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Two FL Chowhounds coming for 3 days/2 nights, seeking the best!


I'm a regular on the Florida forum, but my girlfriend and I are visiting New York City on August 2nd-4th, a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I come seeking good recommendations from fellow Chowhounds. I was there with my family in 1991, but I was a kid then, and now we're both 29 and about to celebrate our first year together. We're staying in Times Square, and have tickets to see Rent that Thursday night and Les Miz on the Friday night. Let me offer more information about us, to help you good folks narrow things down for me:

1. We won't be doing any drinking, so there's no need to recommend bars (even if they're awesome).
2. We like almost all food, but she doesn't like Indian, and we come from Orlando where there are dozens of great Vietnamese restaurants, so no need to visit those out there. We're open to just about anything else.
3. We're both grad students, so even though it would be great to hit one or two "nice" restaurants out there, we simply can't afford to party like rock stars. Local institutions, mom and pop places, and ethnic restaurants are the best!
4. My girlfriend has a disability so we won't be doing a whole lot of walking. Stuff that is close would be ideal, and she will have her walker with her, but I fully expect that we'll need to take a few cabs.

Right now, these are the food destinations we have in mind:
Katz's for pastrami sandwiches and the ideal deli experience
Norma's for fancy breakfast or brunch (she's been there before and adores it)
Grey's Papaya or Papaya King for the perfect NYC street hot dog
H&H Bagels for what we hear are the best bagels in the world
Magnolia Bakery for the legendary cupcakes (if it isn't too far out of the way)

But what are two great dinner destinations that we can get in and out of to make it to our plays on time? I looked at the website for Babbo and it looks amazing (and worth doing, despite the price), but can we realistically enjoy a fine meal and not be late to the theater? And could we even get in, at this point? Is Les Halles (the one Anthony Bourdain made famous) worth it? I'm thinking about one "big ticket" night out (a well-known landmark, maybe) and one equally good but a little more moderately-priced -- as long as we can get seated and served early enough! (I hope I don't sound like your typical obnoxious NYC tourist, but she actually planned this trip around going to see Rent with two of the original cast members.)

Also, is Famous/Original Ray's Pizza worthwhile, just to say we've had real NY pizza, or is there a better option? I've heard a lot about Grimaldi's, but Brooklyn is way too far afield for our limited time in the city.

Thanks a lot, folks! We can't wait to hit the greatest city in the world a week from tomorrow, and I'll be checking this thread (and the forum) in the meantime!

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  1. I just brought my boyfriend for his first and second trips to NYC in the past three months. I'll share some of the things that he really liked.

    As for getting around, I think that your best bet will be cabs and you'll get door to door service. Since you're not drinking, you'll save a ton! Cocktails are much more expensive here than anywhere else in the country that I can recall..think $14 Bombay Saphires and tonic, etc.

    Katz's is great. Search the board for the way to order in line instead of wait service for the local experience.
    The Papaya's are all good as far as I can tell and a super cheap lunch or snack.
    I went to Magnolia Bakery for the first time last month and was not impressed. I love sweets and this was way too sweet. Lots of other suggestions, do a seach.
    Unfortunately, I don't think that Babba will happen for you. You have to call exactly 30 days (to the day) in advance for a reservation. You could risk a wait if you show up exactly at 5 p.m. or at 10:30.
    I've not heard anything encouraging about Les Halles, but I'll be interested to hear other responses.

    We really loved Balthazar. www.balthazarny.com Without drinks, you can easily get out of here for $100 and it's a special place. Like walking off the sidewalk in NYC and into a brasserie in Paris. You'll need reservations, but you can get them with just a week or so notice, call now. The French onion soup is one of the best I've ever had.

    Tartine is also a great French inspired place that we love in West Greenwich. It's a BYOB place, which doesn't matter for you, but the prices are great. I don't think there's anything on the menu that's over $20. It's on the corner of 11th Ave & 4th Ave. they don't take reservations, so you'll have a little wait, but it's worth it. If not for dinner, go for brunch. It's $14.95 per person and includes fresh OJ and about 5-6 choices for your meal from Eggs Benny to French Toast. It's super cute and a perfect NYC village experience.

    You might want to consider making reservations for after the show, you won't be on such a tight schedule. You can hop in a cab directly from the theatre and be at the restaurant for a late dinner. (Grab a snack before the show.


