It’s been a strange and terrible year, but during it all a lot of good people worked incredibly hard to open, and keep open, new restaurants, and create new dishes. Here’s a look at the best.
Top 10 New NYC Restaurants of 2020
The restaurant of the year. It was literally just days before the shutdown in March that I first ate at Ed Szymanski and Patricia Howard’s Dame, though back then it was located inside a coffee shop on Allen Street, a test run of the tasting-menu restaurant they planned on opening in the fall. It was a fantastic meal, filled with big flavors and ingredients like duck offal, live scallops, and raw meat. Fast forward three nightmarish months later, and Dame has completely switched gears (and locations), reopening as a Fish & Chips joint on MacDougal Street, where it would continue to grow and evolve along with our city’s great outdoor dining experiment. In the spirit of the times, Szmmanski and Howard donated all profits to a rotating series of organizations and charities (nearly $20,000 total), and hosted 14 different guest chef events, sharing their space with out-of-work friends and comrades. Now they’re doing two Fish & Chips days a week, selling booze and provisions, and experimenting with recipes for what Szymanski calls “regular Dame,” which will be opening… sometime. Anyway, there’s nowhere I ate more often this year than at all the versions of Dame, and every time was an enormously satisfying experience, with great food and exactly the sort of communal, emotional pick-me-up I needed.
Located for now at 85 MacDougal Street, between Houston and Bleecker (damenewyork.com)
Things were looking good in February for Ann Redding and Matt Danze — their acclaimed, ridiculously popular Uncle Boons chugging along nicely, and their brand new restaurant, the magnificent Thai Diner, an instant success. And for good reason! The food at Thai Diner was (and still is) exciting and across-the-board delicious, and the indoor-only vibe back in those pre-COVID days was fun and lively without being even a little bit obnoxious. Uncle Boons is gone, of course, an early coronavirus casualty, but the Thai Diner kitchen crew has emerged stronger than ever — the fish collar, the golden curry with chicken and egg noodles, and a roti “snack” were all fantastic on a recent revisit, and the Thai Tea Babka French Toast is the stuff of legend–and today the place boasts one of the best casual outdoor heated setups in town. Thai Diner is definitely getting plenty of love from me this winter.
Located at 186 Mott Street, at the corner of Kenmare Street (646-559-4140; thaidiner.com)
Tacqueria al Pastor
In a year that saw an explosion of exceptional new taco spots around the city, Bushwick’s Taqueria al Pastor, which opened in January, remains my favorite. There’s nothing fancy going on here. You choose your format (taco, burrito, quesadilla, volcane, gringa), your tortilla (corn or flour, always made to order), and your filling (al pastor, carne asada, pollo, nopal), and wait a couple of minutes while the busy kitchen team carves, griddles, assembles your feast. Everything is juicy, gooey, and (after you pour on one or all of the house made hot sauces) comes with a serious kick. The last time I went, in late October, the outdoor setup was minimal but comfortable, but take-home is also an obvious option if you live anywhere nearby.
Located at 128 Wyckoff Avenue, at the corner of Stanhope Street (718-269-7538; @taqueriaalpastor)
This delightful “Asian tapas” restaurant from chef Kyungmin Kay Hyun faces the unenviable COVID-era challenge of feeding people through the winter with no curbside dining area (there’s a fire hydrant right out front on St. Marks) and a narrow sidewalk that doesn’t allow for any sort of heaters. But don’t let that dissuade you! Bundle up and devour Hyun’s meticulously composed plates loaded with, for example, oxtail spring rolls, or gochujang-glazed roasted cauliflower with raisin labneh, or sweet soy congee with octopus and chorizo, or Pop-Rocks-studded mascarpone. Mokyo’s food has been consistently superb all year, from a festive dinner inside last February to a chilly but lovely meal out on the sidewalk a few weeks ago, and I plan on supporting Hyun’s endeavor as much as possible in the tough months to come.
Located at 109 St. Mark’s Place between First Avenue and Avenue A (mokyony.com)
For their first foray into fine dining, the Dig fast-casual chain Dig (née Dig Inn) gave Suzanne Cupps free reign to bring this West Village charmer to life, and the onetime Untitled and Gramercy Tavern chef knocked it out of the park. 232 Bleecker opened right at the end of 2019, and my favorite place to be before COVID changed everything in March was at the chef’s counter right by the wood-burning hearth, wolfing down Cupps’ crackling Porchetta or show-stopping Moses Sleeper Lasagna. And though the seating options have changed quite a bit since then–the highlight now is a nice sidewalk setup–Cupps still makes some of the best rustic, farm-to-table type food in town. This was my indulgent Christmastime dinner last year, and I plan on repeating that plan in a few weeks.
