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A 4-year Chow tour of NYC--we'd love your help!

My youngest sister has just moved to the city. She's starting college this week, at Barnard. 'Til now, she's lived (and eaten) in the Chicago suburbs, and she's quite excited--understandably!--about "digging in" to all that NYC has to offer, food-wise and other-wise, of course. But this here posting is about food.

So, my question to all of you: If you had the chance to be a culinary tour guide of our fair city, and you had 4 years to do it, what would your game plan be? Keep in mind that she's a college student and I'm a teacher (cost should be at least a slight consideration). Also, it might take a while to expand her tastebuds' preferences of bagels and pizza. I plan to see her (and eat with her) about once each week. Here are a few things I've thought about:

*Monthly themes, with a different restaurant featuring the same kind of food each week, for a few weeks in a row: tours of NYC's best pizza, falafel, Thai, Indian, Korean, and other cuisines that she will hopefully develop a taste for...

*A more geographic approach, highlighting different neighborhoods every week and just choosing a restaurant depending on any number of criteria...

*A DIY "diner's deck" kind of thing, in which I take suggestions from fellow chowhounds about must-hit restaurants (yes, I'll scour the boards, but feel free to add your input here and now, too), and compile them into some sort of list or deck of cards, with the goal of hitting as many as possible in the next four years, and hopefully discovering some of our own together, too. If you vote for this option, be sure to give me your recommendations!

Thanks, all. I look forward to hearing your chowisdom!


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  1. I was a visiting college student at NYU last semester. At first I tried to learn everything about the NYC restaurant scene by reading books, and then walking around to find the places. This was really fun, but it became sort of a time costly obcession. I would suggest picking a few nights a week for going out and saving money during the week (because she'll be too busy with school to go explore most nights).

    Take into consideration what her favorite meals are. Breakfast and dessert were most important to me. So I compiled a long list of bakeries and just walked around to the different ones. I also don't mind eating peanut butter and jelly for a month if I can go to a prix fixe dinner.

    I would listen to chowhound suggestions and pick restaurants in different neighborhoods. Chowhounds know way more than zagat, and just finding the restaurants is a way to explore the city. One of the greatest days I had was finding a columbian bakery in Queens. I felt like I was on a different continent. I can't stress how overwhelming it can be coming from the suburbs myself. I always wanted good food for every meal, but I think it's better to pick certain meals for it. She's by H & H bagels and Zabar's grocer which are both key staples for any upper west sider.

    1. Korean- NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi (32 W 32nd St). My favorite Korean BBQ place. Great dining experience in one of Manhattan's most festive neighborhoods.

      1. I live on the upper West Side. I recommend for Chinese -Ollie's, the one on 68 and Bway not he one on 84th St. Although a chain, the former is far superior.

        Celeste - Italian 502 Amsterdam. Italian, crowded nor reservations but great Roman Italian.

        Zabar's for take- out and kitchen stuff.

        Dock's folr seafood. 92 and Bway.

        Ouest for upscale special occasions,.

        3 Replies
        1. re: march33

          Since she goes to Barnard, I'm surprised that you mention the 68th Street and 84th Street branches of Ollie's but not the original one at West 116th Street. Is it that much less well-known?

          1. re: floretbroccoli

            I don't know how much less well known it is, but it is by far the worst of the the ones mentioned. Unless in recent years they hired some new chefs, I really cannot recommend it. I have been to the one in midtown only once.

            1. re: mimolette

              Don't get me wrong -- I'm not recommending it. I was just wondering why someone'd say go to 68th, don't go to 84th, without any mention of the one around the corner from OP's sister.

        2. lord, this sounds WAY too organized, esp for a college student. The primary issue is getting her to venture to a wide variety of neighborhoods, other than the upper west side. then pay attention to the various "cheap eats" threads here and in Time Out, Village Voice, etc. But the whole flash cards thing stikes me as a little elaborate.

          1. This is thoroughly infeasible in New York. Most restaurants (even supposedly excellent ones) in New York cannot be counted on to be consistent week to week, let alone over four years. Pick a cuisine, and then research that right before you dine.

