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New York City's 15 Toughest Tables, 2013

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12008_10_hasmaps.jpgThere are many, many restaurants in New York where you need to make reservations weeks in advance, or wait in extremely long lines if you want a table. And then there are the restaurants on this list, which are the hardest to get into right now. The selection ranges from fine dining temples in midtown (Le Bernardin) to modern and casual tasting counters in Bushwick (Blanca), from intimate sushi destinations (Ichimura at Brushstroke) to New York landmarks (Peter Luger). Here's a map of New York's 15 toughest tables, including information on how you might go about getting in.

Added since last year's list: Carbone, Blanca, Ichimura at Brushstroke, Dirt Candy, Mission Chinese Food, and Atera.

Dropped from last year's list: Roberta's, Locanda Verde, Torrisi Italian Specialties, Acme.

Know of any tough tables that aren't on this list? Think any of these ones don't belong? Drop your thoughts in the comments.


· New York's Toughest Tables, 2012 [~ENY~]
· New York's Toughest Tables, 2011 [~ENY~]
· All Eater Maps [~ENY~]

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Rao's

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455 E 114th St
New York, NY 10029
(212) 722-6709
Visit Website
Red sauce joint Rao's, in East Harlem, dates back to 1896 and has the reputation of being the toughest table in New York. You can drop in for a drink any night, but what you really want is to sit at a table like the celebrities, friends of the house, and other "enterprising" characters that make the place what it is. To make it happen, you've got to get in touch with someone who's been there or who actually has a standing reservation year-round. Good luck. [Rao's]

2. Chef's Table At Brooklyn Fare

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Read Review |
212 Schermerhorn St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 243-0050
Visit Website
The 18-seat Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is the only restaurant in the borough with three Michelin stars. It also boasts stellar reviews from the New York Times and basically every major critic or publication that's nabbed a seat at chef César Ramirez's counter. If you want to go for the $225 experience (that's before tax and 20% gratuity), which showcases the chef's understanding of what makes fine dining great in both Europe and Japan, you'll have to call at 10:30 a.m., six weeks to the calendar date on which you'd like to eat. That's pretty much the only way. [Brooklyn Fare/Facebook]

3. Blanca

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261 Moore St
Brooklyn, NY 11237
(646) 703-2715
Visit Website
Behind his Bushwick hit Roberta's, chef Carlo Mirarchi has opened a very different kind of restaurant: an airy and intimate 12-seat counter where he cooks an extended tasting menu. Blanca is only in operation four nights a week, and if Mirarchi isn't in town, the place doesn't open at all. It has already earned its first Michelin star. Reservations are taken by phone, 30 days out, on the first day of each month. It's nearly impossible to nab a table, since the phone lines are almost always jammed, but try to get yourself on the wait list. You'll find that the team is efficient at letting people know when cancellations come about, something that happens more often than you'd think. [Photo Credit]

4. Carbone

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181 Thompson St.
New York City, NY 10012
(212) 254-3000
Visit Website
Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are at it again, bringing their brand of updated, ironic Italian-American cooking to the Greenwich Village. Carbone, which occupies what used to be the red sauce joint Rocco, is their most upscale — and exclusive — restaurant yet, with art curated by Vito Schnabel and waiters dressed in Zac Posen tuxedos. The phone lines are almost always busy, and it seems the staff doesn't take too kindly to passersby who want to set up a reservation. This one, for the moment, is impenetrable. [Krieger]

5. Ichimura at Brushstroke

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30 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 513-7141
Visit Website
For a time, it was no trouble getting one of the seven counter seats in the back of David Bouley's Japanese restaurant Brushstroke, where Eiji Ichimura presides over a $150 omakase sushi meal. That changed back in September, when Pete Wells gave the experience three stars and praised Ichimura's techniques, like curing and aging, which are difficult to encounter in New York, even at some of the city's best raw fish counters. It's now the toughest sushi reservation in town, though if you call at least a month in advance, you can work something out. [Pocketfork/Flickr]

6. Peter Luger Steak House

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178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 387-7400
Visit Website
If you want to make a reservation right now for Peter Luger, the best you could manage for a two-top is the middle of May for a weeknight or early June for a weekend. It has usually been this way, or worse, for those who wish to gain access to the legendary steakhouse that greets you as you enter Brooklyn from the Williamsburg Bridge. The reservationists are surprisingly nice over there, so it's not the worst idea to drop in and politely ask what they can do for you. Be flexible, and maybe a miracle will happen. If not, there's always lunch. [Peter Luger]

7. Atera

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77 Worth St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-1444
Visit Website
Chef Matt Lightner came to New York from Portland in 2012. From the get-go, he went big, taking over the failed Compose space in TriBeCa and making Atera, his new restaurant, the recipient of two Michelin stars within its first year in operation. Lightner serves a $165 tasting menu that reflects his experiences at restaurants like Mugaritz and Noma. At the moment, weekends are completely booked for the next six weeks, but you might be able to find some weekday seats scattered throughout April. NB: The restaurant no longer uses OpenTable. [Krieger]

