New York's 21 Best Restaurants for a Splurge
With notes on how much you'll spend and which spots to completely skip
Enjoy the free content at the top of this column, and kindly consider subscribing to unlock full access to the city’s most comprehensive guide to splurging at restaurants. “It costs money, because it saves money,” as my buddy Cosmo C. likes to say.
Next week, Michelin’s anonymous inspectors will publish their annual review of the city’s best — and not incidentally, most expensive — restaurants. The famed Red Guide, as it’s known, will include some very good places to eat.
But the inspectors will also vouch for a curious number of $600 sushi spots, without any regard for value (heck, Michelin doesn’t even bother listing the prices). The authors will overlook excellent new restaurants representing unique points of view; instead, they will reaffirm the greatness of bland tasting menus like any other. They will do this all without compelling explanations, because they prefer to deploy writeups with as much narrative force as a blurb for leather oxfords in the Allen Edmonds fall catalogue.
This is an effort to make a better splurge list, based on nearly 20 years of professional eating in New York. Though I suppose comparing my efforts to Michelin’s is setting the bar quite low.
New Yorkers have long expected more from their fancy dining guides. A variety of publications have sought to satisfy that demand, with vary degrees of success. The Infatuation has a special occasion list. So does Gotham Magazine (no good) and Time Out. I’m partial to Eater’s version; I wrote most of it.
But this guide is different. In fact, I like to think it’s the city’s longest, most comprehensive, and most personal guide to splurge dining.
Here at The LO Times, you’ll get detailed writeups of some of the city’s best (and priciest) restaurants, as you’d expect. But you’ll also get notes on new seasonal dishes, like the sweet potato tamal at Cosme. There will also be highly specific takes on certain venues, like how Aldama — its meaty oxtails notwithstanding — serves some of New York’s most impressive vegetarian fare.
What also sets this list apart is that it includes a selection of pricey venues to skip, as well as why I’m favoring, say, one yakitori joint over another. As I’ve said before, criticism by omission isn’t enough, especially if so many folks want to know why a place was left off.
I hope the list — which I’ll update a few times a year — reflects the nuances of the city’s rockin’ dining landscape. You’ll see expensive omakases, meateries, neobistros, and fancy Korean spots. But you’ll also see Modern Latin American restaurants passed over by others. And our city’s new class of maximalist Party Restaurants won’t go overlooked either (not that they’re short on attention). Almost all of these venues are $100 per person or more; a few exceed $200; and one tops $500; but you can enjoy a nice meal at a select few for $75 per person. Splurging is a relative affair.
You should be able get into most of these as walk-ins, or after making same-week reservations. But remember, and this is key: If you can’t get in, go somewhere else!
Cosme | Modern Mexican at its Best
I’ve probably sent more folks to Cosme than any other fancy restaurant in New York. Enrique Olvera’s New York flagship continues to serve some of the city’s best and most creative Modern Mexican fare — in a chic Flatiron room where lots of folks are drinking good mezcal, speaking Spanish, and making DIY tacos out of $98 duck carnitas (actually a somewhat uneven dish). The restaurant lights its tables with Hollywood-esque sensibilities, which means your fluke with cucumber aguachile looks like it’s getting ready for a 4K HD closeup.
The menu changes frequently, but my current recommendations are the sweet potato tamal (laced with sneaky guajillo heat, but packing an earthy corn aroma), the house mole with golden sesame, and the outstanding langosta al pastor. That buttery lobster comes slathered in warming spices but the meat is as silky as tofu; a side of creamy pineapple butter cools everything down. Real cost: about $150 after tax and tip per person. How to get in: reserve prime time tables well in advance, but bar seats aren’t too tough to snag. 35 East 21st Street, Flatiron.