Paying Tribute to 52 NYC Restaurants That Closed During the Pandemic 

New York’s restaurants have always been more than talking points or superficial sources of pride. The city’s residents, and its biggest cheerleaders near and far, are as eager to profess their love of dollar slices and (superior) bagels as they are to boast about the Michelin-rated establishments and the rich diversity of cuisines throughout the five boroughs. In so many ways, New York’s very essence — its culture, economy, nightlife, politics, and so much more — is so deeply intertwined with the bars and restaurants illuminating the city that we couldn’t fathom their absence.

Then, on March 16, 2020, the unimaginable happened.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated the shutdown of indoor dining that day — some would argue it should’ve happened earlier — it was the biggest disruption the restaurant industry had faced since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Sandy. Nobody knew or was quite prepared for what was ahead as the coronavirus spread. Restaurant owners said they had to fend for themselves and pointed to the government’s failure to adequately support the hospitality industry. The shutdown had no timeline, and for many, it was the last nail in the coffin. To date, more than 1,000 restaurants have shuttered for good, and an even greater number of workers have lost jobs. Whether it was the Queens restaurant specializing in arepas or the city’s fanciest sushi restaurants, the businesses that remained have had to rely on a mix of takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining to stay afloat. Indoor dining was reinstated in September but banned again in December before recently reopening in time for Valentine’s Day — with limited capacity that will rise to 50 percent on March 19.

But every week this past year, especially in the first few months of the pandemic, another restaurant closed its doors for good. New Yorkers didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to the spots where they went on first dates, celebrated anniversaries, and visited so often the staff could recognize them, even as they began donning masks. Until the pandemic finally passes, the extent of the city’s losses won’t be clear. But they won’t go unnoticed.

Eater New York’s 52 tributes aim to create a written record of the shuttered restaurants that helped shape the city. Our team of reporters, critics, and editors turned to every borough to tell stories of some of the most iconic establishments and the neighborhood favorites that have been too often overlooked. These places may not have weathered an unprecedented pandemic, but they each aided in defining New York, and that should never be forgotten.


Over 1,000 NYC restaurants have shuttered in the past year. Critic Ryan Sutton weighs in on what these closures mean for a community.


Residents reflect on the anniversary of indoor dining’s end.


Manhattan Chinatown

88 Lan Zhou was an anomaly when it was opened in 2007 by Mandy Zhang and her family. Not for its menu of dumplings and hand-pulled noodles (attributed to Lanzhou, hence the name), which were then the newest thing to hit Chinatown, but for how far east it was on East Broadway, long before Mission Chinese and Wu’s Wonton King lent their stylish presence to that stretch of the thoroughfare. When the original 88 Lan Zhou closed in 2017, everyone thought it would be forever, but it reappeared later right on Bowery near Chinatown’s heart. The menu was vastly expanded from its original 20 or so items, but the pork-and-chive dumplings were as good (and cheap) as ever. Perhaps the competition from a slicker new restaurant next door was too stiff, but 88 Lan Zhou, a place with a real personality all its own, closed down for good in early August, at a time when the pandemic and the prejudice that went with it toward Asian Americans exerted a powerful effect on Chinatown’s commerce and tourism.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Lower East Side

An Choi arrived on Orchard Street in 2009, at a time when some of the city’s best bowls of pho came not from Vietnamese chefs, but from Hoa, ethnic Chinese immigrants who were born and raised in Vietnam. A decade ago, many food critics still cited Hoa-run businesses in Chinatown as their top Vietnamese restaurants. Not for any lack of love, but because that’s “all New York had,” according to Tuan Bui, who opened An Choi with his brother Huy. “There was Chinatown, there was a sizable Korean community, but there really wasn’t any Vietnamese community.” And then came An Choi. Bui never meant for the restaurant to make a splash — he merely wanted to bring some representation to Vietnamese food — but An Choi was an immediate hit. Seated in the restaurant’s alley-like dining room, customers ordered crusty banh mi sandwiches and bowls of slow-simmered pho, many for the first time. A reader balked at the $8 price tag of its banh mi at the time, completely missing that something spectacular was afoot: After years of underrepresentation, An Choi had helped pave the way for a decade of high-profile Vietnamese restaurant openings in New York City, including Madame Vo and Hanoi House in the East Village and Bui’s second restaurant, Di An Di, in Greenpoint. “They weren’t all in the same neighborhood,” he says. But it was official: Vietnamese restaurant owners had dug their roots. An Choi closed on July 26, 2020.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Upper East Side

New York City has a serious dearth of Cambodian restaurants. Hit mini-chain Num Pang fills some of that void with its sandwiches, but the closure of Angkor Cambodian Bistro has left it without a full-service restaurant representing the breadth of the cuisine of the Southeast Asian nation. Owner and chef Minh Truong ran the beloved Chelsea restaurant Royal Siam before opening this establishment on New Year’s Eve in 2015. Truong fled the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and moved to New York City as a teenager in the early ’80s. At Angkor, along with his wife and co-chef, Mandy, Truong was finally able to fully showcase his roots through dishes like the traditional Cambodian seafood curry amok and the nyoam, comprising curried fish sauce, rice noodles, and herbs. The Michelin Guide gave the restaurant a Bib Gourmand designation the year after its opening, a tremendous source of pride for the Truongs, according to their son Phillip. In fact, the guide had to create a section just for Cambodian food in New York following the distinction, he says. While the restaurant is no more, the Truongs hope diners will remember the establishment’s warm embrace and encourage more people to visit the Southeast Asian nation when the pandemic is over.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Soho

Before raw — and then baked — oysters had their moments, there was Aquagrill. The corner restaurant from chefs Jeremy and Jennifer Marshall opened its doors in 1996, at a time when the main players in New York City’s seafood scene were Docks Oyster Bar in Murray Hill, Midtown’s Le Bernardin, and Grand Central Oyster Bar. Yet Aquagrill managed to stand out with its humble prices, downtown address, and local sourcing, which meant oysters would come out of the water on a Monday morning and appear on the restaurant’s plates by Tuesday. “We were a comfortable restaurant in a neighborhood that had no fish restaurants at that time,” Marshall says. “There wasn’t a place like ours.” If there’s such a thing as legacy, Aquagrill’s is measured in bivalves. At times, the restaurant had more than 25 different types of oysters on its menu, “and those were only the 25 that you saw,” Marshall reminds me. (He carried another 10 or so downstairs, he says, to fill in the menu as items ran out.) Aquagrill survived 9/11, the dot-com bubble, the 2008 housing crash, and minimum wage increases — “even with 80 employees,” Marshall says — but the coronavirus pandemic stopped the restaurant in its tracks. “Business dropped off tremendously” in mid-March, Marshall says. “We saw money leaking out the door, and we were coming up on a new lease. We decided to go out on top, with our heads held high.” Marshall grumbles at the word “legacy” when I ask about the restaurant closing, but for those who care: A few years back, he and his wife counted how many oysters they had served in their two decades at Aquagrill. The number? 10 million, one for every New Yorker. Aquagrill permanently closed in March 2020.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

West Village

Southwestern cuisine is underrepresented in NYC’s diverse dining scene, and the city lost one of the rare restaurants showcasing the food with the closure of the Banty Rooster last year. The restaurant had been open for less than six months before the pandemic forced it to close its doors. Still, in the short time that it was open, acclaimed Denver restaurateur Delores Tronco-DePierro and her husband, John DePierro — who led the kitchen at Banty Rooster and previously worked at restaurants like the Michelin-starred French restaurant Rebelle and Fort Greene Mediterranean spot Miss Ada — wowed New Yorkers with dishes like roasted delicata squash with roasted pepitas, brown butter, and squash mole; sopapillas topped with honey and powdered sugar; and the New Mexican lard cookies called biscochitos. The restaurant reopened briefly last summer to serve meals outdoors, but the pandemic pushed it out before most New Yorkers had a chance to sample the restaurant’s hard-to-find cuisine in NYC. Eater critic Ryan Sutton managed to sneak in a visit prior to the start of the pandemic and raved about the fried chicken skins, among other dishes. Restaurants like Crown Heights’ Ursula and Astoria’s Mojave are now carrying the torch forward for Southwestern food in NYC.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

