New York City makes everyone feel like special little cookies. Locals will just say they’re from “the city” and expect you get what the heck they’re talking about, while visitors brag about their new-found sophistication to friends back home. This all goes doubly so for those who’ve sniffed out one of New York City’s top secret, hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It’s akin to your own signature fort or hideout; very exclusive. So join the bandwagon and discover your own hole-in-the-wall to fawn over.
57 Great Jones St; N/A
Self-described ‘NoHo Japanese’ for NoHo know-hows who know how to find this hyper-secret joint. It dabs in the referrals-only biz, hidden phone numbers, and cryptic symbols, alerting only “know-howers” on the street to its presence. Oh, and the food? A gruff New Yorker base, set to the mission of preserving freshness, a faithful tenet of Japanese cuisine. Really, the whole package screams of scatterbrained artistry befitting a restaurant that’s resting in Andy Warhol’s old studio.
Menu Highlights: Farmer’s Fresh Vegetables Fondue, Washu-Beef Mixed Burger, and Miso Black Cod.
279 Water Street; 212-227-3344
This restaurant and tavern has been privy to New York’s megalithic development since America’s tumultuous teens in 1794. From grocery to brothel, to its present form which was flooded four feet deep during Hurricane Sandy, 279 Water Street refuses to quit servicing the Brooklyn area. Between an impressive history and Mayor Koch’s explicit endorsement, the Bridge Cafe’s mystic reputation has garnered quite the cult following.
Menu Highlights: Grilled Wild Pacific Salmon, Almond Crusted Paneed Chicken, and Pan-Seared Diver Scallops.
239 West 4th St; 646-449-9336
The fedora on the sign is likely the only Fedora you’ll see in this classy East Village brick-and-mortar. Thank goodness! Although the friendly waitstaff certainly appreciates a generous ‘fedora tip’ on your way out. Food is served through wee hours of the night, and the menu swings with the change of seasons and whimsies of the freestyle rappin’ head chef. Yes, they have one of those.
Menu Highlights: Blackened Sea Bream, Sirloin Flapsteak, and Ricotta Gnocchi.
77 North 6th Street; 718-388-8985
Zenkichi whisks new entrants through a wormhole of bamboo-laden pathways ending at a love-letter to Tokyo fine-dining establishments. Dim, romantic lighting further serves to dial up the surrealism so high you’ll swear that Japan awaits as you leave. Graceful service furthers this immersion with painfully attentive staff who respond at the press of each booth’s call button. Plates of seasonal Japanese are set in a literal spotlight on your table, as if beckoning you to leave nonsensical worries behind and focus on the excellent flavors before you.
Menu Highlights: Omakase 8-Course Tasting Menu, Summer Vegetables in Tosazu Gelee, and Mineoka Tofu.
447 Hudson Street; 212-989-3255
You’d think a solid green door bereft of signage—set aside from the actual, inaccessible storefront no less—would make an easily missed entrance. Well, there must be a magic fragrance to Hudson Clearwater’s New England cuisine since it faces little difficulty luring foodies into their secret garden space. Yes, lovely patio seating exists for budding young couples as does seating at the oak wood tables within. Bring an appetite for salty flavors, carnivore or vegetarian, they juggle both acts with steez.
Menu Highlights: Seared Long Island Duck Breast, Jalapeno-Coriander Roasted Short Ribs, and Citrus-Marinated Berkshire Pork Chop.
Le Parker Meridien 119 West 56th Street; 212-245-5000
The terms ‘burger joint’ and ‘Le Parker Meridien’ seem an unlikely coupling. Yet fate smiled on this duo, with the exchange mutually suiting for both grungy slob shop and luxury hotel. Secret confessions, lewd cartoons, and pilthy non-sequiturs cover every wood surface in sight, which is most of them. The menu’s as no-nonsense as the lowbrow single phrase chefs. Answer threeish magic questions—type of meat, toppings, drink—and you’re ready to jam to Buddy Holly blaring over the sound-waves. Oh, and the fries come in greasy brown paper bags, classic!
Menu Highlights: A burger made to order, fries, and a shake. What did you expect?
295 Berry Street; 718-388-5988
This is the Mexican street food. In a building. In New York. But darn if the boastful name doesn’t ring to truthful underpinnings of Guadalajara roadside grub at its finest. The interior speaks to design tastes of a Mexican teenager? Yeah, Mexican B-movie posters and vintage 80s skate boards propped against the walls; charming in that hairballed “Why didn’t I think of this first?” kind of way. Quirks ooze from hysterical elements like the ‘best friends since forever’ waitstaff to the blazing fast service of los aperitivos. NYC taquerias don’t get more authentic than this.
Menu Highlights: Enchiladas, Huaraches, and Alambre de Res(grilled steak).
529 Hudson St; 212-691-9700
Two hot pink neon signs adorn the front display windows. One forms the outline of a duck, the word ‘bar’ emblazoned across its breast. The other says, “Open Late”. All you really need to know. Well, that and the New York Post’s claims that Decoy is one of the “sexiest restaurant in NYC”. We’ll leave the ‘why’ up to you for obvious reasons, but there’s no denying their pedigree for roasting a juicy peking duck(raised on Long Island). After all, you see those duck decoys crowding the host bar? They aren’t just for posturing you know.
Menu Highlights: Black Sea Bass with Yellow Leek, Jamaican-Chinese Style Jerk Baby Chicken, and Peking Duck of course!
93 ½ East 7th Street; 212-529-2314
New York City first met arepas through Caracas and they’ve been inseparable since. Desk jockeys can’t wait to bolt from corporate and pile into the snaking line piling out from the Venezualan shop’s tin shanty overhang. The crisp pockets of fried maize dough might come packed chock-full of rich cheeses and pulled chicken, or smooth avocado, carmelized onions, and candied plantains on tofu… Seriously, the variety goes hard, and New Yorkers test every menu item like they’re collecting baseball cards.
Menu Highlights: The Arepas by far. You’re bound to see one you like.
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
144 East Broadway; 212-566-6993
On those frigid winter nights, Lam Zhou’s scorching hot beef noodle bowls are a breath of vitality. The shop’s innards come cramped, cozy, with random Chinese paraphernalia smattering the walls and traditional red lanterns propped here and there. Sounds of English are sparse here, replaced with the mellow ambiance of quiet mandarin utterances and raw noodle dough slapped and swatted against tin counters. Add in rock bottom prices and you can count on Lam Zhou stealing your heart away.
Menu Highlights: Beef noodle soup and 12 fried dumplings for $3.