Shake Shack

Where to Dine Around Top New York Museums

The best restaurants near the city’s most celebrated galleries, whether you’re a starving artist or a patron of the arts

Dining before or after a museum visit is often an unplanned affair—with hungry visitors resorting to chain cafes, corner pizza joints or—worse yet—dirty water dogs, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re planning a visit to one of New York’s top museums, check out these local-approved restaurants, whether you crave a white tablecloth affair from a big name chef or a more casual, and less expensive, place to rest your weary feet.

Cafe Boulud Pastrami Queen

Café Boulud (Photo: B. Milne), Pastrami Queen (Photo: Pamlau/Flickr), Inset: Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo: The MMA-National Register of Historic Places)

METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

Formal: Café Boulud. There’s no doubt about it; after traipsing around the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2 million-square-foot building, you will be hungry. True, there are a few cafes sprinkled about the museum, but walk six blocks south to 76th Street and you’ll find a true gem in Café Boulud from celebrated chef Daniel Bouloud (Daniel, DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud). The dining room with its white tablecloths and beige color scheme typifies Upper East Side formal dining and presents a blank slate for the French-influenced flavors to come. The oft-changing a la carte menu is separated into four sections: La Tradition (country cooking), La Saison (seasonal dishes), La Potager (vegetarian dishes) and Le Voyage (world cuisine). For a less pricey meal, try the lunch prix fixe, available as either two ($37) or three courses ($43) and served Monday to Saturday. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant, but you can always drop in to the adjoining Bar Pleiades for light fare, desserts and expertly mixed cocktails both classic and more daring, such as the Shiver Me Timbers, a woodsy concoction made with JM Gold Rhum, Zirbenz pine liqueur, Ramazzotti amaro liqueur, tiki bitters, maple syrup, candied walnut and foraged pine. 20 East 76th St., 212-772-2600, cafeboulud.com

Casual: Pastrami Queen. For famished museum-goers operating on a starving artist budget, this classic kosher deli along Lexington Avenue is the ticket. It’s about six blocks from the Met to all the high-quality, house-cured meats your arteries could desire. The deli serves all the Jewish classics, including knishes, matzo ball soup, dumplings and corned beef, but pastrami is the specialty. A sandwich, piled generously high with the restaurant’s namesake, goes for $15 and can easily be shared. It’s best served on hot rye bread with spicy mustard and a side of pickles, although the friendly staff is happy to make alternative suggestions. The well-stocked, florescent-lit glass cases take up much of this cozy diner space, which seats about a dozen patrons. If you can, grab a table and soak in the retro feel of the place, complete with salamis hanging from the ceiling, or in nice weather take your sandwich to go and eat on those famous Met steps or in nearby Central Park. 1125 Lexington Ave., 212-734-1500, pastramiqueen.com

 

The Modern La Bonne Soupe

The Modern (Photo: Ellen Silverman), La Bonne Soupe, Inset: MoMA

MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Formal: The Modern. You’ve been inspired by Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie hanging in MoMA and want to find inspiration on your plate? The good news is you don’t have to travel far, as the Modern is accessible through the museum and plates impeccable French-American fare such as rabbit-truffle “Alsatian dumplings” and maple-brined Berkshire pork tenderloin from chef Gabriel Kreuther. It’s not cheap—lunch is two courses for $55 or three for $70 (both include dessert), while dinner is four courses for $98 or $155 for a chef’s eight-course tasting menu. The quiet, airy dining room—minimalist in design, naturally—allows unbroken views into the museum’s sculpture garden via its floor-to-ceiling windows. Reservations are recommended, but without them there’s the more lively Bar Room, separated from the restaurant by a partition of frosted glass. You can still make a meal out of the more casual menu at either table seating or along the 46-foot marble bar, which is the ideal jumping-off point for a specialty cocktail such as the Modern Martini, cilantro-infused Tanqueray gin and fresh lime juice. 9 W 53rd St., 212-333-1220, themodernnyc.com

Casual: La Bonne Soupe. Two short blocks from the MoMa, this bustling lunch and dinner destination serves French bistro fare at a modest cost. It’s also within walking distance of both Times Square and the Theater District. Its popular prix fixe soup won’t leave you hungry with a hearty soup, bread, salad, dessert and beverage available for a nickel shy of $20. Moderately priced crepes, omelets, salads, hamburgers and kids meals should please even the picky ones. The charming subway-tiled floors, cozy bistro seating and foreign movie posters make the French dishes all the more tempting and the price seem more of a steal. 48 W 55th St., 212-586-7650, labonnesoupe.com

 

Dovetail Shake Shack

Dovetail, Shake Shack (Photo: Peter Mauss/ESTO), Inset: American Museum of Natural History