Located at 232 Bleecker Street, at the corner of Carmine (646-905-5800; 232bleecker.com)
A new Sichuan noodle shop is always welcome in any neighborhood, but when it’s as good as the Public Village on Essex Street? Oh man, you are golden! Envisioned as a local hangout when it first opened three days before the shutdown, then re-envisioned and reopened about a month later as a takeout-only spot, Jia Song and chef Kiyomi Wang’s restaurant features a bunch of terrific handmade noodle dishes — my favorites include the Wan Za noodles with ground pork and mashed yellow peas, the Crispy Pork Strips noodles loaded with Sichuan peppercorns, and the vegan Chilled Noodles — and fun things like one of the great stoner food creations in town, the Grill Chilled Noodle Wrap, featuring hot dogs and melted cheese. There’s some barebones curbside seating, but spacious Seward Park across the street beckons as well.
Located at 23 Essex Street between Canal and Hester Streets (646-476-7501; publicvillagenyc.com)
A rich bounty of new vegan restaurants opened in 2020, but my favorite was definitely this “kind of Chinese” counter-service spot on Broome Street. Run by amiable non-vegans Justin Lee and Jared Moeller (somewhat ironically, the two of them met while working at the extremely meaty Cannibal), Fat Choy features a tight menu of small “plates” (really, cardboard boats), and everything is excellent so bring your pod and order up the whole damn thing. Personal favorites include the crisp Salt and Pepper Cauliflower, the hefty Sloppy Mushroom sandwich, and the fiery Sticky Rice Dumplings. There’s some good (so far unheated) curbside seating as well.
Located at 250 Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow Streets (347-778-5889; fatchoynyc.com)
Rule of Thirds
Following what is by now a familiar story, the Japanese izakaya-ish Rule of Thirds opened its stunning, warehouse-sized space in Greenpoint in early March, only to close the doors a few weeks later. Fortunately, chef JT Vuong and George Padilla had two courtyards at their disposal, so reopening came with plenty of outdoor dining, and they’ll soon unveil a “Winter Village” of private bungalows out back. Anyway, I ate almost the entire menu in pre-COVID times, then a bunch of new dishes at a recent revisit, and the food is fantastic, with winners like a Hamachi Collar dripping with miso butter, all the skewers, and a decadent Mazemen with pork jowl.
Located at 171 Banker Street, just north of Norman Street (thirdsbk.com)
The team behind the popular Thai spot Wayla opened this Italian-Japanese restaurant on Kenmare Street in August, and the crowds have followed, filling the distanced tables spread out on the sidewalk through the fall. And rightly so! The food here, from chef Chrisrine Lau
It’s all delicious, but first-timers should definitely get the gooey Crispy Rice Cake Lasagna, the Mortadella Pizzette Fritte drizzled with miso, and the Roe Roe Roe Roe Spaghetti, a raging party of big flavored ingredients like tobiko, ikura, bottarga and, of course, mentaiko, all clinging nicely to the thick strands of extra al-dente noodles. Save room for chef Clarice Lam’s desserts too.
Located at 40 Kenmare Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street (212-256-9280; kimikanyc.com)
Chef Simone Tong and Emmeline Zhao’s lovely follow up to their acclaimed Little Tong (RIP) opened in early August after a long COVID-related delay, and at this point in the restaurant’s timeline there are heaters both curbside and out back in the garden, Tong had her baby (congratulations!), and the Silver Apricot menu is a luxurious joy to make your way through. The melt-in-your-mouth Honeynut Squash Wontons, the charred Brussels Sprouts flecked with Chinese Sausage, the Skirt Steak dabbed in dali herb-sesame relish, the knee-buckling Black Sesame Panna Cotta… all ridiculously good. Great vibes too.
Located at 20 Cornelia Street between Bleecker and West 4th Streets (929-367-8664; silverapricot.nyc)
14 Of The Best Dishes At NYC Newcomers
Monkey Bread at Winner
Park Slope’s favorite new cafe opened days before the shutdown, but fortunately for Daniel Eddy, his vision of just being a local spot enabled an easy pivot to takeout, with a menu of breakfast pastries and loaves of bread, picnic-worthy sandwiches to bring to nearby Prospect Park, and roasted chicken for dinner. My favorite thing here, though, is chef Ali Spahr’s decadent slab of croissant Monkey Bread, glistening and sticky with sugar, a crumbly cinnamon topping adding further delight.
