A Guide to the Secret and Hidden Restaurants of NYC

In a city filled with blinding marquees, spinning signs, and street hawkers handing out flyers to the latest attraction, there’s a certain value to keeping secrets. Like speakeasy bars, these 17 restaurants run on exclusivity, word-of-mouth, and an air of mystique. Get in on the secret at undercover restaurants like Beauty & Essex, Ninja New York, and more. Find them behind unmarked doors, tucked inside other restaurants, or in unique places like grocery stores and loading docks.

Burger Joint 

This true hole in the wall might be cresting past its former “secret” status with years of popularity to its name. Still, like other restaurants on the list, Burger Joint has no visible storefront, and it requires you to navigate the Parker Meridien Hotel lobby if you want to find it. Walk past the concierge desk, through the curtains on the left, and down a hallway. You’ll be greeted by a small, humble dining room (and, during dinner, a long line), plus the smell of some beautiful burgers on the griddle. Order the cheeseburger with fries, and remember it’s cash only. Inside Parker Meridien Hotel: 119 W 56th St, 212-708-7414,

Beauty & Essex

Beauty & Essex

Another very open secret, Beauty & Essex is located behind a pawn shop in the Lower East Side. It’s among the more popular destinations in the area’s thriving nightlife scene, so there are often lines behind the velvet rope outside. B&E’s dinner and brunch menus take you all over the map, from empanadas to Thai shrimp to ravioli. There’s even a vegan menu at brunch. See and be seen at this posh New American bar and restaurant. 146 Essex St., 212-614-0146,

La Esquina

On a bright Lower East Side corner sits a crowded taco shop called La Esquina. You could eat here, or find the unmarked door inside to find the main event downstairs. La Esquina (“the corner”) serves Latin fare from its subterranean brasserie filled with those in the know. Have a mango marg and a plate of fish tacos before your night out. 114 Kenmare St., 646-613-7100,

Ninja New York

If you like your secret dining with a touch of drama, come to Ninja New York. This Japanese hideaway in Tribeca has a marked street-level entrance, but the secrets begin once you step inside. Black-clad ninjas lead you through a winding passage into the dining room, and other ninjas surprise you with high-flying stunts and magic tricks throughout your experience. The sushi rolls and angus steak with teriyaki sauce are great orders, all to be enjoyed with sake or a cocktail. You and your dining companions will also have your own private pagoda, decorated like a ninja village. 25 Hudson St., 212-274-8500,


There’s nothing too special about 211 East 43rd Street near Grand Central—well, not until you take the elevator downstairs. In the basement of this ordinary office building is an extraordinary sake bar serving Japanese cuisine. Come with a date to share tapas galore, like their signature braised pork belly, fried chicken, or sashimi. And It’ll be impossible to resist the sake once you see the extensive display behind the bar (Sakagura has 260 varieties!). 211 E 43rd St., 212-953-7253,




Gaonnuri gets high marks for an excellent view. Its Koreatown location on the 39th floor of an office building gives it a picture-perfect appeal, as well as access to nearby theatres and Madison Square Garden. The Korean menu can be hard to navigate with so many options, but you can’t go wrong with the black cod gui or short ribs with Gaonnuri’s signature soy sauce. Access Gaonnuri through the building lobby, where a maitre’d should be there to greet you and send you to the right elevator. 1250 Broadway, 212-971-9045,


At Bohemian in Noho, tables are offered by referral only. In other words, you have to know someone who’s eaten there in order to get in. The exclusivity of this secret NoHo spot has made it, conversely, a popular dining destination, but it also impresses time and time again with its globally inspired Japanese cuisine. There’s a rice bowl speckled with caviar, washu beef sashimi, and creamy uni on a croquette. There’s also a mac ‘n cheese if you want a true American classic—Bohemian earns high marks there too. 57 Great Jones St.,

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

Brooklyn Fare

While this fine dining institution with three Michelin stars is not exactly a secret, you will have to navigate a Midtown grocery store to get there. Enter Brooklyn Fare near Hudson Yards, and pass through rows of cereals, soups, and paper towels until you find the maitre’d for Chef’s Table. Behind the door is a now-iconic 20-seat counter and open kitchen surrounded by a few tables. Here you’ll eat some of the best food money can buy (come prepared to spend big, btw). There are no set menus, just exceptional ingredients, paired and prepared to perfection by Chef Cesar Ramirez. 431 W 37th St., 718-243-0050,

