Whether you’re a local or a tourist in New York City, there are some restaurants that you don’t question. But here’s the thing, while all of these restaurants are delicious, their reputations sometimes surpass the experience of actually eating there. Feel free to disagree with me, but after having lived in New York – and explored the culinary scene extensively – I’ve discovered that you don’t have to shell out a small fortune, endure long waiting lists, or stand in line for hours to get something incredible to eat. Here are five of New York’s most touted restaurants and their less hyped, equally good – if not better – alternatives.
1. Del Posto
Del Posto has legendary status here in New York, and perhaps that’s why I find the atmosphere a little stuffy for my taste. While the quality of food is as good as they say, it comes at a price. I’ve found that for fewer dollars and a whole lot more ambiance, you can find a comparable Italian meal in New York.
The Alternative: Il Bagatto
This small Italian eatery in Alphabet City has a far more relaxed vibe. The kitchen crafts homemade pastas and delicious appetizers, and the restaurant’s very long (and affordable) wine list is stellar. Note: The restaurant only accepts cash or American Express, and if you request Parmesan on your seafood dish you will be refused – it’s not the Italian way.
Tiny portions, high prices, and the omnipresent techno music thumping in the background have left me wondering if it is worth the typical month-long wait to get a reservation here.
The Alternative: Blue Ribbon Sushi
Tucked into the heart of SoHo, Blue Ribbon Sushi is about as tranquil a dining experience as you can get in this hectic city. The decor is pure Japanese, as if you stumbled in off the streets of Kyoto. The waitstaff are attentive without being overbearing and the sushi is some of the freshest I have ever tasted.
New York is home to some phenomenal steakhouses, and yet so many people insist on waiting for a table or planning months ahead for a coveted 7:30 spot on a Friday night at Peter Luger. Yes, the food tastes good, but when I’m craving a juicy steak, the last thing I want to do is wait.
The Alternative: Striphouse
This steakhouse, decked out in black and red, oozes pure sex appeal. It’s almost like dining in a turn-of-the-century bordello…but with infinitely better food.
Pizza is the foundation that New York City was built on, and Lombardi’s may claim to be the oldest pizzeria in the city, but it’s hard to enjoy your slice when crowds of fanny-packed tourists are photographing every single bite.
The Alternative: Fornino
Locals fill this Williamsburg establishment on a nightly basis. The novel-length pizza menu has everything from old classics like margherita classica, to more creative options like the Al Roker (tomato, mozzarella, fontina, caramelized onions, sopressata, roast pepper, and rosemary).
5. Shake Shack
The debate continues over the best burger in New York. And while Shake Shack is good (all of these restaurants are good; they wouldn’t have the reputations they have if they weren’t), is it the best? For me, the patty is too thin; when I really want to dig into a burger, I need something with a little more meat (pun intended).
The Alternative: Diner
Built inside an old railroad dining car underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, Diner is a true New York experience. The menu changes daily and waiters will come by your table and write the specials on paper tablecloths. While the burger may seem one of the simpler items of the menu, (and a little pricier than Shake Shack’s) you’ve got to try it.