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Sep 10, 2007 10:54 AM

Distinctly New York eateries?

Hi 'Hounds,

I'm going to be visiting for a week in November (staying in Brooklyn near Prospect Park - anything exceptional in that area?). I'll be visiting from San Francisco, and I'm looking for something utterly unique in the New York area. I like the fine dining scene - Babbo and Balthazar sound compelling, but I can get amazing Italian and perfect steak frites on the West coast. I'm looking for weirdo/nichey/ethnicky eateries that are totally unique. I'm thinking of Shopsin's, and I've heard of miraculous neighborhood Greek restaurants in Queens (to my knowledge, authentic Greek places are scarce in SF). Any hole in the wall places that do their own thing better than anyone else? Any recommendations?

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  1. That's a good question....

    As Daniel Boulud says, "The best eating in NY is if you get on the 7 train into Queens." At every stop, it's pretty much a different country, so you can have real ethnic food from all over the world.

    1. No good yakitorri in San Fran.. Hit up Yakitorri Torys or Yakittori Totto..

      Katz's would fit the bill..

      Momofuku Ssam bar..

      WD-50 I would tell you to go to..

      Maybe a place like Sigiri would be interesting..

      1. Keens is not a hole-in-the-wall, but it's been in its 36th St. location since 1885, so what you do get is unmatchable old NY ambiance, i.e., walls filled with memorabilia and old clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings + pipes that belonged to famous people displayed in cases in the vestibule. When it comes to food, Keens is known for is their signature mutton chop, which I doubt you will find in S.F.

        Note that Shopsin's recently moved into the Essex Street Market.

        10 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          RGR may be too bashful to mention this, so I will: she writes an awesome Lower East Side noshing/food tour that is DISTINCTLY New York.

          1. re: kathryn

            Moi bashful?! lol lol lol But thanks, kathryn, for once again being so generous and mentioning my tour. In case Raphael is interested, here it is:

            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. (
            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.

            Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

            1. re: RGR

              For a NY flavor - Keen's, Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, Sammy's Roumanian, Rao's, Boathouse, River Cafe (over the river), all the deli's. I can't wait for the Oak Bar to re-open in the Plaza as I always think that is quintessential Manhattan. Has anyone any idea when it will open?

              1. re: RGR


                Mrs jfood was driving on LES last week and when she came home she told me that she thought Katz was missing. Did she z-out and not see it. She saw R&D but not Katz's


                1. re: jfood

                  Katz's is still there. Your missus must have literally overlooked Katz's because it is just yards from R&D.

                  1. re: KTinNYC

                    great. that's what jfood told her.

                  2. re: jfood

                    Mrs. jfood must really have been concentrating intently on her driving because it's pretty hard to miss Katz's. There's a major neon sign across the front of the building and a huge vertical sign at the corner of the building.

                    Photo here:

                    and here:

                    1. re: RGR

                      and jfood is greatful she does focus on driving and not the signage.

                      BTW jfood LOVES your tour and the tenement building is in her grandmothers neighborood, she thinks right across the street.

                      Katz, R&D, YS, Gus, Kosar, we are discussing when to do your tour.

                      thank you so much

                  3. re: RGR

                    Hey, I'm a native and I am so tempted to do this tour. I am so psyched for an egg cream, as they are harder to find than any of the other things you have listed there. The gelato and Economy will be a great counterpoint to the pastrami and smoked fish. My buddy in this type of adventure is my sister who had a gastric bypass 4 1/2 years ago, so I am thinking we may have to bring her 15-year old son as a back-up fresser.

                    FYI, the Chocolate Show will be in town from November 9 to 11 ( Not an "eatery," but some vendors give samples and it's fun for awhile. Admission is kind of steep for the size of the place, unless you sit in on a few cooking/baking demonstrations. BUT BE WARNED, it is getting more and more popular every year and if you do not get there by 10:30 or so, you will easily wait an hour to get in and the place will be shoulder to shoulder.

                2. re: RGR

                  Shopsin's, though a shell of its' former self as a venue, still has that inventive and cantakerous spirit. I had the slutty cakes for the first time last week, liked them. Shopsin Sr. was going on about French culture, something or another. Very NYC, in all its' individualistic, stubborn and eccentric glory.

                3. Ali's Kebab Café in Astoria, Queens - Egyptian
                  S'Agapo, a traditional Greek taverna in Astoria, Queens
                  Gray's Papaya - hot dogs
                  DiFara's Pizza- Brooklyn
                  Café Glechik - Brighton Beach, Brooklyn - Russian
                  Shake Shack - cheeseburger

                  1. Since you are staying in Brooklyn (and especially if you have access to a car), I would suggest that you also ask this question on the Outer Boroughs Board. You will get some Brooklyn and Queens suggestions that will knock your socks off. Also, you should be more specific about your location. Prospect Park is pretty big and has four (actually 5) sides. Each one leads you to a different neighborhood.