Union Square: A cornucopia of established and new restaurants

Union Square Cafe will debut its new space at 235 Park Ave. South later this year. Photo by Liz Ligon

It’s been a busy year for Union Square’s restaurant scene, and the district continues to draw new concepts and eateries from the city’s best restaurateurs. With hallmark anniversaries for several neighborhood institutions and a variety of newcomers to the district, Union Square is sure to remain at the center of New York City’s culinary news in the coming months.

“The evolution of Union Square’s dining culture reflects the growth of the district itself,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership. “It began with some of our longtime neighborhood partners — Union Square Cafe, Blue Water Grill and the Greenmarket — that put down roots in Union Square and cultivated its reputation as a dining destination.”

The Union Square Partnership business improvement district and the Greenmarket are both celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year, and the synergy between the two institutions has had an undeniable impact on the district. Union Square was a very different place in 1976: New York City was experiencing a period of decline, and many public spaces — including Union Square Park — were no longer considered safe. Rooted in the commitment to reclaim the square as a welcoming space for all, the Partnership and the Greenmarket spearheaded efforts to improve, beautify and champion the neighborhood.

The Greenmarket’s high quality of fresh produce from local farmers has brought not only foodies and home cooks to shop in the square, but also a roster of the city’s top chefs. One of our district’s most renowned restaurateurs, in fact, is one of the Greenmarket’s biggest patrons. When Danny Meyer sought a new space for his Union Square Cafe, he prioritized location near the Greenmarket in his search. The restaurant will be taking over 235 Park Ave. South at E. 19th St., and is slated to open later this year. The new space is just two blocks away from the Greenmarket — allowing Union Square Cafe to continue to source fresh, local produce every week.

“It was essential to us that we stay in the neighborhood and maintain our relationship with the Greenmarket,” said Sam Lipp, managing partner of Union Square Cafe. “We’re looking forward to starting the next chapter of Union Square Cafe in the company of our team, our partners and the community that has supported us from the very beginning.”

The Pavilion Market Cafe returned to Union Square for its third season on April 15.

Around the corner — in the historic 31 Union Square West building — Blue Water Grill has renewed its 19-year lease. The top-ranked restaurant, an icon of the Union Square landscape and culinary scene, is also preparing for a remodel this year.

Union Square recently welcomed the return of The Pavilion Market Cafe for its third season. Located at the north end of Union Square Park, the restaurant serves brunch, lunch and dinner through Oct. 15. Chef Mario Urgiles has revamped the menu, adding new seasonal dishes, such as green papaya salad and artichoke-spinach ravioli, served with a full bar of cocktails, wine and craft beers. Although community groups and local politicians had fought against the city to block the pavilion from being used for the seasonal eatery — claiming it was an illegal use of public park space — the city prevailed.

Several more highly anticipated restaurants will soon call Union Square home.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s newest eatery, ABCV, is slated to open at 38 E. 19th St. The menu, executed by chef de cuisine Neal Harden, will feature exclusively vegetarian fare. The popular udon noodle eatery Tsurutontan is taking over Union Square Cafe’s former space at 21 E. 16th St. With 12 restaurants in Japan, the Union Square restaurant will be Tsurutontan’s first location in the United States. Acclaimed Italian eatery Pulia is also slated to take over a 4,800-square-foot space at 113-115 E. 18th St. this year.

A new market and restaurant concept, Union Fare, will take over a space on E. 17th St. Union Fare will offer a market with prepared foods, in addition to a full restaurant. The popular Washington, D.C., fast-casual Mediterranean eatery Cava Grill will open its first New York City location at 145 Fourth Ave., and Peet’s Coffee is arriving at 853 Broadway. Parisian master baker Eric Kayser has also signed a 3,000-square-foot space at 841 Broadway for his namesake boulangerie, Maison Kayser.

“There is a lot going on in Union Square this year, highlighting the diversity of our neighborhood’s dining culture,” said Falk. “We’re looking forward to seeing it continue to evolve and attract newcomers to enjoy a taste of all that Union Square has to offer.”