In an early episode of The Sopranos, the show’s protagonist Tony Soprano helps his psychiatrist Dr. Melfi and her date get a table at an upscale New York restaurant. The lights are dimmed, tables are covered with white linen, and the ceilings are embellished with Renaissance style frescoes. The host is crummy, and there is opera playing in the background. In the midst of New York’s restaurant revolution in early 2016, fine-dining looks like everything but: Although Daniels and Del Postos still reign high, these days, the city’s most adventurous menu items conglomerate in down-to-earth downtown settings. Here are the 10 hippest restaurants you should visit in New York City this spring—no jackets required.
835 Avenue of Americas
+1 212-290-7600 lupulonyc.com
If Chef George Mendes’s first restaurant, Aldea is a love letter to Portuguese cooking, Lupulo is a postcard sent from a light-hearted vacation in Lisbon. For the Flatiron bar and restaurant, Mendes was inspired by the cervejarias and serenity of Lisbon (visible on the enviable tile wall.) The food is delightfully minimal and unmistakably Mediterranean (think Polvo Assado com Grãos—grilled octopus, chickpeas, black eyed peas, and pickled turnips with romesco), and pairs well with the local and European brews in restaurant’s well-thought beer menu. “Nowadays, my favorite ingredient to cook with is fish sauce and citrus,” says Mendes. “The funkiness of the fermented product plus the citrus really intensifies other flavors of fish, wheat and vegetables. And I’d love to see people try our ongoing special tripe dish braised with blood sausage, lentils and eggs sunny-side-up.” Tip: get there early (around 6 PM) to avoid the loud after work crowds.
35 East 21st Street
+1 212-913-9659 cosmenyc.com
At age 25, Daniela Soto-Innes is Cosme’s brilliant co-chef de cuisine (the other chef is the 38-year old Enrique Olvera, who is world-renowned.) The duo’s much praised endeavor keeps its roots in Mexico, but isn’t afraid of adding local, seasonal North American layers while keeping the plates simple. “I believe that a cook should not be categorized as men or women. We hire based on their knowledge and work ethic,” Soto-Innes says, of Cosme’s equal participation kitchen. “Women like to work at Cosme as cooks because they know that they will be treated the same way.” Cosme serves brunch on the weekends, and plans to start serving lunch soon.
178 Stanton Street
+1 212-257-0509 lowlifenyc.com
If someone took over a cabin in the woods and built a stylish restaurant in there, that would look like Lowlife. Former Blanca chef Alex Leonard and New York restaurateur Hugh Crickmore’s 70-seat restaurant serves Japanese-inspired new American fare, and tends to be ripe with pleasant surprises for the eater, mostly through Leonard’s use of herbs and spices: Fluke is served with coriander, lobster with tarragon, and scallops with lemongrass. “We want people to experience a unique dining experience in a neighborhood that no one would expect this level of dining—but without being pretentious,” explains the chef. “We want to bring Brooklyn to Manhattan.”
142 Orchard Street
+1 646-964-5624 wildair.nyc
It hasn’t been long since Wildair received a roaring review from The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, in which he called the restaurant “the kid” that “upstages his big brother,” referring to Contra, Wildair chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Huske’s first restaurant, two doors up the street. With high, communal tables and items like squid-ink aioli and chocolate-peanut butter tart with sea salt, the air is comparatively casual and playfully inventive. When asked about the tilt in fine-dining in New York, “I think there is a generation of hardworking chefs that are hungry to put out good food, and break away from their mentors’ model of running a restaurant,” chef Jeremiah Stone says. “It has been like this in Paris for a while, and I think it goes in waves, where it’s a reaction to the generations before you.”
232 Eight Avenue
+1 646-518-1919 nishi.momofuku.com
David Chang’s Chelsea restaurant Nishi was all the hype in early January when it first opened its doors, and for a good reason: Chang’s twelfth restaurant serves Korean food inspired by Italy, which is a hard concept to explain, but that doesn’t make the food less sublime. “We’re trying to do something that we’ve never done at Momofuku. We’re inspired by Italy but we’re not using any Italian ingredients,” Chang said to Lucky Peach in early January. “We’re looking at what Italy has done and walking away from it at the same time. We’re looking at classic Italian dishes and thinking about what makes them great. Then we say, ‘What if this didn’t have parmesan? Would it be the same?’” chimes in Joshua Pinsky, the executive chef. Fun fact: Nishi means West in Japanese.
160 Havemeyer Street
+1 718-782-3474 semillabk.com
Semilla’s 18-people rectangle table is already something of a legend among food enthusiasts. Located in the South Williamsburg, the tiny tasting room bills itself as itself as “vegetable-forward.” Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz acts as the vegetable wizard, while pastry chef Pamela Yung bakes the restaurant’s famous sour dough bread, and takes care of the dessert department (Yung’s use of grains like fermented oats, farro, einkorn, brought the duo much praise.) Try to make a reservation as soon as you know when you’d like to go, as the list runs looong.
+1 917-639-3880 rebellenyc.com
French cuisine reimagined in rebellious ways. Everyone raves about the food, but go here if you are a wine enthusiast. The wine program is overseen by the famed wine director, Patrick Cappiello.
172 Orchard Street
+1 212-254-2233 missioncantinany.com
Danny Bowien’s Mexican flagship is not the place you’d celebrate your anniversary, but it serves burrata super tortas and perfectly balanced cocktails all the same. Also needs credit when it comes to fortifying the “you-do-you” approach in New York restaurant scene in as early as 2013.
177 Chrystie Street
+1 646-918-7189 leturtle.fr
Another Blanca alumni chef—this time Greg Proechel—another hip restaurant. Interior design wunderkid Taavo Somer and Smile co-owner Carlos Quirarte’s new establishment bills itself as “New Wave French” and is undeniably romantic.
230 East 51st Street
+1 646-277-2900 salvationburger.com
April Bloomfield serves a killer burger at the Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and that’s about to get an update with Salvation Burger. Opening this spring in The Pod 51 Hotel in Midtown East, the restaurant will serve house-made potato buns, local greens, and boozy milkshakes, as well as cocktails and beer.