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Curry in a Hurry
Photo by Gary He

8 Old-School Restaurants in NYC That Will Take You Back in Time

These restaurants have been serving fried chicken, spicy curry, and other specialties for decades

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Curry in a Hurry
| Photo by Photo by Gary He

One of New York City’s greatest pleasures is finding restaurants that have been around for a long, long time. The antique decor, traditional service, and list of nearly forgotten dishes whets the appetite, and the prices are often very reasonable or even cheap for massive portions — especially compared to other white-tablecloth restaurants of the same cuisine — as if amending the bill of fare had been forgotten over the years.

In 2015 Eater NY did a series of articles about these sorts of places, of which many are now sadly gone. But some happily persist, and here’s a selection of the best. So put on your taffeta dress or tweed sport coat and pay a visit.

Note: Restaurants on this list are arranged geographically, north to south.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Sylvia's

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328 Malcolm X Blvd
New York, NY 10027
(212) 996-0660
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Dubbed the Queen of Soul Food, Sylvia Woods founded her landmark café in Harlem in 1962, having migrated from Hemingway, South Carolina in the 1940s. The Sylvia’s Restaurant complex now includes two plush dining rooms, a banquet hall, and an annex, but the best place to eat is still at the original lunch counter, right in the middle, where the strains of an electric blues combo drift in from the dining room.

The fried chicken is justifiably famous, and the cornbread is rich and crumbly and served with margarine, as it’s been done since the ’60s. The servers will hook you up with beer, wine, or a cocktail, which is unusual for a soul food joint, but then Sylvia’s has become a veritable temple of ancient African-American fare. I’d skip the ribs if I were you (too sweet for my tastes), in favor of the fried catfish, smothered pork chops, or chicken livers, and don’t miss the collards or mac and cheese. Sylvia passed in 2012 at the age of 86.

The packed dining room of Sylvia’s with red walls Robert Sietsema

2. Le Veau d'Or

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129 E 60th St
New York, NY 10022
(212) 838-8133

The oldest French bistro in the city — dating to 1937 — is Le Veau d’Or (The Golden Calf), just down the block from a French Huguenot church of colonial vintage. Though the townhouse premises is grandly faced with polished red granite and a gilt calf head, the interior feels every year of its age, with a red leather banquette running along its margins. Very nice watercolor landscapes of France line the walls. At lunch the place is occupied by theater and literary types, and being a regular counts for something here. Persevere and you’ll have a wonderful meal for $30 to $35, which includes three courses.

The onion soup is thinner than usual, and at some point the idea is likely to strike you that the cuisine minceur of the 1970s must have had a lingering impact. If you like hearty, go for the coarse-textured pate or the leeks vinaigrette. The lamb stew accompanied by potatoes au gratin is particularly enjoyable, and the tripe served in the traditional lidded metal casserole so abundant, two could share. Neither does the dessert course lag — the oeufs a la neige (“floating island”), zigzagged with caramel, can be the high point of a meal.

Robert Sietsema

3. Curry In A Hurry

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119 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016
(212) 683-0900
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The area on lower Lexington known as Curry Hill is one of the New York region’s great Indian shopping strips, of which 74th Street in Jackson Heights and Jersey City’s Newark Avenue are other examples. Founded in 1976 with a name calculated to popularize the cuisine to a wider audience, Curry in a Hurry was the original anchor of Curry Hill. This and the international food store Kalustyan’s formed a nucleus around which stores selling groceries, saris, jewelry, books, and kitchenware coalesced. Today there are around 20 restaurants on these blocks.

Curry in a Hurry offers a range of Indian cuisines; indeed it was one of the earliest places in town to make South Indian uttapams and dosas. Clay-oven breads, tandoori chicken, Mughal vegetarian dishes, the occasional Gujarati choice, milk-based Bengali sweets, and mainstream curries became part of its ambitious purview. When it moved to its current corner in the early ’90s, it added an elegant upstairs dining room offering panoramic views of the neighborhood.

