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Never been to NYC...would love recs (inc. places w/no reservations needed, favorite casual dining that locals frequent, cheap eats, a few places to splurge)

Hello Hello! Mom and I are visiting NYC (from SF) in about a month (both of us first timers!)! Searching through Frommer's Guide has given me some ideas...but I would love updated, first-person suggestions! We are open to most all foods (mom is not a fan of Indian and Thai though)...and in our week of travel woud love to try a few places to splurge on, as well as great cheap or average priced restaurants. We are playing things by ear and would prefer not to have too many reservations hindering our wandering (we are planning on museums, shopping, Central Park, Ground Zero, etc.)...is that possible while still expecting good food in NY? We would love to try some neighborhood favorites that locals would have a casual dinner or lunch at, not necessarily just the "hot spots". Suggestions all over Manhattan are appreciated (as well as your, "Don't go here, it's just hype" suggestions as well, please!). We're staying in Soho, but will definitely be seeking adventure in other neighborhoods (Brooklyn, Times Square, etc.). Thanks for your help! I will certainly report back!

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  1. Can you give us a dollar figure as to how expensive you'd like your "splurge" meal to be? Same for cheap or average-priced -- SF can be expensive, but I wouldn't want you guys to be in for sticker shock...

    Do you have any specific places in NYC you'd like to go? Or restaurants you like in SF? This board usually works better if we can give you feedback on a tenative itinerary.

    Since you're in California, most people would recommend that you avoid foods that are easily available there (and usually for a lower price) like sushi, Mexican, Chinese, etc.

    For quintessential NY foods and restaurants check out these threads:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/397225
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/401880
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/405260
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/394041

    It's definitely easy to eat well without reservations in NYC at less formal places as long as you plan well and/or don't mind waiting in line.

    Oh, and if you want to know about Brooklyn destinations, you should probably post on the Outer Boroughs board.

    8 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Excellent, thanks Kathryn!!

      Really, there are no specific places we'd like to go...I've heard the restaurant on top of Moma is good, Tavern on the Green's food is so so (but is worth it for the experience?), etc. In SF we like places all over the board...anything from One Market (Brad Ogden's places have all been great) to Circa to holes in the wall like Go Go Cafe.

      So am I hearing that expensive in SF may not necessarily be what expensive is in NY? I'd say an average dinner for two in SF or Marin could average $50-$75 without drinks...cheap would be $30 or under. Splurge (or just nicer) in SF or Marin could definitely vary, but to keep in mind that we'll be in town for a week, I'd like to say anything $100-$250 for two? Or am I crazy to think we'd be able to find that as a splurge?

      In regards to a tentative itinerary, we are trying to be flexible, but we'd like to try and hit: the Met, Moma, a broadway play, the big shopping areas, Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, one of those bus tours around the city...and who knows what else!

      And yes, you're right. Our goal is to avoid things that we could easily find here, but for me that does not exclude Mexican, Chinese and sushi. In Northern California alone, our style of Mexican food differs greatly from Southern California's...so I would wonder if these styles of food would be different in New York? Of course we'd love to have some NY favorites (ie pizza, bagels, hot dogs etc.) too, so really we are open to everything!

      Thanks again for helping me narrow down what we're looking for! I look forward to reading all suggestions!

      1. re: lj2899

        There's a cafe at the top of the MOMA, Terrace 5. It's good for a museum restaurant, but if you want to be wowed, check out the (pricier) absolutely delicious food at The Modern. It's right next door to the MOMA. They have two dining rooms -- the hipper, casual front room (called the Bar Room) is better than the formal one.

        I'd say that an mid-range dinner for two is at the higher end of the spectrum, like $80.

        I would not advise that you spend time getting Mexican here; high-end sushi, however, can be great if you splurge on something like Sushi Yasuda.

        For essential NY I would definitely do pizza, bagels and smoked salmon, an old style NY deli, perhaps some gelato (very popular right now), at least one Danny Meyer restaurant, a French bistro (Balthazar is a winner for tourists) and of course a few large brunches.

        1. re: kathryn

          kathryn (or any other chowhounders!), i've been seeing danny meyer's name frequently in threads...care to explain what makes him stand out? is he the bradley ogden of ny? and brunch...that seems to be like the "thing" to do in NY...yes?

          1. re: lj2899

            Good food, great service (he has made a very public commitment to hospitality), good value for what you get, and nice settings (mostly). He's popular and also a really nice guy.