East Village

Once upon a time, before Eddie Huang authored two books (one of which spawned the acclaimed sitcom Fresh Off the Boat that he would narrate and later denounce), before he was tapped to direct a feature film about a Chinese-American basketball player, before he was arrested in Sicily after an altercation with a few guys from a right-wing political group, before he opened a restaurant called Xiao Ye that closed after a series of Four Loko-related police raids, before he hosted a food travel show on Vice for two seasons, before he had a TED fellowship revoked (he compared the program to being at “f&cking Scientology summer camp”), and before he moved to Taiwan, he ran a tiny restaurant called Baohaus that opened on the Lower East Side in 2009. That location closed two years later to make way for a larger East Village outpost, which, in turn, shuttered last October during the heart of the pandemic. Given all that Huang has done since Baohaus, it would be easy to relegate the venue’s decade-plus existence to the end of his living biography. That would be a mistake, because while Huang’s literary and media career might have touched tens of millions more than a small restaurant ever could, his decision to open Baohaus, in addition to launching his own career, also helped pave the way for the city’s current class of cool, hip Taiwanese restaurants. Would those restaurants — venues like 886, Win Son, and Ho Foods — have opened anyway? I’d hope so, but I also like to think the Adidas-wearing, jumpsuit-clad Huang, with his decision to show off lou rou fan on the Lower East Side in 2009, played at least a tiny role in giving a bit of extra cultural capital to a cuisine that was more overlooked than it should’ve been at the time, including by folks like me. “I opened this restaurant to tell my family’s story through food at a time when no one was giving Asian-Americans a chance in tv, film, books, or media generally,” Huang wrote on Instagram. Respect.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

West Village

At first glance, restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s Bar Sardine may have seemed like yet another buzzy gastropub offering a popular burger on its menu. This was no ordinary burger, though. It was originally dubbed the Fedora burger — a nod to an iconic West Village spot just steps away that Stulman previously took over — with its layers of smoked cheese, barbecue mayo, and thin strands of crispy potatoes atop a perfectly seared patty. It was hands down the crown jewel of the menu. The juicy burger wasn’t revered in the same way as J.G. Melon’s or groundbreaking like Daniel Boulud’s fancy, foie gras-stuffed DB Burger. It felt like it was the burger for burger lovers who wanted a version that was fun but not over-the-top. “People started coming just for the burger,” says Stulman. “But they stayed because they liked how we made them feel. They felt welcomed and loved and appreciated.” After lease negotiations broke down during the pandemic, Stulman closed the cozy, 28-seat corner restaurant and fans instantly panicked about what would happen to what later became known as the Bar Sardine burger. A quick collaboration with Shake Shake followed after the closing, but for anyone who wants to relive a bit of Bar Sardine’s magic, Stulman offers the top-selling burger at his restaurant Fairfax across the street.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Lower East Side

In Vietnamese hot spots like Houston or Orange County, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to specialize in chicken pho (called pho ga). With its relentlessly pink decor, Bep Ga was New York City’s own isolated little island of Vietnamese chicken dishes. The three or four additional recipes on the short menu usually included a Southeast Asian take on Hainanese chicken rice and a bang-up chicken salad called goi ga, which came with an herb-fragrant broth on the side, to be poured over the salad periodically as one ate it. The pho itself, via owner An Nguyen Xuan, was unique partly because of its makrut lime leaf flavor, a nice addition to the usual cilantro, scallion, and basil axis. Even though the tiny cafe was inconsistently open during its four-year tenure, that was part of the charm, as it established itself as a quintessential Lower East Side eatery, a great place for a homely bowl of soup that hinted at the wave of Vietnamese restaurant openings to come.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Upper East Side

New York City has a rich array of Turkish food, and for more than 20 years Beyoglu dazzled Upper East Siders from its spacious corner spot on East 81st Street and Third Avenue. On cool summer nights, locals packed the tables and chairs placed along the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, a sign of the establishment’s enduring popularity. In many ways, that can be attributed to the restaurant’s founder and first chef, the prolific late Turkish chef Orhan Yegen, who opened more than 20 Turkish restaurants in the city over more than two decades prior to his death in 2020. At Beyoglu, meze was the focus, including such dishes as a mashed eggplant salad, the yogurt and cucumber dip cacik, hummus, and doner kebabs. The restaurant became a weeknight staple for Upper East Side residents, and diners might have been hard-pressed to find a seat even on some weeknights. In a 2002 review, the wine writer Eric Asimov wrote, “In the summer heat, I can’t think of a more attractive meal than several of Beyoglu’s superb mezes and a glass or two of wine in its airy second-floor dining room.” The restaurant closed abruptly in the early part of the pandemic after being unable to work out a new lease agreement, but it leaves behind a legion of fans and its long-lasting legacy as a lively neighborhood restaurant.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Flatiron

This barbecue joint-slash-jazz club was an early jewel in Union Square Hospitality Group’s crown. Jazz Standard opened in the basement of the building in 1997, and Blue Smoke came after — and above — in 2002, six months after 9/11. Both were frontrunners in their fields. Over the years, Jazz Standard hosted countless industry legends, including singer Etta Jones, pianist Fred Hersch, and alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. Upstairs, Blue Smoke was attracting its own audiences with tender brisket, pulled pork, and short ribs that would pave the way for the city’s now-sprawling barbecue scene. The restaurant’s first executive chef, Kenny Callaghan, also co-founded the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park alongside Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer, which for years brought thousands of revelers downtown to sample barbecue from some of the top pitmasters in the country.

For those who worked at both Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard, the memories are indelible. “After six years of sold-out sets, crushing 12-hour shifts, waiting on hundreds of people at a time with my little pack of jazz basement vampires dressed in black, I know that I’m the luckiest person alive to have been a part of the mysterious magic of that club,” wrote Emily Olcott, a former server at Jazz Standard, in remembrance of the establishment. But all is not lost: Blue Smoke lives on at locations in Battery Park, Citi Field, and JFK Airport. And what of Jazz Standard? A cautiously hopeful note on its website promises that it is “optimistic about the future and writing the next chapter” of the club.

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Bed-Stuy

The shortest-lived restaurant on this list is proof that sometimes it’s one’s tortillas, not tenure, that make a mark on a neighborhood. When Natalie Hernandez opened Boca Santa in December 2019, she arrived in Bed-Stuy with an illuminated “tacos” sign and a determination to introduce New York City to the Mexican cooking of San Miguel de Allende. “The thing about Mexican food is that it’s not as heavy and it’s not as meat-based as everyone thinks it is,” Hernandez told Grub Street shortly after opening the restaurant. “We would eat fish, maybe chicken every now and then, but we rarely, rarely ate meat.” The restaurant was a shrine to flora, not fauna, where Hernandez showed that potatoes and other vegetables deserve not just mole, but homemade corn tortillas, too. Chicharron and chorizo appeared on the restaurant’s menu, but its butternut squash quesadillas and microgreen tostadas were the draw for those who knew. In October, less than a year after opening, Hernandez shared that the restaurant had barely made half of its operating costs in revenue for the past several months. She announced its closure two months later, saying she planned to return to San Miguel de Allende, where her mother’s side of the family lives. “Don’t worry,” Hernandez said at the time. “I’ll definitely be back to New York City.” Boca Santa closed on December 13, 2020.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Staten Island

Staten Island has long had a large population of immigrants from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana, but it has rarely had more than one West African restaurant at a time. The most recent, three-year-old Chez Adja, tragically closed as the pandemic set in, leaving the island with none. Located in the Tompkinsville neighborhood on the Atlantic seaboard not far from the St. George ferry terminal, right on Bay Street, it served the food of both Senegal and Nigeria, an unusual culinary pairing. The former was via owner Alpha Toure, and the latter made by Barakat Wahab, a veteran Staten Island chef who previously worked at Nigerian restaurant Wazobia, farther south on Bay Street. This was Toure’s first restaurant — he’d worked at a hardware store in Manhattan for 22 years, and told the Staten Island Advance, “It was a dream to open the restaurant — but you have to find the right people first.” The corner location was cheery and modern, with exposed brick and lacquered tables in shades of orange and brown, in the contemporary restaurant-design idiom. The halal food ran from Senegalese thiebou djen, or thieboudienne, (the national dish of vegetables and stuffed fish on seasoned rice) to Nigerian peanut soup with elastic balls of pounded yam. It was one of the best destination restaurants for West African food in the city.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

FiDi

“China Chalet is not cool, which is why it’s great,” an arts editor told the New York Times nearly a decade ago. After all, the pink fluorescent-lit space opened in 1975 and was first known as a dim sum restaurant with a banquet hall and meeting spot for office workers. It became timeworn and ragged — but in a hip way. Somehow, the most popular place in town was where dim sum met disco. There are rumors that Madonna booked the space for parties as early as in the 1980s, when downtown Manhattan was the hot spot for a thriving nightlife scene. But it wasn’t until the 2000s that China Chalet transformed into an NYU party spot, a venue for club kids who loved the music, and an inclusive LGBTQ-friendly space. There was no specific “scene” that could be pegged to the two-floor establishment, which was located in the buttoned-up, sanitized Financial District. When patrons ascended the stairs and passed mirrored hallways, they would often find a raucous dance floor. Even celebrities like Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Jay-Z swooped in for the parties here. The over-the-top dance parties, costumes, and youthful energy wasn’t something that could be replicated elsewhere because it was all taking place in an actual Chinese restaurant. Ty Sunderland, a DJ and event producer, threw the last great parties at China Chalet. The soiree that could never take place on a Zoom call? It was called Heaven on Earth.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Dyker Heights

In many ways, Colandrea New Corner was a singular distillation of the most treasured qualities of a red-sauce institution. Diners gathered around white-clothed tables to dig into sauce-splattered plates of penne alla vodka and zuppa di clams, honed through recipes passed down through three generations of family ownership.

