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Two Cents Wanted! The best of the best list!

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Two Cents Wanted! The best of the best!

LA chowhounder will be visiting NYC for the first time next month for 5 days. I have scoured the NY board and have consulted some New Yorkers on where the must eats are. I have a list of places I would like yays or nays on. Your opinion matters! Other recommendations in addition to this is appreciated. I'll be staying at the W in Union sqaure for a few nights then moving in the Affinia 50, off E 50th street, but I will venture anywhere for a good meal.

Conditions? I plan to spend two evenings at an upscale restaurant (under $100 a person, not Per Se astronomical). The rest of the time I would like to sample New Yor City's best dives, casual eateries, and hole in the walls (anywhere up to $30 a person). L.A. has Asian and Latin cuisines covered, so not interested in those recs. I simply want to eat what New York is uniquely known for: Pizza, Deli's, Italian (LA's Italian is terrible), Cheesecake and desserts, Bagels (and lox) - or any great breakfast, food stands and stalls, anything else I should know about? Any recs for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. If this is too broad of a request, kindly let me know and I'll tighten the requirements.

From what I've gathered already from the board, Little Italy has the worst Italian food (akin to LA's Chinatown and Japantown LOL), Babbo is the fine dining restaurant to be at, Aqua Grill is good and Russ and Daughters is the best Jewish deli in town.

Feel free to also comment on the restauants suggested to me. I have not a clue whether these recs are decent or not. Also any bar recs are appreciated (30ish crowd):

Lombardi's - recommended by a New Yorker
Una Pizza Napoletana – (Heard this place was ovverrated and not very good. True?)

Upscale Dining:

Barney Greengrass
Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Soul Food:

Peter Lugars (Brooklyn)

Thanks a ton!!!

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  1. Skip Olives and Virgils, Go to RUB (BBQ), Katz's deli (pastrami,) and maybe Gotham Bar and Grill, Gramercy Tavern, Hearth...something like that for your other pricey meal. Lugers is pricey as well but worth the trip.



    1 Reply
    1. re: Chico

      For inexpensive Italian, I would recommend Cacio e Pepe and Assenzio, both in the east village. Two gems. Charming service, inventive authentic food. inexpensive to boot.

    2. First off, Russ & Daughters is not a deli. What is is is a store that sells appetizing, and superb appetizing it is. While there is no place to sit down, they do make sandwiches to go.


      Katz's Deli is the place to go for fabulous pastrami.

      Both these places are on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Regular readers of this board know abut the food tour of that area that I've put together. I'm appending it here:

      Lower East Side Food Excursion

      For the quintessential NYC deli experiences, no place beats Katz's, on the corner of Houston (pronounced "how-stun") & Ludlow Sts. You're there specifically for the pastrami sandwich. When you enter, you will be given a ticket. Instead of opting for table service, do what the "natives" do and get on line for counter service. When you reach the counter, put a $1 for each sandwich in the counterman's tip cup and order pastrami on rye. He'll give you a piece to taste. If you like it (the best pastrami is juicy and has some fat on it), tell him o.k., and he'll make your sandwich, give you some sour pickles, and punch your ticket. Then, continue along the counter for sides – the cole slaw is good -- and drinks. Find seats at a table in the center of the room. (Tables along the wall have menus on them and are reserved for waiter service.) When you’re done, take your ticket to the cashier in front. It's cash only. Note: For the purposes of this tour, if you are doing it with someone else, unless you have a gargantuan appetite, it would be best to share one sandwich in order to leave room for more tastings along the way.

      When you exit Katz’s, turn left and continue along the same side of Houston St. You will come to Russ & Daughters, famous for all sorts of smoked fish and many other goodies. It's not a restaurant, but they make sandwiches to go.

      After leaving the Russes, continue west a couple of blocks until you reach Yonah Schimmel's. Get a tasty potato knish, and make sure to ask them to heat it up.

      Now it’s time for the quintessential NY drink – the egg cream. So, reverse yourself and head east on Houston until you come to Avenue A. Turn left, heading north, until you get to get to the block between 7th St. and St. Mark’s Place. Look for a hole-in-the-wall candy shop (no name), where whoever is behind the counter will make you a delicious chocolate egg cream.

      When you’re finished licking your lips, go back to Houston St. and make a left (east) one block to Norfolk St. Turn right and walk down Norfolk until it ends at Grand St. Two places to look for at the corner of Grand and Norfolk: Kossar's, for freshly baked bialys (another very NY food) and the Donut Plant (self-explanatory).

