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West~bourne Photo by Nicole Franzen via West~bourne

16 Breezy California-Style Restaurants in NYC

Find San Diego-style burritos, popular Los Angeles imports, and odes to the Bay Area’s stellar produce

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California cuisine is a bit nebulous to define, but it’s about an obsession with really fresh produce and letting those excellent ingredients shine. It’s where the whole obsession with farm-to-table emerged, at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, over four decades ago. In the 1980s, Los Angeles had its own sense of homegrown pride in cooking that flourished at places like Michael McCarty’s Michael’s Santa Monica and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago.

But distinctly California fare also includes sublime Mexican food with regional specialties throughout the state. For example, juicy, carne asada-filled burritos in San Diego, which swap in fries for rice; puffy fried fish tacos found throughout Southern California and Baja California; and Mission-style burritos from San Francisco. Also an important tenet of eating out West? Vegetable-focused, vaguely hippie-ish bowls, now a ubiquitous fast-casual staple that has long been around in LA.

If hopping on a flight out West isn’t on the agenda anytime soon, there are places in New York City that taste and feel a bit like being in California, whether the sunny state inspired the menu, or it’s a straight-up import. Check out these 16 places around NYC for dishes and vibes that effectively channel the West Coast, one fish taco, grain bowl, and In-N-Out burger homage at a time.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Playa Betty's

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The menu at this Upper West Side restaurant focuses on California coastline-inspired beach fare, with Mexican dishes like a wide range of tacos, customizable grain bowls, and a French fry-studded San Diego-style burrito.  There are also a trio of margaritas to choose from. Playa Betty’s was opened in 2015 by the owners of Reunion Surf Bar, and both places sport equally kitschy but cute surf-themed decor.

Playa Betty’s Photo via Playa Betty’s/Facebook

Pizza Beach

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Opened by brothers Anthony and Tom Martignetti in 2015, Pizza Beach on the Upper East Side serves Neapolitan pies with a mix of classic and quirky toppings in a breezy, Malibu-inspired space replete with surfboards. There are also salads like a charred cauliflower caesar to round out all the carb-heavy choices, available at the Lower East Side outpost, too.

Michael's

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This Midtown media power lunch mainstay is the second location of Michael McCarty’s eponymous restaurant, which first debuted in 1979 in Santa Monica; the NYC outpost followed in 1989. Menu refreshes over the years have made it tricky to identify the California influences, but the cobb salad is a reliable order.

Los Mariscos

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Head to Los Mariscos in Chelsea Market for the Southern California-style fish tacos, which are lightly breaded and fried, then topped with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and crema. Other highlights: the tostadas topped with ceviche, and the Ensenada-style clams, with finely chopped raw bivalves mixed with pico de gallo and served on the half shell. A bonus is that there’s some seating as well as a bar in Los Marisco’s nautically themed space.

Los Mariscos Robert Sietsema

California pride is on full display at this popular Gramercy restaurant in Stephen Starr’s portfolio from chef Justin Smillie. The top-notch burger, a creative riff on an In-N-Out-type fast food cheeseburger — two patties, American cheese, peppadew peppers, avocado, lettuce, and tomato — comes speared with a California state flag. The steak tartare and chicken liver estrella are crowd pleasers, too.

Upland’s burger Photo by Nick Solares

SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa

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This line-inducing Los Angeles import serves up very fresh fish in three affordable omakase options. Go for the “Trust Me” menu, which includes tuna sashimi, five varieties of sushi, and two hand rolls for $33 at lunch and $39 at dinner, gratuity included. There’s also a full a la carte menu, but the omakase choices are a much better deal. Don’t miss the iced green tea, a refreshing and unsweetened brew that comes with free refills. Sugarfish waits can be hours long at the no-reservations spot, but delivery is available.

