Visiting the Big Apple and wondering about the most iconic restaurants in New York City restaurants you can’t afford to miss? I was in your shoes once too, before moving to NYC six years ago. I can attest that your search is worthwhile, because no visit to the Big Apple is complete without a proper (and unforgettable) meal.
As you know, there’s no shortage of iconic restaurants in New York City. Heck, it’s estimated that there’s at least 24,000 of them in the city! You could live here your entire life and still not have time to try them all.
However, not all restaurants are created equal and narrowing down the list of the most iconic restaurants in NYC is no easy task, I assure you. For starters, there’s a plethora of criteria to consider — things like the history of the place, overall ambience and, most importantly, the food.
Well, I know that vacation days are precious (and limited) and I don’t want you wasting yours at mediocre places. As such, I decided to embark on a search for truly iconic restaurants in New York City that are guaranteed to impress.
Without further ado, allow me to share the 10 most iconic New York City restaurants, based on firsthand experience. Yep, you read that right, I visited all of these places firsthand and have the waistline to prove it. 😉
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
The unforgettable steaks at Peter Luger makes them one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City. Dating back to 1887, this cash-only establishment takes great pride in focusing on perfectly cooked dry-aged steaks and keeps frills to a minimum (luckily for us).
We celebrated my husband’s 30th birthday at this iconic NYC restaurant and landed on the porterhouse for two. The steak came out sizzling hot (generously buttered, of course) and within one bite we found ourselves speechless. The filet minion portion of the cut had a velvety smooth texture that is hard to put into words and get out of your head.
We opted for the creamed spinach side dish and found ourselves impressed, but the bacon at the neighboring table looked too tempting to pass up on our next visit to this iconic new York City restaurant.
Address: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Local’s Tip: If you’re visiting during the lunch hour make sure to order the burger (often considered one of the best burgers in New York City).
Omitting Katz Deli from a list of the most iconic restaurants in New York City is an inexcusable offense. This cafeteria-style deli has been serving New Yorkers since 1888 and doesn’t show signs of slowing anytime soon.
The interior walls are adorned with photos of celebrities that can’t resist the mile high thick-cut pastrami sandwiched between rye. The exterior walls are adorned with long lines of locals and tourists, eager to get their hands on the tantalizing sandwiches at one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City.
The biggest challenge while visiting Katz Deli (apart from the long lines and crowds) is knowing how to navigate the ordering system, but that’s where I come in.
How to order a (life-changing) pastrami sandwich at Katz Deli
You will be handed a ticket upon entering this iconic NYC restaurant, put it in your pocket and head to the ordering line. One of the folks behind the bar will call you over and ask you what you’d like. Tell them your order and hand them your ticket (they’ll write down what you ordered).
When your masterpiece of a sandwich is completed you’ll have two options: find a table OR order drinks/sides. If you’d like to order drinks and sides (like fries) head to the left-most counter and place your order (they’ll also ask for your ticket).
After finishing your meal you will need to pay (using the ticket) at the left-most counter with the large “cashier” sign. When your bill is settled you can make your way out of the iconic NYC restaurant by handing your paid ticket over to the person working the front.
Address: 205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
Opened in 1972, J.G. Melon is one of the youngest iconic New York City restaurants on this list, but it deserves a mention. The juicy burgers churning out of this saloon-style restaurant are worth trekking across town for (trust me, I do it weekly).
You can find this joint using your nose alone. The tantalizing smells come from the half-open kitchen taking center stage in the restaurant, making it clear what the priorities are. Once seated, you’ll quickly notice the lack of open tables and absurd watermelon-inspired decorations spanning the walls.
Place your order for a mouthwatering burger (side of fries is non-negotiable) and take in the quirky decor while you wait. My husband and I enjoy J.G. Melon so much we’ve made it a Sunday tradition to visit the iconic NYC restaurant (popping over after we visit the Met).
