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Fun Manhattan challange

So, one of my best friends from home (Oregon) is visiting me. She's been under a lot of stress lately, so I want to show her an amazing time in Manhattan. Because we are getting a hotel, our budget is stretched a bit thin. I'm looking for fun, funky places to take her that are pretty inexpensive. She is very easy to please, but she's not into sushi. Hole-in-the-wall places are a bonus! I also want to treat her to food that she cant get in Oregon. After looking at the "poor student" post, I got a few ideas. Comments and suggestions are much appreciated!

3 or 4 lunches
3 dinners

Here are my ideas so far:

-Le Tableau or Ivo & Lulu for dinner (I really want to take her to a French or French fusion place)
-Mamoun's for lunch
-Caracas Arepa Bar for lunch
-I definity want to take her to a nice place for a prix fixe lunch... maybe Tabla?
-My favorite dumping place in Chinatown

Thats all I have! Also, any suggestions for a place with great late-night cocktails and a good scene would be great!

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  1. Gotham's lunch prix fixe is quite nice, as is the lovely room.
    I used to be an Ivo and Lulu fan, but it's just not worth it anymore, especially with the headache of waiting for a table and schlepping wine. If you want to do a byob I recommend Nook (although not french) on 9th avenue, if you end up going get the mushroom cigar appetizer.
    For something she definitely can't get in Oregon, go to Room 4 Dessert later on in the evening, toward closing (1am), there won't be a wait and you can get a cocktail and a dessert in a glass. Don't know what your idea of a good scene is, but a cocktail-centric bar like Employees Only (do a search here and you'll get plenty of alternative ideas) would be a good bet.

    1. For the prix fixe take her to Gotham Bar and Grill (it's $20 each!) or La Palapa in the West Village ($10ish?)

      Holes-in-walls are difficult to come by in Manhattan, you typically get what you pay for. In Flushing (Queens) I would highly recommend Gu-Shine (cheap and perhaps on the best chinese restaurants east of the Mississippi!). Back in Manhattan I would try Itzocan for Mexican in the East Village (my favorite Mexican restaurant in NY). Finally, Meskel (Ethiopian) in the East Village.

      3 Replies
      1. re: finisterra

        I second Meskel. Also, it's BYOB so definitely pick up a bottle of wine down the street!

        1. re: finisterra

          I'm confused... I just checked the Gotham Bar and Grill menu online, and it says the pri fixe lunch is $27. Am I looking in the wrong place?

          1. re: thunderbug84

            Last year it was less than $24! My bad.

        2. how about a burger and shake at shake shack for lunch?

          2 Replies
          1. re: noot

            Or a lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar?

            1. re: MellieMac

              That wouldn't be cheap (just the sandwich is ~$25 - for that they could go to the Jean Georges prix fixe)

          2. Caracas has great food (and the sardine-like seating is certainly an NYC thing she won't get in Oregon!); ditto Shake Shack (and the lines are another distinctly NYC thing).
            Also cheap and great is banh mi at Saigon Banh Mi (tucked behind a jade jewelry store)

            I loved the lovely prix fixe lunch at Perry St (check out Brian S's great post on the Perry St lunch from last November or so for details/temptation)

            1. Don't forget the NY classics: pizza, bagels, smoked salmon, Jewish deli (Katz's!), etc.

              I second the recommendations of Shake Shack and Caracas, as well as looking up the prix fixe lunch deals at Perry St, Jean Georges, Fleur de Sel, etc.

              For something she definitely can't get in Oregon, take the train up to East Harlem and go to Patsy's for wonderful thin-crust pizza.

              Going to the Outer Boroughs is definitely a great idea -- things will probably be cheaper, too.

              And don't forget street food! New York Magazine has a whole feature about the various carts around town this week.

              Oh, and do a search of RGR's LES walking tour, too.

