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Visiting NY in June - Looking for quintessential 'New York' restaurants

We're spending so much money on the hotel and on getting up to New York from DC, so we're really looking for inexpensive stuff. I know it's a matter of taste and will never be settled fully, but I'd like to know:

1. Best place(s) for pizza
2. Best place in Chinatown
3. Quirky neighborhood joints

Basically, I want to know the places I should hit while on a budget that are memorable and shouldn't be missed on a short visit. Not the trendy places that are over-hyped, but classic or underrated spots. Already on a tentative list are:

Difara
Zabar's
Totonno
Katz's
Dim Sum Gogo

Would you guys add any to this, or advise against? Our hotel is on West 81st street, but we're willing to trek pretty far out of the way (including other boroughs) if it's worthwhile.

Thanks so much!! I'm sure you get inundated with this question all the time.

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  1. 1. Grimaldi's (walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there, great walk!) or for walk-up $.99 pizza on 40th Street and 9th Avenue.

    2. Moon House, Excellent Dumpling House

    3. Le pepe pinard (ludlow and stanton), Island Burgers, Nook (9th Avenue and 46th Street - it's BYOB and so fun!), Bartabac, Five Points or Cookshop, A.O.C. Bedford, Alice's tea cup, Shake Shack, Stanton Social, inoteca, A Voce

    4 Replies
    1. re: kam0424

      Thank you so much!! I really appreciate your help. Definitely want to try Grimaldi's and Nook.

      1. re: laney619

        Grimaldi's is so worth the trek to Brooklyn. Arrive early as there can be a line out the door.

        For a very NYC steak experience, check out Sparks. They are one of my favorite steak houses in the U.S.

        Katz is essential for pastrami too. I'm very happy having Langers here in Los Angeles but Katz is always a fun experience when visiting your great city.

        I think French food is also a must-do in NYC especially the nice selection of reasonably-priced places. I was impressed with a tiny downtown French place called 26 Seats recently. Very reasonable and friendly service. We had a delicious and tender mussels in wine (on special) and an elegantly simple poulet à la moutarde. So good we went twice and ended up sharing a bottle of wine with the chef and servers after they closed for the night.

        1. re: Ernie

          I agree re Sparks. There may be better steaks at this point, but few are so quintessentially New York as Sparks.

      2. re: kam0424

        Don't forget the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory while you're over there - it's just up the block, and it's delicious!

      3. grab a burger at molly's, pj clarke's. i'll second pizza at grimaldi's. plan your brooklyn bridge walk so you arrive at 11:30 to beat the crowds. check out the ballparks at red hook over the weekend for a seriously great cheapo food tour.

        1 Reply
        1. re: steve h.

          PJ Clarke's is not what it used to be, sadly. In the last year I have had a burger at the original on 3rd Ave, the one in the World Financial Center and the new one opposite Lincoln Center. All were nondescript and the last one was borderline terrible. Stick with Molly's or if you miss the old Clarke's burger try Burger Heaven at locations around Manhattan.

          http://burgerheaven.com/

        2. Keens, which has been in its 36th St. location since 1885, is certainly a quintessential/classic NYC steakhouse. Because your budget is limited, costs in the dining room would be prohibitive; however, prices in the Pub Room are much kinder, and it has the same unmatchable old NY ambiance that is found throughout the restaurant.

          http://www.keens.com

          Since you're already planning to go to Katz's, you might want to consider taking my (in)famous Lower East Side eating "tour." It will give you the opportunity to walk around a very interesting, historic neighborhood while sampling foods that are emblematic of NYC without busting your budget. The tour begins at Katz's. I'm appending it here:

          LES 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 – though not mandatory, it is a tradition -- 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, where it’s cash only. To pay by credit card, go to the counter at the rear where the salamis are sold. 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. ( http://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. Also, Donut Plant is closed on Mondays.
          **********

          Hope you have an great visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

          5 Replies
          1. re: RGR

            The tour is an admirable guide, to be sure- but a big dissent on Yonah Schimmels. It has all the trappings of a great spot except for one thing- mediocre knishes. I'm old enough to remember that they weren't even that great back in the 60s-70s. I'd get my knish at Katz's, and use up my remaining carb allowance at Kossars (or, practically next door, the Donut Plant).