An eight-piece sushi roll sits next to a side of edamame
Sugarfish
Photo via Eater Video

Tender Greens

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In the same vein as healthy-ish fast casual chains like Sweetgreen, Dig Inn, and Little Beet, this California-based chain’s premise is that each location is run by an executive chef with fine dining experience. It makes many of the ingredients (and condiments) in-house for dishes like a chipotle barbecue chicken sandwich and greenmarket chicken salad. Tender Greens certainly has its detractors, but it also has plenty of West Coast fans — plus, hospitality titan Danny Meyer as an investor.

A Tender Greens mixed green salad on a plate Liz Clayman

Barbuto

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Berkeley alum Jonathan Waxman is a California cuisine legend, having cooked at storied places like Chez Panisse and Michael’s Santa Monica. His long-running West Village restaurant is a reliable crowd-pleaser. Highlights include the iconic pollo al forno; an addictive kale salad filled with pecorino, anchovies, and breadcrumbs; and whichever preparation of pan-seared gnocchi is currently on the menu. There’s perhaps no better place in Manhattan to people-watch than at this open-air restaurant when the garage-style doors are raised.

A plate of roast chicken topped with salsa verde beside a glass of wine. Photo by Daniel Krieger

Taqueria Diana

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Saucy Northern California-style Mexican fare is the star at Taqueria Diana, which has expanded to Hell’s Kitchen, the Lower East Side, and Williamsburg since opening in the East Village in 2013. The Californian owners put together a menu of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and nachos that stand out for their large portions and flavorful fillings.

West-bourne

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A vegetarian all-day cafe inspired by California of the ’60s, West-bourne serves up a slew of healthy, tasty, and very photogenic dishes. Many are served as grain bowls or prettily deconstructed small plates, such as a grain bowl with almond butter, maitake mushrooms, kale, and chile oil. While chia seed pudding is available all over the place these days, West-bourne’s version is exceptional, thanks to a fluffier, less-slimy texture and the addition of rose halva. There’s a strong charitable element, too: A portion of proceeds go to the Robin Hood Foundation.

West~bourne Photo by Nicole Franzen via West-bourne

The healthy dishes here would be right at home in LA, on a similar wavelength as famous cafe Sqirl: colorful, flavorful, and prone to copious Instagramming. Critically acclaimed executive chef Gerardo Gonzalez left in 2016 but El Rey still serves relatively virtuous, attractive food, mostly in toast and bowl forms. There’s an annex location tucked inside menswear store Todd Snyder on the northern edge of Madison Square Park.

Dimes is the NYC epicenter of Angelo-worthy cuisine and vibes, replete with wheatgrass margaritas and vegetarian-friendly bowls, salads, and small plates. The original is a sit-down setup with a small bar. There’s also Dimes Deli, a more casual, daytime counter-serve cafe with some menu crossover with Dimes proper, as well as Dimes Market, which is basically a ritzy bodega filled with expensive healthy things, including merch.

Lucha Lucha

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Head to this low-key San Diego-style Mexican place for the underrated regional burrito style. Check out the California Burrito, which is stuffed with freshly grilled carne asada, fries in lieu of rice, guac, cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Another Southern California innovation, carne asada fries, are also on the menu. There’s a second Brooklyn outpost in Bed-Stuy; the cash-only menu is the same at both locations.

Lucha Lucha Photo via Lucha Lucha

Bar Bolinas

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Allswell owners Sophie Kamin and Nate Smith are both Golden State natives, and Bar Bolinas is their ode to Northern California. A number of dishes lean Mexican, with many seafood and vegetarian options throughout, like a greens and grains bowl or grilled shrimp tacos. The brunch menu includes classics like eggs benedict as well as surprises like a fried oyster sandwich.

B'klyn Burro

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At this Clinton Hill restaurant, the focus is on Mission-style burritos, which pack ample protein and cheese in a well-constructed package. Try the carne asada or garlicky shrimp as fillings. There’s a bit of outdoor space in the back, though the small space inside is more attractive, complete with a vibrant, burrito-themed mural.