8. Minetta Tavern

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113 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 475-3850
Visit Website
Though Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern isn't hard to access for brunch on the weekends or lunch during the week, it really becomes Minetta Tavern at night. That's when the lights dim, the room glows, and chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson prepare some of the best steaks, burgers, and OG French food in town. It is a magnet for celebrities and every other person who wants to sit on a red banquette and drink Bordeaux, but getting in has always been a tall order. Call a month in advance and maybe you'll have some luck, or settle for a slot at one of the extremes of dinner service. There's always the bar, which serves walk-ins all the dishes, or the abridged supper menu, which you can enjoy in the dining room late at night. [Krieger]

9. Per Se

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10 Columbus Cir.
New York, NY 10023
(212) 823-9335
Visit Website
Declared the best restaurant in New York by former Times critic Sam Sifton, Thomas Keller's Per Se in the Time Warner Center might be the most perfectionist high-end restaurant in the city. It's where you get the salmon coronets and oysters and pearls made famous at sister restaurant The French Laundry, in Napa, as well as an onslaught of dishes from executive chef Eli Kaimeh that showcase a nearly overwhelming devotion to technique and old-school luxury (see photos of a the extended tasting menu here). These days, if you want to go for dinner, you'll have to settle for something around 5 or after 9:30, and that's if you're lucky. Ways around it: call a month in advance, check in for cancellations one or two days before you'd like to dine, or just come in for lunch. [Per Se/Facebook]

10. Eleven Madison Park

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11 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905
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Restaurateur Daniel Humm and chef Will Guidara don't stop getting good press and accolades for their work at Eleven Madison Park, which they purchased from mentor Danny Meyer in 2011. Under Guidara and Humm, the restaurant has earned the highest possible rating from the New York Times, jumped from one to three Michelin stars in the span of a year, and fought its way into the top ten of the World's 50 Best List. Last year, the restaurant re-concepted its menu to emphasize the traditions of New York. EMP books 28 days out and, at the moment, the best you can do is 9:45 or later on scattered weeknights throughout April. As always, lunch is an easier deal, but for sweet-spot dinner times, call at 9 a.m. 28 days ahead or put yourself on the wait list. [Krieger]

11. Le Bernardin

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155 W 51st St.
New York, NY 10019
(212) 489-1515
Visit Website
When Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze revamped the dining room of their three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin last year, they solidified the restaurant's reputation as the most energetic fine dining restaurant in the city. People from all over still want to get in on the fun, not to mention Ripert's brilliant ways with seafood, making it so that the only tables you can nab are almost always after 10 p.m.. For prime dinner bookings, call a month in advance or play the OpenTable game, which occasionally reveals some cancellations or released bookings. There's also a lounge, where you can drop in for excellent cocktails and bites from the kitchen. Otherwise, settle for lunch. [Krieger]

12. Mission Chinese Food

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154 Orchard St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 529-8800
Visit Website
Danny Bowien's psychedelic Chinese sensation on the Lower East Side is known for its marathon waits. That feature of the Mission Chinese Food dining experience is palliated by free beer, blaring music, and the guarantee that you're going to end up eating some seriously delicious food for not much money. Recently, however, the restaurant instituted an online reservations system for a few tables a night. You can only book one week out, at 10 a.m. each morning. The difficulty of making it happen is awfully reminiscent of the early days of Momofuku Ko, when everyone seemed to have faster fingers than you. Keep at it, or just go in and wait. Lunch, for which the restaurant does not take online reservations, is usually way less busy. [Gabe Ulla/Instagram]

13. Babbo

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110 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 777-0303
Visit Website
The Led Zeppelin is still loud, the pasta is still delicious, and the reservations are still very hard to come by at seminal Greenwich Village restaurant Babbo, which Mario Batali opened critical acclaim in 1998. Since then, Batali's empire has expanded throughout the city and country and into Asia, but this is still the place to go to get a feel for what the chef is all about. As with most other places on this list, prime time reservations are best made a month in advance, but OpenTable occasionally reveals sudden openings. Best bet: the restaurant's Twitter account releases great tables almost every day. [Babbo/Facebook]

14. ABC Kitchen

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35 E 18th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 475-5829
Visit Website
This, surprisingly, is the toughest table in chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's New York City empire. ABC Kitchen is a chic, organic-mad operation in Flatiron where the talented Dan Kluger is chef. Both the fashion and food set descend on the place to eat damn good kale salads and whole wheat pizzas that don't have much to do with the flambéed foie Vongerichten makes uptown. Book a month in advance, unless you want to eat at 10:30 p.m.. Occasionally, though, something better appears on OpenTable. [Krieger]

