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Must Eat in Manhattan

I will be in Manhattan for a few days and would like to taste some special things that I cannot get anywhere else - NY specialities, regional cuisine, some exotic experience... What should I choose?
(I am from Europe, so please, no Italian or French cuisines)
I will be staying in SoHo, so uptown locations only if you consider a visit absolutely necessary for my NY experience :-)

Thanks a lot!

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  1. I think you should skip Asian food as well -
    Have BBQ - Blue Smoke ( 27th w of Lexington or Daisy Mays on 11th Ave and 46)
    Eat Mexican Food - Try Zarela on 2nd Ave between 50th and 51st.
    Eat a hot dog on a street corner
    Go to Four Seasons and eat game bird or venison
    Go to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal and eat oysters from both coasts and crab cakes

    1 Reply
    1. re: serious

      If you're thinking about street corner food (which you definitely should) I would try Moshe's Falafel on 45th and 6th or any of the Middle Eastern carts serving chicken and rice. If you find a good one, it can be outstanding. There's a great Mid Eastern cart by my office at 59th and Madison. Also, I hear the one at 49th and 6th avenue is also great and may be more conveniently located.

    2. Katz's on the Lower East Side. Get a pastrami sandwich that you can't get anywhere else. Maybe some matzah ball soup too to ward off the cold if you're coming soon.

      Even though you don't want Italian, I'd still get some New York pizza - try Joe's on Carmine in the West Village for a big slice or Lombardi's on Mulberry near Little Italy for a whole pie.

      1. You might want to consider taking my (in)famous Lower East Side eating "tour." Here it is:

        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, 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. (Note: Avenue A becomes Essex St. on the south side of Houston.) Turn left on A and head north until you get to the block between 7th St. and St. Mark’s Place. Look for a hole-in-the-wall candy shop, closer to 7th, with an overhead sign jutting into the street that says, “Belgian Fries.” (The place’s official name is Ray’s, but there is no signage to that effect.) One of the women 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 87 Orchard, snack on a pickle from Gus's World Famous Pickles.

        Then, continue to 97 Orchard, b/t Broome & Delancey, where you will find the Tenement Museum. The tour will show you what life was like for immigrants to NYC at the beginning of the 20th century. (www.tenement.org
        Once you have finished the tour, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, right next door at 95 Orchard, is a must for some of the best gelato anywhere.

        If your sweet tooth is still not completely satisfied, the final stop on this tour should do it. Continue ahead (north) on Orchard, crossing Delancey, then one more block to Rivington St. Make a right and you will find Economy Candy at 145 Rivington.

        Note: It’s best not to take this tour on a Saturday since some of the spots are closed because of religious observance.

        Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

        1 Reply
        1. re: RGR

          wow thanks, this is really great! I will try to do that unless I burst from too much food somewhere on the way :-)

        2. woww...where to start. Just look at what Frank Bruni and Peter Meehan have reviewed. They typically get the hotspots. General rule of thumb: the best food is below 30th.

          1. just a few:

            Fatty Crab
            Little Owl
            Del Posto
            Magnolia Bakery (cupcakes only)
            Waverly Inn
            Blue Ribbon
            Balthazar (brunch, in Soho)

            1 Reply
            1. re: sap

              I wouldn't go to Magnolia Bakery for their cupcakes. The cupcake is too dry and the frosting is cloyingly sweet. I would go to Sweet Sugar Sunshine on Rivington Street.

            2. steak. keens, perhaps.

              1. I'm not sure why serious thinks you should skip Asian food, but it would be helpful if you told us what country you're from.

                I definitely agree that Katz's is a no-brainer, and get their pastrami. If you have time, you might want to go to Flushing, Queens for Chinese or/and Korean food. If you don't have time, you can go to Grand Sichuan (preferably the one on 9th Av. between 50th and 51st) and stick to the Sichuan and Hunan and special menus for Chinese New Year's, the Prodigal Daughter, and "Not Long Time Refrigerated" chicken ONLY. There are various good Cantonese restaurants that have been much discussed in threads about Chinatown restaurants. For great Thai food, most everyone would advise you to go out to Woodside, Queens (so you might want to post a question there).