I wake up with burger cravings every Sunday, regardless of how many times we’ve visited. The burgers are so damn good, it’s impossible to lose enthusiasm! As such, J.G. Melon earns its spot on any list mentioning the most iconic restaurants in New York City.
Take note: J.G. Melon is cash-only establishment frequented by prominent New Yorkers, like former mayor Michael Bloomberg who calls these the best hamburgers in the world. But apparently he’s not the only one, Gigi Hadid and Bobby Flay have also shared similar sentiments.
Address: 1291 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10021
Dating back to 1937, Minetta Tavern has served the likes of many famous names — Ernest Hemingway and E.E. Cummings, to name a few. But we all know that history alone doesn’t qualify it as one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City. Far from it, we all know that resting on laurels is the beginning of the end.
But Minetta Tavern adapts with the times. The restaurant was acquired in 2009 by the mastermind behind Balthazar, Keith McNally. Incapable of accepting anything but excellence, he took traditional American dishes churned out of the kitchen to the next level.
The star of the show is the heart-stopping Minetta burger, often considered one of the best burgers in New York City.
As for ambience, Minetta Tavern is one of those places in New York that feels as old-school and charming as it gets. Leather booths, cozy wood panels and waiters in waistcoats that roll up their sleeves make up one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City.
You’ll need to make reservations, as walk-ins are limited. Once booked, finding this iconic New York City restaurant shouldn’t be too hard. Head to the West Village and look for the legendary neon sign. If you’re bold enough to put a flashy neon sign in front of your spot, you better be damn good. Luckily for us, Minetta Tavern lives up to the hype.
Address: 113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012
Minetta Tavern is also listed in our post of 22 Exciting Things to Do in New York City’s Charming Greenwich Village!
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Oysters have played a pivotal part in the Big Apple’s history. Heck, it’s estimated that roughly half of the world’s oyster population was found in New York Harbor.
This abundance served to the benefit of immigrants in search of a better life. Those in search of housing and jobs had access to an affordable supply of food. I guess at that moment in time you could have considered the Hudson River one of the most iconic New York City restaurants as well.
So it’s inevitable that the Grand Central Oyster Bar became an icon and managed to withstand the test of time. Occupying the subterranean space in Grand Central Station for more than 109 years, this is the most iconic restaurant in New York City for those in search of shucked oysters.
The award-winning room, with its vaulted, tiled ceilings makes for one of the best seats for slurping more than a dozen kinds of oysters. The selection of seafood is impressive, there’s more than 25 types of fish and 30 types of oysters on the menu!
Between the rich history, impeccable seafood and sophisticated ambiance, you’re bound to have a memorable time at this iconic NYC restaurant.
Address: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017
Some people make the mistake of assuming Lombardi’s Pizza is exclusively reserved for tourists, and what a pity that is (for them, not you). This iconic New York City restaurant boasts an incredible achievement — it’s officially the first pizzeria in America.
In fact, Lombardi’s is credited with developing New York Style pizza. Reason alone call it one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City, right?
If that’s not enough to entice you, the pizza is some of the best in New York City. The crust is perfectly charred in a coal oven and the toppings complement the chewy dough while letting all the flavors shine.
I suggest ordering the original marinara, pepperoni or clam pie.
Further Reading: Lombardi’s is also featured on 15 EPIC Pizza Joints in New York City You Can’t Afford to Miss
Address: 32 Spring St, New York, NY 10012
Russ & Daughters
The bagels at Russ & Daughters are exceptional, as you would expect, but the smoked fish is where they shine. That’s why I strongly recommend the lox bagel here (it’d be a shame to pass it up, seriously). It’s arguably one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City!
Offering some of the best bagels and lox in New York City for more than 100 years, Russ & Daughters is a beloved staple. They have an impressive selection of smoked fish, cream cheese and appetizers. What’s more, they’re one of the few bagel spots that offers cavier, which my husband always orders.