15. Dirt Candy

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430 E 9th St.
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-7732
Visit Website
Here's one that might not always come to mind when thinking of tough tables: Amanda Cohen's inventive vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, in the East Village. It's not a tasting counter, but it has just eighteen seats. People have been going for years now, but Cohen's recent comic book release and a rave in the Times by Pete Wells make it so the place remains a very hot ticket. It's not impossible, though, if you're flexible with times online or you give the restaurant a call. [Horine]

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1. Rao's

455 E 114th St, New York, NY 10029
Red sauce joint Rao's, in East Harlem, dates back to 1896 and has the reputation of being the toughest table in New York. You can drop in for a drink any night, but what you really want is to sit at a table like the celebrities, friends of the house, and other "enterprising" characters that make the place what it is. To make it happen, you've got to get in touch with someone who's been there or who actually has a standing reservation year-round. Good luck. [Rao's]
455 E 114th St
New York, NY 10029

2. Chef's Table At Brooklyn Fare

212 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
Read Review |
The 18-seat Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is the only restaurant in the borough with three Michelin stars. It also boasts stellar reviews from the New York Times and basically every major critic or publication that's nabbed a seat at chef César Ramirez's counter. If you want to go for the $225 experience (that's before tax and 20% gratuity), which showcases the chef's understanding of what makes fine dining great in both Europe and Japan, you'll have to call at 10:30 a.m., six weeks to the calendar date on which you'd like to eat. That's pretty much the only way. [Brooklyn Fare/Facebook]
212 Schermerhorn St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

3. Blanca

261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Behind his Bushwick hit Roberta's, chef Carlo Mirarchi has opened a very different kind of restaurant: an airy and intimate 12-seat counter where he cooks an extended tasting menu. Blanca is only in operation four nights a week, and if Mirarchi isn't in town, the place doesn't open at all. It has already earned its first Michelin star. Reservations are taken by phone, 30 days out, on the first day of each month. It's nearly impossible to nab a table, since the phone lines are almost always jammed, but try to get yourself on the wait list. You'll find that the team is efficient at letting people know when cancellations come about, something that happens more often than you'd think. [Photo Credit]
261 Moore St
Brooklyn, NY 11237

4. Carbone

181 Thompson St., New York City, NY 10012
Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are at it again, bringing their brand of updated, ironic Italian-American cooking to the Greenwich Village. Carbone, which occupies what used to be the red sauce joint Rocco, is their most upscale — and exclusive — restaurant yet, with art curated by Vito Schnabel and waiters dressed in Zac Posen tuxedos. The phone lines are almost always busy, and it seems the staff doesn't take too kindly to passersby who want to set up a reservation. This one, for the moment, is impenetrable. [Krieger]
181 Thompson St.
New York City, NY 10012

5. Ichimura at Brushstroke

30 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013
For a time, it was no trouble getting one of the seven counter seats in the back of David Bouley's Japanese restaurant Brushstroke, where Eiji Ichimura presides over a $150 omakase sushi meal. That changed back in September, when Pete Wells gave the experience three stars and praised Ichimura's techniques, like curing and aging, which are difficult to encounter in New York, even at some of the city's best raw fish counters. It's now the toughest sushi reservation in town, though if you call at least a month in advance, you can work something out. [Pocketfork/Flickr]
30 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10013

6. Peter Luger Steak House

178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
If you want to make a reservation right now for Peter Luger, the best you could manage for a two-top is the middle of May for a weeknight or early June for a weekend. It has usually been this way, or worse, for those who wish to gain access to the legendary steakhouse that greets you as you enter Brooklyn from the Williamsburg Bridge. The reservationists are surprisingly nice over there, so it's not the worst idea to drop in and politely ask what they can do for you. Be flexible, and maybe a miracle will happen. If not, there's always lunch. [Peter Luger]
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211

7. Atera

77 Worth St, New York, NY 10013
Chef Matt Lightner came to New York from Portland in 2012. From the get-go, he went big, taking over the failed Compose space in TriBeCa and making Atera, his new restaurant, the recipient of two Michelin stars within its first year in operation. Lightner serves a $165 tasting menu that reflects his experiences at restaurants like Mugaritz and Noma. At the moment, weekends are completely booked for the next six weeks, but you might be able to find some weekday seats scattered throughout April. NB: The restaurant no longer uses OpenTable. [Krieger]
77 Worth St
New York, NY 10013

8. Minetta Tavern

113 MacDougal St., New York, NY 10012
Though Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern isn't hard to access for brunch on the weekends or lunch during the week, it really becomes Minetta Tavern at night. That's when the lights dim, the room glows, and chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson prepare some of the best steaks, burgers, and OG French food in town. It is a magnet for celebrities and every other person who wants to sit on a red banquette and drink Bordeaux, but getting in has always been a tall order. Call a month in advance and maybe you'll have some luck, or settle for a slot at one of the extremes of dinner service. There's always the bar, which serves walk-ins all the dishes, or the abridged supper menu, which you can enjoy in the dining room late at night. [Krieger]
113 MacDougal St.
New York, NY 10012