Tacoway Beach

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This is the similarly named solo project from Rockaway Taco co-founder Andrew Field, and the fish tacos are just as excellent at Tacoway Beach, which opened in 2015. Crisp fried fish is housed within Rockaway Beach Surf Club, a couple blocks from the beach. Tacoway Beach is worth the short walk from the sand, and feels like a little piece of Venice, California in deep Queens. Cash only.

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Playa Betty's

Playa Betty’s Photo via Playa Betty’s/Facebook

The menu at this Upper West Side restaurant focuses on California coastline-inspired beach fare, with Mexican dishes like a wide range of tacos, customizable grain bowls, and a French fry-studded San Diego-style burrito.  There are also a trio of margaritas to choose from. Playa Betty’s was opened in 2015 by the owners of Reunion Surf Bar, and both places sport equally kitschy but cute surf-themed decor.

Playa Betty’s Photo via Playa Betty’s/Facebook

Pizza Beach

Opened by brothers Anthony and Tom Martignetti in 2015, Pizza Beach on the Upper East Side serves Neapolitan pies with a mix of classic and quirky toppings in a breezy, Malibu-inspired space replete with surfboards. There are also salads like a charred cauliflower caesar to round out all the carb-heavy choices, available at the Lower East Side outpost, too.

Michael's

This Midtown media power lunch mainstay is the second location of Michael McCarty’s eponymous restaurant, which first debuted in 1979 in Santa Monica; the NYC outpost followed in 1989. Menu refreshes over the years have made it tricky to identify the California influences, but the cobb salad is a reliable order.

Los Mariscos

Los Mariscos Robert Sietsema

Head to Los Mariscos in Chelsea Market for the Southern California-style fish tacos, which are lightly breaded and fried, then topped with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and crema. Other highlights: the tostadas topped with ceviche, and the Ensenada-style clams, with finely chopped raw bivalves mixed with pico de gallo and served on the half shell. A bonus is that there’s some seating as well as a bar in Los Marisco’s nautically themed space.

Los Mariscos Robert Sietsema

Upland

Upland’s burger Photo by Nick Solares

California pride is on full display at this popular Gramercy restaurant in Stephen Starr’s portfolio from chef Justin Smillie. The top-notch burger, a creative riff on an In-N-Out-type fast food cheeseburger — two patties, American cheese, peppadew peppers, avocado, lettuce, and tomato — comes speared with a California state flag. The steak tartare and chicken liver estrella are crowd pleasers, too.

Upland’s burger Photo by Nick Solares

SUGARFISH by sushi nozawa

An eight-piece sushi roll sits next to a side of edamame
Sugarfish
Photo via Eater Video

This line-inducing Los Angeles import serves up very fresh fish in three affordable omakase options. Go for the “Trust Me” menu, which includes tuna sashimi, five varieties of sushi, and two hand rolls for $33 at lunch and $39 at dinner, gratuity included. There’s also a full a la carte menu, but the omakase choices are a much better deal. Don’t miss the iced green tea, a refreshing and unsweetened brew that comes with free refills. Sugarfish waits can be hours long at the no-reservations spot, but delivery is available.

An eight-piece sushi roll sits next to a side of edamame
Sugarfish
Photo via Eater Video

Tender Greens

A Tender Greens mixed green salad on a plate Liz Clayman

In the same vein as healthy-ish fast casual chains like Sweetgreen, Dig Inn, and Little Beet, this California-based chain’s premise is that each location is run by an executive chef with fine dining experience. It makes many of the ingredients (and condiments) in-house for dishes like a chipotle barbecue chicken sandwich and greenmarket chicken salad. Tender Greens certainly has its detractors, but it also has plenty of West Coast fans — plus, hospitality titan Danny Meyer as an investor.

