Best Hip Restaurants

Eat! See! And Be Seen! We hit the streets to find the hippest scenes for late summer nights of dining, drinking, and whatever-ing.

So close to Williamsburg, and yet so far. Or so the thinking goes. New Yorkers, and even county residents, forget that Westchester is a hotbed of cool. Our borders spawned P. Diddy and Mary J. Blige, while the Rolling Stones recorded Their Satanic Majesties Request in Mount Vernon. In fact, bleary Anita Pallenberg—that blonde icon of 1960s cool—lived in a mansion in South Salem with “elegantly wasted” Keith Richards. And Bud Cort, the sweetly sinister star of the early-’70s cult film Harold and Maude, was born in New Rochelle and grew to creepy manhood in Rye.

But what’s cool about Westchester today, you might ask?

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We’ll show you. We took a tour of our hippest dining and drinking spots, so squeeze on those skinny jeans, and oil up those tats. Slide your feet into those retro Adidas Sambas—and don’t forget your ironic, stingy-brim hat. Come with us as we find Westchester’s locus of cool.

Peniche’s stylish dining room is indicative of its trendy tapas menu.

 

 Peniche
175 Main St, White Plains (914) 421-5012

Peniche is urbane, chic, and stylish—but then, it already had us at wine and jámon Ibérico di bellota.

This casual eatery by Restaurant 42’s Anthony Goncalves has its feet planted firmly in the sunny Iberian Peninsula. But unlike the other restaurants to jump on the Spanish bandwagon, Peniche’s rootsy dishes speak loudly of Goncalves’s Portuguese background. Look for a wide array of sexy tapas that simultaneously evoke the cool Pyrenees and the sunny coast of Portugal.

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Though you’ll find exquisite baby lamb chops and seared foie gras, we love Peniche best when it delivers Iberia straight to the table. Look for pricey legs of jamon serrano sliced before your eyes on gleaming Berkel slicers, or a stunning sausage and cheese selection that only compels more sips of rioja. And, with a kitchen that (on weekends) stays open ’til 11, it’s easy to keep on ordering—though the wise save room for one more glass of Madeira.

 

A starter charcuterie and cheese plate at Birdsall House to go with hoisting cult microbrews.

Birdsall House
970 Main St, Peekskill (914) 930-1880

Since its quiet opening in 2007, Blind Tiger Ale House has become the Manhattan Mecca for beer drinkers in an island of brew bars. Its curatorial draft list (that includes hand-pulled cask beers) wins the hearts of beer-loving hipsters—who are way too cool to drink in frat bars. The big news for Westchester is that Tim Reinke of the Blind Tiger is joining John Sharp to bring their brand of beer-geek-chic to Peekskill.
Birdsall House, brainchild of Peekskillian Sharp and Beacon, New York, native Reinke, not only packs loads of locavorian beer cred (with most of its brews being regionally, if not locally sourced), but its menu also flaunts the paradox of hipster cool. It is both veggie-friendly and pork-loving. Look for stellar beer-pairing dishes like vegetarian fritto misto, in which mixed fried vegetables and leek offer a sophisticated upgrade from chicken wings. For lighter tastes, the trendy ingredient du jour—deep-fried hen’s egg and lush, soft-boiled duck eggs—grace salads of crisp greens that bespeak Chef Matt Hutchins time at Chez Panisse.

Meanwhile, carnivores can tuck into fabulous Hemlock Hill burgers, ground from ethically raised cows sourced a few miles away in Cortlandt. Also look for creative charcuterie and locavorian cheese boards, all perfect to fuel an evening spent hoisting cult microbrews.

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Bring hip friends to share the skirt steak at Don Coqui.

Don Coqui
115 Cedar St, New Rochelle  (914) 637-3737

Jimmy Rodriguez’s happy restaurant/nightclub is a wonder of local congregation. Whether midweek, or rainy, or in the pit of economic collapse, crowds still throng to Don Coqui for its vibe. There’s always a party at Don Coqui, and we always feel lucky to be invited.

Formerly MacMenamin’s Grill and Chefworks, the ex-plastic factory has been treated to a breath of fresh air with billowy white curtains and loads of milky paint. The result is an open space that elegantly celebrates its industrial past (while also subtly evoking a Caribbean breeze). Massive portions are Don Coqui’s shtick but, miraculously, they don’t overwhelm your appetite. Instead, these enormous plates feel like a winking grandmother ladling on piles of her home-cooked treats. Look for Chef Stephanie Landis’s pernil (the up-and-coming cult pork among foodies), whose mellow, juicy sweetness is given a textural snap by crunchy fried yuca slices. Arroz con pollo is properly soulful, while bright calamari salad makes a refreshing starter.