      Next, walking west along Grand St., you will come to Orchard St. Turn right. At 97 Orchard, b/t Broome & Delancey, you will find the Tenement Museum, where the tour will show you what life was like for immigrants to NYC at the beginning of the 20th century. (www.tenement.org) To keep this spot food-centric, have a pickle at Gus's Pickles, which is at this location.

      Finish up this gustatory adventure with a stop at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, at 95 Orchard.


      Hope you have a wonderful visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

      1. Lots of good food here.

        Everything you've heard about Babbo is true. Get a dinner reservation or show up early and eat at the bar.

        Lunch at Esca or Le Bernardin is pretty special. It's seafood at its finest. You'll enjoy the best these two kitchens have to offer at a huge discount. Squeeze in both during your stay if you're feeling flush.

        Old-time steak houses are pretty good. I like Keens, others prefer Luger's, Strip House and so on. Keens, to me, has the right balance of food, history and location. It's a slam-dunk if you're a scotch fan.

        Picking a pizza place is likely to start a serious flame war. Una Pizza Napoletano, John's on Bleecker, Lombardi's on Spring, Grimaldi's on Old Fulton... whatever. They're all good.

        Manhattan is still working on its BBQ. Deli? Katz gets the nod for pastrami but I have to confess that the place is just too goofy for me. I steer clear of desserts.

        For what it's worth, A burger at Molly's pub (short walk from the W) or PJ Clarke's (55th St.) is pretty cool. The oyster selection at Shaffer City Oyster Bar and Grill (21st St.) is the best in town.

        2 Replies
        1. re: steve h.

          i heartily agree w/ the Keens recommendation...nothing like it in LA atmosphere-wise (the closest thing in LA would be the Pacific Dining Car downtown, but imagine an older, NYC version, steeped in history...i like the lamb chops there and they usually have good oysters too...

          And i agree that Shaffer City does have a great oyster selection (although the cooked food is lame, imho, so go there just for an oyster snack at the bar if that's your thing)...

          Other Thoughts:

          i recommend NOT going to Lombardi's...i think it's a tourist trap and i stopped going after having two downright bad meals there...

          Russ and Daughters: that's a must if you love lox...you could get some lox or bagel/lox to go, and then have a picnic somewhere if the weather is nice...

          i also love Lucien (FirstSt/FirstAve): best bouillabaise in town, endive salad, escargots, chocolate cake, and a fun East Village vibe...there is nowhere comparable in LA...

          For one of your upscale meals, i highly recommend Picholine...best cheese plate maybe anywhere in the US, and fun for a latenight dinner in the bar area or a full meal...

          I heartily agree w/ Le Bernardin too...

          And, while LA does have better sushi overall, Jewel Bako, provided you sit at six-seat sushi bar, is my fav restaurants in town...they do amazing red&white wine pairings...foodwise i'd say it's a bit better than, say, LA's Sushi Sasabune, only w/ an elegant downtown atmosphere, perfect service, and interesting wines/sakes...

          Have fun and make sure you report back on what you liked/disliked...

          1. re: Simon

            I'm from the south but I love NYC.......I'm going to Keen's in December and can't wait..........go.......and enjoy. Bon Appetit....

        2. I don't know who told you to go to virgil's, but that person must not have any taste buds. BBQ in general in NYC is average at best, and Virgils can't even get to that level. Skip Olives.

          I agree with the Katz's suggestion if you are looking for a Pastrami sandwich. I would skip Yonah Schimmels unless you like microwaved mushy knishes. IL Labratorio is good but they close around 6PM.
          A good lunch suggestion would be Jean George. $12 per course with a 2 course minimum. I'm unsure if its offered during the weekend but I do know its offered weekdays. Call for reservations.

          1. f
            Fred and Wilma

            If you are at the W Union Square you should head over to Union Square Cafe and treat it the way it is meant to be, a fantastic drop in sit at the bar NYC classic.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Fred and Wilma

              UNION Square is an excellent suggestion....the way to go for one of the meals...get the filet mignon of tuna. ah so good.

              Orso is good italian on restaurant row midtown.

              If you can get to Chinatown go to Joe's Shanghai for the crab and pork soup dumplings.
              Then head over to The chinese ice cream factory on bayard and get some green tea/ginger icecream

              Hit papaya king.i like the one on 86/3rd...their are other chains all same dogs i think...hot dog with saurkraut and mustard. tastier than filet mignon they say. Who ever they is.