Over its 84 years of existence, Colandrea New Corner served hundreds of thousands of customers, hosted thousands of events, and employed thousands of people, according to Vincent Colandrea, the grandson of the restaurant’s founders and most recent owner of the establishment. Oil paintings, many reportedly by Vincent’s mother, Marie, adorned the walls. Famed director Martin Scorsese was so taken with the place that he filmed several scenes for the Netflix epic The Irishman at the restaurant.

“We have weathered decades of wars, economic downturns, and massive industry changes,” Colandrea wrote in a goodbye note when the restaurant announced its permanent closure last October. “I am confident that my grandparents Vincenzo and Theresa, the pioneers of New Corner, as well as my father Joseph, who led our expansion in the 1970s, are all looking down from heaven with a smile knowing what a great run it has been.”

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Washington Heights

Not every Irish restaurant and bar — and there are countless in New York — can claim that a Broadway star swooped in to save it from closing. In 2018, Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame helped broker a last-minute deal before a rent hike was about to shutter this Washington Heights institution. But not even its A-list connections were enough to survive 2020. Miranda and legions of fans mourned the closing of yet another casualty of the pandemic. Throughout its 35 years in business, Coogan’s was much more than a place where the beer flowed and patrons packed the bar for sporting events. Its diverse clientele brought together world-class track and field competitors (Columbia University has a training site nearby) who mingled with everyday runners, doctors, nurses, cops, and neighborhood locals. As co-owner Peter Walsh put it, “If you drank whiskey, we loved you.” Despite its devoted following, the pandemic posed too big of a financial burden for Walsh to keep the green awning-clad establishment with a wooden bar that seemed to stretch on forever open. He hopes the relationships his patrons made will live on. “Part of the restaurant business is introducing complete strangers to each other,” Walsh says. “That was the magic we had in this place. We knew how to connect people.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Greenpoint

Blame it on the 1960s-era gondola in its backyard or the cassette tapes glued to its bathroom walls, but somewhere in the Diamond’s 13-year history, the bar became a dive. “People started referring to us as a dive, which we thought was hilarious,” says Dave Pollack, who opened the bar with his wife, Alex, in 2007. Hilarious because, if you ask him, he’ll tell you he opened an “almost fancy” craft beer bar. But there was some truth to the word “dive,” too: The Diamond didn’t carry itself with the same bravado often attributed to the array of craft beer bars popping up across rapidly gentrifying swaths of Brooklyn, even as most of its customers were ordering beers they had never heard of. Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the bar had managed to reach half of its normal sales through outdoor dining, but it wouldn’t last. “We might have been able to keep spinning our wheels if it stayed at that level, but it was over as soon as you hit November” and temperatures started to drop, Pollack says. The Diamond closed its doors in January, but he has unfinished business in Greenpoint. The vintage gondola is sitting in the bar’s backyard at the time of writing, and the only way out is the way it came in 13 years ago, when Pollack and a few friends pulled it onto the bar’s roof with a rope and lowered it into the backyard. “It was… really sketchy,” he says, another decade and the caution that comes with parenthood now in his voice. “But it’s definitely coming with us.”

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Fordham Heights

Sure, there was a fancier Ghanian restaurant just up the hill on Grand Concourse, or at least one that was better organized and more cafeteria-like (that restaurant is Papaye, and it’s still open). But nothing beat Ebe Ye Yie — which reassuringly translates to “it will be all right” — for its intimacy and friendliness. The place had a white-tiled interior, hanging stringed instruments, paintings of West African tribespeople, and a New York skyline photo. Blue waves of neon flowed across one wall and dominated the lighting scheme, making everything look bluish. The menu was whatever the cook came up with that day, but usually included pounded and kneaded balls of starch made with white yam, manioc, or fermented cornmeal and thick soups rife with mutton, cowfoot, fish, and chicken, or a combination, thickened with okra, tomato, palm pulp, greens, or peanut butter.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Williamsburg

Egg cracked open in 2005 with a concept that was then unique: an eclectic roster of all-day breakfasts partly centered on Southern ingredients that included multiple types of Virginia ham, stone-ground grits from small mills, and the like. Gradually, the roster of cultural references expanded, and fried chicken was added at one point, as the small, deep, white-walled cafe became a bona fide Williamsburg landmark, where artists and working stiffs alike drifted in for a mid-afternoon plate of eggs and other homely comfort fare. Further favorites under chef Evan Hanczor included an egg and chorizo sandwich and eggs Rothko, named after the 20th-century painter. Though the branch in Tokyo remains open, owner George Weld pulled the plug on the Williamsburg location in September, just before 25 percent indoor dining resumed. As Weld told Eater, “We could either try to ease through this winter with a slow bleed or make a clean break now.”

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Theater District

Chef Dave Pasternack defied odds during his nearly 20 years at Esca. In 2000, when his acclaimed Italian seafood-centric restaurant debuted, the Theater District was in short supply of fine dining options. But the Long Island native quickly established a fan base for his expertise in preparing fish: grilling whole branzino, turning tuna into bolognese, and, perhaps most noteworthy, introducing New Yorkers to crudo. The avid fisherman’s pristine presentation of raw seafood in the Italian style — often featuring species not regularly seen on NYC menus— was groundbreaking at the time, and kitchens across the city would follow suit. A three-star review in the New York Times dubbed Pasternack a “fish whisperer.” By May 2019 though, Esca had reportedly seen a 30 percent revenue decrease after December 2017 investigations highlighted sexual harassment allegations against celebrity chef and then-partner Mario Batali. Pasternack and his business partner Victor Rallo bought the restaurant from Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group and forged ahead. It wasn’t the big-name chefs that drove Esca’s success, however; it was the sense that the spot was made for the neighborhood and that the kitchen wasn’t part of some larger restaurant group. Our critic Robert Sietsema recalls a lunch in a packed dining room when at around 1 p.m. the doors swung open and Pasternack and another man struggled to carry a large squid through the entrance. Everyone’s jaw dropped. “What am I going to do with all this squid?” Sietsema recalls Pasternack muttering about the rare catch. Twenty minutes later, there were plates of lightly seared squid passed all around the restaurant for free.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Lower East Side

When the rustic-chic Fat Radish debuted on the Lower East Side back in 2010, it quickly established a reputation as a destination for the trendy crowd at the time. Founders Ben Towill and Phil Winser — both from Britain — were focused on farm-to-table practices and local sourcing, all the while showcasing British food. The menu emphasized vegetable dishes, though items like a shark vindaloo and braised venison were also on the menu. Soon after the restaurant became a place to be seen, it also attracted praise from several top food critics, further cementing its position in the city. In subsequent years, the restaurant came to be a neighborhood staple, with visitors who would often come from abroad to relive the restaurant’s glory days. It had settled into a quiet comfort before the pandemic forced it shut. “It was a home away from home,” Winser says.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

