Many of the historic swaths of New York City, particularly in Manhattan, have been razed, replaced by soulless high-rise glass towers. But there’s one underrated neighborhood that still oozes with Big Apple historical ambience: the South Street Seaport.
Of course, like all those other erstwhile atmospheric districts that are now literally history, the South Street Seaport was headed in that direction too, as the area was originally slated to be the site of the World Trade Center. But the city designated it a historic district, thus saving it from the wrecking ball. Today, the 10-block district is the city’s oldest neighborhood.
Usually locals would end up in this tourist-magnet of a neighborhood when visiting relatives were in town. But in the last few years, a handful of great restaurants have swung open, making the South Street Seaport and its cobblestone streets a destination for New Yorkers.
Here are the best South Street Seaport restaurants to enjoy a meal while in this atmospheric part of town.
While not part of the historic 10-block district, Caravan sits just to the east. But the Downtown dining scene is much better for this restaurant, as one usually has to spend about 45 minutes on the subway to get to the nearest good Uyghur restaurant.
Caravan has a bigger menu than the handful of other Uyghur restaurants in the city. There are the usual grilled meat options, laghman noodle dishes, and samosa-like lamb-stuffed samsas, all of which are excellent. Hungry diners can splurge and order a whole roasted lamb.
Andrew Carmellini has made a good name for himself with his coterie of (mostly) Italian restaurants around the city. He made a big splash in 2021, opening this handsome restaurant in the South Street Seaport.
The name suggests surf and turf, but Carne Mare is much more turf than seafood at this bi-level Italian-accented spot, clad in Tuscan leather booths with an attractive horseshoe-shaped bar. Come with a wallet padded with paper bills and splurge on one of the steaks for two: either the 45-day dry-aged porterhouse or the 30-day dry-aged tomahawk, complemented with a dozen raw oysters, uni-filled arancini, and/or mozzarella sticks and caviar.
This spot is something of a misnomer. Which, in a way, is perfectly fitting, because it’s not easy to define this place. Fish Market does not specialize in fish nor is it a market. Rather, it’s a raucous and fun dive bar that cooks up excellent Chinese-Malaysian cuisine.
The bar is run by a Chinese-Malaysian family. Dad and the sons work the bar, often wandering around with a bottle of Jamison and a stack of plastic cups to offer guests free shots, and mom is in the back cooking up delightful dishes like ginger chicken wings, pan-fried pork dumplings, and bowls of curried chicken. It’s pretty much assured you’ll leave full and drunk after an evening at Fish Market. Located at 111 South St.
It’s generally accepted knowledge that when there’s a view involved at a restaurant, the kitchen rarely lives up to the dazzling sights. But not when Jean-Georges Vongerichten is the toque.
Housed in the space of the erstwhile Fulton Street Fish Market, this 240-seat eatery specializes in—wait for it—seafood. But it’s fish with that Jean-Georges twist: French technique and Asian ingredients. The result: one of the best South Street Seaport restaurants.
Tuna tartare is infused with yuzu, warm octopus is paired with fresh mozzarella, and sashimi comes out bathed in a white ponzu sauce. It’s all good enough to compete with that stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Southern Italy is on the menu at Il Brigante, an attractive eatery tucked away in the cobbled streets of the Seaport. The menu has a lot of standouts, including classic tomato-topped bruschetta, various pasta dishes from around the Italian peninsula, and excellent Neapolitan pizzas.
Just a short walk from the historic cobbled streets of the Seaport, Keste is one of the best pizzerias in New York City. The owners originally hail from that pizza heaven known as Naples. And so no surprise here, the thick pizza here comes out bubbling, the bottom crust appropriately leopard spotted, and the San Marzano tomato sauce as tangy as it should be. Start with the classic Margherita and then move on to other pies from there.
If Southern California and New York City had an edible lovechild, it would look and taste a lot like this casual So-Cal-themed spot.
The organic menu at Malibu Farm packs a punch with grass-fed beef sliders (topped with candied bacon), spaghetti squash lasagna, jalapeño-spiked labneh, and fish tacos. It’s good enough that you might start using a lot of “up talk” and “vocal fry,” and include plenty of misplaced “likes” and “literallys” in your conversations after eating at Malibu Farm.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
David Chang’s lauded Ssäm Bar shut down in its original East Village location during the pandemic and fans sadly figured it was permanent. But in 2021, the restaurant fired up its burners here in the South Street Seaport—albeit with a different menu. Not that it’s a bad thing, especially when the offerings include inventive dishes like cacio e pepe rice cakes, gochujang-glazed pork belly, and tender soy-marinated short ribs.
Sunday in Brooklyn
Serving up very Instagram-friendly fare that actually tastes even better than it looks, Sunday in Brooklyn began life in Williamsburg. In early 2022, an outpost in the Seaport opened up, serving its signature burger, which is excellent, by the way, as well as the incredible hazelnut praline maple pancakes (available only at brunch and lunch), among other edible delights.
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.