            1. re: addictedtolunch

              Admittedly, my experiences with Schimmel's knishes have been hit or miss. I've had really good ones and others that were, sadly, mediocre. However, it is a LES institution, so I think it belongs on the tour.

              1. re: RGR

                Agreed it's an institution. There's an expression in the old N.Y. business world: "He's a real Yonnah Schimmel" = he only knows how to do one thing.

              2. re: addictedtolunch

                Agreed -- skip Yonah Schimmels and save the carbs for a bialy at Kossars.

                1. re: addictedtolunch

                  Definitely "stroll by" Schimmel. What about Mrs. Stahl's? Are they still around? If yes, you can FedEx their knishes. I guess I'll have to check the O. Borough boards next. . . I have only had Mrs. Stahl's and agree the carbs should be saved for Kossars or a melt in your mouth, warm, pear donut at Donut Plant.

              3. I would approve of all the places on your list. Totonno's is the longest excursion, but if you have another reason to want to go to Coney Island, by all means have some pizza there. If not, consider going to Spanish Harlem and visiting Patsy's on 1st Av. between 117th and 118th Sts. Some Chowhounds have stated that it's gone downhill, and I haven't been there in some time and couldn't express an opinion about this, but it is a classic New York-style pizzeria. Zabar's is a shop and not a restaurant - you probably realize that, but I always say "never ignore the obvious," because what's obvious to a New Yorker like me may or may not be obvious to you.

                How long will you be in New York?

                5 Replies
                1. re: Pan

                  Only from Saturday to Tuesday, so I want to make sure I'm educated about it and make good choices. I was admittedly a little confused about Zabar's. I've read some things saying you can go in and grab a sandwich, but it appears to be a store. Do they have sandwiches you can get made, or is it all lunch meat?

                  1. re: laney619

                    I've never gotten a sandwich there, but I'd say the specialties of Zabar's tend to run more toward cheeses, condiments (olives and such), high-class prepared foods (jams, etc.), and things like smoked fish. Admittedly, I live downtown now and haven't been in Zabar's for some time. They also sell kitchen equipment on the 2nd floor. Try to go on a weekday to avoid subway rush-hour-like crowding.

                    1. re: laney619

                      Zabar's is defintely not a sit down lunch place. There is a cafe next door where you can buy a prepackaged version of the iconic bagel with cream cheese and lox, but it's not that amazing because it was made hours before, and also, the seating at the cafe is uncomforable and crammed. Really the thing to do is buy stuff there and eat it at home. If you do that, I recomment buying nova lox, a center cut of smoked whte fish (divine), a small container of lobster salad, some cream cheese with scallions, defintely a pint of greek olives (for some reason, a traditional accompaniment) and then go next door for some H & H bagels, the best in the city, or at least on the west side. And the cheese counter is great too, but if you are a major cheese person, you should also take a field trip to Murray's Cheese shop on Bleeker Street in the west village. It's cheese Mecca.

                      A great thing to do would be to buy all that stuff and walk over to 79th Street and Central park west to the park entrance there and have a picnic in central park!

                      1. re: AKS

                        AKS is right - don't bother with the prepackaged bagel/schmear/lox at Zabar's. If you're considering RGR'S LES tour though, Russ & Daughters makes sandwiches to go (is there still a bench out front?) and their bagels are decent. For real DIY action, I'd get the bagels at Ess-A-Bagel (they have an LES location) and assemble with your smoked fish of choice from R&D; for on-the-go sandwiches R&D is a good bet. I have to disagree re: H&H bagels, though - I thought they were the best in the city, too, and I think at one point in the past they were. For bagels on the UWS I'd go to Tal Bagels (on Broadway) instead.