West Village

To eat a meal at Fedora was to “sit in history,” says Gabriel Stulman, the most recent owner of the 68-year-old restaurant. The West Village institution dates to 1917, when Charles Dorato purchased a brownstone on West Fourth and turned its basement into a neighborhood bar called Charlie’s Garden. Dorato operated the bar for more than three decades until he decided to retire in 1952. His only son, Henry, wasn’t ready to take over the restaurant, but thankfully, his daughter-in-law, an Italian woman named Fedora, was. In the years to come, the restaurant became a source for red-sauce Italian fare — but also for a taste of the West Village throughout the 20th century, its walls lined with customer photos, celebrity caricatures, boxy television sets, and rotary phone booths. Fedora Dorato mixed martinis at the bar for nearly six decades, from 1952 until 2010, when she sought out Stulman, the restaurateur behind Joseph Leonard and the now-closed Bar Sardine, to take over the business. The restaurant kept its name under Stulman but left behind its red-sauce roots and vintage decor as part of a renovation that expanded its bar seating and brought on Montreal chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly. Fedora Dorato celebrated her 90th birthday seated at that renovated bar in 2011, and passed away later that year. Fedora closed on October 6, 2020.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Red Hook

Part of Red Hook’s appeal is that the hodgepodge of businesses along Van Brunt Street gives the waterfront neighborhood a small-town feel. On a quiet evening, locals and loyal patrons from around the city can be found hanging out at Fort Defiance’s bar, and after sipping a Sazerac (or two), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a ball of tumbleweed rolling past Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies or the vinyl shop down the street. When the restaurant and bar’s owner, St. John Frizell, announced in June it wouldn’t reopen, not only did the neighborhood lose a popular watering hole, but the city was left without one of its best bars. The homey space has been operating as a grocery store for almost a year since the pandemic hit New York. Instead of chatting up the bartender mixing your martini, patrons can hand over a credit card to pay for organic mangos. But it shouldn’t be surprising that Fort Defiance hasn’t left the neighborhood, because after all, the bar became a community living room of sorts. “When I launched the Fort Defiance General Store in March, I considered it a stopgap solution to the pandemic,” Frizzell wrote on Instagram. “But I now see it as our future.” Luckily, Frizell’s the Sunken Harbor Club, a weekly pop-up tiki night, has a permanent home at Gage & Tollner in Downtown Brooklyn.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

East Village

Few NYC establishments are as intrinsic to the city’s fabric as Gem Spa, and as its name might suggest, it was truly one of a kind. Opened in the 1920s, this newspaper stand is reportedly the birthplace of the New York egg cream, and New Yorkers have returned to the establishment for the frothy beverage for decades. In subsequent decades, the shop became a go-to destination for the beatniks in the 1950s, for hippies in the 1960s, and for punk rockers in the 1970s, says its most recent owner, Parul Patel. Her father became the owner of the cafe in 1986, and upheld its reputation as a neighborhood staple. Over the years, Gem Spa became just as famous as its celebrity clientele. The painter Jean-Michel Basquiat memorialized it in a painting by the same name, the poet Allen Ginsburg mentioned it in many of his works, and Madonna even filmed a scene from the film Desperately Seeking Susan there. In its later years, it was frequented by celebrities of a new generation, like Leonardo DiCaprio, who reportedly loved to grab an egg cream there after a meal at Ukrainian diner Veselka, Patel says. Patel took over in 2019, modernized it, and even started a retail arm of the business, but the pandemic brought a halt to it all. The shop’s legacy now lives on to some degree through its online merchandise, including mugs, hats, and tote bags emblazoned with the words “Gem Spa” in yellow, which Patel says have been a huge hit since the store’s launch in 2019.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Pelham Bay Park

Before the pandemic, the fire-engine red tables at Giovanni’s were often covered in plates nearly the size of large pizzas overflowing with chicken parm, mixed seafood pasta, and mussels doused in sweet marinara surrounded by goblets of Gallo Family chardonnay. No, it wasn’t another Italian restaurant in the Bronx’s Little Italy along Arthur Avenue. The nearly 40-year-old Pelham Bay Park spot was a neighborhood staple that played host to date nights, graduation dinners, and birthday celebrations — basically any let’s-pick-a-nice-restaurant occasion. So it was understandable when community residents mourned the closing of Giovanni’s last spring. “End of a lifetime of memories, good times, family moments, our first date, even our rehearsal dinner (30 years ago),” one customer posted on Instagram. “Feels like we’re losing a friend.” The red-sauce establishment’s open-arms approach to hospitality can be traced back to brothers Luigi and Anthony Scarogni, who purchased the restaurant from a previous owner at another location. The Italian immigrants eventually moved the restaurant to its latest location in 1990, and it stayed open even after Anthony passed away in 2008. In recent years, Luigi had started contemplating retirement, but the indoor dining shutdown made it too difficult to stay open. “Over the past 40 years, every family member has worked there,” Luigi’s wife, Debbie Scarogni, told the Bronx Times. “My husband, he’s not one with words, but he likes to give to the community.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Crown Heights

It was impossible to walk by Glady’s, at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Lincoln Place in Crown Heights, without wondering whether the rollicking, rainbow-hued Caribbean restaurant was having the most fun in the entire city. On a Friday or Saturday night, the place was constantly vibrating with activity: Customers piled into the tiny neighborhood joint to first wrap their hands around one of bar director Shannon Mustipher’s legendary rum cocktails — the Painkiller, a smooth blend of rum, coconut cream, pineapple, and nutmeg, was a consistent must-order — and then flag down platters of tender jerk chicken and fried plantains for the table.

“Those were the nights that service felt like it only lasted an hour but really we were straight out for four or five hours, and when the last guest finally left and the chairs went up and the music was turned down just a little, we would finally sit down at the bar with Shannon and Kenny [Dixon] to have a daiquiri and relax,” says Glady’s owner William Garfield. “For most of us, Glady’s was a second home, and the best memories were those that involved the lowkey moments around busy service where we all could catch our breath and catch up.”

When Mustipher was tapped to build out the rum program at Glady’s, she didn’t have a long history of working with rum — “I knew next to nothing about the category,” she says — but she poured time and effort into learning its many forms. The casual Brooklyn spot would later top lists as one of the best bars in the city, and Mustipher published an award-winning book on tiki cocktails in 2019.

“Crown Heights is a very friendly, eclectic neighborhood,” Mustipher says. “I had an awesome time with the guests at the bar, especially those who were from the Caribbean or had traveled there and knew what kind of rum they wanted to drink. Being able to serve someone from Trinidad Puncheon — a high-proof rum that is generally not found in bars in the U.S. — and seeing them enjoy it with friends in the way they would at home felt like a big achievement.”

The restaurant shut its doors permanently in June 2020 with an “epic” last night sendoff, Mustipher says. “The outpouring of love, appreciation, and support was very moving, and allowed me to feel at peace when it was time to turn the lights down for the last time.” Flickers of Glady’s spirit live on at Garfield’s other spots, Mo’s Original and adjacent bar Any Thing in Prospect-Lefferts Garden, where the famous Painkiller remains on the menu.

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Red Hook

Back in 2006, opening a restaurant in Red Hook was a gamble. The neighborhood is still relatively hard to get to, even from Brooklyn, but back then, there was no Ikea or NYC ferry to shuttle people to this rather remote part of the borough. But for the Good Fork chef and co-owner Sohui Kim and her husband, Ben Schneider, that was the appeal: to create a neighborhood restaurant in the truest sense. Kim had left her job working with acclaimed chef Anita Lo at the West Village restaurant Annisa to open her own restaurant, and the gamble paid off. Critical praise followed just a month after the Good Fork’s opening, and the restaurant quickly established a reputation for its eclectic American dishes like scallion pancakes served with English peas and mint, and ramen bolognese. While Red Hook was already home to several notable bars, the Good Fork ushered in a new wave of restaurants and bakeries in the neighborhood. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the restaurant, and Kim and Schneider felt it would be impossible for them to come back. But Red Hook wasn’t done with them yet. A groundswell of community support and fundraising helped it reopen just a few months later. On any given day, you might have found a mix of local residents and visitors milling about inside and in front of the wooden door of the restaurant along Van Brunt Street. When the pandemic forced the restaurant to close its doors once again in 2020, Kim said she knew it was time to say goodbye, and she knew she’d be doing it with a sense of pride. The Good Fork left an indelible mark on Red Hook, paving the way for a whole new generation of restaurants in the neighborhood.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Greenwich Village

When Gotham Bar & Grill opened in 1984, it caused a sensation. Greenwich Village had never been the location of such a luxe and ambitious restaurant. Alfred Portale took over soon after, and remained its celebrated chef for 33 years, during which time the restaurant received three-star reviews from a succession of New York Times critics, a consistency of excellence rarely seen in the restaurant industry. During this span, his proteges included Bill Telepan, Tom Valenti, Wylie Dufresne, and Tom Colicchio. Portale was partly responsible for the “big food” movement, in which a plate was composed so that colorful elements rose up with, say, a skyward-pointing streak of red here, a hump of green there, napped by a lake of yellow sauce. His signatures included a grilled steak served with bone-marrow-and-mustard custard and a legendary tuna tartare that soon had every chef in the city imitating it. The room was plush, bilevel, pillared, and elegant, and it set the stage for other fancy restaurants in the neighborhood like Babbo and Blue Hill. Victoria Blamey briefly took over the kitchen after Portale’s departure, but even her innovative menu couldn’t keep the ship afloat, and just before the mid-March shutdown, the management issued the statement, “the unforeseen situation created by the coronavirus has made operation of the restaurant untenable.”