    Since you're staying in Times Square, I think one of the most important tips is to stay clear of there for meals. Things will be more expensive and directed to the tourists. Do yourself a favor and wander off the beaten path.

    I'll be in the city the week after you and I have reservations at Apizz in the Lower East Side for dinner one night. www.apizz.com I haven't been, but based on the recs here, I'm excited to try it. Again, you can totally do well since there's no drinks.

    If you're into tapas and small plates, I can't recommend Tia Pol enough. It's in Chelsea and it's a great, cute place. Good energy and busy. If you want to do dinner before the show, get here when they open at 5ish. We went after a show on a Friday night and didn't get sat until after 11 p.m. They don't take reservations. This is another place you can easily do for $50 for both of you. www.tiapol.com

    As an alternative to Babbo, you can look into Lupa (partially owned by Batali) and Otto Enoteca for pizza and antipasti(also owned by Batali). You could go to town on pizza and antipasti for $50!!

    Enjoy your trip! Congrats on your anniversary together!

    1 Reply
    1. re: geg5150

      I just checked and Otto does take reservations. www.ottopizzeria.com (and they're open for lunch). Really, this is a great place and you can get out of here for $25 before tax/tip. That's a STEAL in the city!!

    2. I like H&H a lot but keep in mind that they won't make you a bagel sandwich there, you've gotta buy your own cream cheese, etc. At least at the West 80th Street location. I'm not sure about elsewhere.

      Famous Original Ray's Pizza and all of its clones are good for one and one thing only -- proving that your average slice in NYC is better than your average slice in any other city. Usually they'll have cheesier pies with slightly thicker crusts (although it's still thin crust style) sitting around, and they'll reheat it for you in the oven. It's a good $2 snack on the go, nothing more, nothing less. If you can the real deal, you have to go with a coal fired oven pizzeria where you have an insanely thin crust pizza that bakes at an absurd temperature for only a few minutes, and is perfection right out of the oven. To me, that's the stuff dreams are made out of.

      All of the cupcake joints I like are downtown (Sugar Sweet Sunshine!), but you might want to try Amy's Bread (I believe there's one in Midtown West), 'wichcraft (located in Bryant Park, they are chocolate with frosting in the center), as well as Buttercup Bake Shop (at 51st and 2nd Ave I think).

      For pre-theatre dining, I like Marseille or West Bank Cafe. And I am also of the mind that your blowout meal shouldn't be the same night as your show!

      1 Reply
      1. re: kathryn

        Marseille is my favorite pre-theater. If you do go to Otto, I'd recommend sticking to small plates and don't leave without trying the olive oil gelato...

        Sugar Sweet Sunshine and Buttercup are far better than Magnolia, imho. Grey's Papaya over Papaya King.

        And I would take H&H off the list immediately - much better bagels to be had in the city. There's a great bagel spot in the Times Sq. area that some 'hounds prefer (I've never been though, so help me out here! Anyone know the place?). Before I knew better, my favorite used to be H&H...but a few years ago I was converted to Ess-A-Bagel on 51st and 3rd, which will make you a sandwich if that's what you prefer; just remember that good bagels don't need toasting, you can ask for whatever's freshest/warm.

        Happy anniversary and happy eating!

      2. Though I personally can't recommend anything, you might want to check out menupages.com- it's a list of many Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants with menus, reviews, and prices. I hope this helps somewhat!

        1. Katz's is great. And, as another poster noted, you can search the board for how to order and the like. Grey's Papaya and the "recession buster" is perfect for a cheap lunch/snack. But Grey's is on the upper west side, so I don't know if that works for your transportation. You could hit them and H&H in the same trip. H&H is terrific; but it is purchase-only -- they won't make you a bagel with cream cheese or anything like that. You could also pop into Zabar's (right across the street) while you are there if you are into that. I strongly second the recs for Balthazar and Otto. For pre-theatre dining, I like Becco (though some on this board do not). You could also try some Ethiopian; it's a terrific and fairly inexpensive meal -- I like Meskerem, but many posters on this board prefer Queen of Sheba (both are midtown). And definitely check out www.menupages.com which will give you street addresses, menus and prices for the places you are interested in.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LNG212