Best of all, after lining your ribs with uptown takes on Puerto Rican home food, you can dance all night to Don Coqui’s fabulous sound system. Young, old, black, white, everyone’s here…and here to party. Slake your thirst with mango mojitos or chill out in Don Coqui’s cozy, sofa-lined lounge. Plan to stay at least until 4 am (though on weekends, just remember, Don Coqui’s kitchen closes at the crack of 1 am).

 

Cool Leftovers: check out more photos from this month’s cool restaurants in our web-exclusive gallery below.

 

No knives and forks at Lalibela—the food is served with flatbread (and a smile).

Lalibela
37 S Moger Ave, Mount Kisco (914) 864-1343

Though modest and new (and nestled in a modern pedestrian walkway in Mount Kisco), Lalibela seduces with haunting music and heady spices. This small, sunset-colored restaurant feels like a warm African breeze blowing along the spice road—admittedly, off South Moger Avenue.

Much has been made of Lalibela’s Ethiopian style of eschewing knife and fork, where the spongy flatbread injera is used to convey morsels to mouth. But there’s more to this restaurant than a novel food-delivery system. Complex Ethiopian spice combinations, like berbere and mimita, create deep and resonant flavors that linger on the tongue and in the mind. Lolita’s signature dish, doro wat, offers meltingly tender chicken legs cooked in onion, ginger, butter, and berbere—a spice mixture that contains, among other things, chili, cloves, allspice, rue, and ajwain peppercorns. Its murky, slow heat is the perfect foil for swigs of light Ethiopian beer, while mild, hard-cooked eggs add a welcome color and textural pop.

And, as helps in any hipster destination, Lalibela is not only veggie-friendly but vegan-friendly, too. Pulses like split peas and lentils make satisfying, protein-filled meals, while Ethiopian preparations like misir wat (lentils, onions, ginger, garlic, and berbere chili) feel exotic—as does, we admit, the permission to share our food without forks.

 

Nessa’s pork chop scarpariello comes with spinach, mashed potatoes, chicken sausage, and hot peppers—a tasty excuse to sample the restaurant’s wines.

Nessa
325 N Main St, Port Chester (914) 939-0119

Taking a page from Manhattan’s ‘Ino and ‘Inoteca, Nessa offers a happy mix of Italian snacks and wine. It’s candlelit and shadow-filled, with big windows that open to the breeze; a meal here is a great way to spend one of your precious few summer nights.

Its menu offers bruschetti, tramezzini, and panini, which work as well for dining as they do for snacks. We love the white bean bruschetti (with lashings of heady truffle oil), as well as the porchetta panino with biting broccoli rabe. All the sandwiches are ideal for sharing; this is one of those restaurants that shines for groups.

Though sandwiches are our favorite at Nessa, heartier appetites are welcome, too. Nessa offers a roomy choice of salads, pastas, and mains, including the banker-fodder of ribeye steaks and racks of lamb. Wine is Italian-tending and is served with an eye toward sampling: order quartinos, half-bottles, or whole bottles and spend the entire evening sipping.

And taking a page from Williamsburg, Nessa offers its own backyard bocci court, so you can enjoy your wine alfresco while playing the Italian version of pétanque.

Red Hat’s prime riverside location makes it the place to see and be seen.

 

Red Hat on the River
1 Bridge St, Irvington (914) 591-5888

With a wide, riverfront terrace that looks
west as the sun sets over the Pailsades, Red Hat offers one of Westchester’s finest dining views. And just so you’re warned, this is no surprise to the mobs of scantily clad young things that flock here each summer.
Salads, steak frites, burgers and tuna tartare—all pleasant—but they pale before Red Hat’s magical setting. The site is a repurposed glass factory complex that still retains a whisper of industrial chic. At times, Red Hat feels like a breeze-cooled private island, perfect for lingering late into the night.
And while Red Hat’s riverbank seating is reserved for evening dining, Red Hat’s loft and rooftop lounge are chic spots for drinking. Sure, you might go up with honest intention of waiting for your table, but with a sunset view, you might wind up with a liquid dinner.

 

Cheese and meat are the perfect accompaniment to the wines at Pour.

Pour Café and Wine Bar
241 Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 864-0606

Nestled in a stately Victorian set well back from busy Main Street is a moody, intimate wine bar that’s almost totally lit by
candles. Lined with slouchy sofas that hide all sorts of secret corners, Pour is one of our favorite spots for a tipple—or even a great late-summer dinner.

