By Andre Baranowski
Calling all food lovers! Look no further for our top 11 picks for the hottest new restaurants to visit in Westchester County.
By Cristiana Caruso and Michelle Gillan Larkin with John Bruno Turiano
It’s unfortunate that COVID shuttered a number of our favorite Westchester restaurants, but a healthy, new crop has sprung up across the county over the last year or so, each one uniquely (and deliciously) answering the age-old question: Where should we eat? From a noodle shop and a mom-and-pop chop shop to a long-loved Manhattan refugee, a French-style steakhouse, and a Rivertown tapas spot, these are our best bets for a shiny-new dining experience in Westchester.
The liveliness of Ani Ramen rushes at you from the moment you cross the neon-lit threshold, swirling around from start to finish like the umami-bomb dropped in your bowl of ramen. The animation of the space is fed heartily by the richness of the food and lively nature of the drinks. For libations, Ani offers both on-tap cocktails, like the Princess Peach (white wine, white peach purée, pineapple, peach liqueur), and such signature drinks as the Okinawa Pineapple Old-Fashioned (Japanese whiskey, Okinawa brown sugar, pineapple). For purists, the bar serves seven varieties of sake and a handful of Japanese beers.
The vibrancy and warmth of the food is impossible to overshadow. As the star of the show, Ani’s ramen receives top billing on the menu, and after your love-at-first-slurp, there’s no turning back. Partner/Executive Chef Julian Valencia works from New Jersey’s own Sun Noodle ramen to build his luscious bowls, delicately layered with fresh vegetables and spices. The eponymous signature bowl ignites a ginger-energized dance party, with chopstick-tender pork belly and crunchy peanuts to add some buttery texture.
Curated and specialty izakaya small plates lend themselves to epicurean explorers. Two-bite, soy-glazed chicken bao buns are fluffy and flavorful, while the miso-and-sake-glazed wings have an audible and delectable crunch that will wipe all Buffalonian iterations from your mind. And donburi bowls shouldn’t be overlooked just because they’re not ramen: Pillowy steamed rice, a sake-soy glaze, pickled veggies, kale with miso dressing, and either pulled pork, soy-glazed chicken, or panko shrimp make for a delectable ramen alternative.
Chef Mark Taxiera came to the Westchester culinary scene swinging. Previously the executive chef of the famed Russian Tea Room, Taxiera has mastered how to bend flavors to crescendo across the palate. Marry that (literally) to wife Brianne Myers’ successful restaurant management career as the GM of Eataly, BLT Steak, and Loring Place, and you get a creative menu with local ingredients and a bar program that’s anything but basic. And don’t let the restaurant’s name set your expectations — this is not your nonna’s Italian food. It is, however, an homage to Taxiera’s grandparents: From the kitchen of a restaurant named after his grandfather, he concocts fresh takes on the Italian comfort food his grandmother made for him growing up.
Currently living in Manhattan, the culinary couple had Westchester squarely in its crosshairs for a while. “I grew up in Ossining, so Westchester was always in my mind,” says Taxiera. “We’ve been in the city for 25 years. We wanted a new backdrop, and Mamaroneck was the perfect canvas for our debut. The culinary scene here is amazing, with so many talented chefs and great restaurants.”
Pastas are made in-house, including the malfada, paired with stewed, grass-fed, longhorn beef from Walking R Ranch (where Taxiera and Myers source their ethically raised beef), red wine, tomato, and whipped goat ricotta. For must-have mains, the pan-roasted Cornish hen with pickled cherry peppers and black-garlic mashed potatoes is a plate of tenderness wrapped up in a savory bow.
“We are so blessed that we have planted the flag here, and the reception has been amazing,” says Taxiera.
On the heels of a COVID closure and a hugely successful two-decade run in the Midtown West neighborhood of Manhattan, Albanian native Aleks Kola and his partner, Chef Paolo Catini of Rome, say they feel right at home in Westchester, doing what they do best. “We are true to our commitment to bring passion, love, and dedication to the table,” says Kola. Much of that ethos stems from a starting part that involves treating customers like family. “Like they’re dining at our house,” says Kola. “That’s how we see it.”
That level of inviting Albanian hospitality lends warmth to the chic, upscale surrounds, and his partner’s hearty Abruzzo cooking cements an unmistakable family-oriented feel. Whitewashed walls and floor-to-ceiling windows inject a quality of uplifting brightness, as shelves lined with wine bottles (mostly Italian and Californian) bring coziness to the fore.