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Manhattan Chinatown

Historic dim sum restaurant Hop Shing was a cornerstone of Manhattan’s Chinatown for almost 50 years, welcoming a mix of neighborhood regulars, tourists, and even NBA player Jeremy Lin to its comforting — and, at times, chaotic — coffee counter and dining room.

The restaurant’s famed dim sum lineup included favorites like savory char siu bao and fragrant gai mei bao that “easily deserves ‘soul food’ as its moniker,” says Gary Lum, a co-owner of Wing On Wo & Co, another Chinatown institution around the corner from Hop Shing that has been selling intricate porcelain wares for nearly a century. As Hop Shing regulars, Lum and daughter and co-owner Mei Lum recall filling up boxes of steamed, fried, and baked treats for $10 at the coffee counter in the restaurant’s earlier days and carrying the feasts back to the shop for weekly family gatherings.

“We would crowd around the wooden dining room table in Wing on Wo’s back kitchen and huddle over the box of goodies for all of us to choose our favorites until there was nothing left,” Gary Lum says. When Hop Shing permanently shut down, it was a gutting moment for many who grew up in Chinatown, frequented the restaurant, and consider it an irreplaceable part of the neighborhood. Scores of former visitors shared remembrances of the spot online after community nonprofit Welcome to Chinatown posted on Instagram about the closure. “Our family’s go-to place for gatherings,” one former regular commented. “Now it exists only in memories.”

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

East Village

As a young grad student in 2005, I didn’t read a ton of food journalism, but I knew there were at least three fancy sushi spots. One, called Masa, was where one of my rich Austrian classmates used to eat $500 omakases. The other was Bar Masa, where the same loaded Austrian dude kept it casual with $85 snacks. The third was Jewel Bako, which I read about in New York Magazine, and where I sampled my first-ever sushi kaiseki for under $100. I remember silky toro tartare with creamy avocado, steamed enoki mushrooms that seemed to snap like edible rubber bands, and translucent cuts of fish over warm rice. Jack Lamb, the owner, even poured me a bit of umeboshi plum-infused dessert liquor for free, which was a nice thing to do for a student who was about to enter the world with $120,000 in debt. It was an expensive meal, but it was a joy to know there was a place for high-end Japanese fare at non-Masa prices. While many folks rightly talked about David Chang and his efforts to turn the East Village into a culinary destination in the early aughts, serving ambitious food at accessible-ish prices, Jack and his wife, Grace Lamb, were also vital, if sometimes overlooked, players in that same movement. All of their East Village restaurants — there was also Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bay, Jewel Bako Makimono, Ukiyo, and others — are now closed. Jewel Bako, for its part, shuttered in May, early on in the pandemic. But I still think fondly of that first omakase from 2004, which helped make a non-wealthy student feel as if there might be an occasional seat for him on the fancier side of the culinary world.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

Upper West Side

Representing the fare of indentured Chinese workers who arrived in Cuba in the 19th and early 20th century, La Caridad, located right on Broadway, was a favorite of Upper West Siders. They loved it for its mixed roster of Cuban and Chinese dishes on opposite sides of the menu, but also for its inexpensive prices. The place looked like a humble lunch counter, with an order counter right inside the front door, and tables crammed into a well-windowed space with fine views of bustling Broadway. Once seated, you could get a giant plate of food that might include Cuban ropa vieja, Chinese fried rice, plus an eggroll for $10 or so. La Caridad 78 was founded in 1968 by Ralph Lee, who was born in Cuba, and his descendants ran the restaurant till its tragic closure 52 years later. While Chinatown remains one of Havana’s primary tourist attractions, the number of Cuban-Chinese restaurants in New York City has dwindled from a high point three decades ago of about 50 to just a handful.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

East Village

When it opened four years ago this month on a First Avenue corner, Little Tong Noodle Shop was among a host of new restaurants popularizing mixian rice noodles from Yunnan. In its excellence and accessibility, it was also one of the places that made the East Village a principal destination for Chinese food. Chef Simone Tong was born in Sichuan, studied at the University of North Carolina and the Culinary Institute of America, and worked under science-focused chef Wylie Dufresne before spending a summer in Yunnan prior to opening Little Tong. Eater critic Ryan Sutton particularly admired the mala chicken noodles, with a balance of sour and spicy flavors, and the kick of Sichuan peppercorns. In addition to noodles, the menu explored the Yunnan province in a deeper and more thoughtful way, via dishes like steak tartare served with a flaky Southeast Asian roti. While Tong’s more ambitious Silver Apricot remains intermittently open, both the East Village and Midtown Little Tong locations shuttered just as the pandemic was ramping up, depriving both neighborhoods of fun and insightful places to eat.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Soho

Keith McNally’s Lucky Strike never garnered quite the same adoration as his megahits like Balthazar or Pastis. There were no Sex and the City tour buses making pit stops for photo ops or tourists vying for a corner booth, as at the restaurateur’s other French-American bistros. This is exactly the reason why New Yorkers have loved the Soho institution — not to be confused with the bowling alley — since it opened in 1989. Yes, the lighting was flattering, and the gently priced menu meant you could always order just one more plate of french fries with another cheap glass of red wine. In its 31 years of business, this neighborhood hangout was for the regulars even once the Hollywood celebrities stopped dropping in at all hours of the day. The fashion crowd considered it a favorite long after Grand Street could no longer be described as grungy. But it was the devoted staff in the front and back of the house that set Lucky Strike apart. Many of the employees had worked there for more than 20 years, according to McNally, and even when the spot didn’t make “any money,” he kept it open because, “I like them, and I like the staff… I am fond of all of them.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Manhattan Chinatown

The bakers would line tangerine-orange plastic trays with jiggly egg custard tarts, fluffy mini cakes, and bouncy sesame dessert balls each morning and throughout the day. But Lung Moon Bakery was never busier or more in demand than when the Mid-Autumn Festival rolled around. Longtime residents of Chinatown and Asian Americans all over the city would beeline to the tiny storefront for expertly made mooncakes to celebrate the annual tradition. Like many others, pastry chef Jansen Chan made it a point to make one more visit when the longstanding old-school bakery announced it would close permanently shortly after last year’s festival in October. Chan says he spoke to the owner during one of the bakery’s last day in business, and they struck a deal: Chan would buy the mooncake molds, used to turn out the popular delicacies filled with everything from white lotus seeds to salted duck eggs to red bean paste. The mooncakes and other desserts stood out here because of the 53-year-old bakery’s personal touches. Handwritten signs on Post-It notes would sometimes point customers to specials — lucky visitors might get an extra pastry thrown in. “You let us know that our foods really touched your hearts,” said a closing note back in October. The feeling was mutual.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Prospect Heights

To me, few restaurants have left as profound of a mark as MeMe’s did on the city’s fabric in the relatively short period of time that it was open between 2017 and 2020. Chefs and owners Libby Willis and Bill Clark met while working together at the Brooklyn bakery Ovenly and then translated that expertise in baked goods to create comfort fare with a touch of whimsy, seen in dishes like Texas-style migas served out of a bag of Fritos or the everything-bagel babka. But the restaurant also cultivated a space at the forefront of an emerging queer dining culture across the U.S. From the get-go, Willis and Clark put an emphasis on inclusive hospitality, instructing staffers to use gender-neutral pronouns and to refrain from second-guessing someone’s gender identity based on the name on their credit card. The restaurant was largely staffed by queer and trans people, and early on, the restaurant hosted a queer industry night to spotlight LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry. That inclusivity had a long-lasting impact on the community. When the restaurant announced its closure in November last year, more than 400 people lined up to get one of the last meals it would ever serve. Now, a small piece of the restaurant lives on through Bill Clark’s recipe newsletter, giving fans of the establishment all over the world a glimpse into the ethos of MeMe’s.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Lower East Side

