Its competitors are Hong Kong and Paris, Brussels and San Francisco, and Rome and New Orleans. But I'll argue hard that none of these other great restaurant cities has quite the same number of serious, satisfying eateries as New York, nor its amazing variety of cuisines in every price range . . . and quirk. Would you believe restaurants that serve only mac n’ cheese or peanut butter concoctions—and flourish doing so?
How did the surprising volume and variety of NYC restaurants come about?
- New York has a larger and more varied immigrant population than any of the other foremost restaurant cities—and that means ethnic specialties of every sort.
- New York has an unprecedented number of top-notch cooking schools, the offices of international magazines devoted to the art of cooking, and the headquarters of the Food Channel.
- The pace of life here is more hectic and pressured than in other famous restaurant cities, creating a vast population with "no time to cook."
Reservations are always a good idea in New York, and a necessity for popular restaurants. Call far ahead for any special meal you don’t want to miss. Most top places start taking reservations 30 days in advance. If you’re booking a holiday dinner, call even earlier, or head to OpenTable.com, a reservations site that handles more than 200 NYC restaurants, as soon as you decide on the date of your dinner.
But if you didn’t call well ahead, don’t despair. Often, early or late hours—between 5:30 and 6:30pm or after 9pm—are available, especially on weeknights. And most restaurants have bar seating, for which one needs no reservations. Or go for lunch, which is usually much easier to book without advance notice. If you’re staying at a hotel with a concierge, don’t be afraid to use him or her—a well-connected concierge can often get you into hot spots.
But what if they don’t take reservations? Lots of restaurants, especially at the affordable end of the price continuum, don’t take reservations at all. One of the ways they keep prices down is by packing people in as quickly as possible. Thus, the best cheap and midprice restaurants often have a wait. Again, your best bet is to go early. Often you can get in more quickly on a weeknight. Or just go, knowing that you’re going to have to wait if you head to a popular spot; hunker down with a cocktail at the bar and enjoy the festivities around you.
Tipping is easy in New York. The way to do it: Double the 8.75% sales tax and voilà, happy waitstaff. Don’t forget to tip: Waiters make less than minimum wage and are taxed on what the government expects them to make in tips. So when you stiff the waiter, he not only loses that extra bit of income, he still has to pay taxes on it.
Leave $1 per item, no matter how small, for the checkroom attendant. You don’t need to tip the host who escorts you to your table. Note: In mid-2015, restauranteur Danny Myer (of The Modern, The Union Square Cafe, and a number of other celebrated restaurants) announced that his eateries would adopt a "no tipping" allowed policy, raising food prices to pay extra to the staff. So far, not many other restaurant owners have followed Myer's lead, but do check, when you get the bill, to see if service is included.
Restaurant "Week: is a bit of a misnomer: In winter it can last up to a month, and in summer restaurant week it is usually two-weeks long. Week or month, it's a welcome time when, twice a year, some of the best restaurants in town offer three-course prix-fixe meals at almost affordable prices. Restaurant Week began as a one-off in 1992 to welcome delegates to the Democratic National Convention (with the price of a meal $19.92). A hit with New Yorkers as well as visitors, it's become a much-loved tradition, as foodies get a chance to eat at some of the higher-end restaurants in town without breaking the bank. Visit www.nycvisit.com for dates, a list of participating eateries and current prix fixe prices.
You cannot light up in any restaurant in the city. Some restaurants entice smokers with back gardens or patios where smoking is permitted, but otherwise, you’ll have to step out to the sidewalk for a cigarette. Some restaurants provide benches, chairs, and ashtrays, but it gets mighty cold out there in the winter.
More Sources for Serious Foodies
Of course, New York has far more fabulous dining than I have room to discuss here—although the listings here are enough to keep you fat and happy for a year, much less the length of a vacation. But if you’d like a wider selection, a few good sources are available online or from your local bookstore.
Your best online sources are the online arm of the weekly New York magazine (www.nymag.com), the New York Times’ arts and lifestyle site, where you can access a database of the paper’s stellar restaurant reviews and blogs; and the national www.eater.com which has a New York section For a good online source of menus, try www.menupages.com, which has more than 6,000 of them online.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.