The mountains of Abruzzo are home to game animals, explains Kola, suggesting diners come hungry for meat-laden meals, like the signature house-made spaghetti with succulent lamb ragu sauce and Pecorino Romano, served “Abruzzese style.” Wild boar makes an appearance when available, and the proximity of the Adriatic translates to a number of seafood entrées on the menu, including lobster crêpes, another signature standout.
“Abruzzo produces the best cooks in the world,” says Kola of his partner. Wines from the region occupy a spot on the restaurant’s wine list, which is near endless and, in many instances, exquisite. For cocktail drinkers, simple classics can be expected, shaken with a shot of digestivo flair.
Brassiere Le Steak
It’s a delicate art form to perfect the ideal combination of seasoning, cooking, and presentation of a good steak. It’s even more the marker of a superior dining experience if your guests return in hoards for the salad dressing. Manhattan’s Bistro Le Steak has now been reinvented as Brasserie Le Steak, taking Larchmont’s Palmer Avenue restaurant scene by the horns. “The community, and very much the French community, has been welcoming of us here,” says Yonkers resident and owner Nicki Jakupi.
“I wanted it to feel like you could close your eyes and think you’re in France,” Jakupi says. Each bite is a transportive experience. Even the garlic bread is a decadent pirouette of crisp French bread and savory garlic, tied together with Gorgonzola fondue for dipping. For starters worthy of a Seine view, Le Steak offers frog’s legs Provençale, escargot served in the traditional French style (shells and all), and a goat cheese tartlet with a house-made crust. Definitely indulge in the perfectly seasoned steak frites, the crisp, pan-seared brook trout, or the tender mussels marinière to round out the experience.
Bellacosa Wine & Tapas Bar
Dobbs Ferry; bellacosawinebar.com
After three decades slinging near-perfect brick-oven pizzas and scooping house-made ice cream at The Brick Oven Pizza, Frank Donato finally used the extra space in his perpetually popular Rivertown establishment to create the second coming of his culinary dream. “I’ve always wanted to do wine; I have a real passion for wine,” he says. He also considers himself a “tapas guy” who gets a real kick out of pairing beloved Italian wines with Italian small plates (complete meals too).
“My food is simple,” he says. “It’s fresh; it’s made to order.” That includes just about everything, from top-of-the-menu crusty bread, which is house-made, to the broiled baby lamb “pops,” meatballs (traditional beef or crispy eggplant), handcrafted ricotta gnocchi, and of course brick-oven pizza, prepared with a decidedly artisanal arc. “I’m not trying to be a superstar chef. I’m just trying to give you a good product — and I cook well,” he says with chummy sincerity.
While the lamps are dimmed and the mood is cozier on this shinier, newer side of Donato’s mini-empire of Italian favorites, that good old-fashioned ice cream, which put him on the local mom-activity fun map, tastes just as sweet in any light.
Family — and more specifically, not-to-be-meddled-with family dinnertime — is the foundation on which this village newcomer is built. It’s evident everywhere you look, from the casual, nostalgic decor to the crowd-pleasing yet elevated American comfort food.
“As kids, we made sure we were home every day at five o’clock,” says Chef Matt Safarowic, who co-owns the restaurant (named for his father) with wife Christina. “It wasn’t about what we were eating; it was about being together.”
Red-and-white-checkered tablecloths — which always manage to scream family wherever they’re placed — grab the attention upon entry and exude an extra-warm welcome when set against rustic exposed brick and a wall heavy with family photos.
The menu is in perfect harmony with the atmosphere (which borders on boisterous in the best way possible) and comprises house-made everything, beginning with the focaccia starter and finishing with classic, knock-your-socks-off chocolate layer cake and fruit-dappled cheesecake. In between, expect a melting pot of American fare fashioned with a fancy, crowd-pleasing twist, including a dry-aged tavern burger, organic roasted chicken with grilled sweet potatoes, a handful of fresh fish entrées, vegan risotto, and the standout spaghetti limone.
The beverage program is highlighted by an array of taps pouring mostly local beer and house wine, alongside a lineup of reimagined old-school cocktails (Dirty Shirley, anyone?), making for laid-back, fun-filled gatherings at dinner, weekend brunch, or late-midweek happy hour. “No pretense, just fun,” says Christina.
New Rochelle; townhousenewro.com
The current New Rochelle revitalization can only be complete with the addition of elevated, walkable cuisine. For Chef Chris dos Reis, the culinary revolution is personal. Having been born and raised in New Rochelle, his excitement over witnessing his city suddenly on the minds of the masses is palpable.
“Seeing guests’ faces light up as they talk about how they love having a restaurant with a sense of community so close to home really helps them feel welcomed to the city,” says dos Reis. “It’s good to know that our mission of being a restaurant for New Rochelle and its surrounding communities is being felt.”