              Barney's - is good for fish.....you gotta go to Katz's deli and get the pastrami. Life will never be the same or at least pastrami in your eyes will never be the same.

              Head to Campbell Apts in Grand Central for a Prohibition Punch. and enjoy the history.

              don't stop till ya get enough.

            2. Breakfast Suggestions ( Near W - Union Sq.)
              1) Vaselka ( St. Marks and 2nd Avenue) for a unique Eastern European breakfast ( Perogies, Blintz,Bortsch)
              2) Esienbergs ( 22nd/Broadway)- Great Tuna , Matzo Ball soup in an old fashion ( sort of dirty) lunchenette atmosphere-- It's yummy
              3) Five Points - Weekend Brunch ( Bond St./Lafayette)

              1. Instead of Labortorio for dessert I'd get the olive oil gellato from Otto - or the Otto cart at Washington Square Park. Labortorio is good, but doesn't hold a candle to the olive oil stuff at Otto!

                Pizza, although there is some decent Lombardis is a good choice and it has the old school NY ambiance. Although, a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is really gorgeous on a nice day - you can hit up Grimaldis after that. Both Lombardis and Grimaldis are excelent IMO.

                Aquagrill is good - the seafood tower is alot of fun there. For other NY type places although a little pricey I might check out Balthazar for the seafood tower ($99 - $120 can feed 2 to 4).

                For cheap Itallian in a real neighborhood hipster joint I'd check out Max or Franks both in the East Village. Also, venture into the Lower East Side beyond the walking tour there are several outstanding places including Schillers, Azul Bistro, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, Stanton Social and a few others.

                For the best itallian I would head up to Arthur Ave. in the Bronx (if at all possible), however.

                1. Upscale Dining:
                  Also consider the prix fixe lunch menus at restaurants like Fleur de Sel ($25) and Bouley ($25)

                  I'd substitute Cones, the gelato stand in Chelsea Market, or Otto for Il Laboratorio del Gelato. Also consider going to one of the bakeries in town. Bakeries are a controversial subject on this board, but I've tried and liked both Mary's off Jane and Billy Bakery. For chocolate try La Maison du Chocolat, Teuscher, Jacques Torres, and Kee's Chocolate. City Bakery has the best hot chocolate in the city, although many consider it too rich.

                  Soul Food:
                  I haven't tried any since I've been in town but have heard good things about Maroons.

                  For an untraditional steakhouse (i.e. a restaurant that focuses on very good meat), try Azul Bistro or Little Havana.

                  There are a LOT of great Italian restaurants in the city. Some of my favorites are Cacio e Pepe, Apizz, Max, and Da Andrea.

                  1. I would recommend from any of the following for upscale dining: Aureole, Bouley, Danube, Wallse.

                    Russ & Daughters is not deli; it is the best however for smoked fish.

                    For deli, I would recommend Sarge's on Third Ave. & E. 36 St.

                    Have a great time!

                    1. Grimaldi's - pizza (go early or you'll be sorry)

                      Prune - brunch (also go early)

                      Hearth - delicioius/rustic dinner

                      Il Lab de Gelato - sorbet (never actually tried the gelato because their sorbet flavors are so intense and I'm addicted to them)

                      RUB - BBQ (I really like Dinosaur in Harlem but its out of the way if your not going to be up there)

                      Also, definitely check out RGR's tour of the LES.

                      Have a good trip.

                      1. A couple of fun low-end options that haven't been mentioned: Old Town Tavern & the Shake Shack.

                        Old Town is, as the name describes, a long-established dive-ish bar on 19th St. Also has good, greasy bar food.

                        The Shake Shack is the much-touted outdoor joint in Madison Square Park. Burgers, their 'shroom burger, shakes obviously.

                        1. Rocco's (Bleeker St.) for desert/coffee
                          Azul Bistro - Steak
                          Dylan Prime - Steak / Scene
                          Katz's Deli - Pastrami
                          2nd Ave Deli - Corned Beef
                          El Quijote - Spanish - very Old NY place, not expensive
                          Maroon's - Jamaican/Southern

                          1. i love the brisket and pulled pork at virgils, for soul food get the fried chicken & waffles at Sylvias in Harlem, go to Beard Papa for fresh creampuffs and coffee, and go to Fairway to get your bagels & lox (i like their onion bagels). oh and make sure you get some hotdogs at the Grays Papaya on 72nd & Broadway. enjoy your visit!

