13 Unique Restaurants in New York City: Coolest Places to Eat (2024)

by Jen
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New York City is packed with amazing eats and cool spots. From cozy diners to innovative restaurants, this city never fails to surprise. Let’s dive into some of the most unique restaurants in New York City, where every meal is an exciting story of flavor and fun.

I’ve explored the streets and savored the flavors, and I’m excited to share the city’s most unique eateries. Each restaurant offers something special, reflecting New York’s diverse and vibrant character.

These handpicked spots go beyond great food—they offer memorable experiences. From cozy neighborhood cafes to bustling restaurants, each place has a story to tell through its dishes.

Without further ado, let’s explore the coolest restaurants in New York that make the city an unforgettable destination for food lovers. Here are 13 of the most unique restaurants in NYC that you need to add to your bucket list.

The top restaurants to visit in New York City right now

Unique Restaurants in New York City

Are you ready to discover amazing places to eat in New York City? I’ve visited this city many times over the years, and let me tell you… NYC truly offers an incredible variety of places to eat that cater to every taste. Keep reading to find out where to eat in this vibrant metropolis.

Whether you’re in the mood for world-renowned pizza slices on a lively street corner or eager to experience innovative dishes that redefine dining, New York City has something special for you. Here’s your in-depth guide to the most unique restaurants in NYC, a city that never fails to amaze with its culinary offerings.

1. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Ever dined in a place where Broadway dreams and diner delights meet? Ellen’s Stardust Diner, located in the heart of Times Square, offers a unique twist on the classic American diner experience. Here, your servers are future Broadway stars, delivering not only meals but also show-stopping musical performances. It’s a standout choice for anyone seeking fun restaurants in New York City.

During my first visit to Ellen’s, I was swept up in a whirlwind of musical magic. The waitstaff serve up classic diner fare while performing hit Broadway numbers. The lively tunes and energetic performances turn every meal into a memorable show. The menu offers comforting American classics, but the live entertainment is the real highlight, showcasing the incredible talent of the staff.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a New York City gem, supporting aspiring performers by giving them a stage to showcase their talents. Many of the staff are working actors, and this diner is a stepping stone in their artistic journey.

It’s wise to book in advance, as this popular spot is always buzzing with diners and excitement. The prices are reasonable, especially considering the dining experience you get. For those searching for a unique New York City restaurant that blends great food with captivating performances, Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a perfect choice!

Ellen’s Stardust Diner is one of the unique restaurants in New York City.
Indulge in Broadway dreams and diner delights at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.

2. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

If you’re a fan of the movie “Forrest Gump,” then Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Times Square is a dining adventure you can’t miss. This restaurant brings the spirit of the film to life with a menu inspired by the movie’s Southern charm and shrimp-loving ethos. It’s a delightful spot for anyone looking for themed restaurants in New York City.

Walking into Bubba Gump, you’re immediately transported into the world of Forrest and his shrimp boat. The decor is a tribute to the movie, filled with memorabilia and quotes that will make any fan smile. The menu is a shrimp lover’s paradise, offering everything from shrimp gumbo to coconut shrimp. It’s not all about shrimp, though – there are plenty of options for all tastes.

What makes Bubba Gump special is its playful atmosphere. It’s a place where movie fans and food lovers alike can enjoy a bit of nostalgia alongside their meal. The staff are friendly and add to the fun vibe, ensuring every guest has a memorable experience.

This restaurant is a great choice for families or anyone looking to relive the magic of “Forrest Gump” over a delicious meal. The prices are family-friendly, too, which makes it a great spot for a casual, enjoyable dining experience. For a taste of Southern hospitality and a trip down memory lane, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is a must-visit restaurant in NYC.

Experience the charm of "Forrest Gump" at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a delightful choice for themed dining.
Experience the charm of “Forrest Gump” at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a delightful choice for themed dining.

