Everyone’s heard of the New York neighborhoods Little Italy and Chinatown. Fewer may know Koreatown and Little Guyana. But very few know of Little Spain. That’s because much of it has vanished.
On West 14th Street (and a few blocks north and south on the Chelsea/West Village divide), “Little Spain” was home to New York’s Spanish immigrant community for decades.
There are still remnants: the Spanish Benevolent society, home to the restaurant La Nacional and founded in 1868, was a home-away-from-home for many Spaniards (and still is). The organization helped with immigration services and even boarded just-off-the-boat immigrants and visitors from Iberia—including Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Luis Buñuel, and Federico Garcia Lorca.
Within a few blocks of West 14th Street, there are still a handful of old-school Spanish restaurants, remnants of “Pequeña España,” including Sevilla, Café Riazor, and El Quijote.
These old-school Spanish restaurants, though not necessarily known for their award-winning fare, might only knock your proverbial socks off in terms of Old World atmosphere. The good news is this: there are a handful of Spanish restaurants in other parts of La Gran Manzana that will wow your palate.
Here are the 10 best Spanish restaurants in NYC.
Lauded chef Dani Garcia’s Manhattan West restaurant opened in early 2022 to great fanfare. The chef, hailing from Andalusia, is back after a nine-year hiatus when his Manhattan eatery Manzanilla shut down; New Yorkers never really warmed up to a menu that leaned toward molecular gastronomy. He then moved back to his native Malaga and earned three Michelin stars at his eponymous restaurant there (it closed in 2019).
But at Garcia’s first New York restaurant in almost a decade, he’s doing no culinary wizardry. Instead, the food here is straight-up Spanish staples that happen to be executed by a master chef. Perfectly crisp croquettes, a slice of jamón ibérico de bellota balancing on top, hide ultra-creamy porklicious béchamel.
There is also an entire section of the menu dedicated to tuna—tuna croquettes, pan con tomate with tuna, tuna carpaccio, you get the idea—and it would be understandable for the diner to fill up just on these dishes alone.
Emilia by Nai
Located on First Avenue in the East Village, Emilia by Nai is an edible Oasis of Iberian creativity. The chef, Ruben Rodriguez, from the region of Galicia, doesn’t necessarily cook the dishes from his home region and doesn’t necessarily stick to pan-Spanish staples. Instead, he puts his own creative spin on things, often fusing Japanese techniques and ingredients into his Spanish-accented creations. The short, curated wine list offers bottles from Oregon and the Finger Lakes region, including a lovely Albariño that’s made in California.
Opened in 2003 in Gramercy Park, Michelin-starred Casa Mono has been consistently good for as long as it’s been frying croquetas in Spanish olive oil and slicing premium Iberian jamón y paleta.
The restaurant serves the classics that are ubiquitous in Spanish restaurants abroad—pan con tomate, croquetas de jamón, patatas bravas—but delves deeper into dishes infrequently found outside of Iberia: bone marrow with smoked trout, oxtail-stuffed piquillo peppers, and dishes with pig ears and various offal come off and back on the menu with regularity.
Centro Español de Queens
Also known as Círculo Español, this semi-private Spanish social club is worth the journey to Astoria in Queens. The eatery, one of the best Spanish restaurants in NYC, is open to the public and is frequented by Spain’s fairly tight-knit expat community.
There will likely be a fútbol match on TV, beamed in from the mother country, while some regulars sit at the bar noshing on creamy croquetas and patatas bravas. Larger groups gravitate to the slightly more formal dining room for hours-long feasts, complete with a long sobremesa: sitting around the table chatting, sipping coffee, orujo, and wine, long after the food is gone.
When this Basque-flavored eatery dedicated to “Don Ernesto” Hemingway first fired up its burners at the beginning of the pandemic, it went under the radar for most of the city’s fooderati. But then Ernesto’s ended up on most New York critics’ “best new restaurants” list by the end of the year. And deservedly so.