              3 Replies
              1. re: kathryn

                Right! I forgot to mention that I'm going to take her to Ess-A-Bagel. Thanks for the pizza suggestions... I still have never had a New York slice!

                What do you think about taking her to Perilla? It would be on the nicer end, but I think she'd really like the simple flavors. Also, how hard is it to get reservations there?

                1. re: thunderbug84

                  IMO, Perilla is not worth the price. Concepts are good and well thought out, but execution leaves something to be desire--I think in part b/c the kitchen does not use top notch ingredients.

                2. re: kathryn

                  shake shack is a great idea - and i agree with what rose water said about the line.

                  when my cousin and her husband came in from texas earlier this year we went on a pizza tour. they went to coney island while i was at work and went to totonno's and nathan's at 11. then they met me uptown at patsy's. we wanted to go to una pizza naepolatana but they were on vacation for a week, oddly. so we ended at grimaldi's and had dessert at jacques torres and a beer at superfine afterward. i ALMOST didn't want to eat pizza for a few days. my cousin loves di fara the best (but that was just way too far out for this tour) and her husband is a grimaldi's fan. i think i like totonno's and di fara the best.

                  i really like itzocan cafe also, its tiny and funky and fun on a summer night.

                  question: is NYC the only place that has these restaurants devoted to one specific food? like s'mac, rice to riches, the pb and j place and the grilled cheese sandwich place?

                3. I second the comment about Ivo and Lulu, and have to say that my one experience at Le Tableau was underwhelming. How about 26 Seats on Avenue B? It's French, not French fusion, but given that the name indicates the size I think it qualifies as a hole in the wall. For non-sushi, how about the Japanese place on East Ninth street that sells octopus balls? Someone help me out here . . .

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Alex Halsey

                    Perilla is more of a difficult reservation to get. Plus, I don't think it's a necessary place to go. I would take her to NY Noodletown, great spot in Chinatown and cheap. Or get the soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai, also cheap and delicious. Nicky's Vietnamese sandwiches is another good place to go. Also, Fatty Crab is not too expensive either and has some really interesting and great Malaysian food. It's in the Meatipacking district and can get crowded so go earlier or later.

                    1. re: Alex Halsey

                      Otafuku! On E. 9th St. between 3rd ave and 2nd ave.

                    2. I love Lovely Day (Thai) on Elizabeth St. It's fun, funky (think hipsters) and pretty cheap.

                      1. Think your friend would like Korean barbecue? It's inexpensive and--I think--remarkably tasty. In Manhattan, try choon moo ro (sp?), kum gang san, dae dong, or shilla. Caracas Arepa bar isn't a bad choice. I like Flor's Kitchen a bit better, though, for similar food.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: cimui

                          Thank you! I looked at the website for Flor's kitchen and it looks terrific. Do you have a favorite fresh juice? They all look so good...

                          1. re: thunderbug84

                            fwiw, I much prefer Caracas over Flor's. The food is similar, and pretty good at both, but Caracas wins with friendlier, more attentive service (though not particularly friendly or attentive!) and their amazing, incredible, garlic and god knows what else sauce.

                            1. re: rose water

                              Can you explain Caracas Arepa Bar better to me? I checked out their menu online... Do they have different meats, etc for the arepas that are listed in the restaurant? I've never had arepas before, but they sound awesome!

                              1. re: thunderbug84

                                In Caracas and other Venezuelan cities there are many arepas bars. These are popular eateries that make arepas from scratch and have sometimes dozens of possible fillings (much like delis in new york). You go up to the counter and choose what fillings to put in. They are really yummy. This restaurant's arepas are quite the real thing with a crunchy/chewy crust and delicious fillings.

                              2. re: rose water

                                FWIW, I concur with rose water. Caracas Arepa bar is way superior in my estimation. I have spent a lot of time in Venezuela and can attest thereto.

                              3. re: thunderbug84

                                Quick defense of Flor's: the service is friendly, if slow. I like that the arepas here are not as greasy as they are at Caracas, and I like that they have empanadas and a lot of other things (like ceviche) on offer, as well as arepas.