                            1. oh i forgot: clam chowder @ the oyster bar in grand central & a lobster roll @ the lobster store in chelsea market. asalam alekum! :)

                              1. I think other hounds have given you some good commentary on the places you already mentioned, but I'll add a few tidbits. First, Little Italy is not akin to LA's Chinatown or Little Tokyo. It's much worse. However, if you're going to be in the area around Little Italy, you might consider going either to Peasant on Elizabeth St, or Apizz a little farther on Eldridge, or Lombardi's just for the hell of it. I've had both good and below average experiences at Lombardi's so I'm not ready to dismiss them yet.

                                One of the best Italian meals I've had recently was at Angelini Osteria in LA, so I wouldn't rule out all Italian as being awful there, but I would also recommend Lupa (as many others have), Cacio e Pepe, Celeste on the Upper West Side. These are all in the moderate range. Babbo is worth checking out, but reservations are still pretty tough, so I'd take care of that right now.

                                Don't bother with BBQ in NYC. There's much better BBQ in LA, and while there are a few new BBQ players in NYC, there's no real value to going out of your way for it here. Just drive down Crenshaw Blvd and get your fix in LA. I might say the same with soul food, but I just haven't made the effort to get to Harlem for the food in a while.

                                If you're interested in Jewish fare, check out Barney Greengrass for breakfast. Although there's a Barney Greengrass in LA, it's a whole different experience at the original location on the Upper West Side. Since you're staying on E. 50th, check out Ess-a-Bagel on 3rd Ave/51st for breakfast or lunch. Also, Tal Bagel on 1st in the mid 50s is another good choice. Russ and Daughters is worth it for lox. And go to Katz's for the pastrami. In fact, I would recommend that you go to Langer's in LA before you come out here so you can make a judgment on which is the better pastrami. Many consider one or the other the best. I think I'm slightly more partial to Langer's, though it's hard to make a conclusive ruling tasting each months apart.

                                A few misc. ideas: Check out the Grand Central Oyster Bar, but sit at the bar and have some oysters, chowder, and wine and then move on to another place for a later dinner. I think most people who actually sit and dine there end up being disappointed. Staying simple there is key.

                                Have some Turkish or Greek food. LA has a lot of middle eastern cuisine, but lacks Turkish and Greek. I like Ali Baba on 34th/3rd for Turkish, or near E. 50th, there's Sip Sak on 2nd/51st. Besides Papa Cristo's, I'm not sure where I would go for solid Greek food in LA. There are plenty more places in NYC both upscale and moderate as well. The seafood Estiatorios places are plenty here, like Milos, Avra, just to name a couple, or something a little more tapas-like at Uncle Nick's Ouzaria in Hell's Kitchen, or Snack or Snack Taverna downtown.

                                Around Union Square, check out Rainbow falafel for a light lunch and eat in the park on a nice fall day.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Eric Eto

                                  More upscale than the delicious Turkish places Eric lists, Taboon (53rd and 10th) is great mid-range "pan-" Middle Eastern restaurant with lots of Turkish dishes and a lovely atmosphere. It really is a pleasant meal.

                                2. Some thoughts:

                                  I wouldn't bother with Po's and Olive's -- while both are good, they're not out of this world nor special NY experiences.

                                  Barney Greengrass -- not really for dessert (although they have some sweets there). I think it's a fabulous choice for bagels and lox with solid NY atmosphere. Their lox is outstanding. They have table service --keep it mind that it can get crowded on the weekends. You can always get sandwiches and picnic in Central Park which is nearby.

                                  For BBQ, I think Blue Smoke (E. 28th st.) is the best -- fun atmosphere and excellent, although not in a perfectly traditional Kansas City 'cue kind of way. Make a reservation.

                                  City Bakery, E. 18th, is great for drop in breakfast, lunch or afternoon snack. Their greenmarket salads and sandwiches are fantastic and their pastries and cookies are addictive. Ditto the hot chocolate.

                                  Jacques Torres, King St, is a cool chocolate factory with great chocolates, cookies and hot chocolate. You can watch the factory while you eat.

                                  Not far from Babbo, Mario Batali has two other great restaurants: Lupa, Thompson Street, is delicious Italian (a bit pricey, but far less than Babbo) and Otto is a fun pizza place with good pastas as well. Both of these have great antipasti -- fresh salami, prosciutto, etc.

                                  Norma's in the Parker Meridien is great for a totally indulgent, pig-out breakfast or lunch.

                                  I ditto Union Square Cafe for the quintessential NY dining experience (on par with Babbo price-wise) -- it's pretty casual but the food is upscale (not in a fancy kind of way). Gotham Bar & Grill would be another good fine dining choice.

