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How To Navigate NYC’s 15 Best Restaurants

By James Mulcahy
October 2, 2013

So you’ve seen the list of NYC’s best restaurants, and you think you know which one you want to hit up for that special meal. Well, scoring a table and making the most of your experience will require a little work. The high-end eateries on the list all come with their own reservations policies, rules and options to score a good deal. See our guide to the Big Apple’s best below, and happy booking. - Kirsten Stamn and James Mulcahy

  • No. 1: Le Bernardin 

    Reservations: If you’re planning on eating at Le Bernardin on the weekend, it’s best to snatch your spot on the first business day of that month, when reservations become available both through the phone or OpenTable. Thankfully, weekdays are less hectic and don’t require as much advanced planning; you can usually score a table with less fuss. Keep in mind, though, that reservations aren’t accepted for the lounge.

    Dining Options: If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper route, during lunch there’s a three-course prix fixe for $75. Dinner options include a four-courser for $130, or if the entire table’s up for a tasting menu, there’s one for $150 per person ($241 if you want wine pairings) or a more extravagant “Chef’s Tasting” for $195 (with wine, it’s a whopping $333).

    Best Value: The $45 City Harvest Lunch gets you an amazing meal in the lounge with the same amount of courses as the regular prix fixe lunch available in the dining room, but for $30 less. Plus, $5 of each meal goes toward charity.

    Insider Tip: If you have eaten here before and still dream about a specific dish from a past menu, let the restaurant know at least 24 hours in advance, and they might be able to recreate it just for you.

    Details: 155 W. 51st St.; 212-554-1515

  • No. 2: Bouley 

    Reservations: You can make your reservation online at OpenTable or via telephone a whole 60 days in advance. If you’re looking for primetime dinner seating or a weekend reservation, though, it’s best to try more than 30 days in advance.

    Dining Options: You can order à la carte for both lunch and dinner; there’s also a five-course lunch tasting menu for $55 per person and a six-course tasting menu for dinner ($175 per person, or $280 for wine accompaniments), plus seasonal tasting menus that are typically much more expensive and available upon request (a truffle menu for $350 and a game dinner for $295 were some recent options).

    Insider Tip: Don’t forget your jackets, gentlemen: they’re required.

    Details: 163 Duane St.; 212-964-2525

  • No. 3: Per Se 

    Reservations: Reservations are available one month in advance, and it’s highly recommended that you call or book your table online right when lines open at 10 AM.

    Dining Options: The nine-course prix fixe tasting menus (there are two: a vegetable menu and a chef’s tasting menu) are conceptualized every day and are currently priced at $295 for both lunch and dinner; they don’t include wine pairings. You can also get a seven-courser for $235 and a five-course for $195. Additionally, you can opt for the salon, which doesn’t take reservations and lets you order à la carte.

    Best Value: And about that salon. Per Se’s front room is just beyond those blue doors and is one of the great hidden secrets of the NYC fine dining world. You’re likely to find space, especially if you go early or into dinner service, when the lucky diners with reservations will have moved on from their pre-dinner drink, leaving chairs open for walk-ins.

    Insider Tip: If you want to experience the Keller magic without ponying up hundreds of dollars, come for dessert. A five-course pastry menu is served in the lounge only.

    Details: 10 Columbus Cir.; 212-823-9335

  • No. 4: Daniel 

    Reservations: Daniel always has a full house, so it’s best to book your table either on the phone or online right when reservations open up 30 days in advance - especially if you are aiming for a primetime dinner seating. (Pro tip: Their reservations office opens at 9 AM.) You can also sometimes snag a last-minute seat due to a cancellation, if you’re flexible on timing.

    Dining Options: There’s a three-course early-supper option from 5:30-6 PM that will set you back $133, including wine pairings. If your whole table is game, you can get the three-course dinner option for $116 before 10 PM, or a six-course tasting menu for $195 until the wee hours of the night (there’s also a three-course vegetarian menu for $116).

    Best Value: Dining à la carte at the bar and lounge is a cheaper alternative. If you go that route, stay for dessert. The restaurant recently named a new pastry chef, Ghaya Oliveria (Boulud Sud, Bar Boulud), whose creations are a great reason to stick around. 

    Insider Tip: The restaurant regularly offers special, curated dinners and experiences, like a recent meal that saw the sommeliers from each of Boulud’s restaurants come together for an epic wine pairing.