Robert Sietsema

4. Sevilla

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62 Charles St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 929-3189
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Founded in 1941 and named after a city in the sunny south of Spain, Sevilla assumed the premises of an older Irish bar on a townhouse-lined West Village corner. As you approach, a garlic wind wafts from a kitchen door that opens onto Charles Street. Inside the main entrance, the dining room proves deep and shadowy, with nautical lamps hanging from the ceiling and smudgy reproductions of paintings by El Greco and Velázquez plastered on the walls.

On weekends Sevilla stays mobbed from early afternoon until late evening, every table occupied by canoodling couples and convivial chattering foursomes. The appetizers are profuse in size, including some wonderful empanadillas — half-moon pies filled with picadillo. The octopus, Galician style, is also good, and the clams in green sauce is a particular delight, tasting powerfully of garlic, parsley, and the brine of the sea. But the dish on every table is paella Valenciana, glowing a shade of yellow so bright you almost need sunglasses.

Robert Sietsema

5. Bamonte's

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32 Withers St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 384-8831

There’s no place quite as much fun as Bamonte’s. Founded in 1900 by immigrants from Salerno, Italy, just south of Naples, Bamonte’s is one of the city’s oldest continuously operating restaurants, and it shows every year of its venerable age. You can still see bouffant hairdos in the front barroom, and the tuxedo’ed waiters are nearly all old-timers. The sprawling dining room, sometimes containing tables of priests in their collars, ends in a glassed-in kitchen.

The menu is the perfect evocation of Italian-American cuisine, including a spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs that could serve as a model for cooking schools. The baked clams are a “don’t miss,” and so is the chicken francese, putting on French airs for a working-class constituency. The pork chops with peppers (sweet or hot) is the city’s best version of that recipe.

Robert Sietsema

6. Wo Hop

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17 Mott St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 962-8617

Isolated in its little corner of Chinatown on lower Mott amid other senior establishments like Wing On Wo & Co., Wo Hop is the city’s second oldest Chinese restaurant, founded in 1938. (Only Nom Wah Tea Parlor, originated in 1920 but recently restored, is older.) The secret of Wo Hop’s longevity? Both the reliability of its Chinese-American fare, which seemingly uses no ginger, garlic, or soy sauce, and the small, subterranean nature of the real estate it occupies.

Sweep down the red stairway into a small square room plastered with snapshots of its enthusiastic patrons. Communicating with each other in Cantonese, the stately waiters wear starched, light blue shopcoats and don’t miss a move as they pass around massive platters of chicken chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, subgum egg foo young (in the section “Chinese Omelettes”), and beef chow fun. Bring a crowd and share several dishes for maximum enjoyment.

Robert Sietsema

7. Zum Stammtisch

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69-46 Myrtle Ave
Glendale, NY 11385
(718) 386-3014
Visit Website

Though it seems far older, Zum Stammtisch was founded in 1972 in Glendale, Queens, which at the time was home to a large German population. It boasts twin Tyrolean-style dining rooms decorated with beer steins, stuffed animal heads, wooden beer casks, and cozy lampshade sconces, and a waitstaff of nimble women adorned in dirndls. Expect a fine selection of imported beers heavy on the pilsners and lagers. You may also choose to dine in the clubby barroom, where German is still frequently spoken.

Chunky with beef, the goulash soup is fabled, and herring or oxtail cold salads (if available) are also good choices for appetizing. You don’t really need them, though, since main courses are massive, including an excellent jägerschnitzel (a veal cutlet smothered in mushroom gravy), sauerbraten (beefsteak prepared in a tart marinade), and multiple wursts served on beds of sauerkraut. The name Zum Stammtisch means something like “to the communal table,” a reference to the pleasure of dining with friends.

Robert Sietsema

8. Brennan & Carr

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3432 Nostrand Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11229
(718) 769-1254

It’s a wonder Brennan & Carr — founded in 1938 — still exists. The solid brick structure with the Tudor trim and rustic wood signage was around when this part of Sheepshead Bay was still rural farmland, as the location beside Gravesend Neck Road, one of Brooklyn’s earliest thoroughfares, also attests. The specialty of the house is Irish roast beef, served with its own juices on sandwich or platter in much the same style as Los Angeles’ popular french dip.