Though geared toward showcasing its taut, well-priced wine list, Pour’s dinner menu is perfect for a night spent on the town. Shareable bites like cheese and sausage plates, and beany dips served with Sullivan Street bread, all make fabulous preludes to soulful suppers of panini and meatball sliders. And though wine is its focus, Pour also features select spirits—and owner Anthony Colasacco is justifiably proud of his fin de siècle-style absinthe fountains.

If the flickering murk gets too heady, you can always catch a breeze on Pour’s porch—and what true hipster isn’t perpetually dragging on some quirky smoke? Roll your own from your pouch of American Spirit Organic, or tuck into a stogie from Pour’s selection of boutique cigars—perfect for puffing along with a rare, aged Bourbon. And don’t forget to check pourmtkisco.com for fabulous, booze-centric events.

 

Cool Leftovers: check out more photos from this month’s cool restaurants in our web-exclusive gallery below.

 

Lolita Cocina is all about theatrics, hence the grapefruit/mint granite’s being served over dry ice.

Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar
230 Mill St, Greenwich, CT (203) 813-3555

This bi-level sexpot of a restaurant would be right at home in a Robert Rodriguez film; it boasts a sultry, Mexi-Gothic interior complete with santas and flickering red votive candles. Outdoors, in a secret garden tucked off the bustle of Mill Street, a silent loop of Mexican films plays, all flashing eyes and spinning spurs. The message is clear: Lolita is a great backdrop for committing crimes and falling in love.
But unlike other snazzy restaurants, Lolita’s theatricality doesn’t end at décor. Look for grin-inducing welcomes of grapefruit/mint granité over dry ice. As spooky smoke pours over the table and onto the laps of diners, a waiter splashes the goblet with fragrant silver tequila. It’s a drop-dead entrance—and a hint of what’s to come.

Former El Teddy’s staffer Juan Manuel Reyes brings New American trendiness to the often modest Mexican genre. Look for carefully-plated pile-ups of grilled ahi with tomatillo relish and garlic/sweet corn tamales, or the popular ‘caballero’ ribeye with poblanos rajas and roasted cilantro potatoes. Desserts are ideal for sharing, like the orgiastic “bananarama,” a jaw-dropping kitchen-sink affair that boasts deep-fried banana-cheesecake burritos with chocolate ice cream, butterscotch sauce, and pecan brittle. Take it from us, you’ll want a crowd for this sucker—though be sure to save room for gratis clouds of pillowy cotton candy strewn with Pop Rocks.

Lolita’s inviting tequila menu is arranged by age and taste profile, while pretty (and potent) margaritas are always shaken with crisp, fresh fruit juices. And don’t miss Lolita’s fabulous michelada with Modelo Negro beer, Worcestershire sauce, and Lolita hot sauce—perfect for late-night crimes in the garden or in Lolita’s clubby lounge.

 

The Cool-O-Meter

You could always count the porkpie hats in attendance, but we devised a system to rate our hippest restaurants.
  Birdsall
House
Lolita
Cocina
 Lalibela Don
Coqui
Nessa Red Hat Peniche Pour
Veggie friendly
 ***  *  ****  *  **  **  *  *
Porkophilic  ****  *  –  ***  ***  ***  ****  ****
Late dining  **  **  **  ****  ***  ***  ***  ***
Food for sharing  *  **  ****  ***  ***  –  ****  ****
Clubby, sofa-filled lounge  –  ***  ****  **  ****    ****
Cult wine/beer/booze  ****  ***  **  *  **  –  ***  ***
Low lighting  *  ****   ****  ****  ***  ***  ****
Locavorian  ****  –  –  –  –  –  –  –
Private garden
(offering illicit smoking)
 –  ****  –  –  ****  ****  –  ****
Loud music  **  **  –  ****  ****  ***  ***  *
Packed bar  ***  ***  –  ****  ****  ***  ***  ***
Nubile, scantily-clad patrons  –  ****  –  ****  ****  ****  ****  ***

 

Julia Sexton is Westchester Magazine’s restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA Award-winning blogger who once prowled the cool city streets, hand-rolled American Spirit between black-varnished fingertips. Nowadays, she spends her time chained to her laptop, silently rejoicing that she could never afford that full-sleeve tattoo.

 Cool Leftovers: check out more photos from this month’s cool restaurants in our web-exclusive gallery below.

 

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