These Are the 14 Best Restaurants of 2023
Torrisi, Foul Witch, Tatiana, and even Bad Roman (omg) make critic Ryan Sutton's list, as creativity and risk energize the city's restaurant scene
Enjoy this column on the creative state of dining out in 2023, and scroll down for our first ever list of the year’s best restaurants! Consider subscribing to unlock full access to this story; your subscription will also get you access to the year’s best dishes, publishing soon!
The pandemic-battered restaurant industry could’ve begat more tried and true crowdpleasers in 2023. More steakhouses. More brasseries. More omakase spots.
But that wasn’t the case. Eating out was different this year. Dishes felt more unexpected. Dining rooms felt more fun, more unhinged.
The Roberta’s crew could’ve opened up yet another Roberta’s. Instead, chef Carlo Mirarchi holds court in a flame-spitting East Village kitchen, stuffing veal thymus glands into tortellini. And waiters are happy to tell patrons that a signature dish…is hot pig’s face. Welcome to Foul Witch.
Alex Stupak, at his new restaurant in the Citigroup building, could’ve served classic cocktail sauce with his shrimp. Instead, he served us tiger prawns with little ramekins of crab guts with chiles. Welcome to Mischa.
And at Lincoln Center, of all places, you’ll find a fine dining hotspot that sells elegant pernil, crisp goat patties, and truffled chopped cheese. A prime space like this would normally go to a chef with dozens of bland cafes in assorted museums across the Eastern seaboard. Except Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi is Kwame Onwuachi’s only restaurant. And what a grand restaurant it is — if you like Moneybagg Yo playing through the sound system.
This was the year that some of the city’s top operators shifted away from treading water, and toward what the best artists always do: pushing us out of our comfort zones in ways that are at once whimsical and jarring. New York’s Modern Korean and Latin scenes have been playing this tune for a few years, but now we’re starting to see that innovative energy infuse itself more deeply into our larger restaurant scene.
The best French opening of 2023 wasn’t a spendy palace or an all-day brasserie. It was an edgy, inimitable neobistro that serves calvados shots. It does not serves fries. Some of the top new Italian restaurants weren’t easygoing, rustic affairs; they were spots that challenged with Jamaican beef cavatelli and game bird spaccatelli. And a booming class of party restaurants — with frozen drinks, loud music, and splashy dining rooms — forced us to rethink traditional notions of luxury.
No one can say precisely what’s driving this creativity, but changes to the culture never happen in a vacuum. At the very least, it’s fitting that East Village small plates places — which seem to prefer slabs of goat to ribeye steaks — are booming as Momofuku continues its pivot away from restaurants (and toward grocery stores). And since consumers are still feeling the impact of inflation — and spending lots of time away from the office — it makes sense that diners aren’t seeking out the type of restaurants that mimic home cooking or takeout. They’re instead going out for cool and unique experiences in escapist dining rooms — places where someone will inevitably light a cocktail or dessert on fire.
These aren’t restaurants for streaming on a laptop, so to speak. These are “go to the giant IMAX at Lincoln Square” restaurants.
No, marsupial tartare or flaming Long Island iced teas won’t solve any of our national problems, but these wild and uncompromising establishments feel like appropriate cultural counterpoints to the polite, measured, and sometimes frustrating Aaron Sorkin-centrism of the Biden era. The success of these venues also suggests that restaurants, for too long, have underestimated what diners really want, which is an actual point of view, instead of another graduation dinner at, like, The Smith.
The best restaurants of 2023 were creative, fun, and just a little bit risky.
The Restaurants of 2023: Tatiana + Superiority
If your idea of a fancy night out is a quiet fine dining palace, Tatiana can fee like a cold shower. Drake plays through the speakers. Frozen daiquiris induce brain freezes. You stop talking when the chile-laced okra burns your tongue. You watch blue lights impart the room with a nightclub hue.
Little of this fits into the rubric of a traditional New York splurge, including the riffs on Puerto Rican pernil and Nigerian suya, a nod to the people and cultures forcibly displaced by the construction of Lincoln Center. Yet judging by the two-hour wait for seats, chef Kwame Onwuachi and his staff know that so many people — myself included — feel a greater sense of belonging here than at a quiet fine dining palace. 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, at David Geffen Hall, Upper West Side
Superiority Burger 2.0
In a city where ambitious new restaurants can run $150 per person, this late night spot by chef Brooks Headley offers something much more accessible. This is where cash-strapped hospitality workers and unemployed journalists can sample strikingly creative diner fare for under $20 per dish. Don’t worry about reservations, just swing by the counter for collard greens sandwiches with as much umami as a dozen oysters. And there’s no better place for unique gelato flavors like saffron labneh with apricot or tahini with grapes. For all the challenges of living in New York, Superiority is the type of place that makes me believe this city is still for everyone. 119 Avenue A, near St. Marks, East Village
The Year’s Best Restaurants: Your Definitive List
Behind the paywall:
In defense of Bad Roman (and the best things to get there)
Some tasty things you should be ordering at Torrisi
Why Chalong is such a damn good Thai spot
How to ace a meal at Libertine
Libertine | Next-Gen French in NYC
It’s a fact of life that if you post pics of Libertine on your Instagram, I will DM you with emojis and exclamation points. I will ask you how much you loved it and whether you ordered the lamb à la moutarde. Libertine, like Foul Witch, is one of those venues that puts a glimmer in my eye.