                        1. re: theannerska

                          Yup, there are still benches outside of Russ and Daughters, and also in front of the the nearby American Apparel. You can also take it across Houston and eat at the park at First St and First Ave.

                          Although, the OP is staying on the UWS, and Barney Greengrass is a NY institution, and much closer, if there's no time to go down to Russ and Daughters.

                          H&H is nice if you can get something that's warm; it doesn't have any tables, chairs, etc. or make sandwiches for you, though. Additionally, it's open 24 hours.

                  2. Absolutely go to Grimaldi's, and make sure you get the roasted peppers on your pie. There's an amazing local ice cream stand a block or two away- just walk to the water and you'll see it- Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Really great homemade ice cream.

                    I recommend NY Noodletown on Bowery in Chinatown. They are open very late- maybe 3am. I go for the soup, the roast duck (all the roast meats are terrific, including roast baby pig and roast pork) and the pea shoots with garlic- all outstanding. It's a grungy spot, but I love it.

                    Also in Chinatown, practically on The Manhattan Bridge, is Grand Sichuan on Canal Street. My memory is that there's no english menu, so check out the boards and come in knowing what you want to eat. It's authentic Sichuan food- spicy!- and great. This place makes NY Noodletown look like the Plaza, so go in the mood for a hole in the wall experience.

                    If it's a hot day go to CHinatown Ice Cream Factory afterwards.

                    Also, the most idiosyncratic neighborhood joint with great food I can think of is Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse on the lower east side. It's an INSANE place- sometimes with a guy playing cheesy music on a synthisizer, but it's an old-fashioned Jewish place, with great chopped liver, the best egg cream I've ever had (made at the table), and all kinds of really good (albeit heavy) New York Jewish food. The place feels like a party- it's nuts, and really spirited. A real NY place. I've been going since I was a kid.

                    OK, this is a real NY restaurant: Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King. You cannot find a more authentic New York Breakfast anywhere. They have wierd hours these days, so call ahead. Upper West Side. The food is terrific, and the atmosphere is charming and unchanged since they opened, as far as I can see. Also, right near your hotel.

                    Enjoy!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: AKS

                      Oddly enough, there's a Sammy's Roumanian thread going right now:

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/403562

                      Unless Sammy's fans make a comeback in that thread, it's going to be a TKO in the 6th...

                      1. re: AKS

                        I would highly recommend Barney Greenglass and Zabar's which within a few blocks of each other. I used to take the M104 bus down from Columbia, get off and shop at Zabars, walk across Broadway to Amsterdam and up to Barney Greenglass before I took the M11 home. But enough about my college days.

                        Zabar's is a store, and you can't really get a sandwich (there are some prepared ones wrapped in cellophane, but who knows how long they've been there?) You can, however, choose from an amazing deli counter with everything anyone could want -- chicken, vegetables, pasta, any kind of sliced meat, cheeses, pastas, the list goes on and on -- and put together a fantastic picnic or just get carryout to eat in your hotel. I do this all the time when I visit. There's a counter just for sliced fish and a big bakery department. There's a whole coffee section and many, many preserves and teas and chocolates. Don't let anyone intimidate you, and if you need a minute, stand back and look everything over before you order.

                        You might think about breakfast at Barney's (check the hours) and then walk over to Zabar's. Don't miss the upstairs, which has a wonderful kitchen department, and they'll ship things home for you.

                      2. I like Arturo's for pizza - it's still a neighborhood joint. Live jazz a lot of nights and my favorite pizza anywhere.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ronoc

                          I love the pizza at Arturo's and Grimaldi's. I prefer the dimsum at Ping's on Mott Street. For a quirky place, you should check out Cafe Lalo's on W. 83rd St (cross-street is Amsterdam Ave.). It's a European style cafe that has a lot of great pastries, desserts, coffee, shakes, salads, sandwiches, etc. Definitely an Upper West Side jewel.

