What’s a restaurant that’s fun right now? It’s a question we get asked a lot at Eater. Of course, it’s kind of a trick question, since fun can mean something different to everyone. Often there’s some durable gimmick, like goofy decor, a memorable soundtrack, a DYI element to meal preparation, or a room full of diners who seem to be having a night full of belly laughs. As for the food, well, a fun restaurant doesn’t mean it’s necessarily churning out the best bites in town, but it’s reliably enjoyable without seeming fussy.Read More
The Most Fun Restaurants in NYC
Free shots, flashing chile pepper lights, and a cafe where wearing a bathing suit is required
This is the kind of place where there’s no dance floor but people dance, where it’s unhip but often crowded. It’s all to the backdrop of worn yellow walls bedecked with palm trees, bananas, farmers, and musicians. You’ll also find some of the city’s best Cuban sandwiches, vaca frita (skirt steak fried to the texture of soft jerky), and potent mojitos, which are especially dangerous on Tuesdays when they’re just $6 apiece. Swing by after a show for live Cuban music every night.
Haidilao Hot Pot Flushing
When Haidilao opened its first New York location in 2019, Eater called it an “adult playground.” The Chinese hot pot chain, which has over 1,300 locations globally, is a fine-tuned fun machine: There are hand-pulled “dancing” noodles prepared out at the table, free toothbrushes in the bathroom, and “code words” that elicit secret menu items. The restaurant is spread out over two huge dining rooms on the second floor of a shopping mall in Flushing, Queens.
Also featured in:
Fresco by Scotto
The Scotto family — host and matriarch Marion, her daughters Elaina Scotto and Fox 5 anchor and co-host of Good Day New York, Rosanna Scotto — have been feeding dishes like chicken Scarpariello and Dover sole to Midtown’s power set since 1993. But it was during the pandemic that the sisters took a cue from Miami, they said, and pivoted to make the experience more about fun. Now, expect DJs and conga lines — and when Odyssey’s “Native New Yorker” cues up, you know Mayor Eric Adams is in the house.
For those times when the American Express Platinum is burning a hole in your pocket, there’s the Grill from Major Food Group. As pricey as it may be, it’s one of the more gratifying dinner-as-theater experiences, complete with its $10,000 a piece rolling carts where servers press a duck or flambe desserts. The setting is a stunner, with its Philip Johnson beaded curtains and cushy banquettes. While the Four Seasons is long gone, the Grill remains a ode to the past.
Instant Noodle Factory
Maybe you don’t think cooking for yourself is fun, but first, take a look at the dozens of packages of instant noodles from around the globe displayed on the wall. Pick yours and then move to the cooking contraption that automatically sets the timer and squirts in the hot water. You’ll feel like you’re in your college dorm again, in front of the stove in your pajamas.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
By all means sit at the snaking lunch counter, where it still feels like 1940, or — even better — perch at the actual oyster bar and contemplate the dozens of raw bivalves that can be shucked to order as you eagerly watch. An added plus is the contraption stapled to the counter that looks like a giant juicer, and watch in awe as the cook uses it to create soups called pan roasts, one of the ingredients of which is... ketchup.
There are many (many) places to drink in Koreatown. Why do we love Itaewon Pocha? The second-floor bar is covered in string lights and customers belt out K-pop hits pretty much until last call. Bottles of soju and beer are affordable, and the food menu is full of snacks — kimchi pancakes, fried dumplings — that pair well with a drink. Itaewon is located one floor below Gagopa, a late-night karaoke lounge with private rooms.
Sushi On Me
Sushi on Me is a raucous, all-you-can-drink, cash-only party. It’s located inside of a Jackson Heights basement (there’s a second location in Williamsburg; however, nothing is quite as fun as the original). Sushi on Me set the tone for a new era of omakase experiences in New York: the kind that can actually be unbuttoned fun, where the music is loud, and the cussing flows as freely as the alcohol.
Walk into Vatan and find yourself in a reproduction of a Gujarati village, with a thatched-roof building, a banyan tree canopy with tables underneath, and period movie posters. Waiters, too, are dressed in appropriate costumes. Sit back and relax: There’s nothing to order, just a succession of vegetarian dishes in a prix fixe meal that include freshly made pooris that almost float like balloons, curried vegetables, fritters, and other miscellaneous fare.