This particular delicatessen stands a mile above the rest and is worth going out of the way for. Russ & Daughters has expanded over the years but I suggest visiting the original store on the Lower East Side to experience one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City.
Address: 179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
What do Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Babe Ruth have in common? They’ve all enjoyed a meal at one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City — Keen’s Steakhouse.
Contrary to what the name suggests, Keen’s Steakhouse is best known for mutton chops, of all things. The servings are generous, with each chop clocking in at a 1.5 pounds. Cooked to perfection, the stuff practically melts on contact.
Within a bite, you may not even be surprised to learn that Keen’s serves more than 400 chops a week.
Another Reason Keen’s is among the most iconic restaurants in New York City is the charming decor. There’s more than 90,000 smoking pipes adorning the ceilings and walls. The reason? Well, that’s equally fascinating.
Similar to a coat check, patrons used to check their pipes before sitting down for a meal. Abandoned pipes found a permanent home on the walls of this iconic restaurant in NYC. The most notable names you’ll recognize include John F. Kennedy Jr., Buffalo Bill and Michael Jackson.
Address: 72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018
Gramery Tavern is one of the most decorated and iconic restaurants in New York City that warrants a visit for the tasting menu, if your budget allows.
There is both a tavern and a formal dining room that serve meals prepared from a wood fired grill in the kitchen. They also each offer their own exclusive menu.
The tavern is traditional American dining. You’ll find savory starters, satisfying entrees and innovative takes on classic desserts. In fact they have a caramelized cheesecake that will singlehandedly make you come back on more than one occasion.
Every iconic New York City restaurant has a signature dish and for Gramercy Tavern that’s their burger. A fresh patty combines with smoked onion aioli, bacon and cheese to create a burger that will reappear in your dreams. Pair that with the duck fat potato chips and it’s not hard to see why this is a beloved burger with a cult following.
The dining room has a seasonal menu that rotates based off the available produce from local markets. There’s a flat per person rate in the dining room regardless of which dish you order.
Regardless of which dining experience you choose, this is one the most iconic restaurants in New York City and you won’t want to miss it!
Address: 42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003
Caffe Dante dates back to 1915. It served as a staple for the community before slowly fading into oblivion before two Australians decided to breathe new life into the iconic NYC restaurant 2015. The result was striking, Dante was named the best bar in the worldin 2019 (4 years after re-opening!) and appeared on the list again in 2020.
And I dare ask, what better way to cap off a romantic day in the New York City than by getting a drink at one of the most iconic restaurants in New York City?
The menu is well curated with small fare but the drinks is where this popular NYC bar truly shines. The hardest part about this iconic experience is getting reservations because this is one of the busiest spots in the city.
After visiting Dante on several occasions, I can confirm that their drinks are some of the best (and strongest) I’ve had in the city. The dirty martini is particularly memorable but my partner is partial to the negroni.
Dante boasts two iconic restaurants in New York City — Dante West Village and Caffe Dante, the two bars are located a few blocks apart. I haven’t had luck getting into Caffe Dante without a reservation, so I suggest booking in advance. Try to book Friday evening during the spring and summer because they usually have a pleasant live jazz band.
Locations: 551 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 & 79-81 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012
Happy Hour: Both Dante locations have generous happy hour between 3pm and 5pm. Dante West Village offers martinis for $10 and Caffe Dante offers negronis for $10. The price/quality ratio can’t be beat!
The 10 Most Iconic restaurants in New York City (Post Summary)
- Peter Luger
- Katz Delicatessen
- J.G. Melon
- Minetta Tavern
- Grand Central Oyster Bar
- Lombardi’s Pizza
- Russ & Daughters
- Keen’s Steakhouse
- Gramercy Tavern
- Caffe Dante
Map of the 10 most iconic restaurants in New York City
And there you have it folks! Our list of the 10 most iconic restaurants in New York City! I hope you found this useful!
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.