                          1. re: missesq

                            Eh, I find Cafe Lalo to be just on the edge of being a tourist trap, having been the "You've Got Mail" cafe and all.

                            It's crowded, loud, busy, and I've always had service issues. That said, the desserts can be good dependent on what you order. Their menu is huge.

                        2. Thanks so much to everyone!! You've all been so helpful and I really appreciate it. I'll let you know how the trip goes!

                          1. 1. Best place(s) for pizza -- Obviously Grimaldi's (Brooklyn Bridge), remember it is THIN crust... northern Italian pizza, not your typical "NY Slice" (only pies there). And be prepared to wait. A WHILE. Johns (the original) in the Village (bleeker/W. 4th??) is good, don't listen to the rumors that it "closed for health violations" - a TON of places were closed, and John's had very minimal violations. I love Rose's in Penn Station (the slices are hugeee). You could also go up to Arthur Avenue for a great slice at any of the many places, I like Blue Moon (or maybe its Full Moon...).

                            2. Chinatown - can't help you, I avoid that part of the city like the plague.

                            3. Quirky - Shack Shack in Madison Square Park for burgers/dogs/custard (there will be a line), Katz's in the E. Village for sandwiches, J.G. Melon's on the upper east side for a good burger, Norma's @ Le Parker Meredian on the W. side for an AMAZING brunch (make reservations), if you're in the Bronx, hit Arthur avenue for good italian - breads, cheeses, pastries, pizza. Lower East Side - 'inoteca for italian. OH East Village "Three of Cups" has pretty good (cheap) food...everything, and a quirky bar downstairs. Also, "Little India" in the E. Village (6th street between 1st and 2nd...around there) has good indian.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: christinaemcc

                              Has anyone tried Lombardi's for pizza? How does it stack up against Grimaldi's??

                              1. re: christinaemcc

                                Places most often mentioned for great pizza: Di Fara, Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, John's of Bleecker, Pasty's, Totonno's. All of these notable places don't do slices. There will often be a line. And asking which is best is like starting a holy war, so I'm not even gonna get into it. Good luck.

                                As for the East Village, there are many other places I'd recommend ahead of Three of Cups (like Ssam Bar, Village Yokocho, Grand Sichuan, Teresa's, Prune, Mermaid Inn, etc.) or the Indian restaurants on 6th Street (the places in "Curry Hill" are better).

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  DiFara's does serve slices, and you can get slices to go at Patsy's East Harlem.

                                  Christina, I happen to hate Three of Cups' bar. So loud you can hardly hear yourself think, and they let people smoke illegally. But different strokes for different folks.

                                  1. re: Pan

                                    Thanks for the clarification about slices. That Di Fara's does slices totally slipped my mind.

                              2. Definitely try to do Difara, but if you can't, consider Arturo's in the Village for pizza. Coal-fired pies often with a live jazz accompaniment -- quintessentially New York. I also second Katz's and Dimsum GoGo (notwithstanding my complaints about the ordering process at the latter on another thread).

                                1. Knickerboker

                                  1. My Chinatown recommendation would be NY Noodletown, especially since it's soft shell crab season. And definitely order baby bok choi.

                                    My two other top budget recommendations would be pides at Ali Baba and the South Indian thali at Saravanaas. Both have been discussed here a bunch.

                                    http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                                      A few Chinatown recs...just to throw in my 2 cents...

                                      If you're heading in that direction, and are doing the NYC food tour, surely you should do dim sum.... possibly Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn. (Okay, Dim Sum Go Go is very, very good...but it doesn't give you the "cart experience", which may or may not be important to you.) Then there's always a Banh Mi at Saigon Banh Mi, or Sau Voi.... Oh yes, and top it off with a bubble tea at Taipan Bakery.

                                      (You sure you're going to have enough stomach room for the entire tour?)

                                      Best,

                                      GG

                                      1. re: gaijingirl

                                        I'd choose Golden Unicorn over Jing Fong if only for the fact that they don't have the same poor labor relations history.