3. The Cauldron

Step into The Cauldron, a magical spot in NYC where fantasy becomes reality, especially for fans of wizardry and witchcraft. This enchanting pub in the Lower East Side offers a unique dining and drinking experience that feels like it’s straight out of a fantasy novel. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most unique places in New York City to eat.

My experience at The Cauldron was like stepping into another world. The decor, with its mystical artifacts and ambient lighting, sets the stage for an unforgettable evening. The menu features creatively themed drinks and dishes, each with a magical twist. The highlight for me was the interactive cocktail-making experience. You get to brew your own potions using a wand!

The Cauldron’s charm lies in its immersive atmosphere. The staff, dressed in wizard robes, enhance the experience with their knowledge of potion-making and the magical world.

This spot is ideal for a fun night out with friends or a unique date night in New York. The prices are reasonable for the experience you get, which is both interactive and delicious. For a magical evening filled with wonder and delightful surprises, The Cauldron is one of New York City’s best restaurants.

Enter the magical realm of The Cauldron, offering a dining and drinking experience straight out of a fantasy novel.
Enter the magical realm of The Cauldron, offering a dining and drinking experience straight out of a fantasy novel.

4. Refinery Rooftop

Refinery Rooftop is one of the coolest dining spots in NYC. Located atop the Refinery Hotel in Midtown, this rooftop restaurant offers stunning views of the Empire State Building, making it a prime location for both locals and tourists.

Epic rooftop views from Refinery Rooftop in NYC
Epic rooftop views from Refinery Rooftop / Image credit: Refinery Rooftop

What sets Refinery Rooftop apart is its unique blend of industrial chic design and cozy, inviting atmosphere. The space features a retractable glass roof, allowing for year-round dining, no matter the weather. Exposed brick walls, vintage-style furniture, and twinkling string lights create a warm and stylish ambiance.

The food at Refinery Rooftop is another reason it’s a foodie hotspot. The menu offers a mix of American classics with a creative twist, from truffle fries and crispy calamari to mouth-watering sliders and artisanal flatbreads. Their seasonal cocktails, like the Spicy Paloma and Lavender Mule, are crafted with fresh ingredients and are perfect for sipping while enjoying the cityscape.

Refinery Rooftop also hosts a lively brunch scene, with favorites like avocado toast, eggs benedict, and decadent pancakes. Paired with bottomless mimosas or a Bloody Mary, brunch here is a must-try experience.

With its unbeatable views, stylish decor, and delicious food and drinks, Refinery Rooftop stands out as one of NYC’s top dining destinations. Whether you’re looking for a romantic evening, a fun brunch with friends, or a vibrant nightlife spot, Refinery Rooftop has it all.

Read also: Coolest Restaurants in Midtown East, NY

5. Koneko

Koneko, nestled in the Lower East Side, offers a purr-fectly unique twist to the café scene in New York City. It’s America’s first Japanese cat café, where you can enjoy a coffee surrounded by adorable, adoptable felines. This cozy spot is ideal for cat lovers and those looking for fun places to eat in New York City.

The café is split into different areas. This includes a Cattery where you can interact with the cats, and a café area where you can relax and enjoy Japanese-inspired pastries and drinks. The cats, all rescues, roam freely and are friendly and playful, adding a special touch to the café’s atmosphere.

What sets Koneko apart is its commitment to cat rescue. The cat café in New York works with local shelters to provide a loving temporary home for cats until they find their forever homes. It’s a place where enjoying a cup of coffee can make a difference in the lives of these animals.

Koneko is a great spot for a relaxing break in the city, offering a unique combination of good food, great coffee, and the therapeutic company of cats. Trust me, the experience is priceless – especially for cat enthusiasts!

Discover a purr-fectly unique café experience at Koneko, where you can enjoy coffee surrounded by adorable, adoptable felines.
Discover a purr-fectly unique café experience at Koneko, where you can enjoy coffee surrounded by adorable, adoptable felines.

6. Dirt Candy

Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side is a gem among unique places in New York City to eat, especially for those who love innovative vegetarian cuisine. This restaurant elevates vegetables to the center stage, offering a dining experience that’s both unique and delightful.