            Being sensitive to your girlfriend's need, I highly recommend 4 posibilities near TImes Square and particularly the theaters.
            Le Madeleine
            Etcetera Etcetera
            Vice Versa (a bit pricier and you may be too late for a reservation but try it)
            Esca for seafood (if you can get in -- you may be too late)

          2. Hey, BBVLou,

            I do not agree with geg5150's "tip" to not eat in the Times Square area. The fact is, there are many excellent restaurants in that vicinity. You just have to know which ones they are. Several have already been suggested. For example, Marseille, on the corner of 9th Av. & 44th St., is an attractive, bustling brasserie with delicious French/Mediterranean cuisine. Same goes for the New American cuisine at West Bank Cafe, on 42nd St., b/t 9th & 10th Avs.


            Our favorite in that area for homestyle Italian is Trattoria Trecolori, on 47th St., b/t B'way & 8th Av. We particularly like the well-prepared pastas, and the tiramisu is one of the best versions anywhere.


            More upscale is dbBistro Moderne, on 44th St., b/t 5th & 6th Avs. This is 4-star chef Daniel Boulud's restaurant specializing in his take on modern French bistro cuisine. If you go for dinner pre-theater, they offer a 3-course prix-fixe for $45 -- a terrific value for food of this high quality.


            Whichever restaurants you choose for pre-theater dining, be sure to make a reservation. The big crush starts around 6 p.m., so I'd suggest 5:30-5:45, which will give you plenty of time for a relaxed meal and a leisurely walk to the theater.

            Glad to see you're planning to go to Katz's. It's on the Lower East Side, on the corner of Houston (pronounced "how-stun") & Ludlow Sts. (Definitely a cab ride from the Times Square area). Table service is available, but it's more fun to order at the counter like a native. Considering your g.f.'s situation, I suggest you first get two seats at a table in the center of the room. (The ones along the walls are for waiter service.) Your g.f. can sit and hold the seats while you get on line. Then proceed as follows:

            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. When you’re finished eating, 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: Sandwiches are huge, so if you don't have gargantuan appetites, the two of you can share one.

            If your g.f. is up to walking a couple of blocks, you can walk west on Houston and check out two other famous NYC spots: Russ & Daughters (strictly take-out) and Yonah Schimmel's knishes.


            Re: Les Halles. The food is mediocre at best; service is awful; seating is so cramped, a sardine would be yelling for help; and the noise level is insanely high. In a word: Avoid! And, btw, Bourdain hasn't cooked there in years.

            Happy "First Year Together" Anniversary! Enjoy your visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

            2 Replies
            1. re: RGR

              Yep, I should have been more clear, meaning if you're going to eat in/around Times Square, really know where you're going. Thanks RGR.

              1. re: geg5150

                Hey, geg5150,

                Because the Times Square area draws an abundance of tourists, many people make the mistake of assuming that restaurants there must be "touristy," and so they think it's best to avoid eating there entirely. Sure, there are touristy spots. But there are lots that aren't and natives -- often side-by-side with tourists -- do eat in them. :-)

            2. Arrange car service if you plan on cabbing from times sq. A cab isnt as easy as you think during prime hours.

              1. Thanks to all of you for the recommendations and advice so far! I showed this thread and some of the links to my girlfriend, who I found out isn't terribly excited about French food, at least not for a rare trip to New York City! She looked over the Marseille and Balthazar menus and said they just aren't her thing. No offense meant, of course!

                She is most excited about New/Modern American cuisine, and we both agreed the West Bank Cafe menu looks really awesome. Any more places along those lines? We both like Italian, and Otto may be an option even if Babbo isn't.

                I know he might be a controversial pick, but what about Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill? As much as he can be grating on TV, I love the way his food looks and sounds, and I've always wanted to eat at one of his restaurants. The menu at http://www.mesagrill.com/newyorkcity/ is pretty awe-inspiring, at least for me, but is it worth a trip? And since I don't know the City, how far is it from Times Square? (Mesa Grill is at 102 5th Avenue.)

                6 Replies
                1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                  Mesa Grill is on 5th Av., b/t 15th & 16th Sts. -- definitely a cab ride away. We haven't been there in ages, so I can't comment on the current state of the food though back then, it was excellent. While some Hounds say the quality has dropped, others think it's still very good.