There are only a few other things on the bill of fare: burgers, onion rings, chicken breast sandwiches, beef broth, pie ala mode, and — as a tribute to its maritime location — clam chowder, served with oyster crackers. The dining room is dark, beer is served, and you can also order from a window on the Avenue U side of the building.

Robert Sietsema

1. Sylvia's

328 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027
The packed dining room of Sylvia’s with red walls Robert Sietsema

Dubbed the Queen of Soul Food, Sylvia Woods founded her landmark café in Harlem in 1962, having migrated from Hemingway, South Carolina in the 1940s. The Sylvia’s Restaurant complex now includes two plush dining rooms, a banquet hall, and an annex, but the best place to eat is still at the original lunch counter, right in the middle, where the strains of an electric blues combo drift in from the dining room.

The fried chicken is justifiably famous, and the cornbread is rich and crumbly and served with margarine, as it’s been done since the ’60s. The servers will hook you up with beer, wine, or a cocktail, which is unusual for a soul food joint, but then Sylvia’s has become a veritable temple of ancient African-American fare. I’d skip the ribs if I were you (too sweet for my tastes), in favor of the fried catfish, smothered pork chops, or chicken livers, and don’t miss the collards or mac and cheese. Sylvia passed in 2012 at the age of 86.

328 Malcolm X Blvd
New York, NY 10027

2. Le Veau d'Or

129 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022
Robert Sietsema

The oldest French bistro in the city — dating to 1937 — is Le Veau d’Or (The Golden Calf), just down the block from a French Huguenot church of colonial vintage. Though the townhouse premises is grandly faced with polished red granite and a gilt calf head, the interior feels every year of its age, with a red leather banquette running along its margins. Very nice watercolor landscapes of France line the walls. At lunch the place is occupied by theater and literary types, and being a regular counts for something here. Persevere and you’ll have a wonderful meal for $30 to $35, which includes three courses.

The onion soup is thinner than usual, and at some point the idea is likely to strike you that the cuisine minceur of the 1970s must have had a lingering impact. If you like hearty, go for the coarse-textured pate or the leeks vinaigrette. The lamb stew accompanied by potatoes au gratin is particularly enjoyable, and the tripe served in the traditional lidded metal casserole so abundant, two could share. Neither does the dessert course lag — the oeufs a la neige (“floating island”), zigzagged with caramel, can be the high point of a meal.

129 E 60th St
New York, NY 10022

3. Curry In A Hurry

119 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016
Robert Sietsema

The area on lower Lexington known as Curry Hill is one of the New York region’s great Indian shopping strips, of which 74th Street in Jackson Heights and Jersey City’s Newark Avenue are other examples. Founded in 1976 with a name calculated to popularize the cuisine to a wider audience, Curry in a Hurry was the original anchor of Curry Hill. This and the international food store Kalustyan’s formed a nucleus around which stores selling groceries, saris, jewelry, books, and kitchenware coalesced. Today there are around 20 restaurants on these blocks.

Curry in a Hurry offers a range of Indian cuisines; indeed it was one of the earliest places in town to make South Indian uttapams and dosas. Clay-oven breads, tandoori chicken, Mughal vegetarian dishes, the occasional Gujarati choice, milk-based Bengali sweets, and mainstream curries became part of its ambitious purview. When it moved to its current corner in the early ’90s, it added an elegant upstairs dining room offering panoramic views of the neighborhood.

119 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016

4. Sevilla

62 Charles St, New York, NY 10014
Robert Sietsema

Founded in 1941 and named after a city in the sunny south of Spain, Sevilla assumed the premises of an older Irish bar on a townhouse-lined West Village corner. As you approach, a garlic wind wafts from a kitchen door that opens onto Charles Street. Inside the main entrance, the dining room proves deep and shadowy, with nautical lamps hanging from the ceiling and smudgy reproductions of paintings by El Greco and Velázquez plastered on the walls.