The atmosphere inside Dirt Candy is vibrant and welcoming. It’s a cozy space, buzzing with energy, where the focus is squarely on the inventive dishes being served.

Chef Amanda Cohen’s menu is a celebration of vegetables. Standout dishes include the Korean fried broccoli, which is a crispy, flavor-packed delight, and the playful carrot sliders that surprise with every bite. Each creation at Dirt Candy is a visual and taste sensation, turning familiar vegetables into something extraordinary.

Dirt Candy is a must-visit for anyone seeking a dining experience that’s out of the ordinary. It stands out in the city for its creative approach to vegetarian cooking, offering dishes that are as much a treat for the eyes as for the palate.

It’s wise to book ahead to secure a spot at this popular venue. Dirt Candy is where vegetables get a chance to shine like never before. Hands down, it’s the best vegetarian restaurant in New York City that you can’t miss!

Explore innovative vegetarian cuisine at Dirt Candy, where vegetables take center stage, providing a delightful dining experience.
Explore innovative vegetarian cuisine at Dirt Candy, where vegetables take center stage.

7. Le Coucou

No list of the best restaurants in New York City would be complete without a nod to Le Coucou. A SoHo standout, this restaurant is renowned for its French cuisine. Here, you’ll experience a dining experience that’s both luxurious and deeply satisfying.

Walking into Le Coucou, you’re struck by its elegant yet welcoming vibe. The place mixes old-world charm with a modern twist, making you feel both comfortable and wowed.

Here, the food is the star. Dishes like tout le lapin, a creative take on rabbit, and quenelle de brochet, a delicate pike dumpling in rich lobster sauce, are must-tries. Each plate is not just a meal – it’s a work of art, full of flavor and beautifully presented.

Le Coucou is perfect for a special night out. Whether it’s a date or a celebration, this place adds a touch of magic to any evening. Yes, it’s a bit of a splurge, but the experience is totally worth it.

Make sure to book a table in advance – Le Coucou is popular for all the right reasons. For a taste of Paris in New York, Le Coucou is your spot.

Le Coucou is one of the unique restaurants in New York City.
Indulge in the epitome of French cuisine at Le Coucou, offering a luxurious and deeply satisfying dining experience.

8. Max Brenner New York

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll want to visit this unique NYC restaurant! Max Brenner New York in Union Square is a chocolate adventure like no other, perfect for those who adore all things cocoa.

Entering Max Brenner, you’re greeted by the rich aroma of chocolate. The décor is playful and chocolate-centric, creating a fun and inviting atmosphere. It’s an ideal spot for a family outing, a sweet date, or just to indulge your chocolate cravings.

The menu is a celebration of chocolate in every form. You can dive into a chocolate pizza, savor the creamy fondues, or sip on one of their signature chocolate-infused drinks. The hot chocolate, served in their specially designed “hug mug,” is a fan favorite, offering warmth and sweetness in every sip.

Max Brenner is a great choice for an enjoyable and tasty experience in the city. The prices are friendly, fitting for a casual visit or a special treat. It’s a place where chocolate takes center stage, turning a simple meal into a delightful journey.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a chocolate adventure like no other at Max Brenner.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a chocolate adventure like no other at Max Brenner.

9. Please Don’t Tell

Next on our journey through New York City’s best restaurants is Please Don’t Tell (PDT), a speakeasy that’s all about mystery and exclusive experiences. Hidden behind a phone booth in a hot dog joint, this bar is New York’s answer to the Prohibition era’s secret drinking spots. Hands down, this is one of the most fun restaurants in NYC!

Finding PDT is part of the fun. You enter through Crif Dogs, pick up the vintage phone, and wait for the secret door to swing open. Inside, the ambiance is cozy and intimate, with a touch of 1920s glamor. It’s like stepping back in time, perfect for those who love a bit of intrigue with their drinks.