            1. I think it's important to go to some major food temples when you're first getting into good food, especially when you're that age. Because price is an issue, maybe you can plan to do this just once in a while (every 3-4 months or so), even if it means having her over your place for dinner on the other nights. As with all education, there's no replacement for the classics! Here, (a few of) my picks: Jean-Georges; Babbo; Le Bernardin; Sushi Yasuda.

              1. Here are two of my favorite local ethnic cheap eats:
                1. Ali Baba on 34th (between 2nd and 3rd) in Murray Hill. It is a very reasonable Turkish restaurant with phenomenal food. Try the mixed appetizer plate (it comes with fresh pide)to start and then go for the chicken kebab! Without alcohol, it is at most $15-20 per person. One kebab and one mixed appetizer is enough for 2 hungry ladies !

                2. Galanga-on West 4th and 6th Avenue in the West Village is a shoebox of a Thai restaurant. It has a local trendy feel, but is very well priced. If you like spicy, try the drunken noodles!

                1. It's inevitable that she will mostly explore the restaurants near school at first. Of course, there is no way to hit all the great restaurants or even neighborhoods, etc. in any logical order. Opportunities and whims don't work that way. What I would suggest if she wants to explore is to try foods from as many cuisines as possible.

                  Being a somewhat compulsive geographer, I tend to start with countries that begin with A (Afghanistan, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Angola, Australia, etc.) and try to visit a restaurant from each one. It's a challenge and a ready-made checklist, and NYC has just about everything.

                  Another way of trying exotic things is to buy the ingredients and make recipes from different places. (When I was in college, I spent months cooking Afghani recipes but never made it beyond that, at least not in order.) Exploring markets and buying the ingredients can be cheap and fascinating.

                  She might also make it a point to explore some area of an Outer Borough once a month. Since a lot of students don't believe there is anything significant outside of Manhattan, it might be a real project to find dining companions undaunted by trips to the unknown. One of my unstarted projects is to go down the list of neighborhoods in the Hagstrom guide - and just explore and see what they have to offer.

                  Of course, the problem with any such plans is that studies, romance, economics and life in general tend to distract us. I have yet to visit Allertown or Arverne to see if there is anything worth eating there, and I even have a car.

                  Checking Chowhound, especially with its great new searchability, will point her in many exciting directions. So good luck and good eating.

                  1. Something I do (and would recommend to her) is to plot all the restaurants I'd like to visit (or revisit) on the map at http://onnyturf.com/subway. That way, you can see everything geographically and how it lines up with subway lines, and you can use the service to store notes about the places (best dishes, hours, etc) as well.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Luther

                      Holy cow, thanks for turning me onto this map thing!! I can't wait to start plugging in restaurants!!!!! Very excited.

                    2. How about getting the book "Food Lover's Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City" by Robert Siestema and see what looks interesting to you? When you choose a place, you can do a quick search on Chowhound to make sure it's still in good order.

                      That's what I've been doing to hit all of the "best of" New York eats. Although it says "ethnic eats" I think it pretty much covers all types of food, even things like pizza.

                      The only things you'd miss are, new places that have opened and food from the categories not in the book, such as dessert places.

                      My blog: http://virtualfrolic.blogspot.com

                      1. When I moved back to NY, my favorite way to explore new restaurants was to pick a neighborhood each weekend and do a littl food tour of that area. Chowhound is a great way to get suggestions. If I could only try one place that day, I kept a notebook of places that I happened upon that I would visit on my next trip to that area...or make a special trip for.

                        The other approach that I take since I continue to be on a budget it to keep all meals to $10 or less until there is a place that I really want to try - and then I make a special trip and go all out at that restaurant, whether it is once a week or once a month occurance. There are so many places where the REAL cheap meal can be had - and they are fantastic.

                        Finally, one thing that I am trying to do more of, is the spontaneous visit and exploring on my own. With 4 years to spare, this is something that I would recommend. Harder to do on a vacation.

                        Keep posting questions and we'll keep making suggestions.