Mission Chinese on the Lower East Side was a roller coaster of a restaurant. It was built on the foundation of a series of restaurants, including two named Mission Chinese (the original in San Francisco’s Mission District), and Mission Cantina, a laboratory of Mexican and Vietnamese food during its tenure. This some might say misbegotten upscale manifestation was the joint project of chain founder Danny Bowien and hired gun Angela Dimayuga, a pair who eventually fell into an unresolvable dispute that involved mistreatment of employees. But long before the alleged work conditions and scandals came to light, the food never ceased to amaze, including classics like kung pao pastrami and chicken wings with explosive chile, matched with more effete new recipes like prime rib with snow crab legs and a beggars duck, with caviar sauce, that arrived imprisoned in clay, requiring tableside hammer service. Eventually, the dispute led to a decline at the restaurant as Dimayuga departed and Bowien opened a newer branch in — where else? — Bushwick, which remains open. The East Broadway location made it to the end of September. During its final days, Bowien secretly cooked nearly everything himself in the subterranean kitchen, which throughout the restaurant’s life cycle had been the site of so much strife.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Soho

Obscurely located on Watts Street near the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, Mooncake was unique when Peter Lee opened it in 2003 (later, there were three other branches across the city). It was a pan-Asian restaurant — named after the popular Mid-Autumn Festival snack — like no other. The food was diner-like in sentiment, describing itself as “fun casual Asian comfort food.” The menu was light and vegetable-driven, emphasizing Chinese noodles and dumplings, Thai salads, and Vietnamese sandwiches, and not stinting on the fish sauce. In many respects, it served as an early prototype of today’s fast-casual Asian cafe, with no woks, no deep fryer, and modern notions about sourcing. It remained a Soho staple throughout its 17-year career, closing in October or thereabouts with no fanfare, and no reason given, a great example of the sort of small, feisty, privately owned cafe rapidly disappearing from the New York City scene.

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Chelsea

For more than a decade, it felt like David Chang could only open hit restaurants — until Nishi. At his Chelsea outpost of this Momofuku restaurant, gone were the pork buns, rich bowls of ramen, and fried chicken dinners served in tiny dining rooms in the East Village where his fans regularly lined up out the door. Nishi’s Korean-Italian menu never took off with New Yorkers, and the critics panned it, including our own Ryan Sutton, whose review ran with the headline “Momofuku Nishi Is Broken — Can David Chang Fix It?” Chang would go on to address the critiques, from a loud dining room to an unpopular no-tipping policy (this was in early 2016, before the movement had caught on), and he even tried adding an Impossible Burger to the menu. But it wasn’t until he temporarily closed Nishi for renovations and reopened in 2017 with a focus on just Italian food that I became a fan. I could live without another menu of Chang’s greatest hits or long waits for a weeknight dinner. From the new banquettes to the pasta-centric menu, Nishi 2.0 felt more adult, without the prices of Chang’s tasting-menu-driven Momofuku Ko. It became a go-to restaurant in an area with few options, though the chef has since faced criticism over allegations about the abusive workplace culture at some of his restaurants. I had my typical order: an endive salad showered with bagna cauda (rich anchovy and garlic dip) and walnuts to start, before diving into a 1.5-pound lobster fra diavolo that was more than enough to share with another friend or two. These dishes felt like nods to both Chang’s creativity and red-sauce classics — two things many New Yorkers can get behind.

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Greenwich Village

Nix’s house-made take on naan, lightly seasoned with za’atar, was a popular starter at chef John Fraser’s bustling ode to vegetables located a few blocks from Washington Square Park. But while diners were busy ordering plate after plate of the fragrant bread, behind the scenes, the dish was gaining a different kind of reputation, Fraser recalls with a chuckle. Many of the cooks who passed through Nix’s kitchen underwent an initiation, ominously dubbed “the hair loss,” while learning how to use the tandoor ovens where the bread was baked. People routinely singed off eyebrows and arm hair during their first days working over the tandoor’s open mouth — starting with Fraser himself. “I was the first,” he says.

With or without eyebrow hair, Fraser attracted a ton of buzz to Nix and its meatless menu from the moment it opened its doors, in February 2016. The early attention and praise culminated in a Michelin star in 2017, marking the first time that the organization had bestowed a star on a vegetarian restaurant in NYC. “It was a massive surprise,” Fraser says. “The recognition was a ‘holy cow’ kind of moment.” The chef and his team kept the star up until Nix shut its doors permanently in June 2020.

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Soho

Bar-world legend Audrey Saunders couldn’t be sure before Pegu Club opened its doors in 2005 that it would succeed in pioneering the craft cocktail scene in the U.S., but that was certainly the plan. She had plotted for years to shake up the industry’s cocktail status quo, which was marked in the early 2000s by endless amounts of mediocre vodka and bad liqueur funneled into Cosmopolitans and “all sorts of fruity ‘-tinis’ served in bucket-sized, V-shaped glasses,” she recalls.

Saunders put herself under intense scrutiny time and time again to test and sharpen her standards for Pegu Club. The bar held two “friends and family” nights, where restaurant owners invite trusted industry friends to sit through service and offer feedback on the menu, before it officially opened. At Pegu Club’s first friends and family night, Saunders invited the entire executive team from the luxury Carlyle Hotel, where she had led operations at Bemelmans Bar. On the second night, Pegu Club’s team served cocktail-world luminaries, including her former boss Dale DeGroff, Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske, Dave Wondrich, and Gary “Gaz” Regan. For the bar’s opening night, she stocked only four bottles of vodka and 27 bottles of gin (a complete departure from the 30 to 40 bottles of vodka that bars typically had on hand), keeping the former stowed away to force her bartenders to get more comfortable with using the latter.

Behind the bar, Saunders eyed each component of the traditional cocktails that she was considering for Pegu’s menu and asked herself, ‘How can I do this better?’ Lemon and lime juice was squeezed fresh for service. Distributors were cajoled to purchase finer liquors not readily available in the U.S. She sought higher-quality ice, better glassware, and cherries to garnish that actually tasted good. The imprint of her influence is everywhere now — Please Don’t Tell, Death & Company, Attaboy, and Bar Goto were all founded by people who worked behind her bar — and cocktail standards across the country have been elevated in the wake of Pegu Club.

“In the end, the revolution was a success, and cocktails as we know them have arrived and stayed put,” Saunders says. “Now you can go to Kansas City and get a great cocktail, because of the way this caught on and branched out. I think we accomplished that, and it feels good.”

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

East Village

Not all Italian restaurants are created equal — especially in New York City, where there’s a place for the best 100-layer lasagna, or the fluffiest tiramisu, or a celebrity-filled wall with Sopranos headshots. In 2021 (and in the Before Times), nobody would blink twice if a red-sauce establishment in Little Italy or a trendy downtown Roman spot was promoting that all its pastas were handmade. But when Sara Jenkins opened Porsena in 2010, her devotion to the craft of rolling out chitarra or tagliatelle wasn’t a flashy gimmick or marketing ploy. Her menu was all about simple Italian food, a place where New Yorkers would want to be regulars. When one of Porsena’s longtime customers died, Jenkins and her employees threw a memorial tribute of pasta specials. There were weekly movie nights next door at Porsena Extra Bar. The restaurant also organized fundraisers to help during natural disasters and supported local artists by displaying their works throughout the space. By the time the pandemic hit, Porsena and its landlord couldn’t hammer out a rent agreement, an all-too-common tale for restaurants in the past year. “It’s maybe not for everybody, but you want to control it, you have so many ideas,” Jenkins shared with Eater about owning a restaurant. “It’s an expression of yourself.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Astoria

The Captain Crunch chicken sandwiches, peanut-butter-and-jelly burgers, and atomic fireballs — crispy, fried spheres of mac and cheese injected with Sriracha — were just the tip of the iceberg at Queens Comfort, a freewheeling restaurant that was as much about the boisterous atmosphere as it was about the deep-fried comfort food.

Front-of-house manager and weekend brunch host James Avatar, a longtime showman and music producer, was largely responsible for creating the restaurant’s spirited, “party in the morning” vibe, as he puts it. It started with the 9 a.m. morning calls, a ritual where Avatar would stand outside the restaurant before each weekend brunch service and shout “Goooood morning, Astoria!” to ring in the day. He thought it might garner the restaurant a noise complaint or two; instead, neighbors thanked him for acting as their weekend alarm clock, Avatar says.