The cocktail menu at PDT is a mix of classic and innovative creations. Each drink is crafted with precision and flair, using top-quality ingredients. Don’t miss their signature Benton’s Old Fashioned, a smoky twist on the classic, or try one of their seasonal specials for something new.

PDT isn’t just about drinks. They also serve gourmet hot dogs, including unique collaborations with famous chefs. It’s an ideal spot for a fun night out, offering a blend of great flavors and a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Remember to make a reservation – entering through the phone booth is part of the fun, and this experience is too unique to miss!

Experience Please Don’t Tell (PDT), a secret drinking spots hidden behind a phone booth in a hot dog joint.
Experience Please Don’t Tell (PDT), a secret drinking spot hidden behind a phone booth in a hot dog joint.

10. Estela

If you’re on the hunt for unique restaurants in New York City, Estela should be at the top of your list. Tucked away in Manhattan, this spot turns dining into an art form, blending a cozy atmosphere with culinary innovation.

Step into Estela, and you’re greeted by a vibe that’s both chic and inviting. It’s a place where the buzz of the city meets the warmth of a neighborhood bistro. But the real magic happens on the plate. The menu is a parade of imaginative dishes, each with a twist that surprises and delights. The beef tartare with sunchoke is a dish I personally recommend, transforming a classic into something entirely new.

Estela’s menu is a constantly evolving canvas, reflecting the best of seasonal ingredients. You’ll find dishes that are simple yet sophisticated, like their ricotta dumplings that melt in your mouth, each bite a blend of comfort and culinary craft.

As for the cost, Estela offers an upscale experience without an extravagant price tag. It’s a place that proves fine dining doesn’t have to be formal. For a meal that’s as memorable as the city itself, Estela is a must-visit destination in New York.

Elevate your dining experience at Estela, transforming dining into an art form.
Elevate your dining experience at Estela, transforming dining into an art form.

11. Veselka

Veselka in the East Village brings the heart of Ukraine to the bustling streets of New York City. It’s a vibrant spot where hearty dishes and a welcoming atmosphere come together. Believe me, it’s one of the best places to eat in New York City for comfort food and hearty meals.

As you enter Veselka, you’re welcomed by a cozy, homely atmosphere. This eatery blends the feel of a traditional Ukrainian kitchen with the vibrancy of a city diner. Their borscht and pierogi are not to be missed – each dish is a delightful mix of comforting flavors and hearty ingredients. And there’s more – from stuffed cabbage to savory kielbasa, every item on the menu is a nod to authentic Eastern European cooking.

Veselka stands out for its genuine approach to food. It’s perfect for those who appreciate hearty, satisfying meals and a warm, friendly environment. The pricing is reasonable, which makes it a great spot for a fulfilling meal without a hefty price tag.

Veselka is popular, but you can usually find a spot without much wait. For busier times, a reservation is a good idea. It’s the go-to place for a satisfying, flavorful meal in a welcoming setting.

Discover the heart of Ukraine at Veselka, where hearty dishes and a welcoming atmosphere come together.
Discover the heart of Ukraine at Veselka, where hearty dishes and a welcoming atmosphere come together.

12. Katz’s Delicatessen

Continuing our exploration of unique places to eat in New York City, we arrive at the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen. More than just a deli, Katz’s is a New York institution, steeped in history and flavor. Located in the Lower East Side, this legendary spot has been serving up classic Jewish deli fare since 1888.

Katz’s is famous for its towering pastrami sandwiches, loaded with hand-carved meat that’s been cured to perfection. But it’s not just about pastrami. Their menu is a tribute to traditional deli delights. From succulent corned beef to rich matzo ball soup, each dish is a taste of New York’s culinary heritage.

This deli is a bustling hub of activity, where locals and tourists alike gather for a genuine taste of the city. The atmosphere is always lively, filled with the sounds of slicing meat and happy diners. It’s the perfect spot for anyone seeking an authentic New York experience.

