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NYC's best female-led restaurants celebrated on International Women's Day

OpenTable and the James Beard Foundation have teamed up to highlight notable women in leadership positions at city eateries.

Chef Esther Choi's Mokbar has made an OpenTable

Chef Esther Choi's Mokbar has made an OpenTable list the top female-led restaurants in New York City. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

More than a dozen restaurants are being celebrated as among the best women-led eateries in New York City on International Women's Day.

Online reservation site OpenTable teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to highlight notable females in leadership positions at city restaurants, including head chefs, owners and corporate leaders. Their list of 17 eateries features an eclectic mix of flavors and locations, from authentic Japanese cuisine to gourmet mac and cheese, from Harlem to Prospect Heights. 

“We are completely honored to be on this list,” says Bessou owner Maiko Kyogoku, who grew up cooking traditional Japanese meals with her mother. “I have worked in restaurants for over 10 years and some of those environments were pretty harsh. It’s been a conscientious effort as an owner to create a work culture where everyone feels welcomed.”

Here are some of the women who are making their mark on the New York restaurant scene.

Mokbar (Park Slope)

With locations both in Chelsea Market and in Brooklyn, chef and owner Esther Choi provides traditional Korean food — inspired by her grandmother’s homemade meals — to two boroughs. With humble beginnings as a ramen stand in Chelsea Market, Choi expanded her brand in 2014 with the opening of Park Slope’s Mokbar. Choi appeared on Zagat's 30 under 30 list of “Rock Stars Redefining the Industry.” She serves Korean staples such as dumplings and kimchi.

Dirt Candy (Lower East Side)

Vegetarian spot Dirt Candy takes credit for triggering the trend of meat-free establishments throughout the city. Amanda Cohen, the owner and head chef, is a James Beard-nominee who has appeared on both "Iron Chef" and "Iron Chef Canada."

While lacking an a la carte menu, the vegetable-oriented eatery offers two tasting options, featuring five to 10 courses of hand-selected delicacies such as Korean fried broccoli, popcorn beets and pumpkin pad thai. The restaurant, which was the first vegetarian establishment to be given two stars by The New York Times, also offers a brunch and dessert menu offering a healthy twist on classic mimosas and cheesecake.

Maiko Kyogoku, Bessou (NoHo)

Nestled on a quiet corner between Bond and Bleecker streets, Bessou serves platters of traditional Japanese food with a familiar New York flavor. Owner Maiko Kyogoku says that it is the commitment to authenticity to that brings new visitors to her restaurant, but it is the unique Bessou twist that turns a casual visitor into a familiar face at the establishment.

“We’re a Japanese restaurant that takes the flavors of New York as inspiration, and I think a lot of people find our food healthy and delicious,” says Kyogoku. “It hits the notes of comfort food.”

The Beatrice Inn (Greenwich Village)

Originally a speak-easy in the 1920s, The Beatrice Inn is now known for its preparation and presentation of meats. While the establishment has always boasted its lush atmosphere and celebrity clientele, it credits New York chef Angela Mar for its wide acclaim among food critics. Mar incorporates a rich blend of fruits and herbs to compliment the fine meats served at the Inn, garnering her a feature in The New Yorker, as well as Food & Wine’s best new chefs in the country. 

Yves (TriBeCa)

Chef Alex Baker originally trained at culinary school in Paris, working at several restaurants in France such as Spring and Le Chateaubriand. Baker began debuting her dishes at Rebelle in New York in 2015, which she helped to open. At Yves, the young chef reinterprets French cuisine with a fun flair, a relaxed attitude reflected in the sunny ambience of the TriBeCa spot.

Murray’s Cheese Bar (West Village)

With locations across Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan — including a new mac & cheese pop-up in Greenwich Village — Murray’s has been a staple in New York since 1940. The restaurant was chosen for the work of corporate employees Beth Ann Coulton, Elizabeth Chubbuck, and Melissa Iacono.

Porsena (East Village)

Inspired by classic Italian dining rooms and the quaint neighborhood restaurants one would find while perusing the streets of Florence, Porsena pairs artisanal pastas with both traditional and newly imagined sauces. Chef Sara Jenkins has been in the industry for over a decade, crafting her signature meat dishes as well as timeless Italian classics such as spaghetti con le vongole.

El Quinto Pino (Chelsea)

At Spanish tapas bar El Quinto Pino, chefs and owners Alex Raij and Eder Montero boast a unique twist on tradition while still maintaining rich and authentic flavor. Raij is a celebrated chef at Txikito, highlighting regional tastes from Andalusia, Asturias and Menorca.

Cosme (Flatiron)

Chef Daniela Soto-Innes won the James Beard Rising Chef of the Year award two years after opening her first restaurant, Cosme, at the age of 23, and went on to land a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Soto-Innes combines local and seasonal Hudson Valley ingredients with classic Mexican recipes to create fresh and authentic dishes — a tactic she replicates at her new restaurant location in NoHo.

ATLA (NoHo)

Soto-Innes’ NoHo location is a relaxed, upbeat rendition of the upscale Cosme that put her name on the map. Functioning as an all-day eatery, ATLA features lighter menu options such as stuffed avocado and a pambazo sandwich, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows that serve as the perfect Instagram filter for photo-worthy food.

Glasserie (Greenpoint)

Located at the tip of Greenpoint, Glasserie serves Mediterranean recipes passed down through generations with new-school flair. Sara Conklin, owner of the glass warehouse-converted restaurant, grew up in places such as Dubai, Cyprus and Kuwait, contributing a diverse flavor palette that adds a twist to the establishment’s Middle Eastern menu.

La Palapa (East Village)

The Astor Place spot for authentic Mexican cuisine is the brainchild of Barbara Sibley, who was raised in Mexico City. The chef and artist began building her repertoire at French restaurant La Tulipe before channeling her upbringing into fresh tacos and other authentic Mexican cuisine.

Modern Love Brooklyn (Williamsburg)

Chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz crafts vegan comfort food in Williamsburg. Moskowitz focuses her energy at Modern Love Brooklyn on crafting plant-based versions of classics — such as the fan-favorite mac and cheese made with cashew cheese — made with natural ingredients.

Meadowsweet (Williamsburg)

Owners, chefs and husband-and-wife team Stephanie Lempert and Polo Dobkin opened Meadowsweet under the Williamsburg Bridge in 2014 with a dedication to provide customers with the freshest local ingredients. Five years later, that promise holds true as the couple grow their own vegetables upstate at Meadowsweet Farm. “We see [Meadowsweet] as an extension of our home,” the two said in a statement on their website.

Pig and Khao (Lower East Side)

"Top Chef" contestant Leah Cohen pays tribute to the southeast Asian food she grew up with at Lower East Side hot spot Pig and Khao. Featuring a street-food inspired menu paired with urban art throughout the restaurant, it is easy to see that Cohen favors casual and inviting ambience.

Lido (Harlem)

James Beard Award-winning chef and bestselling author Serena Bass serves upscale, classic Italian food on Harlem’s restaurant row at Lido. Bass, who once catered a last-minute 60-person dinner party for Andy Warhol, proudly states that all meat and poultry are sourced from farms that treat animals humanely.

Flex Mussels (locations on 82nd and 13th streets)

“There’s nothing more powerful than being recognized by your own industry and peers,” said owner Laura Shapiro, who specializes in serving up Prince Edward Island mussels. “The restaurant industry has evolved with more female owners and I'm looking forward to seeing more women step into decisive roles of running businesses and creating equitable, innovative and exciting workplaces. Next stop, we take over the world!”

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