On weekends Sevilla stays mobbed from early afternoon until late evening, every table occupied by canoodling couples and convivial chattering foursomes. The appetizers are profuse in size, including some wonderful empanadillas — half-moon pies filled with picadillo. The octopus, Galician style, is also good, and the clams in green sauce is a particular delight, tasting powerfully of garlic, parsley, and the brine of the sea. But the dish on every table is paella Valenciana, glowing a shade of yellow so bright you almost need sunglasses.

62 Charles St
New York, NY 10014

5. Bamonte's

32 Withers St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Robert Sietsema

There’s no place quite as much fun as Bamonte’s. Founded in 1900 by immigrants from Salerno, Italy, just south of Naples, Bamonte’s is one of the city’s oldest continuously operating restaurants, and it shows every year of its venerable age. You can still see bouffant hairdos in the front barroom, and the tuxedo’ed waiters are nearly all old-timers. The sprawling dining room, sometimes containing tables of priests in their collars, ends in a glassed-in kitchen.

The menu is the perfect evocation of Italian-American cuisine, including a spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs that could serve as a model for cooking schools. The baked clams are a “don’t miss,” and so is the chicken francese, putting on French airs for a working-class constituency. The pork chops with peppers (sweet or hot) is the city’s best version of that recipe.

32 Withers St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

6. Wo Hop

17 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
Robert Sietsema

Isolated in its little corner of Chinatown on lower Mott amid other senior establishments like Wing On Wo & Co., Wo Hop is the city’s second oldest Chinese restaurant, founded in 1938. (Only Nom Wah Tea Parlor, originated in 1920 but recently restored, is older.) The secret of Wo Hop’s longevity? Both the reliability of its Chinese-American fare, which seemingly uses no ginger, garlic, or soy sauce, and the small, subterranean nature of the real estate it occupies.

Sweep down the red stairway into a small square room plastered with snapshots of its enthusiastic patrons. Communicating with each other in Cantonese, the stately waiters wear starched, light blue shopcoats and don’t miss a move as they pass around massive platters of chicken chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, subgum egg foo young (in the section “Chinese Omelettes”), and beef chow fun. Bring a crowd and share several dishes for maximum enjoyment.

17 Mott St
New York, NY 10013

7. Zum Stammtisch

69-46 Myrtle Ave, Glendale, NY 11385
Robert Sietsema

Though it seems far older, Zum Stammtisch was founded in 1972 in Glendale, Queens, which at the time was home to a large German population. It boasts twin Tyrolean-style dining rooms decorated with beer steins, stuffed animal heads, wooden beer casks, and cozy lampshade sconces, and a waitstaff of nimble women adorned in dirndls. Expect a fine selection of imported beers heavy on the pilsners and lagers. You may also choose to dine in the clubby barroom, where German is still frequently spoken.

Chunky with beef, the goulash soup is fabled, and herring or oxtail cold salads (if available) are also good choices for appetizing. You don’t really need them, though, since main courses are massive, including an excellent jägerschnitzel (a veal cutlet smothered in mushroom gravy), sauerbraten (beefsteak prepared in a tart marinade), and multiple wursts served on beds of sauerkraut. The name Zum Stammtisch means something like “to the communal table,” a reference to the pleasure of dining with friends.

69-46 Myrtle Ave
Glendale, NY 11385

8. Brennan & Carr

3432 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11229
Robert Sietsema

It’s a wonder Brennan & Carr — founded in 1938 — still exists. The solid brick structure with the Tudor trim and rustic wood signage was around when this part of Sheepshead Bay was still rural farmland, as the location beside Gravesend Neck Road, one of Brooklyn’s earliest thoroughfares, also attests. The specialty of the house is Irish roast beef, served with its own juices on sandwich or platter in much the same style as Los Angeles’ popular french dip.

There are only a few other things on the bill of fare: burgers, onion rings, chicken breast sandwiches, beef broth, pie ala mode, and — as a tribute to its maritime location — clam chowder, served with oyster crackers. The dining room is dark, beer is served, and you can also order from a window on the Avenue U side of the building.

3432 Nostrand Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11229

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