1. Hell's Kitchen 679 Ninth Ave (Between W46th & W47th Streets) 212.977.1588
Nouvelle Mexican cuisine. Chef Jorge Pareja has succeeded in making everything on the menu excellent. During my six months in New York I ate here every week, the food is that good! Not to mention the staff is awesome. Try the Mango BBQ Ribs app and the Pan-Seared Halibut entree served with grilled chayote and sweet plantain puree. The sangria is one of the best I've had and is sneaky strong. Be careful! Owner John Dempsey has a small empire in the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood, so be sure to check out Vynl, El Centro and Therapy as well.
2. Babbo 110 Waverly Place (Between Sixth Avenue & MacDougal Street) 212.777.0303
I've been disappointed by celebrity chefs in the past, but Mario Batali is not one of them! Pound for pound the few meals I had at Babbo were the best. Period. Try the Beef Cheek Ravioli or the Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads. The Grilled Lamb Chops “Scottadita” and the Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a 3-Minute Egg are also really good. It's hard to get a reservation here unless calling a month in advance. Try your luck at the bar or be prepared to wait.
3. TAO 42 East 58th Street (Between Park & Madison Avenues) 212.888.2288
TAO is a hot spot for celebrities. According to my bartender, Harrison Ford was in the night before. The restaurant is designed well, but the food is on stage here. The Crispy Tuna Sashimi Roll and the Satay of Chilean Sea Bass are two of my favorites. I'd suggest going with friends and ordering a lot of small plates. Stear clear of the Lobster Wontons with Shitake Ginger Broth though, they didn't taste like much.
4. Sushi Samba
245 Park Avenue South (Between E19th & E20th Streets)
87 Seventh Avenue South (Corner of Barrow Street)
Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian fusion. Awesome sushi and ceviche. Great mojitos. Fun with a group or at the sushi bar. The Park Ave location is more intimate than the 7th Ave location which has second floor outdoor seating. I recommend trying the Ceviche Sampler, it's fantastic. Another fun choise is the Sawagani Crabs. This is a small plate of flash-fried japanese river crabs, they are crispy and delicious! The sushi is great, be adventurous in ordering or let your server do the work for you. You're guaranteed to have a great time!
5. Les Halles
411 Park Ave South (Between E28th & E29th Streets)
15 John Street (Between Broadway & Nassau Street)
The place to go for great, affordable steak frites. Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain put this place on the map although he is no longer affiliated with the restaurant. The Filet au Poivre Frites is superb at only $19! Two locations in Manhattan, I ate at the Park Avenue location.
Other noteworthy restaurants I enjoyed and will likely review later include Blue Water Grille, Trattoria del Arte, The Eatery, Craft, Knife & Fork, Victor's Cafe, and Rosa Mexicano.
Great cheap eats I ate at include Blockheads Burritos, John's Pizzeria, Lombardi's Pizzeria