Nine Essential Dining Districts For First-Time Manhattan Visitors
While it measures in at just 59 square kilometers, the island of Manhattan is home to more than 1.6 million residents, serving as one of the most densely-settled regions on earth. Amidst the vast clusters of towering skyscrapers mingled with verdant parks, visitors can discover one of the most glorious drinking and dining scenes found on the entire planet, with a plethora of high-end bistros and dimly-lit dives to explore. While it may seem intimidating at first glance, those willing to set foot in New York County are in for a truly unforgettable experience, with no shortage of dishes, ingredients, and culinary styles from all across the globe packed into one borough.
Lower East Side
The Williamsburg Bridge was opened on December 20th, 1903.
Perched on the edge of the East River adjacent to Kings County, the Lower East Side is equipped with a stellar cocktail scene, serving as the perfect spot for a well-earned drink after a stroll across the Williamsburg Bridge. To kick off the night, newly-opened venue Thief is home to a diverse array of cocktails ranging from the agave and passionfruit-loaded Fire It Up to the rum-forward Dillinger’s Downfall, with no shortage of hearty comfort food to snack on in between drinks. But when it comes to decadent dining, the Lower East Side is home to a massive array of options. For fans of hearty Argentinian cuisine, Balvanera offers top-tier skirt steak in a cozy space, while Dhamaka is a favorite for ultra-flavorful South Asian fare, with Indian dishes like paneer methi, misa mach poora, and Nagaland pork all gracing the menu.
Washington Heights was named after Fort Washington.
Renowned across the nation for its strong Caribbean heritage, Washington Heights serves as one of the Northeast’s crown jewels of Dominican dining. To experience the cuisine firsthand, Malecon has been a local favorite since the turn of the millennium, providing diners with some of the finest roast chicken in all of the city. Just a few steps away, venues range from the no-frills Marilu & Daysi to Jalao NYC, a new arrival to the local dining scene that’s earned abundant acclaim for their gorgeous interior, regular live music, and classic dishes like sancocho, mofongo, and pecao frito—but if you’re in the mood for classic Italian fare, be sure to swing by Aquamarina for a plate of veal parm paired with the perfect margarita.
Soho is short for “South of Houston,” a nickname that references Manhattan’s iconic Houston Street.
SoHo serves as one of Manhattan’s hottest shopping districts, and after a long day of perusing boutiques, there’s a wealth of cozy watering holes to explore as well. On the edge of 6th Avenue, Lupe’s East LA Kitchen is a top spot for classic West Coast Mexican dishes like chicken mole and shrimp chipotle burritos, while The Dutch has been a local favorite for over a decade thanks to their hearty American fare and can’t-miss weekend brunch. After a meal, guests can swing by Milady’s to find a spectacular roster of cocktails like the Caribbean rum-heavy Banana Stand, while for beer aficionados in particular, Torch & Crown Brewing Company’s original location is located in the heart of the district, providing guests with an opportunity to sample their flagship Almost Famous NEIPA straight from the source.
Madison Square Park was opened on May 10th, 1847.
In spite of its small stature, NoMad offers a massive array of top-tier drinking and dining destinations both on and off of Broadway. Those in search of hearty Mediterranean dining need look no further than ilili Restaurant, one of the city’s top spots for elevated Lebanese cuisine. While the venue excels at traditional dishes like lamb shawarma and beef fried kibbeh, guests can also enjoy hearty fusion fare like the American Lebanese burger, a spin on the classic dish that’s loaded with pickled cucumber and onion. For the totally meat-averse, neighboring Planta Queen has been a favorite in recent years thanks to their all-vegan menu featuring the iconic Bang Bang Broccoli—and when it comes to cocktails, few destinations can compare to Apotheke, a sophisticated space that’s home to some of the finest cocktails in all of Midtown.
The East Village is home to a large concentration of New York’s community gardens.
Renowned for its high concentration of German immigrants during the late 1800s, Manhattan’s East Village has morphed into one of the city’s hottest nightlife destinations in the modern era. For a truly memorable night across the neighborhood, swing by the ultra-cozy Huertas to dine on tinned fish paired with Basque-style tapas, then head just one block north to find Bar Lula, a polished venue that masterfully marries flavorful Mexican fare with French culinary techniques. Guests can snag top-tier charred shrimp, roasted octopus, and cotija-loaded hominy risotto, while the massive mezcal selection is a particular menu highlight—and to end the night on a high note, be sure to check out SuperBueno, a colorful Mexican cocktail bar that makes a killer mushroom margarita.
Harlem is named after a prominent Dutch city in the province of North Holland.
A hub for Black American culture for decades on end, Harlem has served as a major influence for contemporary music, art, and literature since the mid-1900s—and today, the neighborhood’s rich legacy extends into gastronomy as well, with no shortage of incredible restaurants for visitors to discover. Best known for its decadent soul food scene, guests can sample classics like shrimp and grits, fried catfish, and chicken and waffles at time-honored venues like Amy Ruth’s, but that’s not all that the neighborhood has to offer. Harlem’s Black diaspora has given rise to a wealth of top-tier West African restaurants as well, inviting visitors to head to Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant for incredible vegan dishes like spicy ye misir wat or tikil gomen, while Chez Jacob is a must-visit for dibi, nem, and other classic Senegalese dishes.
The Financial District’s iconic Charging Bull statue was installed in 1989.
Located at the southernmost tip of New York County, the Financial District serves as the beating heart of the nation’s economy—and all of that cash flow has fostered a pretty spectacular dining scene, with La Marchande perfectly exemplifying the splendor of the surrounding neighborhood. Located in the Wall Street Hotel, this opulent restaurant is a paradise for fine French dining, offering succulent oysters gratinèed, roasted chicken, and a truly incredible brioche pull apart all served alongside a massive array of French wine and vermouth. For a more casual experience, visitors can head to Cedar Local for an incredible Royale with Cheese paired with a classic cocktail, and when it comes to paninis, there’s no beating Pisillo, a pint-sized shop that’s mastered the art of the decadent Italian sandwich.
Times Square saw its first official ball drop on December 31st, 1907.
While Times Square serves as the Theater District’s main attraction (for tourists, at least), there’s a wide array of sophisticated restaurants just a few steps away from New York’s most famous ad space. For a particularly glamorous night on the town, the massive Madame George offers a huge array of top-tier concoctions ranging from classic New York City staples to avant-garde creations—and once dinnertime rolls around, it’s tough to find a more glamorous spot than 53. A paradise for elevated pan-Asian fare, this polished venue is home to high-end dishes like lobster rice and Singapore-style Hainanese chicken, with the clay pot black cod being a particular menu highlight. And for any diners that prefer to stick close to their accommodations, the CIVILIAN Hotel is equipped with a wealth of dining options to explore just steps away from your room, with destinations ranging from the plant-filled Starchild rooftop lounge to Rosevale Kitchen, a convivial space that makes a stellar steak tartare.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway was opened in 1976.
An oft-overlooked destination for visitors to Manhattan, the pint-sized Roosevelt Island measures in at just 0.6 square kilometers—but this tiny sliver of land is home to some incredible drinking and dining destinations. While casual venues range from ME Mediterranean Eatery to the cozy Irish-inspired Granny Annie’s Bar & Kitchen, Panorama Room offers a particularly upscale experience that’s impossible to find elsewhere on the island. Housed within the 18th floor of the Graduate New York, this polished venue is the hottest nightlife destination to grace the streets of Roosevelt Island, offering gorgeous 360-degree views and high-end craft cocktails during evening hours as well as an incredible brunch program throughout the weekend.
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