In Taiwan, 886 is the area code given to most cell phone numbers: In the East Village, it’s a sign of a good time. This Taiwanese restaurant has improved some since its opening in 2018. Blood cakes and other Taiwanese snacks are consumed at tables in a narrow dining room whose ceiling is covered in neon lights. On the menu: a “Bad Idea” drinking challenge that must be consumed through a straw and a Taiwanese hot dog named “the sausage party.”
Panna II Garden Indian Restaurant
Let’s get this out of the way: Panna II is by no means where you’ll find the best Indian food in New York, but the restaurant has been beloved for 40 years because it is one of the most fun places in New York to dine out with a group. Strobe lights turn on when it's your birthday, and the whole restaurant sings along in a room where the ceiling is dripping with chile pepper lights.
New York classic haunts are undeniably fun, especially those that are allegedly haunted. One of the oldest taverns in New York, Ear Inn is reliable for a casual night out over martinis, burgers, and drawing on a paper tablecloth with crayons. And it still has the feeling of being a hardscrabble dive patronized by sailors from the piers just at the end of the street (or their ghosts).
C as in Charlie
C as in Charlie is on a mission to get you drunk. Dinner at this Korean American restaurant starts with a free shot of sake/soju, and the drinks list has lots of Korean spirits to keep the party going. The food menu — fried chicken, a “S’eoulsbury steak” — is short and affordable. Did we mention it has one of the strangest bathrooms in the city?
The most fun restaurants in NYC do not have to be alcohol-fueled. In fact, here the experience of dining is not only meditative but restorative. To partake you’ll need to disrobe down to your swimsuit, as this spot — that serves vareniki and borscht — is located inside Spa 88, a basement-level Russian spa known for food almost as much as its banya.
The Turk's Inn
Bushwick’s Turk’s Inn was inspired by a supper club founded in Hayward, Wisconsin in 1934. In fact, that’s where much of the wacky decor comes from, filled with objets d’art with a Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean theme, including busts of Nefertiti, kitschy paintings of cats, and sculptures of Graeco-Roman wrestlers. You can pick and choose from an eclectic menu: Here, cheese curds go perfectly with tahini White Russians.
Also featured in:
Velma is an Italian restaurant that passes as a dive bar. Or is it the other way around? There are gingham tablecloths, big booths, and chicken Parmesan: Fair enough. But what about the beer and shot specials, chicken nuggets, and Smirnoff Ices on the menu? This isn’t the best Italian food in town, but at Velma, there’s at least one benefit to not having a nonna around: Almost anything goes.
The restaurant is a lot of things: A place where you can sit in movie theater seats hunched over a suitcase acting as a table, eating laab gai sap on a paper plate while various Thai movies play on screen. It’s not a movie theater, per se, in that tables don’t all face toward the screen, and the sound was off on a recent visit, but the Thai cinema theme makes the atmosphere unlike any other spot in the city — a place for a snack with a beer, rather than a full-blown dinner.
All Night Skate
There’s an important distinction to make here, which is that this is a roller disco-themed bar, not a roller disco. So while there isn’t a rink, there’s plenty of the same spirited energy — a disco ball, jukebox, and Pop Rocks cocktails — that feels straight out of Saved by the Bell. “Skating is such an inclusive thing that everyone enjoys — all age groups, all demographics. It’s such a positive energy,” the owners told Grub Street when it opened. Currently, the bar also has a food stand that serves tacos.
The knockout Lakruwana is one of several Staten Island Sri Lankan restaurants. It is also one of the most unique restaurants in New York. When the weather allows, take the Staten Island Ferry (itself a completely fun NYC experience), or rope in a friend with a car, and head here. There’s is an all-you-can-eat buffet and the space looks like it's straight out of an antique mall.
Roll N Roaster
Roll N Roaster was founded in the early 1970s and it feels largely unchanged — a gigantic structure in yellow and orange that looks like a typical fast-food spot, except much bigger and wholly its own. Go on the weekend when the place is jammed with Little Leaguers in full regalia, or families returning from religious observances in their best clothes, and mingle with a cross-section of southern Brooklynites.
Also featured in:
New York City isn’t exactly known for its beaches, but the boardwalk experience at Tatiana, a restaurant in Brighton Beach, is a fever dream — and one of the last of its kind. The banquet hall is outfitted with tablecloths and ornate furniture, the kind of gaudy gold-painted accents that befit an old-school Eastern European venue, where it’s likely you’ll be crashing someone’s wedding or sweet sixteen. All tables face the stage where dinner — cherry vareniki and lots of icy vodka — comes with a show. Think aerial acrobatics and sing-alongs to ABBA. The dance floor opens later in the night to diners.