            My current favorites are at the Bar Room at the Modern and Gramercy Tavern, as well as Shake Shack, although I haven't been to Eleven Madison Park (yet).

            Brunch is a very NY thing to do and in NYC brunch stretches from early morning to 4 or 5pm sometimes! (My favorite brunches are at Clinton Street Baking Company, Prune, Devin Tavern, Balthazar, The Neptune Room, Sarabeth's, Barney Greengrass, and dim sum at Chinatown Brasserie, by the way.)

            1. re: kathryn

              Second the Bar Room at the Modern.

          2. re: kathryn

            Oh, and steak. Don't forget about steak.

            I like to take people to Keens for an only-in-NY atmosphere.

            1. re: kathryn

              Kathryn - yet another great suggestion. What makes the NY steak stand out from what we would have here in the bay area? People? Service? Decor?

          3. re: lj2899

            Just a warning, cause it was mentioned at the top of this, I don't think the experience of Tavern on the Green has been a good one for most people in the past few years. Yes it has the name and history to it, but last time I was there, it also had a really disgusting smell of mold and well something that made everyone in my group lose their appetite.

        2. i dk if you are new to chowhound, but it seems so. good news is you are in the right place now -- your question is so broad i think first it would be good if you take a look around at the posts here and see what you might like. just ask, we all will be sure to let you know!

          since you are in soho you might like BALTHAZAR, it's very popular, but fine and fun french. i appeciate it for early breakfast when its quieter. if you dont want the hustle bustle of that place try the more lowkey COUNTRY CAFE instead. CENDRILLON is a another good one for weekend brunch. for brooklyn i think we all love AL DI LA, but keep in mind you may want to to go early as you have to wait on line.

          maybe that will get ya started? have a fun visit.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mrnyc

            mrnyc! thanks for the suggestions...though not new to chowhound, this is my first trip anywhere where the options were so vast that i was getting lost in all the info! i've been searching threads for a few days now and just kept seeing so much info, yet not EXACTLY what i had in mind...or the threads were old and i wanted updated and fresh ideas...

            i will certainly include your suggestions in the list/map i'm putting together! thank you!

          2. While it's always best to have reservations, you can often secure them last minute, and it is usually easier during the summer, especially on weekends when many natives are away.

            Places to stay away from: Tavern on the Green, One If By Land, The Rainbow Room, and The Russian Tea Room

            For splurges, my picks would be:

            Eleven Madison Park, on the corner of Madison Av. & 24th St. Chef Daniel Humm's French-inspired cuisine is sensational, the wine list is excellent, service is cordial and professional, and the space is gorgeous!

            http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

            Keens, on 36th St., b/t 5th & 6th Avs., has been in that location since 1885. In addition to delicious steaks, chops, etc., there's unmatchable old NY ambiance, i.e., walls filled with memorabilia and rows of old clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings.

            http://www.keens.com

            A number of upscale restaurants have lunch prix-fixes, so you can experience some of the best cuisine the city has to offer at "bargain" prices. Two to consider:

            Fleur de Sel - 3 courses for $29

            http://www.fleurdeselnyc.com

            Jean George - 2 courses for $28 + $14 for each additional course

            As first timers, 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. I'm appending the tour 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 your first visit to NYC is great in every way and Bon Appetit!

            8 Replies
            1. re: RGR

              May I ask why no Tavern on the Green? I've heard the food is just ok, but was told my a few that it's a cool setting and the different rooms make it worth a trip there for lunch? Any where else better around Central Park if we were to skip it?

              Thanks for all the other great recs!

              1. re: lj2899

                RGR is right, the food is gross and it's obscenely overpriced (like, $9 for an orange juice). But I might still have to say go... maybe just a light breakfast or lunch? The place is just really cool. I went years ago, with a visiting relative, and while I will probably never go back I'm glad I got to see it.

                1. re: bluestone

                  Or go for a drink and then eat elsewhere.

                2. re: lj2899

                  Can you say "tourist trap"? Bluestone pretty much covered it as far as the food is concerned. But, hey, if you want to waste a lunch there...

                  If you want to eat in Central Park, there is the Boathouse. Gorgeous lake view! Some Hounds feel the food isn't that good. But my husband and I had lunch there last summer, and I found the food to be surprising well-prepared and very tasty.

                  http://www.thecentralparkboathouse.co...

