Exploring 7 of New York City’s Oldest Restaurants That are Really Surprising

In New York City, there are more than 20,000 eateries. The local culinary scene, however, is somewhat of a ghost town as well because so many restaurants have come and gone over the years, leaving empty locations where once-popular eateries once provided service to customers. Still, a good number of the best restaurants in the city have been there for decades, if not centuries. The eight greatest historic restaurants in New York City, each presenting a distinct cuisine ranging from Italian-American to Indian, are some of those stalwarts that are still deserving of respect.

7 of New York City’s Oldest Restaurants


Williamsburg, Brooklyn

In the early 1900s, New York City was a bustling port city with almost two million Italian residents spread across its five boroughs. As gathering spots for these immigrant families, Italian restaurants sprung up all over the place. However, as “classic red sauce Italian” cuisine — lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, everything parmigiana, etc. — became popular in America, other cultures quickly adopted it. Rao’s on East 114th Street was established in 1896 and is the oldest Italian-American restaurant in the city, but is it possible to get a table there? Fuhgeddaboudit (at least, not for most people).

Fraunces Tavern

Financial District, Manhattan

This restaurant is one of the oldest original dining establishments in the nation, if not the city, even if it hasn’t been operating continuously. Named for Samuel Fraunces, the building’s third owner, it was initially constructed as an inn with downstairs dining on the outskirts of Manhattan in the 17th century. It truly has centuries’ worth of history all on it. Saloons were the first co-working spaces for American politics and business. During the American Revolution, this one served as the location of the actual seat of government until D.C., the meeting place for the Sons of Liberty, and the site of George Washington’s final farewell to his troops (a mural in a banquet room commemorates this event).

El Parador Café

Kips Bay, Manhattan

In 1959, the restaurant first opened on Second Avenue; ten years later, it moved to East 34th Street. Even though Mexican food has been provided in the city for many years, this restaurant is the first to serve the food at a higher class than what was previously only found in French and Italian eateries. It is a legitimate local attraction. It’s where non-Latino New Yorkers would have had their first Margarita and sampled their first tacos, chicken mole, chiles relleno, salsa and chips in the middle of the 20th century.

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Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Chinatown, Manhattan

Sadly, this Lower Manhattan neighborhood saw some of the worst restaurant closures during the epidemic, making it impossible for many of the popular dim sum palaces to reopen, including 88 Palace, 88 Lan Zhou, and Hee Win Lai/Delight 28, which is my personal favorite. But Nom Wah Tea Parlor’s original site, which has been around since 1920, has managed to survive its 100 years on that famous section of Doyers Street, which curves into a weird L shape to link to Pell Street, which is close by. Clad as a dim sum tea shop, Nom Wah is well-known for its steamed buns, pan-fried noodles, and soup dumplings.


Financial District, Manhattan

Prominent early 20th-century steakhouses in New York City include Keens, Peter Luger, Sparks, Gallaghers, Old Homestead, and the recently reopened Gage & Tollner. Delmonico’s, which first opened its doors at 23 William Street in 1827 and later relocated to a more posh corner location on Beaver Street in the 1830s, is the oldest restaurant still in operation in the city, if not the oldest steakhouse.

Jackson Diner

Jackson Heights, Queens

I had my first taste of curries in Midtown at a restaurant named Nirvana, which was perched high above the city, while I was growing up in and around New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. Nearby in Hell’s Kitchen, the Ceylon Inn was the first permanently established Indian restaurant, having opened its doors circa 1915. I used to go to East 6th Street, often known as Little India, on a regular basis in my 20s and 30s for cheap, cheery fixes (regional, not specific); a full meal at places like Taj Mahal and Panna cost around $15, if you really went all out on meats.

Sylvia’s Restaurant

Harlem, Manhattan

Sylvia’s is the most recognizable, longest-running, and first Black woman-owned restaurant in the city, even though it isn’t the first to serve what is known as “soul food”—South American-style dishes like smothered chicken, fried pork chops, barbecue, candied yams, and collard greens. Sylvia Woods inaugurated it in 1962 on Lenox Avenue (later dubbed Malcolm X Boulevard) between 126th and 127th Streets.

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