A London friend, aka Hitchcock Blonde, visiting my home town asked for tips on restaurants. New York dining is always about the NEW restaurants, those of the moment, whereas London, where she's from, is about the standbys and old favorites. I offered her a contrarian list of old New York favorites that still hold up. (None will be surprising to a native.)
If you have some dosh to spend, head to Elaine's, the greatest saloon in America. My old boss George Plimpton, if he'd heard one of us from his Paris Review staff had finished the night by heading there, would invariably ask "And what news from the Rialto?!"
Indeed, I'll ask the same from her tomorrow.
Then, the Waverly Inn, the new Elaine's. If downtown, The Odeon, which somehow still exists, and is best for large groups if you don't have a reservation. For a date, Raoul's.
If you're on a budget, or in any case, visit the Ear Inn on Spring Street near the Hudson River... a place that once, a hundred years ago, before landfill and the west side highway, was literally dockside. You can imagine it the place where Eugene O'Neill hoisted one when he was down-and-out. Very Iceman Cometh, but with a good crowd, and the fishcakes are good.
A fish place called Fish on Bleecker Street. Little Frankie's. Daksuni for Korean. PJ Clarke's for a burger. Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke is best for "healthy" barbecue.
Smith Street in Boerum Hill Brooklyn is worth a gander, since every place is good.