Town House’s menu comprises small plates inspired by dos Reis’ time cooking in Europe. Feast on a little bit of everything, from chicken-liver mousse on sourdough, beef tartare with pommes allumettes and chorizo sabayon, oysters, and the kimchi tempura green beans that will leave you dreaming about their crunch a week later. The house-made sourdough bread with house-made cultured butter is not to be slept on and the perfect vehicle to soak up the remaining dressings and sauces from the plates (leave no culinary morsel behind).
The cocktail menu is as exploratory as the menu, offering drams named Clarified Milk Punch (rum blend, citrus, spices, and fig leaf) and the Fix & Chill (butter-washed bourbon, caramel, and popcorn).
In dos Reis’ eyes, there’s still work to be done to reach the echelon of neighborhood go-to. “We hope to have a greater impact and voice in our community and invite more guests into our doors as more people relocate and choose to call the Queen City home.”
In an intimate space on Main Street in the tiny Tuckahoe downtown, Yonkers native Nickolas Odoardi delivers a tightly curated menu of Italian specialties spun from his father’s roots in the Abruzzo region of Italy. In homage to his ancestors, he aims to introduce a sense of “old-world tradition and nostalgia” through the quality and flavor of his house-made food. “No matter how you grew up, you do have a sense of home cooking and warm hospitality,” he says.
With nary an ounce of formal culinary schooling, Odoardi leans on his natural-born knack for cooking. “I’m the black sheep of the family,” he says, noting how most of his relations own car dealerships throughout Yonkers. “I went in another direction,” spending his time at the stoves of well-known Westchester eateries (The Cookery, MP Taverna).
At his own place, Odoardi serves meats he cures himself, like prosciutto, and proffers a small lineup of popular pastas (the one with olive oil, garlic, anchovy, pepperoncini, and parsley is a must), whole-fish entrées, and the signature speducc (above), which more or less translates to “lamb on a stick in a clay pot.”
His special prix fixe Sunday dinners are a big draw and a down-home Italian treat. “We feed you just like your nonna would,” reads the web verbiage, advertising an ever-changing menu comprising family-style pasta, a protein, dessert, and a couple of bottles of wine for parties of four, at a minimum. “When I was building the place, my goal was to not make it look like a restaurant,” Odoardi says. “And when the staff came in, my goal was to make it not feel like a restaurant.” With wines by the glass or bottle, Italian beer, and classic and seasonal craft cocktails, it’s no surprise that cozy little ODO is keeping pace with the more established big boys — four within walking distance — that dominate Lower Westchester’s Italian-dining scene.
These two Connecticut restaurants tempt across county lines.
Latin-inspired fare, mostly tapas and tacos, is what to expect at this second of Jean-Georges Vongerichten forays into our area (his Inn at Pound Ridge is in the same town as the Michelin-starred chef’s country estate). The kitchen, led by Executive Chef Ron Gallo, formerly of the Inn at Pound Ridge and the Upper East Side’s JoJo, offers delectable, crispy-edged broccoli rabe quesadillas, smoked ham and Manchego cheese fritters, pistachio guacamole, and arroz con pollo with bits of addictive crackling skin. A margarita menu that reflects the seasons is a highlight from behind the bar, and honeynut-squash flan and Mexican chocolate pudding are superior house-made desserts. The casually swanky digs include moss-green banquettes, rattan lights, and a communal table, behind which is a mural depicting Frida Kahlo alongside a pet spider monkey.
Sourcing ingredients from top-tier purveyors, including Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Outer Market, this highly sophisticated yet warmly welcoming fine-dining den on Greenwich Ave dishes out authentic hot and cold Japanese specialties with equal parts precision and flair. “I strive to exceed expectations with every detail, from our modern, Japanese-inspired interiors and professional service to the quality ingredients that make each dish,” says co-owner K Dong, who also helms sister spot Kumo in Scarsdale. The raw fish is a standout for sure, particularly when served as a Nori taco, but the soup dumplings and king crab hotpot are not to be missed. Reserve the omakase experience for a chef’s table like no other.
A No-TV Cocktail Bar that Eschews the Typical
The Raconteur Bar & Kitchen
Don’t expect Coors Light, cheap well liquor, or wings and pizza at chef/owner (and Croton native) Michael Boulos’ classy nightspot. What you can expect (from a kitchen too tight to accommodate more than one chef) is a petite menu of inventive, deeply satisfying small plates and blooming charcuterie and cheeseboards that pair phenomenally with ultra-fresh, house-made, fine-tuned cocktails.