My brother visited a few weeks ago because he “didn’t want to spend a holiday weekend in Cleveland.” What was supposed to be a three-day stay turned into a 24-hour sprint, and the most ridiculous thing is that he drove sixteen hours round trip. Granted, his roommate drove with him, but what a long journey for such a short trip (and I’m surprised that there was another guy OK with a drive that’s two-thirds the length of an actual vacation). We went to dinner at Cote, which if you know about the New York food scene, is one of those places you need to watch the reservation slots like a hawk to dine at.
I like Cote—their food and service are both great—but it’s definitely a place that I save for when someone I know is in town with advanced notice. That got me thinking: where do people take out-of-town visitors to eat? I don’t often have family or friends coming through the city, but if they do, they always ask for a restaurant recommendation or for me to make a reservation for us to eat. And for whatever reason, I seem to think that this is something that requires overthinking because I always pull a list of places and then comb through that list a time or two to really give them the “good” options.
When I think about it, my criteria for a restaurant recommendation seems to be as follows:
- Above all, the food has to taste good. Bonus points for creativity and fun.
- The service and experience should be mediocre at worst.
- The spot is trendy enough to be cool, but not so trendy that you either can’t get a reservation or you see people filming TikToks at every other table.
- The place makes the visitor feel like it’s a gem no one knows about even if that’s very untrue.
A good example that fits my criteria (that I didn’t ever list out until now) would be when I took my aunt and her husband to Wayla. The food is tasty and served family-style, and the presentation of the dishes look nice. The service is attentive, even if they sometimes emphasize that you technically have a time limit to dine. The restaurant is usually packed, however it’s easy enough to get a reservation about a week out, and you’ll see a few flashes from people taking photos but little video filming. The ambiance makes it feel a bit special, especially since there’s a “secluded courtyard” for seating in the back with a ton of string lights. Every part fit the bill and my aunt was really impressed and decided that she’s better cut out for New York than Los Angeles (but she will not be moving here as she enjoys living in an actual house versus a cramped apartment).
But not every rec needs to check off all four points—and Cote is a pretty good example of that. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is fun, and it’s a rather unique Korean BBQ experience where they focus on steakhouse cuts of beef and paired with an extensive wine list. Sure, it has lots of people taking video, and it’s a struggle to get a reservation, but it fits what someone like my brother prioritizes: good food with a focus on meat. Would it be at the top of my list to take my parents when they visit? Not necessarily—for that price point, I would choose Atoboy so we can enjoy Korean small plates without the club-style playlist. But hey, NYC has hundreds of amazing restaurants, so there’s no shortage of the perfect recommendation for every person and their preferences.