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

Formal: Dovetail. After the hubbub and crowds of the American Museum of Natural History, slipping into the somewhat hidden Dovetail right around the corner—look for the inconspicuous glass door on 77th Street—is a breath of calm. The plain wood tables, exposed brick and wood paneling keep the focus on seasonal a la carte dishes from chef John Fraser, such as ricotta gnudi and Long Island duck breast with scarlet turnips, endives and cranberries. There’s also a four-course prix fixe dinner for $85 and an eight-course chef’s tasting for $132. If you can, stop in for the “Sunday Suppa,” a deal at $58 for three courses, including your choice of inventive sundaes. The Fat Elvis, a sundae with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, bananas and candied bacon, speaks for itself. It’s dinner only, excepting Sunday brunch from 11:30am to 2pm. 103 W 77th St., 212-362-3800, dovetailnyc.com

Casual: Shake Shack. You’d be remiss to not visit Shake Shack while in New York, and there’s a location kitty-corner from the museum and next to Dovetail. Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s hip take on a classic burger joint is famous the world over (there are locations in the Middle East, the U.K. and Turkey in addition to a number on the East Coast) for its old-fashioned burgers, grilled split hot dogs and creamy-smooth concretes, available from 10:45am to 11pm. This location has enclosed atrium sidewalk seating and a sizeable downstairs seating area, but despite the ample space it’s often packed. The good news is that the line moves quickly, and the turnover usually keeps up with demand. 366 Columbus Ave., 646-747-8770, shakeshack.com

 

Paola's Sarabeth's

Paola’s, Sarabeth’s, Inset: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Photo: David Heald/The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

GUGGENHEIM

Formal: Paola’s. Reward yourself with a hearty Italian meal after hours spent spiraling up and down the dizzying art-filled ramp at the Guggenheim. Five blocks from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum is this family-run Upper East Side staple that turns out tantalizing, if pricy, Italian fare for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. There’s a long list of fresh pastas to tempt, including the popular fettuccine alla Bolognese, plus meat dishes such as grilled veal and lamb chops. In summer months, try to nab a seat on the sidewalk and settle in as the neighborhood ambles by. It’s equally alluring inside the bistro-like space, where high ceilings lend a sense of openness to the restaurant. 1295 Madison Ave., 212-794-1890, paolasrestaurant.com

Casual: Sarabeth’s East. Venture five blocks from the Guggenheim to one of New York’s most popular brunch and lunch establishments (open daily from 8am to 11pm) with several locations around the city. The welcoming space overflows with the sight and scent of pastries, cookies, tarts and cakes at the retro-looking bakery counter cheered by lemon yellow walls and checkerboard flooring. For the best experience, come pre-museum and settle in the dining room for one of the famed breakfast items, such as the lemon and ricotta pancakes or the French toast. Don’t forget a mango nectar Bellini to wash it all down. If you’re in a hurry, you can always grab a pastry to go from up front. 1295 Madison Ave., 212-410-7335, sarabethseast.com

 

Bar Corvo_The Islands

Bar Corvo, The Islands, Inset: The Brooklyn Museum (Photo: Justin Van Soest)

BROOKLYN MUSEUM

Formal: Bar Corvo. After wandering through one of the oldest and largest museums in the U.S. (don’t miss the especially impressive collection of Egyptian antiques), head two blocks to Bar Corvo for what’s arguably the best dining on Washington Avenue. The owners of the longstanding nearby Italian restaurant Al Di La opened this spot with a simpler version of the original in mind. And, indeed, the restrained dishes shine: the warm faro salad, semolina gnocchi and heritage pork chop don’t disappoint. It’s open for dinner nightly, and there’s a weekend brunch from 11am to 3:30pm. At either meal, you’ll find museum-goers, neighborhood families and young hipsters dining at salvaged wood tables in a faintly old-fashioned room. Sit at the modest bar for a front-row seat into the kitchen and access to the cooks, who are happy to make recommendations. 791 Washington Ave., 718-230-0940, barcorvo.com

Casual: The Islands. This tiny, casual restaurant on Washington Avenue is easy to miss, but it’s worth the effort for a taste of the rich Caribbean cuisine that typifies the Crown Heights neighborhood. And you won’t have to wander far—it’s less than a block north of the Brooklyn Museum and open from 12 to 10:30pm daily. You’ll get an authentic taste for the West Indies with dishes such as jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtail and calypso shrimp on the menu. After ordering at the counter, which looks into the diminutive kitchen, hike up the narrow staircase to a small dining area decorated with framed floral prints. The Islands is BYOB, but the refreshing ginger limeade and heavily-spiced sorrel, a popular Jamaican brew, are a perfect complement to the cuisine. 803 Washington Ave., 718-398-3575