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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. ( 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.

            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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katz&#39...

                    and here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/traitlin...

                    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 (www.chocolateshow.com). 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.

                    1. My recommendation is Barney Greengrass on the UWS. The lox is amazing.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Nikki NYC

                        They also have the best, absolute best, chopped liver I've ever had. And it beats my mother's homemade stuff, too. Be aware it's the softer, fattier variety, with lots of onion.

                      2. Lombardy's - Pizza (you will never go to Blondie's again)
                        Gray's papaya - hot dogs
                        Corner Bistro - burgers
                        Eight Mile Creek - Australian (Emu carpaccio, mmmmm)
                        Rice to Riches (rice pudding, kitschy but cool)
                        Veniero's - pastries
                        Magnolia - kick ass cupcakes!!!
                        Serendipity - dessert
                        Flatiron Lounge - cocktails
                        Skip Babbo (though it is great) go to Lupa instead
                        Balthazar is too busy all the damn time for bistro food

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Foie

                          Warning about Magnolia: Go only if you feel like waiting on a long line for cupcakes that are half icing that's full of vegetable shortening. Once you get through that icing, which I find gross, the cupcakes themselves are nothing much, in my judgment.

                        2. There is some great Jamaican/Caribbean food in the Prospect Park area, specifically in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. The Islands comes to mind. Mummmm Jerk Chicken.....

                          1. distinctly new york would be blue ribbon at 2:30 in the morning after drinking. difarra's pizza. oyster bar in grand central. fatty crab.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ferotulilatum

                              do a pizza tour. totonno's, difara's & grimaldi's, just to name a few.

                            2. Hi - SF transplant to Brooklyn and Queens here again (I just posted outer borough recs on the other board). For a quintessential New York experience, I recommend:

                              *Babbo (certainly not Lupa or his other restaurants). This is nothing like Italian food in SF. The thing to order is the beef cheek ravioli (or other pastas stuffed with strange meat). That and an appetizer and a quartino of wine (a very good value) will pretty much do it. I like the crowded, noisy bar where you should go early as they don't take recommendations, but you can have a very different, much more formal experience if you get a reservation in the dining room.

                              *Shake Shack. Get the Double Shack Burger (not the single or the regular), wine, (unfortunately mediocre) fries, and a concrete. Go when the line is not 45 minutes long or you will be sorry.

                              *Gray's Papaya. Stupendous. Only in New York.

                              *One of the places like Mary's Fish Camp where you can get a lobster roll or the lobster pot pie. Yes, they're big on protein and starch here in New York. They've heard of vegetables and fresh milk but I don't think they really know what they are.

                              *Grand Sichuan in the 50s on the East Side (not the others). You absolutely will NOT find szechaun food like this in SF. Jeffrey Steingarten claims it's the most authentic szechuan in the U.S.

                              *Um, I suppose it's pointless to recommend Mexican, but Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side does in fact have the best Mexican food I have ever had (in the U.S. or Mexico). It is a tiny and crowded, understated chic kind of place. Go before 6:45 or you will never find a seat. Best items are guacamole and chips, chicken enchiladas verde, steak, flan, and margaritas. Best margaritas are regular, grapefruit, and jalapeno.

                              *Do not bother with Balthazar or Venerio's. Magnolia is disgusting and only for tourists (the cupcakes are no longer fresh because they can't handle the volume). Other recs here are good, especially Donut Plant. The ever controversial WD-50 is most fun with four in a booth and no worries about money. I am dying to try Shopsin's myself (hours are impossible). If you want to temporarily experience Paris rather than New York, have the fruit danish at Ceci-Cela in Nolita, a tiny hole in the wall pastry shop close to Balthazar. Have fun!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: KateC.

                                I can't remember ever having seen a mention of Barrio Chino before. Where is it? I consider a recommendation of that as better than anything you had in SF very high praise.

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    Thanks, RGR. Do you share Kate's high opinion of it?

                                    1. re: Pan

                                      Just providing the info, Pan. I've never been. But it definitely does sound like a place worth checking out.

                                  2. re: Pan

                                    Wait a sec, let me take that back. The steak tacos at La Tacqueria are just as good as Barrio Chino. That's the level of restaurant it is. But it's a restaurant, not a tacqueria, so there are drinks and a wee bit of atmosphere, which is always nice. It's pretty well known, but not hyped in the media, thank god, so doesn't get too many tourists. (There was a mention in Vanity Fair two years ago.) It's very small and crowded. If you do a search on this board, you'll find everyone likes it. Some people have lately been saying nearby Mole is better, but I had the enchiladas verdes and disagree.

                                1. I've lived in SF and I strictly believe that the Italian restaurants there are not in the same league as the ones here in NYC. I'm sure you'll find NYCs Babbo, Lupa, Peasant, etc. all wonderfully different from the Incantos, Delfina, A16s or Olivetos in the Bay Area.

                                  1. Not quite sure why a bunch of people on this post are telling you to go to Shake Shack...especially when there are In-n-Out's everywhere in california. Definitely hit up Katz's for the quintessential NY jewish deli sandwich over some burger you'll wait forever in line for.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: artfuldestruct

                                      True but Shake Shack is more like an upscale version of In-n-Out. There are similarities but they are not exactly the same thing (does In-n-Out make its burgers with a custom combo of sirloin and brisket? Etc.)

                                      Also, eating outdoors at In-n-Out means sitting on a patio in a parking lot. At Shake Shack, you sit outdoors in Madison Square Park.