Located at 367 Seventh Avenue at the corner of 11th Street (winnernyc.com)
Ill Papa at Troppo Stretto
This cheeky sandwich shop from L.A. has settled in nicely here in NYC, now running three pop-ups within three different bars in Brooklyn and Queens. Get whatever you feel like, they’re all fat and messy and made with a lot of love, but my favorite so far is the Ill Papa, a kind of Italian-Spanish beast stuffed with funky mortadella and capocollo, spicy chorizo, strong manchego, “shredduce”, vinegary giardiniera (which also adds crunch to the party), and a creamy dijonnaise.
Located at 27-24 Jackson Avenue in LIC, 42 Hoyt Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and 709 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg (strettobros.com)
Steak Burrito at Nene’s Deli
The Birria Tacos are going to get all of the attention here at this tiny, semi-hidden Mexican spot in the back of a Bushwick bodega, but my money will always be on owner and chef Andrés Tonatiuh Galindo Maria’s Steak Burrito, just a huge, gooey masterpiece of the form, packed with rice, avocado, melted cheese, and lots of tender beef in a cheesy shell. Pour on a bit of the super spicy red sauce or slightly milder green sauce before each bite, and you’ve got one of the best $10 dinners in town.
Located at 54 Irving Avenue between Starr and Troutman Streets (347-789-5745; @nenestaqueria)
Pha Lau at Banh Shop House
Although Banh Shop House is still technically in its “soft-opening,” weekends-only phase, John Nguyen and chef Nhu Ton’s stylish Vietnamese spot on Amsterdam Avenue is instantly one of the most new exciting restaurants around. The menu is filled with dishes you don’t normally encounter anywhere in NYC, and definitely not on the Upper West Side, so order with abandon and especially get the fantastic Pha Lau, a rich and hearty stew packed with braised beef and pork intestines, strips of tripe, chunks of liver, and slices of oiled-up bread on to which you can pile the offal, open-face-style, and/or dunk to soak up all the juice.
Located at 942 Amsterdam Avenue between 106th and 107th Streets (banhny.com)
Pineapple Buns at Milu
Chef Connie Chung and her Milu co-founders Vincent Chao and Milan Sekulio ditched their careers in the fine-dining world (Eleven Madison Park, etc.) to open this decidedly unfussy and definitely delicious counter-service spot in Gramercy. The menu is anchored by Chung’s rice bowls, topped with things like Mandarin Duck, a fiery Yunnan Brisket, and Sichuan Spiced Cauliflower, but whatever you get, make sure you also get a couple of Milu’s sweet, tart, and juicy Pineapple Buns, which explode with vanilla custard from the first bite.
Located at 333 Park Avenue South between 24th and 25th Streets (212-377-6403; eatmilu.com)
Pizza Bagel at Edith’s
Caroline Schiff was set to be pastry chef at the much anticipated reboot of Gage and Tollner before COVID ruined that particular party, so instead she teamed up with Elyssa Heller for a bagel-based pop-up operating during off hours at Greenpoint’s Paulie Gee’s. Due to extraordinary popularity — everything at Edith’s is great — the limited run has become permanent, and when you go, get whatever Pizza Bagel is on offer, which is basically a sandwich based on one of Paulie Gee’s pies and is a fantastic way to start your day.
Located at Paulie Gee’s, 60 Greenpoint Avenue between Franklin and West Streets, open every Thursday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (edithsbk.com)
Spaghetti at Forsythia
After a five month run as an East Village pop up, Jacob Siwak’s Forsythia finally moved into its permanent home on Stanton Street at the end of October, and anyone who appreciates big-flavored plates of pasta, courtesy here of Siwak and chef Mark Coleman, late of Rezdora and Marea, should definitely check it out. There’s heated outdoor seating, a friendly vibe, and, in addition to many other delights, this perfect mound of Spaghetti, drenched in butter, crisp with bread crumbs, alive with anchovy.