Start at the top of the menu at this Lower East Side eatery, sticking to mostly pintxos, and you can’t go wrong. There’s an excellent tortilla, made extra mocosa, or runny, as is the proclivity in northern Spain; sometimes it comes topped with uni. There are gooey and addictive chicken croquetas, piquillo peppers stuffed with shredded duck, unctuous morcilla paired with crispy apples, and a sweet and spicy gilda (a skewer with peppers, green olives and anchovies).
Straddling the cuisines of Catalonia and the Basque Country, this SoHo spot does an admirable job serving up complex dishes that exude full Iberian flavor. Chef Mikel de Luis’ menu is loaded with flavor-popping dishes like baby clams and eels in a green Txakoli sauce and toast topped with jamón ibérico (from the dehesa cordobesa), smoked Idiazabal cheese, morcilla, and a quail egg. The wine list mostly sticks to the Basque Country and Rioja.
Adding to the Basque dining landscape of New York, this East Village eatery is an under-the-radar charmer and one of the best Spanish restaurants in NYC. They serve house-made vermouth on tap, have a long list of Basque ciders and Spanish-inspired gin and tonics, and, of course, a long list of wines—most of which hail from Galicia, Rioja, and the Basque Country.
The food focus consists of a heavy dose of pintxos, tinned seafood, and larger-portioned plates. Foie gras and red onion jam on toast, smoked-garlic-spiked roasted mushrooms, and the obligatory gilda are standouts. The daily happy hour (‘til 6:30 p.m.) offers discounted beverages and a delicious “Basque Dog,” a hot dog with txistorra sausage.
Kind of the place where it all began. The restaurant inside the Spanish Benevolent Society, founded in 1868, is still going strong, consistently serving up Spanish staples—and at much more affordable prices than its Spanish counterparts.
As one of the best Spanish restaurants in NYC, La Nacional had a program of rotating chefs from Spain. But when Valencian chef Francisco Javier Parreño wowed staff and regulars, they decided to make him a permanent fixture in the kitchen. The menu is pretty straight-forward but consistently good: creamy croquetas, proper pan con tomate, and sizzling gambas al ajillo. And given that the chef is from Valencia, don’t ignore the excellent paellas.
Started by Minneapolis-born Alex Raij and Basque-born Eder Montero (who own and operate Saint Julivert Fisherie and temporarily closed El Quinto Pino and Txikito), this Cobble Hill, Brooklyn restaurant (268 Clinton St.) intriguingly focuses on the food of the Jewish and Moorish legacies in Spain. Think: squid in a saffron pil pil sauce or a fire-roasted eggplant, eel baba ganoush.
Mercado Little Spain
Super chef (and humanitarian) Jose Andres is the big name behind this food hall and restaurant (along with Albert and Ferran Adrià), perhaps the only place that pulses with life in the soulless Hudson Yards complex.
Mercado Little Spain is partly a food hall filled with kiosks and bars peddling all manner of Spanish cuisine. There are stands that specialize in bravas or churros or jamón or just paella. You can even amuse your palate with the magical liquid olives that Ferran Adrià made famous at his erstwhile El Bulli in Roses, Spain.
Adjacent to the food hall is Spanish Diner, a more formal (but still casual) restaurant serving up consistently solid staples from nearly every region in Spain.
Ask a Spanish expatriate in New York about the best Spanish restaurants in NYC and there’s a good chance they may say their favorite is Tomiño. Located in Little Italy, oddly enough, Tomiño serves up the cuisine of Galicia, a region in northwestern Spain that makes most people in Iberia swoon when the name is even uttered.
The restaurant makes an excellent tortilla that is appropriately mocosa, or runny. Big spenders with a hungry appetite might want to splurge on the dry-aged tomahawk steak for two and then finish the feast with a glass of orujo de hierbas, a Galician liquor.
Counting down the days to your trip to NYC so you can start devouring all the delicious food in sight? We feel you—that’s how we travel, too.
Let’s hang out while you’re in town, preferably on our Greenwich Village food tour! Let us feed your curiosity and show you our New York.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.