasonal eatery. Chef Nicholas Wilber takes on elevated home-style cooking, featuring dishes like summer-cucumber salad, fried Cape Cod oysters with wakame (edible seaweed), and a fennel-and-fish pie with lobster and mussels. The downstairs dining room is outfitted with subtle nautical touches like white-washed copper walls and navy-blue leather banquettes. The second level has a private dining space as well as a bar stocked with European wines and Empire State draft brews.
Looking to have a special dinner?
Mama Mia 44 SW
When the Schiattarella family first purchased their Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in 1971, the neighborhood was still a barricade-the-door-at-night kind of place. The surroundings have changed quite a bit since then, but the homestyle cooking at Mama Mia 44 SW has not. Start off the night with an order of freshly baked focaccia bread ($11) and perhaps some baked clams ($15). For your main course, choose from a whole host of Southern Italian classics such as chicken marsala ($21), spaghetti and homemade meatballs “mama’s way” ($19), gnocchi with fresh mozzarella ($19) and calamari fra diavolo with penne ($21). This is New York, so there are also several house pizzas, ranging from the classic margherita ($17) to customized pies ($16, plus $2 per topping). Wash it all down with one of their signature, Italian-themed cocktails like the Sophia Loren with dragonberry rum, cranberry juice and seltzer or a pitcher of sangria.
Venue says: “Bring in your theatre ticket and get a house wine for free. Happy hour from 5p-7p Mon-Thurs. Live Music on Tuesdays 8p”