A cup of molten chocolaty goodness is the best way to thaw out and warm up—in fact, it's one of the best things about winter.
We took on the heinous job of running around the city taste-testing hot chocolates (don't say we've never done anything for you) and narrowed it down to nearly two dozen of our favorites. These spots are definitely worth the brief trip out into the cold, so read on for our recommendations for cafes and restaurants that have turned drinking hot cocoa into an experience not to be missed.
Balthazar Bakery – Soho
80 Spring Street at Crosby Street
Good, basic hot chocolate to go, and it’s not so hot that it can’t be downed quickly. The serving sizes are generous so there is plenty to share, but it's a no-frills, whipped-cream free cup.
Lexington Candy Shop – Upper East Side
1226 Lexington Avenue at 83rd Street
Get your hot chocolate with a side of nostalgia. Sit at the counter for a real old-New-York experience your children will love. The cocoa itself is plain old Nestlé, but this stop is really more about the atmosphere.
MarieBelle – Soho
484 Broome Street between Wooster Street and Broadway
Warm up in the beautiful Cacao Bar and Tea Salon. Single-origin South American cacao beans are brewed with water or milk to form a batter-like texture. The milk chocolate/banana blend will appeal to kids, while adults can choose from a variety of chocolate styles, each one a luxurious and decadent treat.
Max Brenner – Union Square
841 Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets
Indulge in a whimsical chocolate fantasy! Whirring machines spin melted chocolate alongside the dining tables. Tubes carrying chocolate crisscross the ceiling. Everything (legally) imaginable that can be done with chocolate is done here. There are lots of cocoa varieties to choose from, including Mexican and mocha, and kids can even build their own drink. Note: You'll also find a pop-up Max Brenner at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park.
Otto – Greenwich Village
One Fifth Avenue at West 8th Street
Stop in for a quick gianduja at the bar, a scrumptious hot chocolate made by steeping hazelnut chocolate in hazelnut milk, and then topping it off with cinnamon cream.
Sugar Cafe – Lower East Side
200 Allen Street between Houston and Stanton Streets
A place called Sugar has got to be good! Get your cocoa from the carry-out bakery up front or stay for awhile in the small café area. Perfect for kids who want "regular" hot chocolate, plus it arrives with a topping of whipped cream at no extra cost.
The City Bakery – Flatiron
3 West 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
This is one of the most popular hot chocolate spots in the city, thanks in part to its annual Hot Chocolate Festival. Every February, City Bakery serves a different hot chocolate flavor each day, giving you many reasons to come back for more. The cocoa here is so rich, thick and chocolaty, it's a good thing it's available in mini 4-ounce "shots."
The hot chocolates at Vosges on Spring Street are almost too pretty to slurp! Photo courtesy the venue.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat – Soho
132 Spring Street between Greene and Wooster Streets
This Chicago import dishes up "couture cocoa." Kids will love the rich, creamy, dark chocolate spiked with Tahitian vanilla. Adults can go a bit more exotic with a brew of chocolate, chipotle and ancho chiles combined with cinnamon, cornmeal and Mexican vanilla, or a fragrant and flowery white chocolate flavored with lavender.
Zucco: Le French Diner – Lower East Side
188 Orchard Street between Houston and Stanton Streets
French through and through, this bistro is modeled after a French truck stop and is a reliable spot for a quick and tasty chocolat chaud.
Aroma Espresso Bar
This modern Israeli espresso bar serves delicious hot chocolate, made with steamed milk poured over its own brand of chocolate then topped with a dollop of foam and a dusting of cocoa powder. For extra delight, get the marshmallow-topped version.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
Visit the Candy Café of the Willy Wonka-esque candy emporium for an over-the-top mug of hot chocolate. Choose from toppings such as cookies, birthday cake or of course, candy.
Don’t wait until summer to visit Grom. The Italian gelato makers are serious about their hot cocoa. Chocolate from single-origin South American beans are steamed into submission on the spot. Both the milk and dark are the perfect consistency and flavor. The bacio, or hazelnut variety, is a Nutella lover's dream come true.
Our very own Mr. Chocolate, the loveable Jacques Torres, serves his famous drinking chocolates at this factory. So intensely rich and thick that I usually can’t finish my cup, but the kids never seem to have a problem downing theirs! Its particularly fun to visit when the machines are in operation.
Juicy Lucy Juice Bar
This fun, hip little place that makes some of the best juices around is also a great place for fresh and zingy Mexican hot chocolate. Get it to go as there's absolutely no sitting room in either location.
Lady M Cake Boutique
The elegant and chic Lady M is famous for its meticulously crafted cakes, but it makes great hot chocolate too. Just a warning: You'll probably find it tough to escape without buying cake!
La Maison du Chocolat
The granddaddy of chocolate shops has a tasting salon in the back where hot chocolate lovers are in for a real treat. Both the semisweet and very dark blends are amazing! Not a touch of bitterness in the silky, smooth, creamy chocolate. An entirely luxurious experience.
Le Pain Quotidien
Belgian chocolate is my favorite for eating, and it sure makes a mean hot drink. Sit in the front bakery or a back communal table and enjoy the light, frothy, creamy blend made with your choice of organic milk.
Roasting Plant Coffee
Although famous for its coffee, Roasting Plant is also a perfect cocoa stop. Its hot chocolate is creamy, light and easy to drink. No whipped cream or marshmallows here, but it serves lots of kid-friendly snacks.
Everything here is delicious and the salted-caramel cocoa is no exception. Each cup is topped with house-made marshmallow cream. Just try to visit during off-hours when the wait is likely to be shorter.
For more indoor fun, check out our Indoor Activity Guide and for more winter activities, visit our Winter Fun Guide.
Top photo: Enjoying the cocoa at Shake Shack. Photo by Mommy Poppins.
This post originally published in December 2009