Pre-1985 there was a code for waiters and sommeliers at high end restaurants: they were to be expert, and, as important, invisible. Restauranteur Danny Meyer flipped the equation when he opened the Union Square Café. He realized that if his staff could make those who ate at his café feel like guests, rather than customers, people would be more likely to come back. So he hired unusually gregarious folks and encouraged them to interact with diners. Very soon, USC was one of the hardest reservations in town to get, despite being in what was then considered a sketchy neighborhood.

Though rent increases forced the Union Square Café to move in 2015, it’s managed to hold onto the touchstones that made it so popular for so long: impeccable gourmet American food, an uber-pleasant art-filled setting (works by Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg, and Judy Rifka line the walls), and most importantly, a sense of community. This is my personal go-to when I want to dine alone, and am willing to splurge a bit: I always have wonderful conversations with fellow patrons and staff when dining at the bar. It’s just that kind of place.

Tip: If you want 3 courses, you may spend less getting their $75 prix fixe, which allows you to choose from the entire menu.