                4 Replies
                1. re: Pan

                  I thought poster should skip Asian food for the same reason skipping Italian and French - plenty available in Europe (Vietnamese food was in France long before it arrived in US.) And does anyone really need a bowl of chop suey - granted, an American invention?

                  1. re: serious

                    No, no-one needs a bowl of chop suey, but Vietnamese (except for banh mi) would never be something I'd recommend as special in New York, and there was quite clearly no reason to assume that sasicka was French.

                  2. re: Pan

                    I am from Prague, the Czech Republic. I will probably try some chinese food on the one night I will be spending without my husband who refuses to eat Asian food outside of Asia (travels frequently enough).

                    1. re: sasicka

                      So what are you interested in, other than Jewish food (Katz's)? Are you looking for steakhouses? Hamburgers? American-style bakeries? Diners? Not that I could help you with all of these, but the more you can specify what you're interested, the more likely you'll be to get recommendations that will really help you find what you want.

                  3. I would add Koreatown to your list, for an experience I assume you can't get in Europe. I've been to Baden Baden, although the recent threads about other fried chicken places have my mouth watering.

                    I also second the oyster bar, if only just for the architecture.

                    1. I would add either Mary's Fish Camp, Pearl Oyster Bar or another one of the often discussed fish shacks for a lobster roll. New England lobster is something that is hard to get other places and oh so worth it.

                      1. I love the Great New York Noddle Company on the corner of Bayard and the Bowery. It is as basic as you can get as to atmosphere. Afterwards go down Bayard about a block and get some Chinese Ice Craem

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Dining Dish

                          You mean Great NY Noodletown. And while I like Noodletown, I'm sorry, but though I like Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for what it is, no way is it special for Europeans, with all the great ice cream they can get there!

                        2. An exotic and delicious meal can be had at "Vatan"..It is Indian Vegetarian...Ask to sit on pillows...It is one price (reasonable), and then they bring you many appetizers, main courses, and dessert...No menu...It is on 3rd and 29th St....You MUST have reservations...We absolutely loved it, and we are not vegetarian..It was very tasty and great fun...

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jinet12

                            It's impossible to get in w/o reservations?

                            1. re: Pan

                              I also thought that was an odd comment. Although we did make reservations before going, it didn't strike me as the kind of place that was impossible to get into without reserving. The only "problem" is that there are only two regular tables, so if those are occupied, you would have to be fine with taking off your shoes and sitting on cushions on the floor.

                              I suppose I should add that I didn't much like the food, and it had nothing to do with my not being a vegetarian. Since it is a set menu, there is absolutely no choice. The appetizers were o.k. but were way too spicy for my taste. And I found none of the main course items at all appealing.

                              It's a kitchy place with a village decor theme, but I think one can find far superior vegetarian Indian food in other restaurants.

                          2. PLEASE do not go to four seasons. ESPECIALLY for the duck! i had a really embarrassing experience when i brought a french business partner out and we had the worst duck imaginable at the four seasons. we actually joked about that duck course for the rest of her stay in new york! terrible!!

                            1. I also recommend Katz's, as well as one of the many "famous" NYC pizza places (Lombardi's, John's,etc.) Do not listen to that person that said "the best food is below 30th Street". This is a mentality common among downtown "snobs", who think life in NYC revolves around only certain parts of Manhattan. Sorta like the mentality of many NYers in general, who think that the entire world should revolve around New York. So anyway, I would also add to the "must do" list that you try a soul food restaurant, the best of which is found WAY above 30th Street, in Harlem. I highly recommend Charles Southern Style Kitchen. I do NOT recommend Sylvia's. It is a tourist trap. Charles' is more authentic, somewhat "divey", and the staff are great. Their fried chicken, collard greens and candied yam can't be beat. $13 for all you can eat. Note that the particular area where Charles is located is a bit "sketchy" in appearance, but totally safe. If however you don't think you'd feel comfortable walking around an area that's not so pretty, then Sylvia's may be better for you. Sunday Brunch at the famous Rainbow Room is also a great experience. I think it's about $80/person. The food is awesome, and the view of the city is SPECTACULAR. You are up on about the 60th floor, and you get a 360 degree view of the city.