Located at 9 Stanton Street between Chrystie and Bowery (646-590-0609; forsythianyc.com)
Hominy Fideo Soup at Yellow Rose
This was a tough call, because I love the bean-laden Beef Chili at Dave and Krystiana Rizo’s new Texas food spot in the East Village, but if I could only order one bowl of hearty, warming goodness from Yellow Rose, I’d have to go with the Hominy Fideo Soup, a fiery concoction thick with noodles, puffed-up kernels of hominy corn, bits of celery and radish, all in a guajillo chili broth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this regional dish on a NYC menu before, and am really happy it’s here now.
Located at 103 Third Avenue between 13th and 12th Streets (212-529-8880; yellowrosenyc.com)
Luna Limon Doughnut at Fan-Fan Doughnuts
One of the best bits of food news to hit this fall was when the incomparable Fany Gerson returned to her old corner shop in Bed-Stuy, from which she had launched Dough almost ten years ago, with the totally new, but still totally her, Fan-Fan Doughnuts. The menu changes all the time, and everything rules so follow your cravings, but maybe my favorite so far is Gerson’s tangy Luna Limon, complete with candied peel for extra zing.
Located at 448 Lafayette Avenue at the corner of Franklin Avenue (@fanfandoughnuts)
Goto at Bilao
Opened this summer by a trio of frontline nurses who wanted a good place to eat after their shifts at Mt. Sinai, Bilao on the Upper East Side has lots of fantastic Filipino dishes from which to choose, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but tripe fans will not want to miss the Goto, a thick rice porridge well-seasoned with garlic, ginger, pepper, and what appears to be strands of saffron, all hiding an abundance of tender offal in its depths.
Located at 1437 First Avenue, between 74th and 75th Streets (212-650-0010; bilaonyc.com)
Seoul Alle Vongole at Umma by Noodle Love
The Korean comfort-food spot Umma is actually a pandemic-era expansion of Natalie Camerino’s Noodle Love, a table-service, curbside-dining extension for which she brought in chef Tabitha Yeh. All of Yeh’s noodle and rice dishes here really hit the spot, and her Seoul alle Vongole is probably the best version of this dish I’ve ever had, a killer combination of slick wonton noodles, loads of tender littlenecks, plenty of heat courtesy of gochugaru, and napa cabbage and sourdough crumble for further textural intrigue.
Located at 192 Mott Street, at the corner of Kenmare Street (646-870-0571; noodlelove.com)
Edikang Ikong Soup at Nneji
Beatrice Ajaero’s tiny, takeout-only shop in Astoria specializes in West African soups and stews, including this phenomenal Edikang Ikong, thick with chunks of tender beef, cow foot, dried fish, onions, greens, and an attention-getting number of hot peppers. The pint-sized container comes with your choice of grain as well, either the powdery Fonino or the dense and sticky Garri, both of which do their job well and ensure that your $8 meal will not only be delicious, but also plenty filling.
Located at 32-20 34th Avenue, just east of 33rd Street (212-832-7338; @nneji_astoria)
Mushroom Lasagna at Isabelle’s Osteria
Several places have closed, temporarily or otherwise, on this formerly-bustling-with-office-workers stretch of Park Avenue South, but that didn’t stop the owners from flipping the fratty Duke’s Gramercy to a more high-end neighborhood Italian spot, Isabelle’s. The new kitchen is run by James Tracey, formerly of Craft, and the menu here is anchored by a roster of appealing pastas, most notably this crazy rich and earthy Mushroom Lasagna, 15 crisp-baked layers of porcini, spinach, and béchamel, sitting in a pool of taleggio fondut. And don’t miss the Chocolate Budino, studded cranberries and kumquats, for dessert.
Located at 245 Park Avenue South, between 19th and 20th Streets (212-388-1145; isabellesnyc.com)
Pork Katsu Sandwich at Musket Room All Day
The Michelin-starred Nolita hotspot is still serving its high-end New Zealand cuisine at dinner, but owner Jennifer Vitagliano wanted some street presence as well, so she borrowed a friend’s 1962 International Harvester truck, parked it out front, and launched MR All day, a more comfortably-priced showcase for her new chefs Mary Attea and Camari Mick. Mick handles the pastries, and they are superb (her signature is the incredible Apple Brûléed Donut), and the pair combine on an amazing Pork Katsu Sandwich, starring a fat slab of incredibly juicy pig between two slices of luxuriously soft milk bread.
Located outside of Musket Room at 265 Elizabeth Street between Houston and Prince Streets, open Friday through Sunday only, for breakfast and lunch (212-219-0764; musketroom.com)