Restaurant Week New York: What You Need to Know

Jan 8, 2019

New York Restaurant Week wasn’t intended, at its inception, to be an institution. Half goodwill gesture and half marketing ploy, it was designed to lure the thousands of delegates and media pros in town for the 1992 Democratic National Convention out of their hotels and conventional halls and into the city’s top restaurants. Who, after all, could resist a three-course meal for the low (and timely) price of $19.92?

No one, it turned out—including locals. Reservation lines rang off the hook. Tables filled. Diners rejoiced, including one who boldly suggested to The New York Times that this should become an annual thing. Restaurateurs agreed, and the supposed one-off became the country’s first recurring restaurant week. Since then, the city’s appetite has only grown: Nearly 400 restaurants are on board for this year’s event, which runs from Jan. 21 to Feb. 8. You’ll pay $26 for a two-course lunch and $42 for three-course dinner at some of the most sought-after seats in town.

Case in point: Nishi, the unorthodox Italian restaurant from pioneering chef David Chang—star of Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious”—is offering a lunch of Meyer-lemon-accented scallop in green chilis, ultra-tender smoked brisket, and frozen vanilla mousse, among other options.

Fellow celeb-chef Marcus Samuelsson—star of PBS’s “No Passport Required”—has loaded the Monday-Friday lunch menu at his soul food hotspot with classics. Head to Red Rooster Harlem to get chopped Harlem meatballs, hot honey yardbird with garlic mash, and Poppa Eddie’s shrimp & grits.

And to see why chef Michael White is a Michelin and James Beard favorite, head to Ai Fiori at the Langham Place Hotel. Both the two- and three-course Restaurant Week lunches include some classic chef White staples, such as house-made duck pate with toasted bread, black truffle-laced risotto—and fresh tagliatelle pasta with tomato sauce and fennel sausage.

Then there’s super-chef Daniel Bolud, who presides over a whole edible empire. He’s got three participating restaurants. At the classic French Café Boulud, lunch options include the much-loved house beef Bourguignon. At the more rustic and casual Bar Boulud, start with the pate du jour, move on to the loup de mer, and finish with the hazelnut-accented gateau marjolaine. At Boulud Sud, the chef’s culinary love letter to North Africa, go for the lemon-saffron linguini or a harissa grilled lamb burger.

Plenty of rising stars participate in Restaurant Week, too, of course. At the new pan-African Henry in the Life Hotel—once the editorial offices of iconic Life Magazine—critical favorite Joseph “JJ” Johnson serves up lunch and brunch menus that include an oxtail eggroll with peanut dipping sauce, salmon noodles in an African nectar broth, and brown paper bag fried chicken, among others.

Or head to Babu Ji, one of the most inventive Indian spots to open in New York, and line up for the cult favorite Colonel Tso’s cauliflower—deep-fried florets in a subtly sweet/not-so-subtly spicy sauce—that turns up for both lunch and dinner during Restaurant Week. The menu also includes tender lamb chops, tandoori chicken, coconut-milk-based southern yellow dhal, and—because the owners are Indian-Australian—avocado toast. Finish things off with some Masala chai ice cream.

For a sensory trip to Mexico in the middle of a New York winter, stop into taco wizard Alex Stupak’s newest outpost, Empellon Midtown, for the three-course dinner. Start with sticky rice tamal and red chile duck or king salmon with trout roe salsa before moving on to pastrami, falafel, or octopus tacos (yes, eight-armed-beast haters, there are other options), then finish with banana ice cream.

Hungry yet? Us too. So do like we are and make reservations now. They tend to go fast—especially if you’re trying for dinner at the city’s top spots. But plenty of those same places offer Restaurant Week lunch menus as well, and midday bookings tend to be less competitive.

Something else to know: Plenty of spots offer drink pairings with their Restaurant Week menus at an extra—but still reasonable—charge: generally $15–$25.

And if there’s no way you can get to all your top picks between Jan. 21 and Feb. 8, fear not: Restaurant Week will be back again for two weeks this summer:  

More Great Deals & Tips