                  I like Bolo, Flay's restaurant that features his take on Spanish cuisine. It's on 22nd St., b/t B'way & Park Av. S. (Another cab ride)


                  Flay's third restaurant, Bar Americain, is in the Times Square area, on 52nd St., b/t 6th & 7th Avs. We've had only meal there, and it was barely mediocre. But there are many Hounds who love it. Depending on exactly where your hotel is located, you might be able to walk to it.


                  If you're willing to splurge, I highly recommend Veritas, on 20th St., b/t B'way & Park Av. S. Chef Scott Bryan's New American cuisine is outstanding, the wine list is one of the most extraordinary in the city, service is pleasant and professional, and the small dining room has stylish contemporary decor. Here are links to the restaurant's website and to a site where you can view a video.


                  1. re: RGR

                    We're staying at the Marriott Residence Inn Times Square, at 6th Avenue and 39th Street.

                    1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                      They're calling that location "Times Square"? Interesting... Times Square runs from W. 42nd to the high W. 40's along the junction of B'way & 7th Av. So, I'd say your hotel is on the periphery -- what I'd think of as midtown.

                      You're actually only three short blocks from our favorite steakhouse. Keens has been in its 36th St. location, just east of 6th Av., since 1885. So, in addition to excellent steaks, chops, etc., there is incomparable old NY ambiance -- walls filled with memorabilia and old clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings. There are also pipes belonging to famous people in display cases in the vestibule. And in the bar room, an oil protrait of Miss Keens, in all her glory!, hangs over the bar. The cozy Pub Room has a less expensive menu than the main dining room.


                      1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                        Any opinions on the Four Seasons Restaurant? They seem pricey, but they do have a pre-theater menu, and my girlfriend has heard good things about it.

                        1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                          I have issues with the Four Seasons having nothing to do with the food since we've never eaten there. Going back some years, we made reservations to have dinner in the Pool Room. A few days before the date, the restaurant called and said they were summarily moving us from the Pool Room into the Grill Room. I don't recall if they gave us a reason, but we were totally ticked by the officious way this was done, so we cancelled.

                        2. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                          Well, we made reservations at West Bank Cafe for our first dinner (before Rent), and late breakfast at Norma's for the following morning. Thanks for the advice so far, and please chime in with anything else you can think of! We leave on Thursday, and I'm getting more and more excited.

                          EDIT: Has anyone tried the $45 per person Tasting Menu at West Bank Cafe? Is it worth it? What do you get, or does it change all the time?

                    2. My advice is don't eat in Times Square...Take cabs and eat a very late lunch or a late dinner after the show...We like Balthazar ( our favorite, and great for a dinner after the show), Tabla Bread Bar ( also a great after the show dinner). You could do a late lunch at Otto's..we always do, and it is not crowded at that time, but we make reservations anyway...You could do a late, say 2:00 lunch at Mesa Grill, and just grab something lite after the show...Times Square simply does not have very good food, though it is expensive...And Magnolia's is not close to Times Square, but we like it...We actually like that whole West Village area for food...We take a cab there in the afternoon, and eat our way through the Village! We stop at Mamouns for falafel, Faicco's for rice balls, and end up at Magnolia's for a cupcake...By the time the show starts, we are far from hungry, needless to say...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jinet12

                        I think that most of the restaurants in Times Square are chainy and cheesy. The surrounding neighborhoods, such as Hell's Kitchen, has some good restaurants.

                        1. re: LeahBaila

                          Just a heads up that we got some great advce for our trip to NYC this weekend: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/421345

                          Have a ball!

                      2. Well, we got back last night, and had an amazing time in New York. Rent and Les Miserables were both awe-inspiring, as was the New York Public Library (even cooler to me since I'm a librarian). We went book-shopping at the Strand and St. Mark's Bookshop in the Village, and my girlfriend indulged me long enough to stop into Forbidden Planet, the two-story comic book store next door to the Strand. We hit some of the SoHo boutiques for her, and had a hot time touring the Museum of Sex.

                        As for food, we tried to do everything we could, but with less than three full days in the city, it was impossible to try it all. Please let me know if we made a decent attempt!