                                As for juices--I can't unfortunately claim to have sampled very many, since I usually have a beer or sangria with my food. Of the ones I have tried, I'm partial to mango.

                                1. re: cimui

                                  Hmm...I think the arepas are equivalently greasy. That being said, I sort of go to Caracas for the grease. Their arepitas (when they're on the menu) and the other little bits of fried goodness that they offer as appetizers are delicious.

                                  They also have empanadas at Caracas, but they don't have the great beet soup they have at Flor's. To be fair, I've only ever been to the EV Flor's location (now closed), where the service was surly and slow. (That they managed to ignore you in that teeny tiny space was impressive in and of itself!)

                                  1. re: rose water

                                    Oh, I totally hear you about going for the grease. Sometimes (er, often, really) a grease ball of an arepa really hits the spot.

                                    The EV thing explains a lot! The one time I ate at the EV location, I didn't like it at all. Surly was pretty accurate. That was also one of the two times I ordered an entree, which I didn't / don't like at all.

                                    [NOTE TO thunderbug: Stick to the non-entree part of the menu! It's much better tasting and a much better value.]

                            2. as a poor graduate student, i'm often eating around nyu and i have to say there are some delicious, really cheap places. hummus place on macdougal has an incredible, huge portion of hummus and pita for only 5 or 6 dollars. there are also two pretty authentic indian street food places, kati roll on macdougal right next to hummus place, and indian bread company around the corner on bleecker. the man who sells dosas from a cart on the south and west corner of washington square park is a well-known and frequented lunch spot for just about anyone in that neighborhood who knows him, and he often sells out because his food is just incredible. any of those options would be great for a lunch.

                              1. Ok, so here is what I've decided on so far:

                                Dinners- Esca, Mamoum's, Jule's Bistro
                                Lunches- Ess-A-Bagel, Pampano, Flor's kitchen

                                Unless people have other suggestions (which I'm open to!), I think this might be it!

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: thunderbug84

                                  Personally I would substitute Taim for Mamouns. The product is so much better, it's in a much nicer location, and is also quite inexpensive. I just happen to find that stretch of MacDougal really annoying and Mamouns food to be overrated. It's cheap, but not great.

                                  Taim is on Waverly, just west of 7th Ave, where Perry, Waverly & 7th Ave converge.

                                  1. re: billyeats

                                    Hey, thanks for that advice. I check the map, and Taim is actually right down the street from the jazz club that we are going to, so that works out nicely!

                                    1. re: thunderbug84

                                      If you want to crash, I recommend the cafe Doma around the corner from Taim. Great watermelon and other aqua frescas (and pretty good food).

                                      1. re: rose water

                                        Hmm, now I have to check this place out. I've walked by it a thousand times without being intrigued enough to go in.

                                        1. re: cimui

                                          Oh, do go to Doma, it's a great place. Though they are always full with people who read/study there, I've always been able to find a seat. Other things I like (which it's not really the season for) are their tomato/bread soup and their fantastic hot chocolate.

                                          1. re: rose water

                                            The cold tomato soup was really good! Unfortunately I haven't been so lucky to always be able to find a seat there. What are the best times to get there on a weekend?

                                    2. re: billyeats

                                      Another very hearty vote for Taim. The platters are a bargain and their sauces are out of this world...

                                  2. Take her to Mandoo, on 32nd and 5th Ave, for great, inexpensive Korean and funky atmosphere. I can't recommend it highly enough-- fantastic food, good service, cool place.

                                    Also the prix fixe lunch at Fleur de Sel in Grammercy is a solid deal.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: williej33

                                      The lunch at Fleur de Sel looks great, but its a little too "foodie" for her taste.

                                      1. re: thunderbug84

                                        Well, then do Mandoo! The bibimbop and seafood pancake are outstanding.