On any given night, thousands of Manhattanites and visitors try to secure reservations at any of the city’s tens of thousands of restaurants. But when it comes to getting a table at one of the hottest, it’s not so easy.
For a restaurant to stay on the hot list in a city as fickle as this one—a town that constantly craves new and different—is a challenge. But what, exactly, makes a restaurant “hot”? In some cases, it’s the chef’s pedigree that’s the magnet. Other times, it’s the feeling of dining in a members-only club that creates the mystique. And sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. A restaurant has a great space, superlative food and service, and wham! The heat self-generates.
Below you’ll find a roundup of some of the most talked-about restaurants in town right now. Hint: If you’re reading this and note a restaurant you’d like to visit, put this magazine down immediately and call for a reservation. Enlisting the help of your hotel concierge is also a good idea. May the force (of an available table) be with you!
Chef George Mendes has traveled the world, cooking at places like acclaimed L’Arpège in Paris and Manhattan’s Bouley. He’s a James Beard Award winner, a Michelin-starred chef and the author of a cookbook about the nuances of Portuguese cooking. When he opened the gastronomy-oriented Aldea seven years ago, Mendes moved to the forefront of important NYC dining. At his newest venture Lupulo, a Portuguese tavern-bar affair near Herald Square, Mendes is always on the line. Unlike absentee chefs who create a kingdom of restaurants locally and far afield, Mendes is always cooking in the kitchen, either here or at Aldea. His passions are in evidence from the emphasis on beer to the selection of small plates like sardinhas assadas com pimentos, bacalhau à gomes de sá, and charred chicken with scaldingly spicy piri-piri pepper sauce. And he’s responsive to the neighborhood. When a no-reservations policy showed signs of irking Mendes’ clients, he changed it: allowing both walk-ins and reserved seating. Why is this a tough ticket? In short, you have a chef who is as caring as his food is delicious, in a space that fits a void in this Midtown South neighborhood. 835 Sixth Ave., 212.290.7600
Another chef with a pedigree most would die for, Gabriel Kreuther boasts a James Beard Foundation Award and a Michelin star on a résumé that spans the globe, starting in Europe and working in some of the most lauded establishments in New York City. Earning early kudos at La Caravelle and Jean-Georges, and gaining distinction as executive chef at Atelier at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, Kreuther went on to prove that a fine-dining establishment could succeed within the confines of a museum. After a decade as executive chef at The Modern in the Museum of Modern Art, Kreuther now has his eponymous restaurant in a tony location across from Bryant Park. The buzz about his move to independence has been steadily building for more than three years. Before the doors to the restaurant opened in June, the Kreuther-loyal crowds were already salivating at the thought of the chef’s renowned tartes flambées and Alsatian–New York creations like squab and foie gras croustillant, and sturgeon and sauerkraut tart. The new Gabriel Kreuther affirms that fine dining is alive and well in Manhattan, with service that is just as refined and a luxe room as gorgeous as any you’ll find in New York City. It’s new, hot and reservations are filling up. Book a table now. 41 W. 42nd St., 212.257.5826
Visitors to Mexico know all about Chef Enrique Olvera, the charming maestro behind one of that nation’s best restaurants, Pujol. Olvera’s fame is so strong that visitors have been known to schedule trips to Mexico City according to when they can get one of the restaurant’s elusive reservations. Olvera is credited as the creator of New Mexican cuisine, cuisine that ignores stereotypical burritos and nachos, and instead infuses corn and dramatic flavors to create small plates exploding with taste sensations like uni, hazelnut mole and bone marrow. Now he’s behind the much-heralded Cosme here in the Gramercy Park area. Eschewing research in Mexico to improve traditional recipes, Olvera mastered New York City tastes by moving here, learning everything he could about the city’s foodie cognoscenti and the current state of NYC Mexican restaurants. The choice of location was equally as learned, setting Cosme in a neighborhood known for innovation, success and unstuffiness. At Cosme, there is a worldly clientele mix aware of Pujol’s reputation and wowed by Olvera’s ever-evolving creativity. A strict reservation-cancellation policy ensures that the room’s small size stays booked but is never too crowded. For those unable to schedule well in advance, bar-area seating and two communal tables are available for walk-ins. 35 E. 21st St., 212.913.9659
Marcus Samuelsson is a brand, a culinary brand. The Ethiopian-born chef has made Harlem his home after establishing a solid reputation at Midtown’s Aquavit, where he capitalized on the foods of Sweden, his adopted homeland. His first Harlem restaurant, the somewhat-pricey Red Rooster, has been difficult to get into since it opened, creating a natural segue into something more neighborhoody and less expensive. With a no-reservations policy and a party atmosphere that’s colorful and steeped in New York City culture, Streetbird is a chicken and hip-hop joint that fits neatly uptown. On a positive note, you WILL get in, eventually, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself while waiting: A drink at the bar or a perusal of the oodles of paraphernalia lining every inch of wall and ceiling space will easily fill up the time. Of all the buzzy restaurants, this one is probably the most democratic in terms of seating and dining. All you need is patience. 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd., 212.206.2557
It appears that anything the Torrisi–Carbone group touches turns to gold. First, there were Torrisi Italian Specialties and Parm; then Carbone and other Parm spinoffs; and now equally sizzling Santina. Solid cooking by Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, appropriately decorated settings and top-notch service are hallmarks. But beyond that, the buzz factor is enormous. President Obama chose curtain-masked Carbone for a taste of Carbone’s “old-world done new-world” red-sauce fare. It’s widely known that you want to be seated in the retro backroom, and much jockeying occurs for that: It’s like eating in a private club or at the untouchable Rao’s in East Harlem. No matter where you sit, though, a captain takes care of you and orchestrates your meal. And while the food is delicious and traditional, the veal Parmesan and Caesar salad are at least twice as expensive as they need to be. But no one cares. Cachet? Yes. Small-size restaurant but large-scale ambience? Yes. Can you get a reservation here? Let’s hope. 181 Thompson St., 212.254.3000
The Polo Bar
Not a bar, almost not even a restaurant, The Polo Bar is more like a club you can’t join. If you can get a reservation, you’ll probably be seated very early, unless you’re an A-lister. Two bouncers outside designer Ralph Lauren’s shrouded restaurant control your entry. Not on the list? No dice. You can’t even sit at the beautiful bar unless you have a dinner reservation. The mystique is amazing. Even though the food is more or less Lauren’s favorite comfort dishes and anything but fine dining, this is the “it” reservation to have. Dress to impress and eat that mountain of a burger or those pigs in a blanket as carefully as you can. You don’t want telltale food stains on your jodhpurs or stilettos as you scan the equestrian-decorated room for some well-known face. Pretty much all the beautiful people are here, all the time. 1 E. 55th St., 212.207.8562
Two ingredients for a new restaurant’s success are having a parent like Blue Ribbon, a name associated with quality food and service for more than two decades, and a concept that fits into a neighborhood crying out for foodie-centric dining. Unlike other Blue Ribbon restaurants, The Ribbon on the Upper West Side accepts reservations, relevant but not mandatory because of the restaurant’s large size. The bar–brasserie caters to families as well as singles and couples with a varied and changing menu (charcuterie, raw bar, rotisserie, burgers) and multiple dining areas. It’s also perfect before or after a concert at the Beacon Theatre. The restaurant has been full since opening earlier this year. 20 W. 72nd St., 646.416.9080