                  Jean Georges, which I recommended for the prix-fixe lunch (or dinner, if you want a huge splurge), is across Columbus Circle from Central Park.

                  http://www.jean-georges.com/

                  1. re: RGR

                    wow, thanks for these ideas! sounds like we may grab a drink at tavern and skip it for our meal! why waste time and money there when there are a million other gems, right? jean georges sounds like a must...i think we will try to aim for lunch there on our day in central park! thanks everyone for breaking down tavern for me! :)

                    1. re: lj2899

                      Now you're thinking like a native! lol

                  2. re: lj2899

                    If you just HAVE to go there, try just drinks at the bar. The food is not okay, it's gross, and the place is always crawling with tourists. Anywhere around Central Park is better! but at the south end of the park is the Time Warner center that has several interesting places to eat, Jean Georges and the less expensive Nougatine are in the same vicinity, tho not the same building, and San Domenico, a charming and delicious Northern Italian is on CP South. (and that's without thinking!)

                    1. re: lj2899

                      The food at TOTG is DEADLY. Be very afraid...

                  3. Since people seem to be covering a lot of the splurge places, I have a recommendation for a reasonable one that doesn't need a reservation. It's Lima's Taste in the West Village. Peruvian joint. First off, the decor is attrocious (Led Zeppelin poster in the bathroom?!) so don't expect anything in that department. However, the food is off the charts, and since your mom seems to be a fan of different styles of food this would be perfect. Amazing ceviche selection, shrimp wrapped in bacon, pounded chicken in a sweet vingegar bbq sauce over fried yucca, chunks of filet with tomatoes, onions and french fries. I talk about this place awkwardly too often, but I love it and bring everyone I know as often as I can.

                    Hope you enjoy your time in the city!

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: bluestone

                      this place sounds awesome! bluestone, anymore recs similar to these around the city? we don't care if the decor isn't stellar, we just want to have a good time and not get stuck eating crappy food! thanks so much!

                      1. re: lj2899

                        I think a great place in midtown is the Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien for lunch... it's a hidden restaurant behind a curtain there, and it's consistently voted one of the best burgers in the city. It's also fun to head there and figure out where the secret entrance is (and is a good story for going home). Despite the fancy hotel vibe on the outside, the burger place is casual.

                        Don't bother with Mexican here. We still haven't really figured that one out yet.

                        Good pizza is a must. I will get yelled at for suggesting the "best" pizza in the city, so some good options are Grimaldi's (brooklyn), Lombardi's (Little Italy, big line sometimes), John's (on Bleecker) and, for something different, Otto (Batali's casual pizza place, really fun).

                        Not sure if you guys are drinkers, but Zum Schneider in the East Village is a lot of fun. It's a German beer house with really good traditional food and giant beers. I also love Cafe Rakka in the East Village for really, really cheap falafel.

                        Cheap sushi is plentiful but I can't think of anywhere special. Expensive sushi is a very different story.

                        That's what I got for now. I will keep thinking, though. Enjoy!

                        1. re: bluestone

                          Wow, thanks...even more great ideas! Please do share if you think if any cheap sushi! And what about expensive? Any place offer anything special or to die for? How about any places for happy hour? Some place to just sit for a while and people-watch?

                          1. re: lj2899

                            the bryant park cafe (or grill?) has a nice outdoor bar...perfect for happy hour in summer...get there early (mid-afternoon) before everyone gets out of work to snag a good spot!

                            1. re: ceeceee

                              The Bryant Park Cafe setting is lovely. Unfortunately, the food is sub-par. So, have a drink, then go elsewhere to eat.

                              1. re: RGR

                                If I'm in Bryant Park anyway, I'd rather get a cupcake, sandwich, or ice cream at 'wichcraft, then be on my way...

                                1. re: RGR

                                  RGR is spot on. I had one of the worst burgers (turkey) ever at Bryant Park! Strongly suggest cocktails only. Only if you must eat there, stick with salads or a cheese platter.

                                  Second bluestone's suggestion for Grimaldi's pizza in Brooklyn. You might want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there!

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    that's what i was referring to...just for happy hour...

                                2. re: lj2899

                                  I'm going to counter the the Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, John's pizza theory with the "find a yummy looking slice joint anywhere in the city." I like the Lombardi's family tree off and on, but for the NYC experience you want the big thin a little bit crispy slice joint. (And they are everywhere - just avoid La Famiglia.) My tops of that style? Joe's on Carmine connecting 6th Ave and Bleeker.

                          2. What about Chinatown? I went to NYC for the first time last year & ate at a great Chinese restaurant called Joe's Shanghai - they have the most interesting soup filled dumplings. It's casual / busy / and all about food.

                            http://www.joeshanghairestaurants.com/