The 9-year-old Astoria staple often attracted hour-long waits on the weekend, with lines that wrapped around the block. Avatar would entertain waiting diners with a steady stream of jokes — mild or spicy, depending on the customer’s preference — and always had a question of the day prepared. Each group’s answers became the name by which they were called when a table opened up. Avatar made a poster out of one of his favorites: “Can you foodie a movie?” Table names that day ranged from “You’ve Got Kale” to “Silence of the Lamb Chops” and “Passion of the Crust.”

Inside the restaurant, diners sat among arcade games and disco balls, reading off menus with crossword puzzles and mazes printed on the back. The entertainment didn’t stop there: Avatar, who later became the restaurant’s events coordinator, invited hip-hop artists and DJs, including industry legend Rob Swift, to come and perform at the restaurant for afternoon shows dubbed the 2 o’clock (or 3 o’clock) flow. “We had people come from Israel and Japan and Australia because Rob was world-renowned,” Avatar says. “People were eating chicken and waffles while he was scratching.”

In the next year or two, Avatar plans to put together a photo book chronicling the weekend adventures at the restaurant to “show how happy people were at Queens Comfort before the pandemic hit,” he says. “It was a lively, vibrant atmosphere all the time.”

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Chelsea

For years, customers have slipped into the booths at the Rail Line Diner in Chelsea to order giant cups of coffee and generous spreads of pancakes, eggs, soups, sandwiches, and salads from the restaurant’s encyclopedic menu. The diner has served a crucial role in Chelsea over the years, from a neighborhood joint for early morning pick-me-ups to a welcoming pitstop for nearby High Line tourists. Owner Teddy Nictas took over the restaurant, then known as Moonstruck Diner, in 1987, according to AMNY. By 2013, the Golden Girls-esque interior aesthetic wasn’t working anymore, he told AMNY, and it was time for a change. The diner was revamped as the Rail Line Diner that year, and kept chugging until the citywide shutdown last spring. It’s one of many in Manhattan that could not sustain operations amid the pandemic. An alarming amount of these neighborhood touchstones, which rely on low prices and high volume to get by, are still struggling to survive.

— Erika Adams, Eater NY reporter

Nolita

Visit any acclaimed ramen-ya in New York — or in the U.S., for that matter — and chances are you’ll be slurping on noodles sourced from Sun Noodles. But the revered purveyor’s closet-sized Ramen Lab could only be found in Nolita, sandwiched between Little Italy and Soho. The company’s concept resonated in a city obsessed with ramen: Bring in top ramen chefs from around the world for limited runs selling bowls of ramen of all types, from brothless mazeman to unctuous tonkotsu to bowls topped with lobster and fish roe. When Sandy Han and her chef husband Jimin Kim had the opportunity to cook for New Yorkers at Ramen Lab in February 2020, they knew they wanted to join the club for the “ramen world’s best chefs” even though their Los Angeles restaurant Saikai Ramen Bar had only been open for a few months. The couple said they believed New York was on the forefront of the ramen scene in America, and they decided to take a chance. “It feels like there’s ramen on every block in Manhattan,” said Sandy Han. The duo weren’t sure how New Yorkers would react to their modern riffs on ramen — some recipes incorporate their Korean heritage and an emphasis on seasonal produce — but they quickly learned that customers were hungry for any and all types of recipes. While Han and Kim’s plans to open their own NYC ramen-ya are on hold, they haven’t given up hope. “The reason we want to go back is because of New Yorkers,” says Han. “They’re really into ramen.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Greenwich Village

Founded in 1967, at a time when the Village was brimming with Spanish restaurants, some dating back to the Spanish Revolution, Spain was the smallest and most insignificant of the lot, and charming as a result. The semi-subterranean dining room was filled with sculptures in niches and oil paintings on its walls — some Daliesque, some more like Valezquez — all covered with a patina of age. The patrons were often septuagenerian Spanish expats who gravitated to the paella Valenciana and gambas al ajilllo, knowing they weren’t exactly authentic (the paella, for example, was heaped with Maine lobster, with rice pristine compared to its oiler Spanish counterpart), but enjoying them anyway. There was always a bohemian contingent in the crowd, and many decades ago, this was considered a romantic place for a date. But starting early in the last decade, scenesters started appearing in the front bar room, having discovered the free tapas that had always been served there, and staying because the drinks were cheap and strong, a phenomenon chronicled by the New York Times. That was how things stood when COVID hit — a super-crowded bar room and a half-empty dining room. Now the place looks like an abandoned ship, with a glass case filled with reviews from the 1980s still in front. Stop by for a read, why don’t you?

— Robert Sietsema, Eater NY senior critic

Hudson Yards

When Thomas Keller returned to New York in 2004 with Per Se, an ornate tasting-menu palace at the Time Warner Center, the chef sat near the center of the culinary universe. William Grimes of the New York Times wrote about the “almost mythic” status of the French Laundry, Keller’s Yountville, California, flagship, while Michael Bauer, late of the San Francisco Chronicle, likened the chef to a Hollywood celebrity or a rock star. In the years that followed, journalists, including this one, would document how Per Se was instrumental in reshaping how long New Yorkers would sit for a single meal and how much they’d pay for a top-tier culinary experience.

When Keller opened TAK Room, a luxe steakhouse in Hudson Yards, in 2019, the chef, bruised by a few tough reviews of Per Se, appeared to be sailing in rougher waters. The restaurant’s $25 billion home was the target of criticism for receiving over $1.2 billion in funding designed for poverty-stricken areas. I called out the complex for its largely white, male-led restaurants before it even opened. Times critic Pete Wells wrote that TAK Room glorified “the strait-laced, spice-free food that rich white Americans used to feed on when nobody was shaming them into being adventurous.” Ultimately, the importance of the restaurant wasn’t what it served (expensive meat) or whether it was any good at what it served (debatable). The importance of TAK Room was that it signaled an inflection point in Thomas Keller’s cultural capital — and in the harder-nosed way food writers were looking at high-profile operators and the role their restaurants played in urban life. A chef whom the media regularly portrayed as an American culinary godfather now felt more like an oligarch, someone who called out the “haters and cynics,” on social media, who announced a plan to reopen indoor dining at the French Laundry with a lavish $850 menu, and who expressed warm remembrances on Twitter of the late Sheldon Adelson, one of ex-President Donald Trump’s biggest donors. TAK Room announced its closure in August, and Keller deleted his Twitter account in January.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

West Village

Sometimes I dream about a Wes Andersonian, parallel-universe New York where the late Takashi Inoue’s vision of beef is the one that prevails. Instead of the fat-cat steakhouses that devastate wallets, the environment, and digestive systems with brobdingnagian porterhouses and “let’s check your credit history” Japanese wagyu, there are, in my fantasy, more bastions of beef like Takashi, places where folks can sit down to enjoy a more sustainable, affordable, nose-to-tail bovine experience. I still think about my whimsical meals at this West Village Yakiniku grill spot, which Inoue ran with his partner Saheem Ali. Waiters would ferry over bright red slabs of raw rib-eye dotted with lobes of orange sea urchin and brightened with verdant leaves of shiso. Diners would grill nearly every part of a high-quality, sustainably raised cow, sourced from Dickson’s Farmstand or elsewhere. There were Achilles tendons (Silvia Killingsworth of the New Yorker once compared the texture to bubble wrap), non-Achilles tendon, beef belly, assorted digestive organs (my favorite was the second stomach), aorta, and every part of a cow’s exceedingly beefy tongue. These are the meats I’ll miss the most when we return, unmasked, to steakhouses and other grill spots, when the wait captains start to get really excited about serving us yet another sleepy 50-ounce rib-eye for $150. Takashi, which closed during the heart of the pandemic in May, will remain my carnivorous fanfiction for the New York City beef experience.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

