There once was a time when Greenwich Village was an actual village. That was before the grid street plan for Manhattan in the early 19th century was conceived and the city slowly crept north, building around the already existing curvy and diagonal streets of “The Village.”
City authorities who designed and instituted the grid plan in 1811 believed that curved streets promoted a kind of unwelcome, debauched way of thinking. Instead, they thought that straight streets—a grid plan with a lot of 90-degree turns—would promote more puritanical thoughts and behavior.
Coincidence or not, the Village and its confusing street plan has long attracted (and welcomed) artists, intellectuals, bohemians, and anyone who lived a lifestyle that may not have been accepted in other parts of the city (or the country). And perhaps because of that, the neighborhood has long been home to some of the best restaurants in a city that is already considered one of the greatest dining destinations on the planet.
Here are some of the best West Village restaurants. That is, if you can find them in the neighborhood’s tangle of brownstone-laden streets.
It’s not an uncommon sight to be walking by Seventh Avenue and Grove Street and witness Italian tourists snickering and pointing at the sign of this handsome bar. But Bar Pisellino is much more than its risqué (in Italian) name. The stunning high-ceilinged, wood-and-marble interior looks as if some deity picked up the most beautiful, historic bar in Milan or Rome and dropped it right here in the West Village.
Pisellino isn’t necessarily a place to have a full meal. It’s really a bar in the Italian sense. In the morning you sip espresso and munch on a croissant; in the evening you come for wine or a Negroni and eat light snacks before or after dinner.
The owners, chefs Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, also own nearby Via Carota, Buvette, I Sodi, and newcomer The Commerce Inn.
This MacDougal Street eatery began life as a pandemic-era pop-up mostly serving fish and chips. And when word got out that this oh-so-English combination was revelatory, hungry people began lining up.
Dame then went from pop-up to permanent and quickly became a destination eatery and one of the best West Village restaurants. The now-legendary fish and chips are still on the menu and first-timers should not forego reeling in an order. But consider casting a wider net, as the seafood heavy menu at this British-accented eatery has quite a few keepers—such as smoked whitefish croquettes and braised beans with crab and ‘nduja.
Chef Alex Stupak raised eyebrows when he left his gig at wd~50, the now-closed Lower East Side temple to molecular gastronomy, and opened this taqueria on the corner of W. 10th and W. 4th Streets. It seemed as improbable as the intersection it sits on. There’s no razzle-dazzle, culinary wizardry going on here: just extremely solid and consistent Mexican-inspired fare.
If “authenticity” is what you seek, Empellón is not the place for you. But if you want some seriously inspired tacos to dazzle your palate, plant yourself here for an evening to nosh on homemade tortillas stuffed with things like pastrami and sauerkraut, brussels sprouts and spicy almonds, and ultra-tender lamb barbacoa.
This legendary slice joint may have been founded by a born-and-bred Neapolitan, but the pizza that comes out of the gas-fired oven here is Big Apple to the core. The bottom is crispy and appropriately leopard-spotted and the sauce is tangy. What more do you need?
The service at this almost-50-year-old institution can be brusque, and the slice slingers behind the counter are not always wildly friendly. But people don’t pack the place for the service, anyway, and it’s still one of the best West Village restaurants regardless.
The Little Owl
A lot of people inadvertently stand in front of The Little Owl, anchored on the corner of Grove and Bedford Streets in one of the most twee swaths of the West Village. That’s because the building that houses this restaurant was the exterior stand-in for the hit ‘90s sit-com “Friends.”
What most of those “Friends” fanatics don’t realize is that The Little Owl might be the best neighborhood restaurant in the city. Chef Joey Campanero’s menu leans toward the Mediterranean with dishes like a skate Milanese sandwich, expertly grilled octopus, and the Roman pasta classic bucatini all’Amatriciana. This is a place you’ll want to make friends with.
The Mary Lane
The team from The Little Owl opened this corner restaurant in fall 2021. It wows West Villagers with market-driven dishes inspired by Japan and the Mediterranean.
Menu standouts include Long Island duck confit with grits, hamachi crudo sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts, and a perfectly cooked angus strip loin. The restaurant also has a nice (albeit early) happy hour every day from 3 to 5 p.m. with select two-for-one cocktails and nicely priced snacks.
On a block that is flanked by comedy clubs, cheap falafel and taco places, and frat boy bars, you wouldn’t expect to find such an elegant eatery. But there is Minetta Tavern, a onetime 1930s dive where everyone from Hemingway to Ezra Pound to E.E. Cummings got liquored up.
In 2009, restaurateur Keith McNally took over the place and turned it into one of the best West Village restaurants. The tile floors and the pressed-tin ceiling were refreshed and the kitchen began dazzling from day one.
The dry-aged côte de boeuf for two comes with a hefty price tag, but is one of the best in this steakhouse-heavy city. The two burgers—the Minetta burger and the pricier Black Label burger—are both great, but the former is better than the latter. The 70-seat, two-room space is dark, moody, and oh-so old New York.
Housed in a spot that used to be a ho-hum diner for decades, Venetian-accented St. Theo’s is anything but average. There seems to be a perpetual party going on here nightly, as the young and affluent (and the people who love them) pack the place, sitting under the freshly restored pressed-tin ceiling sipping potent Negronis while an ‘80s soundtrack adds to the cacophony.
Given the scene-y vibe of St. Theo’s, the food that comes out of the kitchen shouldn’t be this good. There are usually only a few pasta dishes on the menu, but they’re usually standouts.
One in particular, the linguini bathed in a buttery goodness accented by the textural crunch of preserved orange and sauteed guanciale, is so decadent yet simple. The red pepper sauce poured over the parchment-cooked scallops manages to add to the flavor of the scallop rather than eclipse it. It’s good enough to consider a second order.
The team behind lauded and buzzy Indian restaurants Adda and Dhamaka seem to have a hit formula. In a stylish setting, they serve dishes made in rural parts of India that have not really made the leap across national borders.
Greenwich Avenue’s Semma hits that equation with a spicy bang, focusing on southern India. Dishes like snails in a tamarind-ginger paste, spicy, dried, fall-off-the-bone lamb, incendiary star-anise-laced venison, and Goanese oxtail may be like eating Indian cuisine for the first time. Except that then you’ll want to have it a second and a third and a fourth time.
When is a tea house not a tea house? When the chef cooks up some of the best snacks this side of the Atlantic (or the Pacific, for that matter). One of the best West Village restaurants, Té Company is a diminutive four-table spot (with outdoor tables too) that is run by a charming couple.
Elena Liao expertly runs the tea program, which focuses exclusively on Taiwanese oolong. Frederico Ribeiro, who has worked in the kitchens at some of the best kitchens in the world, including elBulli in Spain and Per Se in New York, masterfully cooks up whatever he’s in the mood for. That means fork-tender slow-roasted Taiwanese pork, a perfectly cooked tortilla española, and his signature pineapple Linzer cookies.
Want to keep exploring this amazing New York neighborhood? Our Greenwich Village food tour is calling your name. Join us to discover our favorite eateries and dig into the best local bites in the company of fellow foodies. Come hungry!
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.