The New York restaurant scene is built on the backs of family-run establishments, many of which have been in business well over a century and gone through multiple generations of ownership. So today we're telling the stories behind some of the most historic and delicious family-owned hot spots in town that are still going strong in 2017.
Courtesy of Gilley Tang
Shorty Tang Noodles
Back in the ’70s, one of the most popular names in Chinese food was Shorty Tang, and the cold sesame noodles that he served at his restaurant, Hwa Yuan, was one of the city’s hottest dishes. The restaurant closed in the ’80s — but recently, Tang’s grandson, James Tang, opened Shorty Tang Noodles in Chelsea, alongside fellow family members, in an effort to keep his grandfather’s traditions alive. Word has it that Shorty Tang passed on all his secret recipes to his grandkids, so you can bet that the cold sesame noodles will be just as great as the original.
98 8th Ave.; 646-896-1883
Xi’an Famous Foods
Up until Xi’an Famous Foods opened its doors, many New Yorkers were unfamiliar with the spicy and craveable noodles and stews of Xi’an cuisine. The now multi-location restaurant started as a humble bubble tea shop in Flushing, run by a man named David Shi. The business was soon taken over by Jason Wang, Shi’s son (and Zagat 30 Under 30 alum), who turned Xi’an Famous Foods into one of the more popular fast-casual concepts in the city, with a loyal foodie fan base that includes the likes of Anthony Bourdain. The restaurant currently counts nearly a dozen locations across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The cumin-lamb noodles are the fan favorite, but Wang says the refreshing cold-skin noodles are a "must," especially during the summer months.
Courtesy of Katz's Delicatessen
Thanks to the iconic sign, you can spot Katz's Delicatessen from a mile away on the ever-crowded Houston Street. For over a century, it has been one of the city’s most consistently popular establishments — this is thanks, in large part, to the multiple generations who have overseen the historic deli since the Katz family took over operations in 1903. People make pilgrimages from all over the world to eat Katz’s loaded pastrami on rye sandwich, which, according to owner Jake Dell, remains the most popular item on the menu — case in point: The restaurant goes through 15,000 pounds of pastrami a week. (Dell's family took over the restaurant's ownership in the 1980s.) Later this year, Katz’s will open its very first Brooklyn location inside brand-new food hall, Dekalb Market.
205 E. Houston St.; 212-254-2246
Courtesy of Di Fara Pizza
Di Fara Pizza
You can’t call yourself a pizza connoisseur until you have waited in line at Di Fara and watched owner Dom De Marco hand-cut basil over the top of a pizza. De Marco has been making the pies at Di Fara for over 50 years, with his family members running the business side. People call Di Fara the best slice in the city because the pizzas have long been prepared using the freshest ingredients from Italy, with the same process that De Marco established decades ago. Margaret Mieles, De Marco’s daughter who oversees operations, says that the dish that gets “unmatched attention” is the square pie, topped with semi-dried cherry tomatoes and fresh garlic. “I receive emails the next day about that being ‘the best meal on earth,’ what people would choose as their last meal, and more,” she says. Pro tip: The restaurant, located in far-flung Midwood, Brooklyn, now delivers via UberEats.
1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn; 718-258-1367
There is probably no restaurant in New York more consistently hard to get into than Rao’s. This is because of the place's unique policy of allowing its customers to “own” tables for a certain period of time, which means that unless you are invited as a guest, or you win a table in a charity auction (Rao’s reservations will typically go for thousands of dollars), you’re probably not getting in. Founded in 1896, the restaurant remains one of the oldest-operating family-run dining establishments in the United States. Today, it’s the extreme exclusivity and the killer marinara sauce that keep people clamoring for a seat. Your best bet for getting in these days is probably to get a spot at the bar, and then see if someone will invite you to join at his or her table (or, at least, that’s what this guy did).
455 E. 114th St.; 212-722-6709
Barbetta is the oldest Italian restaurant in New York — and also one of the most unique dining experiences in the city. Take a seat in the restaurant’s expansive garden, and you’ll find yourself among fountains, foliage and dolphin sculptures, served by waiters who take politeness to the next level. The restaurant was started in 1906 by Sebastiano Maioglio (the place is named after his brother’s goatee, as barbetta means “little beard” in Italian), as an ode to the cuisine of Piedmont. The place is now run by Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, who has continued Barbetta's legacy of very high-end Italian cuisine, with tasting menus that are heavy on the foie gras and white truffles. The roasted rabbit too, is not to be missed.
321 W. 46th St.; 212-246-9171
Courtesy of Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters
Since its opening over a century ago, Russ & Daughters has long defined Jewish food in New York, bringing bagels and lox into mainstream city dining. The restaurant began in the early 1900s, when founder Joel Russ started a herring barrel and pushcart business to provide to the growing Jewish population of the Lower East Side. Russ pulled a fairly groundbreaking move when, a few years later, he named the business Russ & Daughters, omitting the classic "and sons" shop moniker to reflect his female children who helped him run the place. Cousins Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, part of the family’s fourth generation, run the business now, and the Russ & Daughters' white and blue fish logo remains as iconic as ever, as does the shop's hand-sliced Gaspe Nova smoked salmon.
179 E. Houston St.; 212-475-4880
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Situated on a picturesque stretch of New York’s historic Doyers Street, Nom Wah Tea Parlor has beckoned locals and tourists alike with its no-frills dim sum and Chinese pastries for over 90 years. The story starts with a Chinese immigrant named Wally Tang, who, after working as a dishwasher at Nom Wah for several years, bought the business. In 2011, ownership was passed down to Tang’s nephew, Wilson Tang, who revived the kitchen and turned Nom Wah into a trendy Downtown spot for the younger set — particularly non-Chinese people, who had previously never ventured into Chinatown. The "total sleeper" hit of the menu, according to Wilson Tang, is the pan-fried shrimp and chive dumpling. "It's made with a handmade wrapper, first steamed, then seared to give it some extra texture. It works so well with the shrimp," he says.
Spin-off Nom Wah Nolita recently opened this past fall, a fast-casual take on the restaurant's iconic dim sum selections.
13 Doyers St.; 212-962-6047
Decades ago, Yorkville was home to a smattering of German restaurants. Now, these kinds of establishments are harder to come by. What remains is Heidelberg, a tavern-style spot serving comforting fare like bratwurst, Wiener schnitzel and strudel in a cozy dining room that feels untouched by time. The Matischak family, who owns the restaurant, envisions the place as a way to preserve the German heritage of Yorkville — which was, in the ’60s, so German-dominant that the area had its own German newspaper. These days, the dining room is still bustling with nostalgic couples looking to relive the old days with classical Eastern European fare.
1648 Second Ave.; 212-628-2332