Hell’s Kitchen

When one thinks of New York’s great Thai restaurants, whether extant or long gone, Taladwat deserves mention in the same breath as Sripraphai, Uncle Boons, Ugly Baby, Larb Ubol, Pure Thai Cookhouse, Ayada, and others. The shame, of course, is that this affordable little Hell’s Kitchen spot didn’t live long enough to develop the acclaim or citywide following it merited. Chef David Banks — the force behind the uncompromising Pure Thai — and Brian Ghaw opened the space in 2018, then closed it last summer after less than two years of service. Ghaw cited a falloff in business after the shuttering of Broadway theaters as a chief factor in shuttering. I suppose I’d still be sad if Taladwat folded after a decade of service, with tens of thousands having sampled the family-style tastings, from soy-braised pork belly that seemed to jiggle like Jell-O, to flaky crab meat sitting atop a pool of turmeric-laced coconut milk, but it pains me even more knowing that the end came so quickly. It hurts me that so many will have to vicariously understand the precision of Ghaw’s grilled chile squid — fishy funk, a bit of sugar, a qq snap — by accidentally coming across someone else’s write-up, rather than having the firsthand memory of that dish haunting them. I’m worried that many folks won’t know such a wonderful and ambitious restaurant ever existed in the first place.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

Ukrainian Village

It’s difficult to say what makes an underage bar: Is it the dim lighting, which masks prepubescent facial hair and the laminated corners of fake IDs? Or is it the menu, whose neon-colored cocktails almost look like Gatorade? Thailand Cafe had both of these things, but also something more: It was a place where New Yorkers in their teens and early 20s could embody adulthood in a city that had already expected it of them for years. The restaurant was one of a fleeting number of Manhattan bars where driver’s licenses are rarely asked for and, when they are, a sibling’s expired Connecticut ID could cover the whole table. Seated in Thailand Cafe’s squat dining room, I watched friends taste their first Long Island iced Thai teas, balk at the cost of the restaurant’s lychee mojitos — $6 each, from opening until 8 p.m. — and dare one another to order the Voldemort of mixed drinks: sex on the beach.

On each visit, I hoped for the table in the restaurant’s back corner, right under a television set and partially out of the bartender’s line of sight. More often, though, we were put on display, ordering Muay Thais at obnoxious decibels from one of the basically communal tables in the middle of its dining room. The restaurant was almost always packed, not because of its leniency around carding, but for its affordable menu of Thai street dishes, which my group chat reminded me was quite good. When the restaurant closed last year, it was indicative of the hundreds of small-business closures yet to come. There was no press release or social media post announcing its end — rather, Thailand Cafe went into temporary hibernation and never woke up. The restaurant shut its doors following the state-mandated shutdown of food businesses last March, and by August, a “retail for lease” sign had appeared in its front window.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Hell’s Kitchen

In June 2019, bartenders at New York City’s largest gay club, Therapy, couldn’t pour the vodka sodas fast enough as people celebrated World Pride. The packed bilevel space with a dramatic staircase in the middle of the room pulsated with club hits from everyone from Diana Ross to Dua Lipa as part of celebrations honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Crowds — dancing, singing, and embracing queerness — poured out into the streets. Fast-forward to a pandemic-stricken city less than a year later, and the groundbreaking Hell’s Kitchen bar was dark. But long before the coronavirus descended on NYC, gay bars were already disappearing. Still, in an age of apps and social media, the LGBTQ community found a space where they rooted on their favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, raised money for charities serving their communities, and even attended live-model drawing sessions. Therapy had been the neighborhood bar not only for the enclave of residents in the so-called gayborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, but for the entire city. “Every one of you who has ever worked here, performed here, partied here… We love you,” co-owner Tom Johnson said last year when they closed. “And though we cannot be together today, always know you are Therapy’s family.”

— Bao Ong, Eater NY editor

Chelsea

About halfway through my review dinner at Toro in 2013, the Manhattan spinoff of Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s Boston tapas spot, it started to get a little loud near my table. I can’t remember what I was eating; perhaps it was a dish of blowfish tails slathered in North African spices or a plate of buttery sea cucumbers, an ingredient rarely seen in New York Iberian cooking. But what I do remember was the noise, the shouting. I recall turning around and seeing this tall, muscular, animated guy telling a story like he was about to do a Jäger bomb at Professor Thom’s in the East Village. That larger-than-life gentleman was Rob Gronkowski, the 6-foot-6-inch Patriots tight end who would go on to win three Super Bowl rings. And really, to me, that night encapsulated the energy and awesomeness of the whole place. In the Meatpacking district, a slice of town known for its ultra-fancy restaurants, its sprawling and reductive Asian fusion spots, and its dumb all-day brunch hangouts, here was this small stadium of a space that managed to blend traditional tapas with more cutting-edge and creative dishes — like bocadillos with white misco and uni. But despite that, Toro, with its 120 seats and shouty, dimly lit environs, always managed to feel like a party; it was an ambitious restaurant imbued with the bacchanalian terroir of the Meatpacking district. And thanks to my Gronk encounter, it had just a whisper of Boston flair too. It closed last May. It was the city’s best big-box restaurant.

— Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic

Nolita

When Thai restaurant Uncle Boons opened in April 2013, it didn’t receive quite the fanfare or buzz one might expect for a new outing led by two Per Se alums. However, Ann Redding and Matt Danzer’s first solo venture garnered a solid following among Nolita residents, and critical acclaim followed shortly thereafter, with many comparing it to chef Andy Ricker’s seminal Portland Thai restaurant Pok Pok. But Redding and Danzer were going in a direction of their own. The two weren’t short on experience. Redding, who was born in Udon, Thailand, and grew up working in her mother’s Thai restaurant, had cooked at Amuse, Jewel Bako, and La Esquina before landing at Per Se. Meanwhile, Danzer was raised in Long Island’s North Fork before working at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in California. But instead of the formalities and hyper-intensity of past restaurant experiences, they wanted this endeavor to be fun for them and their customers. The couple decided they would focus on highlighting traditional Thai food that the couple had encountered and enjoyed over several trips to Thailand prior to opening the restaurant. In a 2015 review, Eater critic Ryan Sutton commended the restaurant for continually serving “affordable and electrically charged Thai fare.” Later that same year, it received its very first Michelin star, a distinction it maintained until its closure in August 2020. The restaurant’s prolonged success was continually notable considering the fact that Redding and Danzer eschewed some of the more traditional outlets of recognition, choosing to largely avoid social media and the press. Dishes like creamy green curry snails, rich khao soi, mildly spicy short rib massaman, and crunchy coconut sundaes did all the talking and brought in throngs of visitors over the years — it was nearly impossible to walk by Uncle Boons and not see it packed, even on a weeknight. Groups of people lingered in the cozy, dimly lit dining room long after their meals were over, enjoying the welcoming vibe. Uncle Boons’ success also propelled Redding and Danzer to establish themselves among the top restaurateurs in NYC, going on to open the short-lived diner Mr. Donahue, takeout operation Uncle Boons Sister, and most recently Thai Diner, where the memory of Uncle Boons lives on.

— Tanay Warerkar, Eater NY reporter

Pelham Bay

If there was a reason to host a party, Vivienne’s hosted one. Owner Vivienne Hansen, now 72, opened the Pelham Bay watering hole in August 1999 after working as a bartender at various venues in the neighborhood. She had never run a business before, but she apparently knew how to host a party. Were Vivienne’s located in Bushwick, the bar, with its indoor market lights and pandemic-mandated food menu of pretzels and hot dogs, might have been labeled a dive. But for the Bronx, it was also a place for the community. In its 21-year run in Pelham Bay, the neighborhood watering hole served as a stage for local musicians, a venue for sweet 16s, a dance floor for Valentine’s Day afterparties, and a proving ground for amateur karaoke performers. “Tell your friends to tell their friends to tell their friends,” the bar’s Facebook page often read. The story of its closure is one shared by countless restaurants and bars across the city, whose rent payments have stayed the same despite their revenues being decimated. Yet for Vivienne’s, trouble started last spring ahead of the pandemic, when Hansen’s landlord gave her a choice, which hardly felt like one: Pay double her rent going forward or be out of the building by June, according to the Bronx Times. A few weeks after that proposal, the coronavirus pandemic flipped the hospitality industry on its head, forcing Vivienne’s to temporarily shutter, but the landlord’s demands stayed the same. Following a few slow summer months of outdoor dining, Hansen’s landlord informed her she had to be out of the building by the end of October. The restaurant officially closed on October 31, 2020.

— Luke Fortney, Eater NY associate reporter

Editorial leads: Bao Ong, Jesse Sparks
Editor: Missy Frederick
Writers: Bao Ong, Erika Adams, Luke Fortney, Robert Sietsema, Ryan Sutton,
Tanay Warerkar
Art director: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Junior designer: Tiffany Brice
Illustrations: Heidi Berton
Copy editor: Emma Alpern
Engagement editors: James Park, Milly McGuinness
Special thanks to Esral Erol, Matt Buchanan, Terri Ciccone

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