Katz’s Delicatessen offers a hearty slice of the city’s history at prices that won’t break the bank. It’s a must-visit for anyone craving a classic New York meal. Just grab a ticket, line up at the counter, and get ready for a sandwich that’s as big in flavor as it is in size.

Embark on a historic culinary journey at Katz's Delicatessen, serving classic Jewish deli fare since 1888.
Embark on a historic culinary journey at Katz’s Delicatessen, serving classic Jewish deli fare since 1888.

13. Sylvia’s

As we round off our list of unique New York City restaurants, we can’t overlook Sylvia’s in Harlem. This soul food haven is a vibrant celebration of Southern cooking and community spirit, where every meal feels like a family reunion.

Entering Sylvia’s, you’re enveloped in an atmosphere that’s rich with history and buzzing with the energy of Harlem. The walls echo with stories of past diners, and the air is filled with the aroma of home-cooked goodness. It’s a place where laughter flows as freely as the sweet tea, and the dishes are served with a generous helping of love.

I still recall my first visit, mesmerized by the lively ambiance and the heartwarming hospitality. The fried chicken is legendary, crispy on the outside and tender inside, and the collard greens and cornbread are just like grandma used to make.

Sylvia’s is a Harlem landmark that offers a taste of genuine soul food. It’s one of the best restaurants in New York City for those who seek a meal with meaning. What’s more, the prices are as comforting as the food. It’s a must-visit for anyone craving a soulful dining experience.

Ending our list with a personal favorite, Sylvia’s stands out as a highlight. It’s a place that’s not just about food, but about the joy of sharing and community. Make sure to book a table here – Sylvia’s is a beloved gem that’s always in demand.

Sylvia's is one of the unique restaurants in New York City.
Complete your culinary exploration with Sylvia’s, a soul food haven celebrating Southern cooking and community spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unique Restaurants in New York City

Searching for more information to help you decide where to eat in New York City? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about New York City’s best restaurants.

What is New York’s most fancy restaurant?

When it comes to fine dining in New York City, there are several contenders for the title of the most fancy restaurant. One standout is Le Coucou, known for its exquisite French cuisine and elegant ambiance. This restaurant offers a luxurious dining experience with meticulously prepared dishes and an impressive wine list. It’s a top choice for those seeking a sophisticated and upscale dining experience in the heart of the city.

What foods must you try in NYC?

Here are some must-try foods when you’re in NYC:

  1. Pizza: New York-style pizza is famous worldwide. Grab a slice from one of the city’s many pizzerias – whether it’s a classic cheese or a more gourmet option.
  2. Bagels: Another NYC staple, bagels in the city are known for their perfect chewy texture. Enjoy them with cream cheese, smoked salmon, or any number of toppings.
  3. Pastrami on Rye: A classic New York deli sandwich. The best pastrami is thickly cut, juicy, and served on rye bread with mustard.
  4. Hot Dogs: Street vendors sell hot dogs all over the city. For a truly iconic experience, visit Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island.
  5. Cheesecake: New York-style cheesecake is rich, creamy, and a must-try dessert.
  6. Street Food: From halal carts serving chicken and rice to tacos and empanadas, NYC’s street food scene is diverse and delicious.
  7. Chinese Food: Head to Chinatown for authentic dim sum, Peking duck, and other Chinese specialties.
  8. Italian Food: NYC has a rich Italian heritage. This is reflected in its excellent Italian restaurants. Don’t miss trying pasta dishes, cannoli, and gelato.
  9. Deli Sandwiches: Beyond pastrami, NYC delis offer a variety of sandwiches. These include corned beef, turkey, and classic Reuben sandwiches.
  10. Bagel and Lox: A New York bagel topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, red onion, capers, and sometimes tomato.
  11. Cronut: A croissant-doughnut pastry invented by New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel.

Remember, part of the fun of NYC’s food scene is exploring and finding hidden gems. Don’t be afraid to try something new or off the beaten path!