                        Thursday lunch: We couldn't check into our hotel immediately, so we went straight to the Museum of Sex and found ourselves starving. We went to a cafe on 28th Street that was like a combination convenience store/diner/salad bar/bistro/cafe/deli, and had amazing brick-oven sandwiches in a crowded, frenetic lunch environment. I was impressed by the selection and quality, especially for the price. In Orlando, our convenience stores aren't nearly as nice, and neither are most of our sandwich shops.

                        Thursday dinner: Reservations at West Bank Cafe, thanks to you guys' recommendations. She had the Grilled Sliced Skirt Steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and I went with a pasta dish with crumbled sausage in a light red sauce. We shared a rich butterscotch toffee parfait, a special, for dessert. The place was in a great location and well worth it for a nice meal. We even told them Chowhound.com's Manhattan forum recommended it!

                        Friday breakfast: Norma's at Le Parker Meridien. She had been there before and loved it. They immediately poured me a glass of orange juice I would later learn cost $7, but it was fresh and delicious, and I drank three glasses of it. I had the Waz-Za, a waffle baked with fruit inside and topped with fruit and a caramelized brulee crust. Very fancy and "frou-frou" for me, but good. She got chocolate french toast that was more like rich, thick brownies. It was just too rich to have in the morning, and she didn't get too far into it. I definitely see why girls might like Norma's more than guys, with all the decadent sweets disguised as breakfasts. However, the waiters were uniformly brusque and rude to us, and acted like serving us was a complete inconvenience for them. I was very annoyed by the horrible service... is that typical for Norma's? I still left a 20% tip, but wasn't happy with the experience at all, especially at their prices.

                        Friday lunch: We were in the Village on our way to find St. Mark's Bookshop, and I was getting hungry, so I stopped at one of the many Ray's Pizza locations we saw, right near the bookstore. This one wasn't Famous or Original, but it was a way to cross New York pizza off my list. I got a plain cheese slice and a Sicilian slice, and they were lifesavers with some cold Gatorade on that hot day. The thin, crispy slice was better than the fluffy Sicilian, but I liked the sweet sauce they used (plum tomatoes, I presume?), and they weren't even overly greasy.

                        Friday dinner: The heat took its toll on my girlfriend, who was exhausted and needed a nap at the hotel if we were going to make it to Les Miz that night. I walked downstairs to another great convenience store/deli/cafe, the Bryant Deli two doors down from our Marriott Residence Inn on 6th Avenue and 39th Street, and got us two panini sandwiches -- one with smoked turkey, pepperoni, and provolone, and another with chicken, pesto sauce, and fresh buffalo mozzarella. Again, terrific. It seemed like all the gourmet food and sandwiches at this deli were provided by an outside company (I believe http://www.gourmetstars.com/ ), and they did not disappoint these tired and hungry Floridians. After two hectic, nonstop days, it was nice to have a quiet dinner in our hotel room with good crispy, melty sandwiches.

                        Saturday breakfast: complimentary buffet at the hotel. Hey, it was free, and the last couple days had been expensive! Plus, we had to check out. About as good as you'd imagine.

                        Saturday lunch: Katz's Deli! This was a highlight of the trip for me, but extremely intimidating. I sent Stacey to grab us any open table and proceeded to wait on line, hoping I was in the right line and wouldn't get yelled at. It seemed like a chaotic mess, but so worth it. Remembering my Brooklyn-born father's wise words, I ordered pastrami on club bread rather than rye (with mustard, of course), and we split one monster sandwich. It was one of those rare life-changing sandwiches -- that good. I also felt cool that I knew to tip the pastrami cutter, and basked in my momentary street cred as I enjoyed my sample of the delicious meat while I waited. As I sipped my Dr. Brown's root beer, I looked up and realized my girlfriend had chosen the very table at Katz's where Meg Ryan faked her orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. After that pastrami, I felt like having a real one. Instead, we made friends with a college student from Texas who was relieved to take an empty seat at our table, and thought about what a great time we had in New York.

                        As much as I would've liked to try one of Bobby Flay's restaurants, or some of that olive oil gelato you guys mentioned, or even H&H Bagels, we still got to do a lot and eat a lot. You have the best city in the world (like you need me to remind you of that!) and some of the best restaurants in the world. Next time I come back, I have every intention of eating even more. And I will be back, oh yes. I'll have what you guys are having.