131 Sullivan, cnr of Prince St.
New American. Andrew Carmellini can do no wrong - I was already a huge fan of Locanda Verde (Tribeca) when he opened this place (New American with an extensive raw bar and plenty of Southern accents in the menu), and I've always had a great meal here. I would come here just for the pies (daily changing, but the key lime with sea salt blew my mind), but I also crave the oyster po boys and the hot fried chicken with biscuits. Carmellini's newest venture Lafayette (an "every day French") in Noho is also getting great reviews.
Italian. Michael White (of Marea, Ai Fiori, Nicoletta, Costata, Butterfly and soon, Ristorante Morini in Midtown) pays homage to the rich cuisine of Emilia Romagna (home to Parma, Parmigiana and balsamic vinegar), where he worked for 7 years and met his future wife. Handmade pastas definitely steal the show, from truffled mascarpone-stuffed ravioli to pork tortellini in a creamy duck liver sauce, but even a simple but expertly dressed and tossed insalata mista was memorable. Just be ready for a loud and boisterous atmosphere.
Ed's Lobster Bar
Fish/Seafood. Ex-Pearl Oyster bar sous chef opened his own shrine to New England seafood in 2007. This is one of my favorite spots for lunch, sitting up at the bar with a pint of beer and a lobster roll.
408 Broome Street. 212.219.5050
Spanish. Just outside the zone, technically speaking...but one of my favorite spots period - it's an adorable Spanish food shop and cafe with a nice selection of tapas and bocadillos for eating in their bright, cozy space. But the best part is their jamon carving class - though pricy (it's $400/head), they teach you how to carve a ham, which you take home, and it also includes a wine and cheese tasting while you carve.
New American. Sister restaurant to Five Points and Cookshop, it's more of the same simply-prepared seasonal fare in rustic surrounds. A top choice for brunch and especially kid-friendly, there's also a lovely light-filled dining space in the back.
Blue Ribbon Sushi
Japanese. One of NY's perennial sushi favourites for its fine sushi and award-winning sake list. I do think there are many other better sushi spots in the city (Neta, Ushiwakamaru, Jewel Bako etc) but this place has always had a cult following.
French Brasserie. Probably the most popular McNally outlet (Pastis, Schillers, Minetta), it's got a central Soho location, vintage brasserie décor, solid bistro food and a takeaway bakery next door if you need an extortionate snack while you wait. And they take reservations!
Thai. Refined interpretations in a Zen-like setting, from the people behind such other Asian successes as Indochine, Bond St., Republic). Grab drinks in the Thom Bar on the main floor of the hotel, or the “members-only” A60 Lounge on the roof (open to hotel guests too).
Spanish. Second branch of Chelsea's hugely popular tapas and raciones bar (Boqueria) originally opened by Seamus Mullen (now of also-popular Tertulia and El Comado in Gotham West Market).
94 Prince, at Mercer. 212.226.9412
Burgers/Bar. A Soho institution since 1922, this one-time speakeasy has been serving up cheap grub and brews since 1922. The burger was pretty good, but I still think Shake Shack is the best.
On the radar:
Solid French bistro classics in a charming, well-worn space.
Blue Ribbon Brasserie
New American. There's something for everyone at anytime at the original flagship (est 1992) of the city-wide Blue Ribbon group of restaurants (Blue Ribbon Bakery, Blue Ribbon Sushi): marrow bone with oxtail marmelade, hummus, fruits de mer, pupu platter.
Kelley & Ping
Chinese. A disgrace to Chinese cuisine, everything about the food was totally wrong and the atmosphere was stale and uninspired. It should just go ahead and close already.