Where do the best professional cooks go to eat in New York? It turns out, they go everywhere: to after-hours joints in Little Tokyo, cozy neighborhood spots for date night, and the hottest dining rooms in Midtown.
Café Luxembourg has been an art deco escape on the Upper West Side since the 1980s. Craig Koketsu of Quality Meats goes there on nights off with his wife. His go-to meal is a Boulevardier (shaken not stirred) with mixed green salads and either a Luxemburger medium-rare with Cheddar, extra lettuce and tomato, and fries or a tuna burger medium-rare with extra lettuce, tomato and wasabi mayo. Favorite dish: Harry’s Hot Fudge Sundae (200 W. 70th St.).
Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster and Aquavit likes the food and vibe at Estela, the stylish restaurant that famously hosted President Barack Obama. The eclectic Mediterranean menu includes burrata with salsa verde and chunks of charred bread. “I love that it’s almost like a secret. It’s on a main street, but up a few steps, so it removes it just slightly from the hustle.” Favorite dish: lamb ribs with charmoula and honey (47 E. Houston St.).
When James Beard Award-winning chef Marc Vetri, of Vetri in Philadelphia, comes to town, his go-to spot is Barbuto, the rustic Italian hangout with a serious wood-burning oven and glass walls that open onto a West Village street. “I love Barbuto. It’s like an old pair of jeans that you always feel good in,” says Vetri. “My order is always the same: kale salad, smashed potatoes, and chicken.” Favorite dish: pollo al forno with salsa verde (775 Washington St.).
Chinatown institution Great N.Y. Noodletown is known for being open practically around the clock, with an array of roasted, bronzed ducks and pork hanging in the window. Josh Capon, who runs Bowery Meat Co., started going there when he was a line cook. “Now I go whenever I have jury duty or whenever anyone is the mood to head to Chinatown for some killer Chinese food!” Favorite dishes: Salt-crusted jumbo shrimp with shaved jalapeños and “anything that’s got roast pork and noodles in it” (28 Bowery).
Girl and the Goat’s Stephanie Izard, winner of “Top Chef,” calls the modern Italian restaurant Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, her favorite in all New York. “I love the malfadini,” says Izard. “I think Missy [Robbins’] use of pink peppercorn is creative, and I fell so in love with the shape of the pasta that I went out to buy the same die for my pasta machine!” Favorite dish: malfadini with pink peppercorn and parmigiana (567 Union Av.).
Destination pizza spot Lucali is set inside an old candy store on a residential Brooklyn street. Missy Robbins, chef and co-owner of Lilia, adores the thin-crusted pies owner Mark Iacono turns out from his brick oven. “It is like walking into someone’s home, where Mark welcomes you as family,” raves Robbins. “His passion is infectious.” Favorite dish: pizza with hot peppers and onion, with a calzone on the side (575 Henry St., Carroll Gardens).
For Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin, the Lobster Club is his new favorite. “I love the Peter Marino decor, especially the elevated booths that let you watch the action of the entire restaurant and bar scene. The service is friendly and the wine team is very knowledgeable. The Japanese-inspired dishes — such as the yellowtail and matsutake and barbecue pork jowl — are easy to share.” Favorite dish: wagyu and uni (98 E. 53rd St.).
High-end sushi counters have become ubiquitous in New York. For Dan Kluger of Loring Place, one of the most notable is Shuko, run by Masa veterans Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau. “I am a neighborhood guy and find myself revisiting old haunts to support and see my friends. Shuko is tried and true — any fish they have is always amazing.” Favorite dish: spicy tuna roll (47 E. 12th St.).
Andrew Carmellini, whose restaurant empire includes SoHo hangout the Dutch, favors the unconventional Mu Ramen in Long Island City, where chef Joshua Smookler tweaks traditional tonkotsu and fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras and brioche. “I like to pop in on the way back from the North Fork for the corn-and-uni pancakes. So good!” says Carmellini. Favorite dish: spicy ramen (1209 Jackson Av., Queens).
Located a few steps up in a Greenwich Village residential building is Té Company, an elegant Taiwanese tearoom that offers carefully sourced varietals. Eiji Ichimura, who now serves sushi at Uchu, goes there for cups of tea and small plates. “I helped Frederico [Ribeiro, the co-owner] learn how to make rice that he now uses for the rice bowl; I also enjoy their delicious pineapple yuzu cookies.” Favorite dish: Taiwanese rice bowl (163 W. 10th St.).
Transportive Thai restaurant Uncle Boons feels as if you’ve walked into a cozy Bangkok home. The place sits on the fringes of SoHo, with a street food menu that includes beer slushies and “muay thai” rotisserie chicken. Joe Ng, a master of dumplings and dim sum at Red Farm, recommends it. “I like the cooking, and the atmosphere is a lot of fun,” he says. Favorite dish: crab fried rice with egg (7 Spring St.).
On the second floor of a building in the East Village’s Little Tokyo is longtime izakaya Village Yokocho. The Japanese comfort food menu has a vast assortment of yakitori, a long list of beverages that include sochu cocktails, and late hours. Justin Smilie of Upland likes the okonomiyaki with pork, shrimp and cabbage. “It’s crispy, a little fatty and pungent, and great with an ice-cold beer.” Favorite dish: okonomiyaki (8 Stuyvesant St.).
Abram Bissell of the Modern loves everything about Wa-Jeal Sichuan Chili House on the Upper East Side. “It’s just classy enough that I feel like an adult, but loud enough that I can bring my kids,” he says. “I usually get chili-marinated ox tongue and tripe, and steamed mini pork buns, but everything on the menu is crave-able. There are few things better on a night off of work than the warm burn of Sichuan peppercorns with an ice-cold beer.” Favorite dish: dan dan noodles (1588 2nd Av.).