Mexico 2000

We just had to include a restaurant run out of a bodega. The quintessential New York market is the perfect place to hide a small eatery for adventurous eaters. Count yourself one of them, and next time you’re in South Williamsburg, order a tamale or plate of mole poblano at this exceptional eight-seater. Bonus: it’s open late Monday through Saturday. 367 Broadway (Brooklyn), 718-407-0109, 

The Campbell

The Campbell

Next time you’re in Grand Central, find a staircase labeled with a gold plate that says “The Campbell Apartment.” Upstairs you’ll find a gorgeous 1920s-style hall with frescoes on the high ceilings and stained glass behind the bar. This is The Campbell, the former office and reception hall of finance man John W. Campbell, now serving drinks and food to travelers and tourists alike. You can have a full lunch here—Kale Quinoa Salad, Roast Beef Sandwich—or bar snacks like Chipotle Chicken Empanadas after work. 15 Vanderbilt Ave., 212-297-1781,

Bar Centrale

Bar Centrale

A Theatre District essential, Bar Centrale is located inside an unmarked converted brownstone apartment. It’s like you’re dining in the home of a very good cook who has his own bartender on staff. What’s extra-special about the hidden Bar Centrale is its reputation as a haven for Broadway stars after their shows. Bar Centrale is best equipped to offer a strong cocktail and a heavy snack, so order some guacamole or a plate of shrimp dumplings with your Manhattan. Also, reservations are recommended, and they only take requests within a week of your desired appointment. 324 W 46th St., 212-581-3130,

Kuma Inn

Above a Bulgarian bar in the Lower East Side is Kuma Inn, a low-key pan-Asian restaurant with something of a cult following. Its unassuming door on street level leads you upstairs for great eats. With a strong Filipino bent, this menu also features Thai and other Southeast Asian flavors, with house specialties like adobo chicken wings with coconut vinegar, as well as pan-roasted sea scallops with bacon and sake. Chef King Phojanakong rotates the menu seasonally and creates tapa-sized dishes perfect for sharing with hungry friends. After all, the restaurant’s namesake term kumain is Filipino for “to eat.” 113 Ludlow St., 2nd Fl., 212-353-8866,


Near Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park is a great Southern spot called Walter’s. Walter’s is great, but we’re here to tell you about the Japanese restaurant accessed through a door in the back. Karasu serves innovative cocktails like the Hawkeye Highball (whiskey and green apple soda), as well as izakaya cuisine like savory egg custard called Cawanmushi. Entrees to look out for include duck confit on soba noodles and grilled dorade fish with miso glaze. 166 Dekalb Ave., 347-223-4811,



To eat at Blanca, you have to pretend like you’re eating at the wildly popular Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. But tell the Roberta’s maitre’d where you’re headed, and you’ll be led around the corner to this fine dining restaurant inside the pizza palace. Helmed by Chef Carlo Mirarchi, Blanca’s intimate open kitchen will serve you about 20 courses of haute cuisine from an ever-rotating menu. In case that’s not enticing enough, Mirarchi and company just earned two Michelin stars for Blanca. Reserve at seatings Wednesday through Friday at 6pm and 9pm, or Saturday at 5pm and 8pm. At your appointed reservation time, meet hostess inside Roberta’s at 261 Moore St.,

El Sabroso 

The busy Garment District hides a Latin American lunch counter inside a loading dock—yes, really. It’s called El Sabroso, serving delicious, pernil, beef stew, and homemade hot sauce. Don’t be surprised by the very unflashy environs and limited seating here; just order to-go, and we know you’ll be back for more! 265 W 37th St., 212-284-1118

Taam Tov

You know you’re in Midtown’s Diamond District when you walk West 47th Street amidst millions of glittering window displays. But what you might not know is the less-glitzy eatery favored by many in the local diamond business: Taam Tov. The door is unmarked, and you’ll have to walk up two flights of inconspicuous stairs, but once inside you can expect delicious kosher offerings from the cuisines of Israel, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. Regulars love the manty dumplings, falafel, shawarma, and chicken shish kebab. It’s a secret, sensational lunch at Taam Tov (which means “good taste” in Hebrew). 41 W 47th St., 212-768-8001,




This secret Financial District spot has one Michelin star to its name, thanks to chef Nicolas Abello. Abello, who has also worked at Daniel uptown, presents innovative, seasonally-minded French food with surprises like Colorado lamb with mojo sauce. The 28-seat dining room is decorated like an apartment, and you’ll likely get to meet Abello himself when you walk in. L’Appart is located inside the food hall at Le District near One World Observatory. Look for a passage between the “garden” and “market” sections for the door to the restaurant. 225 Liberty St., 212-981-8577,

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About the Author

Merrill Lee Girardeau lives and writes in Brooklyn.

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