    Details: 60 E. 65th St.; 212-288-0033

  • No. 5: Eleven Madison Park 

    Reservations: This is a tough one. Set an alarm for 28 days before your desired reservation and call or book via OpenTable right at 9 in the morning; reservations are usually snatched up entirely within the first 15 minutes of lines being open.

    Dining Options: The tasting menu ranges from 16-19 courses and is a relative steal for $195. Be sure to mention if you have any allergies or preferences so the kitchen can adjust for you.

    Best Value: You can save a few bucks at the lounge (notice a trend here?). The bar at EMP is an undiscovered gem, and there’s usually plenty of space to order cocktails and à la carte items from the tasting menu.

    Insider Tip: Special requests - even odd ones - have been known to be accommodated. Don’t hesitate to ask (or call ahead) for a food that you may be craving.

    Details: 11 Madison Ave.; 212-889-0905

  • No. 6: Jean Georges 

    Reservations: You can call or book a table online a month in advance, but don’t fret if you spontaneously want to make a reservation for next week or so: there’s a good chance you can snag a seat.

    Dining Options: For lunch, you can get a $38 two-course prix-fixe or a more intense six-course tasting menu for $148. Dinner options include a pick-your-own two-course prix fixe for $118, a $198 seven-course tasting menu or a seasonal autumn tasting menu (also $198). If you want wine pairings, prepare to shell out an extra $148.

    Best Value: That two-course menu is a killer deal in the fine-dining world, and you can score additional plates for $19 each.

    Insider Tip: Nougatine, the spot’s sister restaurant at the same address, lets you have a taste of the JGV magic without spending half a month’s rent. Every weekday the eatery offers a $32, three-course tasting menu that’s one of the best deals in NYC.

    Details: 1 Central Park W.; 212-299-3900

  • No. 7: Sasabune 

    Reservations: Everyone knows the prime spots are at the sushi counter, so call a week or two ahead to reserve your spot, especially if you’re looking to eat on the weekend. If you’re willing to sacrifice on location, you can sometimes get a same-day reservation.

    Dining Options: One word: omakase. Be prepared to be set back over $100 per person and don’t forget to check out the à la carte options either.

    Details: 401 E. 73rd St.; 212-249-8583

  • No. 8: Sushi Yasuda 

    Reservations: Sushi Yasuda only takes reservations over the phone (or in person, of course), and it’s best to reserve your spot sooner rather than later: this place fills up fast. You can reserve your spot up to 30 days in advance, but sometimes you might be able to snag a weekday reservation only a week ahead of the date. (Note: this does not apply to weekends, which are packed.)

    Dining Options: There are à la carte offerings, but - like at any great sushi restaurant - you should definitely go with the omakase, where the chef will listen to your preferences and appetite and tailor a menu based off the best ingredients he has on hand. The price will vary greatly, but expect a ballpark figure of $130... and keep in mind you can also give the chef a budget of sorts so that you still have enough money to catch a cab home.

    Insider Tip: Feel free to pick up the sushi with your fingers, placing it rice-side down on your tongue. (Stick with chopsticks for the sashimi.) And don’t mix the wasabi with the soy sauce.

    Details: 204 E. 43rd St.; 212-972-1001

  • No. 9: La Grenouille 

    Reservations: You can book your seat either over the phone or through OpenTable up to a month in advance; if you call, they recommend calling in the early hours of the day, between 9 AM and noon. While it’s usually booked completely full, you can sometimes snag a last-minute table if you’re willing to wait at the bar.

    Dining Options: For lunch, there’s a two-course prix fixe for $52 and a three-course selection for $67, in addition to the à la carte offerings. You can also opt for the three-course “Ardoise” menu for $42, which is at the more-casual bar upstairs. If you want an early dinner, there’s the pre-theater option before 6 PM, which is a three-course prix fixe for $72 ($97 with wine). Normal dinner service is prix fixe only (for $104), but you can always grab your meal at the bar, where in addition to the full lunch and dinner offerings, there are also “Entre Services” (Between Services) and bar-specific menus, plus à la carte offerings.

    Insider Tip: Ask whether the room upstairs in the Painter’s studio is available. It’s a completely romantic, beautiful setting, with a fireplace, skylight and lots of flowers.

    Details: 3 E. 52nd St.; 212-752-1495

  • No. 10: Gramercy Tavern 

    Reservations: If you’re looking for a very specific time, especially during peak dining hours, it’s best to put in your request either over the phone or online 28 days in advance, right when the tables become available. (If they’re booked during your specific time slot, be sure to get added to the waitlist; they’ll call you if anything opens up.) Otherwise, it’s relatively easy to get a seat, especially since the front half of the restaurant, the Tavern, is walk-in-only and doesn’t accept reservations.

