Naya: Favorite Lebanese Restaurant In New York City

Naya, 1057 Second Avenue, New York City


Naya 1057 Second Avenue, Midtown Manhattan

The Lebanese Restaurant, Naya, was a pleasant surprise when we discovered it while walking up Second Avenue in Manhattan one evening. It has a clean, bright appearance from the street, but more importantly a classy Lebanese restaurant couldn't help but offer new choices in food exploration. Naya doesn't disappoint.

First, a little history...

When we first came to New York and, like other recent arrivals, shocked at prices prices, we were happy–and relieved–to discover several cheap and tasty restaurants along Second Avenue below Fifty-seventh Street. This was in the early Nineties, and the construction of high-rise towers hadn't yet disrupted the long-established neighborhood.

Both of us worked full-time. My wife hadn't become a gourmet chef, and I hadn't become her adequate substitute. Eating out was a special treat after the long Manhattan workdays.

Above Fifty-first Street, we found Harglos (the marriage of Harry and Gloria), Coldwaters and Goldberg's Pizzeria. (That's right–Goldberg's.) Sadly, all are gone now, and that walk down Second is taken much less often.

Goldberg's was the first to go. One day, we were walking back from somewhere and discovered the place was just gone. Maybe it succumbed to the end of the heyday of Jewish pizza parlors.

Next went the New Orleans accented Harglo's, a great spot for the sumptuous food that made New Orleans fattest in the nation, cajun served by almost exclusively Irish help.

Finally, Coldwaters crashed after a clumsy change of ownership in which the careful combination of good cheap food, mostly fish, and adequate service was displaced by cheap food and chaotic service. Turnover among the wait staff was startling.

Each week, new help hustled under the watchful eye of a stressed out manager. Then, lights out, locked doors and paper over the windows.

Lebanese Restaurant, Naya, NYC

As classy apartment towers, like Mondrian, were put up where decrepit four and five story walk up flats once ruled the street, the restaurants changed too.

There are still a number of pubs and others straining to hold unique culinary spots on Second, but Naya Mezze & Grill at 1057, just south of Fifty-sixth Street is, for my taste, the class of the lot.

Naya is probably the easiest restaurant to miss in Manhattan. It's narrow profile guarantees that three steps worth of friendly sidewalk conversation will take you straight passed. Even after being there a few times, I have to concentrate each time to be sure I don't miss it.

Entering Naya is a bit like entering the cabin of a small jet, but without passengers struggling to jam every possible piece of luggage in the overhead. Comfortable booths line either side of a narrow aisle, the only one in the restaurant.

Observing wait staff and customers dodge one another while navigating can be amusing as well as annoying for the participants.

There. Now, I've written every negative thing I can come up with about Naya. I love the place and have enjoyed every visit. Let me list a few of features I find most unique and enjoyable.

  • Acoustics. I may be inclined to belabor this subject, but there is no single feature more consistently annoying in New York restaurants than the noise created by small tables pushed close to each other with no thought to absorbing sound. Most of us like to talk before, during and after meals. Enjoying friends occupied by nothing but great food and interest in each other is a pleasure. Diners shouldn't have struggle to converse, but in our little town, they usually do.
  • Under seat storage. Beneath each booth-style seat, a hollowed out area allows plenty of room for bags, packages and outerwear. Nice not to have to make foot room with bulky items beneath a table. Never saw this anywhere else.
  • Mezze-style dining. If you enjoy ordering varieties of food and sharing with others, as I do, this is perfect. As with the better known tapas of Barcelona, on Second Avenue, you and your partners can order small plates in great number and try everything. It's more fun than wondering about the great dishes you didn't order.

Owner Hady Kfoury owns three restaurants in Beirut and has chosen to try replicating his successes here.

I have never been in the Middle East and don't know how our Manhattan version compares, but Naya is bright and glassy without glare. It feels clean and efficient without being cold.

The menu contains a mouthwatering selection of mezze, mostly vegetarian, but including meat and shrimp. The better known choices, like Hommus and Baba Ghannouj are likely to taste so much better than the Americanized version as to almost seem like entirely new dishes. All over the Mediterranean, cooks culture delicious yogurts. Few can compare with Naya's Lebanese version: Labné, made up with dried mint and olive oil. The first time we had this, my wife refused to leave before obtaining information on where she could buy even a close immitation.

If your interest is a more casual meal, maybe a simple lunch, Naya's menu includes a moderately priced selection of sandwiches, including kebabs and falafel. Traditional (not mezze) dinner selections include beef, lamb, poultry and fish dishes, marinated, skewered and so forth, Lebanese style.

For drinks, I suggest continuing the adventure with Almaza, a Lebanese beer, or any one of several Lebanese red wines. Variety, after all, is still the spice of life, and where else are you going find Lebanese beer?

Expect to pay more than I once paid for meals at my lost love, Harglo's, but it's twenty years later. And worth it. You won't break the bank, and you will be thinking about what to order on your next visit.

Enhance your visit by enjoying an after dinner stroll through the neighborhoods that stretch quietly toward Sutton Place and the river. Feel how the busy city can be absorbed under the trees. In September, when the Roosevelt Island Tram, between Fifty-ninth and Sixtieth, reopens, you can enjoy the silent glide between buildings and high over the East River as the lights of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn blink around you, the string of elegant bridges receding into the distance.

Time passes, I will always miss the funky Second Avenue of the Eighties and Nineties, but I've learned to live without much of my hair too. Life's short. Expand your experiences. Take the time to enjoy places like Naya. For visitor or locals, New York is about opportunity. This is a good one to not miss.

© 2010 David Stone

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