A Tender Greens mixed green salad on a plate Liz Clayman

Barbuto

A plate of roast chicken topped with salsa verde beside a glass of wine. Photo by Daniel Krieger

Berkeley alum Jonathan Waxman is a California cuisine legend, having cooked at storied places like Chez Panisse and Michael’s Santa Monica. His long-running West Village restaurant is a reliable crowd-pleaser. Highlights include the iconic pollo al forno; an addictive kale salad filled with pecorino, anchovies, and breadcrumbs; and whichever preparation of pan-seared gnocchi is currently on the menu. There’s perhaps no better place in Manhattan to people-watch than at this open-air restaurant when the garage-style doors are raised.

A plate of roast chicken topped with salsa verde beside a glass of wine. Photo by Daniel Krieger

Taqueria Diana

Saucy Northern California-style Mexican fare is the star at Taqueria Diana, which has expanded to Hell’s Kitchen, the Lower East Side, and Williamsburg since opening in the East Village in 2013. The Californian owners put together a menu of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and nachos that stand out for their large portions and flavorful fillings.

West-bourne

West~bourne Photo by Nicole Franzen via West-bourne

A vegetarian all-day cafe inspired by California of the ’60s, West-bourne serves up a slew of healthy, tasty, and very photogenic dishes. Many are served as grain bowls or prettily deconstructed small plates, such as a grain bowl with almond butter, maitake mushrooms, kale, and chile oil. While chia seed pudding is available all over the place these days, West-bourne’s version is exceptional, thanks to a fluffier, less-slimy texture and the addition of rose halva. There’s a strong charitable element, too: A portion of proceeds go to the Robin Hood Foundation.

West~bourne Photo by Nicole Franzen via West-bourne

El Rey

The healthy dishes here would be right at home in LA, on a similar wavelength as famous cafe Sqirl: colorful, flavorful, and prone to copious Instagramming. Critically acclaimed executive chef Gerardo Gonzalez left in 2016 but El Rey still serves relatively virtuous, attractive food, mostly in toast and bowl forms. There’s an annex location tucked inside menswear store Todd Snyder on the northern edge of Madison Square Park.

Dimes

Dimes is the NYC epicenter of Angelo-worthy cuisine and vibes, replete with wheatgrass margaritas and vegetarian-friendly bowls, salads, and small plates. The original is a sit-down setup with a small bar. There’s also Dimes Deli, a more casual, daytime counter-serve cafe with some menu crossover with Dimes proper, as well as Dimes Market, which is basically a ritzy bodega filled with expensive healthy things, including merch.

Lucha Lucha

Lucha Lucha Photo via Lucha Lucha

Head to this low-key San Diego-style Mexican place for the underrated regional burrito style. Check out the California Burrito, which is stuffed with freshly grilled carne asada, fries in lieu of rice, guac, cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Another Southern California innovation, carne asada fries, are also on the menu. There’s a second Brooklyn outpost in Bed-Stuy; the cash-only menu is the same at both locations.

Lucha Lucha Photo via Lucha Lucha

Bar Bolinas

Allswell owners Sophie Kamin and Nate Smith are both Golden State natives, and Bar Bolinas is their ode to Northern California. A number of dishes lean Mexican, with many seafood and vegetarian options throughout, like a greens and grains bowl or grilled shrimp tacos. The brunch menu includes classics like eggs benedict as well as surprises like a fried oyster sandwich.

B'klyn Burro

At this Clinton Hill restaurant, the focus is on Mission-style burritos, which pack ample protein and cheese in a well-constructed package. Try the carne asada or garlicky shrimp as fillings. There’s a bit of outdoor space in the back, though the small space inside is more attractive, complete with a vibrant, burrito-themed mural.

Related Maps

Tacoway Beach

This is the similarly named solo project from Rockaway Taco co-founder Andrew Field, and the fish tacos are just as excellent at Tacoway Beach, which opened in 2015. Crisp fried fish is housed within Rockaway Beach Surf Club, a couple blocks from the beach. Tacoway Beach is worth the short walk from the sand, and feels like a little piece of Venice, California in deep Queens. Cash only.

Related Maps