9. Per Se

10 Columbus Cir., New York, NY 10023
Declared the best restaurant in New York by former Times critic Sam Sifton, Thomas Keller's Per Se in the Time Warner Center might be the most perfectionist high-end restaurant in the city. It's where you get the salmon coronets and oysters and pearls made famous at sister restaurant The French Laundry, in Napa, as well as an onslaught of dishes from executive chef Eli Kaimeh that showcase a nearly overwhelming devotion to technique and old-school luxury (see photos of a the extended tasting menu here). These days, if you want to go for dinner, you'll have to settle for something around 5 or after 9:30, and that's if you're lucky. Ways around it: call a month in advance, check in for cancellations one or two days before you'd like to dine, or just come in for lunch. [Per Se/Facebook]
10 Columbus Cir.
New York, NY 10023

10. Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010
Restaurateur Daniel Humm and chef Will Guidara don't stop getting good press and accolades for their work at Eleven Madison Park, which they purchased from mentor Danny Meyer in 2011. Under Guidara and Humm, the restaurant has earned the highest possible rating from the New York Times, jumped from one to three Michelin stars in the span of a year, and fought its way into the top ten of the World's 50 Best List. Last year, the restaurant re-concepted its menu to emphasize the traditions of New York. EMP books 28 days out and, at the moment, the best you can do is 9:45 or later on scattered weeknights throughout April. As always, lunch is an easier deal, but for sweet-spot dinner times, call at 9 a.m. 28 days ahead or put yourself on the wait list. [Krieger]
11 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10010

11. Le Bernardin

155 W 51st St., New York, NY 10019
When Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze revamped the dining room of their three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin last year, they solidified the restaurant's reputation as the most energetic fine dining restaurant in the city. People from all over still want to get in on the fun, not to mention Ripert's brilliant ways with seafood, making it so that the only tables you can nab are almost always after 10 p.m.. For prime dinner bookings, call a month in advance or play the OpenTable game, which occasionally reveals some cancellations or released bookings. There's also a lounge, where you can drop in for excellent cocktails and bites from the kitchen. Otherwise, settle for lunch. [Krieger]
155 W 51st St.
New York, NY 10019

12. Mission Chinese Food

154 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002
Danny Bowien's psychedelic Chinese sensation on the Lower East Side is known for its marathon waits. That feature of the Mission Chinese Food dining experience is palliated by free beer, blaring music, and the guarantee that you're going to end up eating some seriously delicious food for not much money. Recently, however, the restaurant instituted an online reservations system for a few tables a night. You can only book one week out, at 10 a.m. each morning. The difficulty of making it happen is awfully reminiscent of the early days of Momofuku Ko, when everyone seemed to have faster fingers than you. Keep at it, or just go in and wait. Lunch, for which the restaurant does not take online reservations, is usually way less busy. [Gabe Ulla/Instagram]
154 Orchard St.
New York, NY 10002

13. Babbo

110 Waverly Pl., New York, NY 10011
The Led Zeppelin is still loud, the pasta is still delicious, and the reservations are still very hard to come by at seminal Greenwich Village restaurant Babbo, which Mario Batali opened critical acclaim in 1998. Since then, Batali's empire has expanded throughout the city and country and into Asia, but this is still the place to go to get a feel for what the chef is all about. As with most other places on this list, prime time reservations are best made a month in advance, but OpenTable occasionally reveals sudden openings. Best bet: the restaurant's Twitter account releases great tables almost every day. [Babbo/Facebook]
110 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

14. ABC Kitchen

35 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003
This, surprisingly, is the toughest table in chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's New York City empire. ABC Kitchen is a chic, organic-mad operation in Flatiron where the talented Dan Kluger is chef. Both the fashion and food set descend on the place to eat damn good kale salads and whole wheat pizzas that don't have much to do with the flambéed foie Vongerichten makes uptown. Book a month in advance, unless you want to eat at 10:30 p.m.. Occasionally, though, something better appears on OpenTable. [Krieger]
35 E 18th St
New York, NY 10003

15. Dirt Candy

430 E 9th St., New York, NY 10009
Here's one that might not always come to mind when thinking of tough tables: Amanda Cohen's inventive vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, in the East Village. It's not a tasting counter, but it has just eighteen seats. People have been going for years now, but Cohen's recent comic book release and a rave in the Times by Pete Wells make it so the place remains a very hot ticket. It's not impossible, though, if you're flexible with times online or you give the restaurant a call. [Horine]
430 E 9th St.
New York, NY 10009

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