Do you think you know where to dine in New York? These under-the-radar restaurants might just become your new favorites.
Tiny Kopitiam is wedged among the markets and shops of Chinatown’s crowded East Broadway. The café’s distinguishing pink telephone gives a hint at the creativity inside and outside. Kopitiam’s Chinese-Malaysian street food -- on a menu that’s as foreign in names as are the flavor combinations -- is exceptionally affordable. The restaurant will help you select from the exotic Nyonya menu, recommending signature dishes like the flavorful lobak, a pork roll wrapped in bean curd skin, and nasi lemak, the coconut-rice-anchovy national dish of Malaysia. Know that plates are pretty huge—bring friends so you can sample a few. Tame the spice with the tarik, hand-pulled Malaysian iced tea traditionally sweetened with condensed and evaporated milk and served in an innovative transparent to-go cup, straw included.
On the Lower East Side, Tzarevna might remind you of a boite in St. Petersburg, down a flight of stairs and relatively hidden but filled with happy diners enjoying authentic Russian cuisine in an unpretentious contemporary setting. Capitalizing on the outdoor café trend, the street-level structure is perfect for large parties to try out some of the café’s exciting selections. Russian dishes take on a modern spin like a traditional zakuski board with house-cured fish, crepes and fish roe; stroganoff made with Wagyu beef; or duck shashlik served with pistachio puree, charred onions and pomegranate molasses. A flight of Georgian wines includes two unusual orange choices.
LoLo’s Seafood Shack
Short for “Locally Owned Locally Operated,” LoLo’s is like a trip to the islands, albeit in Harlem. A Cape Cod meets Caribbean mashup, the shack-like ambiance suits for the eat-with-your-fingers Belizean conch fritters, jerk ribs or the notable seafood boil presented with shrimp, crawfish or snow crab legs. Plan to get a little messy, but gloves are provided. The outdoor backyard is a genuine urban surprise in marked contrast to the outdoor spaces that have popped up throughout the city. Here you’ll swear you’ll need to set your watch back to island time as you leisurely take in the colorful vibes and music.
The Pandering Pig
For a taste of Upper Manhattan, take the A train to this hidden gem in the less-known part of the city called Hudson Heights. Husband-and-wife team Nicole and Senator O’Brien offer FreNoCal cuisine, a combination of “Sonoma-influenced French Northern Californian” meant to be enjoyed with a carefully curated selection of wines from small producers in the United States and France, or unusual liquors such as single malt scotch from France. Try the fig and olive tapenade served with creamy goat cheese before tucking into the Pandering Pig’s most popular dish, coq au vin served over polenta and enlivened with melted blue cheese and thyme. The lovely photography-adorned restaurant has added to the dining experience with an intimate outdoor beer garden and a selection of artisanal brews from around the globe.
If mussels are your thing, you’ll want to know about Jacques on the Upper East Side. Not that mussels are the only dish that this French brasserie serves, but they are certainly a standout, particularly when accompanied by Jacques’ amazing golden frites. Offering traditional French selections like salade Niçoise, boeuf Bourguignon and steak tartare, Jacques is also adept at pairing wines with your meal. The new outdoor sidewalk café space stretches for almost a quarter of the block between Second Avenue and Third Avenue and feels oh-so-French with its bistro chairs.
Tucked onto a side street in Midtown, the outdoor spaces of Nerai are a ticket to a meal in the Greek Isles. Surrounded by flowers, diners share conversation and cocktails over tzatziki, hummus and spicy feta spreads served with grilled pita. Also meant for sharing, platters of bifteki beef patties, shrimp and chicken skewers come with luscious lemon potatoes. The wine list is pure Greece with varietals like rapsani (red) from Thessaly and assyrtiko (white) from Santorini, rarities even at larger Greek restaurants. If you prefer a cocktail, Nerai will make you forget your standby dirty martini with their briny Stuffed & Dirty made with olive-infused vodka and feta olives. Beer lovers can try fix, a Greek lager, or Yellow Donkey, a blonde ale from Santorini. For dessert, karidopita is a traditional walnut cake with milk and honey glaze.
Loreto Italian Kitchen & Bar
A magnet for Brooklyn Academy of Music fans thanks to its location down the block in Fort Greene, Loreto is an airy restaurant for creative Italian cuisine and fluffy Neapolitan pizzas. Outdoor dining blends seamlessly with the street décor with white tablecloths and off-white drapes. Loreto’s open kitchen shows off the restaurant’s expertise in all things Italian. While the menu suggests that pizzas are individual in portion, you might find that one or two of the Diavola or Loreto versions are large enough for a table to share. Just add some grilled veggies, a burratina alla Mediterranea salad and the cheesy cacio e pepe homemade pasta, and you’ll be ready for an after-meal passegiatta as they do in Taormina. Be sure to leave room for an icy limoncello, served with a bold espresso and biscotti.