New York's Most Authentic Sidewalk Cafes
Sidewalk cafes are probably best associated with Paris. Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots are arguably the two best-known sidewalk cafes in the world. The common denominator between the two, of course, is the abundance of space between diners and the street. It is here that you intermingle with street life while tucked away in the safety of an establishment, comforted by food or drink or friends or a book—or whatever it is that takes you in.
Fortunately, there are over 1500 sidewalk cafes operating today in New York City. The influx began in the mid-’60s after city officials began encouraging street dining—particularly on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village, a location still teeming with street cafe culture.
With the arrival of warm spring air, you’re sure to spend more time outside. The see-and-be-seen culture of the NYC sidewalk cafe doesn’t just offer people-watching and constant interaction with the city streets, it’s a reason to remain in the sun—even while you dine. Below, our roundup of the most authentic sidewalk cafes in the city.
A wide sidewalk on Sixth Avenue makes this NYC classic a perfect place to people-watch. The Tuscan-inspired restaurant opened in 1992 and has been consistently packed ever since. Known as a celebrity hangout, the tables spill onto the sidewalk with plenty of room for street traffic and mingling. Though you will likely wait for an outdoor table, the experience is “quintessentially New York” and the exquisite food makes it well worth your time.
268 Sixth Ave, Greenwich Village
This casual, stylish Swiss eatery attracts a fashionable crowd. The Lafayette location across from Lt. Petrosino Square makes it a convenient and ideal place for people-watching, especially if you’re able to snag one of the four outdoor tables. Whether you come for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, the restaurant is sure to be packed. Offering schnitzel, bratwurst, muesli, Ovomaltine, the menu is decidedly European, and a unique space in a sea of Italian and French bistros and brasseries.
212 Lafayette, SoHo
Offering delectable French-American cuisine, The Odeon’s major appeal comes not from its food but from its storied history. The historic restaurant was once a glittering haven for celebrities and artists in Tribeca whose streets were much darker than they are today. On its opening in the ’80s, The Odeon’s famous neon sign was about the only bright light in view. Stories of John Belushi, Warren Beatty, Robert DeNiro, and Basquiat pepper The Odeon’s lore while Jay McInerney solidified its notoriety in his classic Bright Lights, Big City. While the art deco bar or its bistro-style tables may call your name, The Odeon also offers streetside dining for a little bit of history mixed with the streets of a modern age.
145 W Broadway, TriBeCa
In 1936, Sant Ambroeus opened in Milan to a welcoming local intelligentsia who enthusiastically embraced the cafe as its now-legendary meeting place. The New York version exists today on a pretty, tree-lined section of West 4th Street. Famous for its coffees and gelato, the espresso bar remains a strength alongside addictive Italian pastries. With a kitchen that opens as early as 7:30am, Sant Ambroeus is a welcoming breakfast spot as well as an intimate choice for lunch, dinner or even brunch. The Milanese fare is true to its roots while incorporating some of today’s most popular dishes (what would brunch be without avocado toast?). Its sidewalk boasts two-top tables with both seats facing the street for some ideal people-watching. Additionally, Sant Ambroeus’ SoHo location is equally worth a visit for its prime sidewalk seating.
259 West 4th Street, West Village
Another spot offering Italian cuisine on a calm, West Village block, Via Carota is a must—even without all the history. Inspired by 17th-century Florence, this gastroteca calls to mind an old-world Italian kitchen. Cozy and rustic with light brick-lined walls anchored by rustic, wooden floors, the ambience is comforting even while being perpetually packed. Eight outdoor tables decorate the sidewalk offering a delightful springtime alternative among the trees of Grove Street.
51 Grove Street, West Village
WORDS Hillary Sproul