Delicious and iconic New York City pizza with crispy crust, gooey cheese, and savory toppings.
Delicious and iconic New York City pizza with crispy crust, gooey cheese, and savory toppings.

Where do locals eat in New York City?

Locals in New York City enjoy a diverse range of dining options. For classic New York deli sandwiches, many head to Katz’s Delicatessen in the Lower East Side. For a taste of authentic soul food, Sylvia’s in Harlem is a popular choice. And for those craving late-night Ukrainian comfort food, Veselka in the East Village is a beloved spot. These are just a few examples of hidden gem restaurants in New York City where locals love to dine.

Is New York food expensive?

The cost of food in New York City varies widely. While there are certainly high-end, expensive dining options, the city also offers a plethora of cheap eats in New York City. From street food vendors serving up delicious bites to cozy diners offering hearty meals at reasonable prices, there’s something for every budget. Places like Dirt Candy offer innovative vegetarian dishes at mid-range prices, proving that great food in New York doesn’t always come with a hefty price tag.

What do New Yorkers have for breakfast?

Here are some common breakfast choices among New Yorkers:

  1. Bagels: A classic New York staple, often enjoyed with cream cheese, lox (smoked salmon), capers, onions, and tomatoes. Bagel shops are found throughout the city.
  2. Breakfast Sandwiches: The bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a roll or bagel is a quintessential New York breakfast. It’s commonly found at bodegas (corner stores) and delis.
  3. Coffee: Coffee is essential for many New Yorkers. From simple deli coffee to artisanal brews from local coffee shops, it’s a key part of the morning routine.
  4. Pastries and Baked Goods: Croissants, muffins, scones, and other pastries are popular. They’re often grabbed on the go from local bakeries or coffee shops.
  5. Oatmeal or Granola: Health-conscious New Yorkers might opt for oatmeal or granola, sometimes with fresh fruit, yogurt, or honey.
  6. Smoothies and Juices: For a quick and healthy option, smoothies and fresh juices are popular, especially at health food stores and specialized juice bars.
  7. Diner Breakfasts: Classic American breakfasts with eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausages, and toast are common in New York diners.
  8. Street Food: Breakfast carts and trucks offer quick items like egg sandwiches, bagels, and pastries, particularly in business districts and near transit hubs.
  9. Brunch: On weekends, brunch becomes a popular meal, with many restaurants offering special menus. Dishes might include eggs benedict, avocado toast, French toast, and mimosas.

Pizza is incredibly popular in New York City due to its delicious taste, convenience, and affordability. New York-style pizza, known for its thin, foldable crust, originated in the city and has become a staple of New York’s culinary scene. The city’s diverse population and the influence of Italian immigrants have also contributed to the popularity and variety of pizza available. It’s a go-to meal for New Yorkers and visitors alike, embodying the fast-paced and diverse nature of the city.

Final Thoughts: Unique Restaurants in New York City

Exploring New York City’s best restaurants is an adventure in itself. Each spot on our list offers something beyond the ordinary, from the theatrical flair of Ellen’s Stardust Diner to the hidden speakeasy vibes of Please Don’t Tell. These establishments aren’t just about food. They’re about experiences that linger in your memory long after the meal is over, offering a gateway to the diverse array of things to do in New York City.

In a city brimming with culinary diversity, these unique dining destinations stand out for their individuality. Whether it’s the innovative vegetarian dishes at Dirt Candy, the soulful flavors of Sylvia’s, or the nostalgic charm of Katz’s Delicatessen, each restaurant brings its own flavor to the city’s vast food landscape. They cater to all, from those seeking luxury at Le Coucou to the chocolate lovers at Max Brenner New York.

If I had to pick one must-visit restaurant, it would be Sylvia’s. The warmth and authenticity of its soul food, combined with the vibrant atmosphere of Harlem, make it a standout experience.

Remember, New York City’s dining scene is always evolving, with new and exciting places to discover. So, keep your taste buds ready for whatever culinary adventures the city might serve up next!

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