                                  I'd pick Balthazar for a hip downtown meal, with great french bistro type food -- bkfst/lunch/dinner.

                                  Clinton St. Baking on the Lower EAst Side for great desserts and brunch.

                                  I'll try to add more later...

                                  1. My two cents:

                                    Amy Ruth's in Harlem is worth the trip for great soul food. Just take the 2 or 3 train to 116th Street and walk a couple blocks west.

                                    At some point you'll probably be walking through Soho. Go to Sullivan Street Bakery and buy something to nibble on (not really for sweets, more for bread or pizza slices).

                                    If you're beer people, stop at dba or Blind Tiger for a draft or two.

                                    I don't know how LA is for German food, but some fun German dives include Loreley, Lederhosen and Zum Schneider (this is more about kicking back with some beer and atmosphere than the food itself). Closer to your hotel is Silver Swan, which is kitschy German decor, and less divey.

                                    Right near your hotel is Galaxy Cafe, which is notable because a lot of the dishes contain hemp oil, and it has a fun atmosphere too, but again, it ain't haute cuisine.

                                    1. You guys are all so great, thanks so much for taking time out to put your two cents in. A very hospitable gesture indeed!

                                      Especially for considering LA cuisine and calibre, these recs have been EXTREMELY helpful in helping me make the most of my NYC food trip.

                                      Feel free to keep the suggestions coming - I won't be tehre for another couple of weeks and will be checking the board regularly. I'll provide an update when I return.

                                      And if you ever need an LA rec, you know who to hit up. :-)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: LA Foodie

                                        You are now obligated to report back on where you end up eating :-)

                                      2. Since when is Russ and Daughters a deli? Maybe you can call it a dairy place or what it really is....An appetizer store...It ain't no deli!

                                        But, right down the block is the best deli in the world IMHO...Katz's. And you surely do not want to miss a pastrami sandwich from Katz's!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Chuck

                                          I agree, Russ & Daughters is not a deli, they must've confused it with Katz Deli. R&D is more like snack place, but I can't stand the smell of the dry fish.

                                          As for Katz Deli, I agree it has a GREAT pastrami sandwich...oh goodness I think I want one now! It's very meaty...(licking chops)

                                        2. Check out Chikalicious for a dessert tasting. I would also go to WD-50 just for dessert, maybe you can sit at the bar. Some other places to try would be Pearl Oyster Bar for the best lobster roll and butterscotch praline sundae, simplicity at its best, Cafe Sabarsky for a great lunch (very elegant soups and salads, spaetzle, strudel and other desserts), Charles Chicken in Harlem for soul food, I like Daisy May's for BBQ and they have a chili cart in midtown. Sullivan Street Bakery for their potato pizza. If you really want a smoked fish experience, Friday mornings Acme Smokehouse in Brooklyn sells directly to the public, cash only, but don't get their Acme brand smoked salmon, their loose whole fish or sliced to order fish or Blue Hill line is far superior. Artisinal for fondue, you can eat it at the tables by the bar. Babbo if you can get reservations. I can't say I like Luger's, it did not live up to the hype. Will add more if I can think of any.

                                          1. Grimaldi's - EXCELLENT PIZZA!
                                            Valeska - EXCELLENT Borscht (perogies were a tiny bit dry the last time but has been excellent otherwise)
                                            Lugers - EXCELLENT STEAK! - we save our moolah to go there again and again, we are currently trying to find a place that will top lugers...we give it a perfect 10, others have been around 7 maybe a high 8 so far. So worth the trip.
                                            Park Ave Cafe - Good steak, good food, good atmosphere...
                                            For hole in the wall: Middle Eastern Cuisine - Alfanoose on Maiden Lane - YUMMMMMMMM - great grub, great price!

                                            Happy Chowing!

                                            1. A trip to the Lower East Side for food is meaningless without an excursion to Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery, home of the best cupcakes in Manhattan. And if that doesn;t getcha, try their Chocolate Bomb or banana Pudding w/ nilla wafers.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Kid Quick

                                                I live on the Lower East Side and don't know that bakery. Where is it?

                                                1. re: Pan

                                                  it's on rivington between essex and norfolk.

                                              2. BBQ - skip Virgils chaotic noisy ordinary and go to Daisy Mays on 11th at 46th - bring your own wine or beer (and opener and cups)
                                                Barney Greengrass - it's for smoked fish not desserts
                                                Upscale: Lupa-Italian
                                                Good value: Da Andrea on Hudson, have the house wine