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Style & Living Restaurants

How to Eat Like Obama in NYC: A Guide to His Fave Restaurants in the City

It’s basically the next best thing to kite-surfing with the guy.

By Sara Gauchat

Forget the Eater 38. Delete your Yelp app. Disregard the Times’ stars. If you want to eat your way around New York City in true gastronomic style, look to arguably the nation’s coolest ex-POTUS (sorry, Bill). Barack Obama was basically our first foodie-in-chief, so he doesn’t make his restaurant decisions lightly. And for a guy disinclined to waste words, 44 is equally reluctant to waste a meal when visiting New York.

Obama’s Manhattan restaurant choices consistently impress (and sometimes surprise) theoretically-jaded New Yorkers who often want to eat vicariously through him — and sometimes just lose their minds when he stops for a latte. So if you want to experience some of the best bites the city has to offer, just let Mr. President be your guide. It’s BYO Secret Service, though…

1. Carbone

The reservation list at this Italian-American hotspot is notoriously tough to crack, but it probably helps if you have a Nobel Peace Prize and the nuclear launch codes. Obama has dined at the Village restaurant three times since 2013 — opting for the double lamb chops on his most recent visit last month (even though the spicy rigatoni vodka is what inspires the most popular and impassioned post-meal raves).

2. Upland

Flurries on East 26th Street (📷 by @nov_very_own)

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We know that when we dine with any member of U2, we always like to choose a place we’ve already vetted, so it’s no surprise that Obama made a return visit to this Gramercy Park crowd-pleaser for his lunch with Michelle and Bono last month. The eatery’s California-influenced cuisine inspired the then-prez to opt for a West-Coast-style burger the first time he stopped in for brunch with Malia and Sasha in 2015 — but no word on whether he went with the same tasty choice this go-round.

3. Emilio’s Ballato

Malia was the lucky beneficiary of her discerning dad’s palate again this February, when the newly weight-of-the-world-less former president treated her to a pre-theater supper at this old-school Nolita Italian joint that’s a pretty huge celeb magnet. Fellow diners eyeballed the daddy-daughter duo as they went deep into conversation over tiramisu (as you do).

4. Cosme

Back when they still went by POTUS and FLOTUS, the Obamas were clearly in the mood for Mexican — super-trendy, foodie-fanatical Mexican, to be specific — when they feasted on the $89 duck carnitas for two (among other dishes of the tuna tostadas, blue shrimp, and short rib variety) at this buzzy Flatiron District spot last year. Its chef, Daniela Soto-Innes, also won the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Award in 2016. So basically, not a bad year for her…

5. Gramercy Tavern

Spring has most definitely sprung. #forsythia #corneliancherry #tulips

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Of course, Bon Appétit Barry (copyright forthcoming) isn’t exclusively about the newest or hippest spot in town. In February, he grabbed a Friday lunch at the long-revered — and Michelin-star-boasting — New American classic in the Flatiron District. The restaurant made news when it went tip-free last year, but there’s no intel yet on whether or not the former Commander-in-Chief actually followed the protocol.

6. Il Mulino

There are power lunches, and then there’s Obama and Bill Clinton rolling into this Village restaurant fresh off of 44 delivering a heath-care speech to Wall Street in 2009. The meal was “healthy” according to Clinton — although said bread-breaking did happen before he turned (mostly) vegan, so his perspective may be a tad different now on the mini-chain known for extravagant Italian dishes.

7. Estela

Ahh, the good old days #matterhouse

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Before they got to the hugging portion of their 2014 dinner at this Mediterranean gem in Nolita, Barack and Michelle actually doubled up on orders of some of the menu’s must-sample items, like burrata with salsa verde and endive salad. Can’t score a res at what Bon Appétit named one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016? No worries—you can eat like the leader of the free world at home.

8. Maialino

Roman Trattoria Vibes 👌 📸 @xairixx

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The former White House dweller may have had little patience for pork when it came in the form of Congressional spending, but Obama was likely a bit more on board in 2014 when he and Michelle joined some friends at this Gramercy Park Hotel trattoria that specializes in all things pasta and pig. The menu offers up classic Roman Italian cuisine — you’ll probably just want to leave your pet potbellied at home.

9. Blue Hill

It was the date night heard round the world — or at least the West Village — when Obama escorted the First Lady to a pre-theater dinner at this farm-to-table groundbreaker just four months into his presidency. There were martinis, there were locally-sourced ingredients galore, and POTUS even ditched his tie back on Air Force One.

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