    Dining Options: The dining room offers both à la carte and tasting menus for both lunch and dinner. Right now, the seasonal lunch tasting menu is $58; your entire table can choose between a seasonal tasting menu or a vegetable tasting menu for dinner (for $120 and $102 per person, respectively). The Tavern offers a four-course prix fixe dinner for $48, and you can add beer pairings for another $20.

    Best Value: Lunch in the Tavern is a killer deal - the rotating soup-and-sandwich deal is a favorite, and there are some great à la carte options.

    Insider Tip: If you get lunch at the Tavern during a weekday, be sure to ask for their off-menu burger: a brisket, short-rib and chuck beef mixture topped with clothbound cheddar and housemade bacon.

    Details: 42 E. 20th St.; 212-477-0777

  • No. 11: Sushi Seki 

    Reservations: Call a week or two in advance to secure your spot - even if you’re looking for late-night seating. And, of course, ask to be seated at the bar.

    Dining Options: Like all good sushi restaurants, the best course of action is to grab that bar seat and order the omakase, which will set you back $80 for sushi or $100 for sushi and sashimi (if you’re still hungry, you can order extra courses). A la carte is also available if you want to pay per piece.

    Best Value: Though you should be prepared to spend to get the full tasting, be honest with staff about your budget if you’re looking to spend less - they’ll let you know when you’ve hit your cap.

    Insider Tip: Not many of New York’s best restaurants offer takeout. This one does. Until Per Se gets onto Seamless, this works for us.

    The Details: 1143 First Ave.; 212-371-0238

  • Photo by: Clay Williams

    No. 12: Marea 

    Reservations: If you’re looking to eat during prime-time dinner hours, it’s prudent to call or book your table online right when reservations open up 30 days before.

    Dining Options: You can get a two-course lunch or brunch for $45 or step it up a notch with a five-course tasting menu for $80 ($140 with wine). For dinner, you can order à la carte or opt for the four-course $99 prix fixe or the six-course “Del Mare” tasting menu for $135.

    Best Value: The pasta portions are pretty epic. Save money by bringing a friend and asking the staff to split the portion into two servings before they bring it out of the kitchen. They’ll gladly accomodate.

    Insider Tip: The entire menu is available à la carte-style at the bar. Plus, crudo platters are a nice off-the-menu item.

    Details: 240 Central Park S., 212-582-5100

  • No. 13: Degustation  

    Reservations: It’s a small space that’s exclusively counter seating at this East Village Franco-Spanish joint, so the best course of action is to make your reservation either online or over the phone a couple weeks in advance.

    Dining Options: Either order à la carte, or get the ridiculously good seven-course tasting menu for $80.

    Best Value: You can get out of here without spending too much if you plan to share and order carefully. The à la carte menu is full of dishes that ring in at $15-$20.

    Insider Tip: If you’re looking to book for a big party, it’s best to call 30 days in advance, since they only seat larger gatherings either at 6 PM or 10 PM.

    Details: 239 E. Fifth St.; 212-979-1012

  • No. 14: Gotham Bar and Grill 

    Reservations: Make sure you call 20-30 days before your desired date. Reservations are available a month in advance either by phone or online.

    Dining Options: Alfred Portale’s menu is built around an à la carte selection that’s affordable when compared to the tasting menus that populate our best-restaurants list. First- and second-course offerings are in the $20 to $30 range, while mains are $30 to $40.

    Best Value: For lunch, there’s a great “Greenmarket” three-course prix fixe that will only set you back $33. You can also order à la carte for both lunch and dinner.

    Details: 12 E. 12th St.; 212-620-4020

  • No. 15: Mas (farmhouse) 

    Reservations: Amazingly, you can reserve your spot up to two months in advance at Mas (farmhouse), but if you’re looking to dine with them on a Friday or Saturday, you should opt to schedule your visit a month or so beforehand. If you opt to eat at the bar (which serves the full menu), you can (and should) make a reservation the day of; you can’t make it any further in advance.

    Dining Options: Order à la carte, eat at the bar, or opt for the three-course menu for $78 or the six-course chef’s menu for $115.

    Insider Tip: There’s a six-course menu that’s not listed on the menu and that the chef will create just for you.

    Details: 39 Downing St.; 212-255-1790

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