                                      1. re: kathryn

                                        You missed my point though, do you really think that this should be a destination spot for someone coming from the bay? Much less anywhere else that has burgers? I mean they are good, but I wouldn't say they are better than others in the city like say Peter Lugers. The park is beautiful but standing in line for so long kind of stinks...Maybe it's just me but I think it's overrated.

                                        1. re: kathryn

                                          <Also, eating outdoors at In-n-Out means sitting on a patio in a parking lot. At Shake Shack, you sit outdoors in Madison Square Park.> but in November that COULD be a fairly Chilly experience!

                                          Besides, it's definitely NOT New York's best burger. imho that would be Corner Bistro for a Bacon Cheeseburger and Dean Martin on the jukebox!

                                          1. re: ChefJune

                                            I worshiped at every In-N-Out temple that crossed my path while growing up in CA (probably averaged 2-3 burgers a week there from the moment I could drive onwards), and I still strongly recommend a trip to the Shake Shack if the weather is anywhere near hospitable and the line is less than 30 minutes (use the shack cam - if the line hasn't started to curve, you should be alright). If you're not an obsessive burger person, then by all means go somewhere easier, but the shack offers a truly unique-to-New York experience.

                                            Here are the top 3 reasons why an In-N-Out upbringing need not preclude a Shake Shack pilgrimage:
                                            1). Better meat - the shack burger has a fantastically salty char and carries a much more complex flavor than in-n-out's admittedly-fresh-but-ultimately-boring slab of medium-well beef. Unbeknown even to many locals is the fact that you can request your Shackburger rare, and 85% of the time the short-order assembly line gets it right. A double Shackburger ordered rare rivals any bar burger served anywhere on either coast for fresh, buttery-pink, finger-licking juiciness. In-N-Out's beef blends perfectly into the fresh vegetables and springy bun, but the Shake Shack's meat is the main attraction and rightly so.
                                            2). The atmosphere: When it's even mildly nice out, Madison Square Park is the ultimate green oasis in this concrete jungle - the surrounding high-rises become your fortress walls, and even the sourest of dispositions improve noticeably within the park's boundaries.
                                            3). The gourmet supporting cast: The Shack's leafy-green lettuce and sweet plum tomato slices definitely outshine their crisp iceberg and subtle-beefsteak counterparts at In-N-Out. The bun is also a softer potato-ish version that molds perfectly around the interior. All this premium quality comes at a price, unfortunately, so just don't expect the same awesome value that you get out of your hometown double-double (in fact, you're looking at about double the prices you'd see at In-N-Out).

                                            True, the the line sucks, the fries are disappointing, the hype is insurmountable, and the weather may be a bit nippy come November, but this is a necessary visit if you harbor any sort of sincere affection for a great hamburger (not to mention milkshakes, which are undeniably superior to In-N-Out's offerings). To each his own, but I wouldn't wish Corner Bistro's bland cow patty on even my pyramid-scheming second cousin.

                                            Apparently I feel quite strongly about this.

                                        2. re: artfuldestruct

                                          Huh? In-n-Out Burger is nothing like Shake Shack. Plus, there are no In-n-Out Burgers in SF (you have to drive to Daly City or Mill Valley). Although it's irrelevant, since they are nothing alike.

                                          Shake Shack is a quintessential New York experience for the food (an upscale New York chef take on St. Louis fast food), the lovely and romantic garden setting, and the people watching. Agree, not worth if the weather isn't good and the wait is more than 30 minutes.

                                          All other burgers mentioned will be nothing special to a Californian.

                                          I took my mom (from Palo Alto) there and she was entranced.

                                          1. re: KateC.

                                            I'd argue that such comparisons are understandable, though a bit careless. Thin patty + fresh fixins + dependable burger deliciousness in a semi-fast food preparation environment is bound to draw In-N-Out comparisons no matter how refined the chef's pedigree or the restaurant's area code might seem...

                                            Also, In-N-Out opened a Fisherman's Wharf location along the SF waterfront several years ago. It's a bit unorthodox as far as architecture and layout are concerned, but the burgers are still uniformly delicious.

                                            Just to make sure it gets mentioned, a Dumont burger (Williamsburg) is in fact special to me, though I'll always call California home.

                                            1. re: CalJack

                                              Thin patty, fresh fixings, deliciousness, and the "sauce." But Shake Shack's freshly made (with fresh mayo) sauce is definitely not the same as In-N-Out's thousand island sauce.

                                        3. I love-love-love and always recommend Joe Allen on W. 46th between 8th & 9th Aves. Not only do they have what I consider the best hamburger in NYC, they have so much character. It's a major hang out for working actors and the best time to go for a full-on dose is after 10pm or on Sunday evenings after 6pm.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: MarieFromage

                                            Marie, would you say Joe Allen is like McHales? Sounds like the same atmosphere, kinda... How does the burger compare? I miss McHales sooo much!

                                            1. re: CorgiLover

                                              I loved McHales too! I miss it so much. But it's not McHale's. It's a bit more upscale than that. And the burger is much tastier, if you can believe it.

                                          2. If it were still 1989, I'd have to recommend Veselka's, a 24-hour Ukranian diner in the East Village. The perogi and borscht are as good as ever. But they remodelled and the punk rockers who used to dine there at 3 am have jobs now.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: KateC.

                                              But it isn't 1989 anymore. And if it were, I would have recommended pierogies at the old Leshko's, on 7th and A, although it might have been worth stopping by Veselka's at that time, too, maybe. Such a shame that the old Leshko's is gone. But do you really feel Veselka's has never deteriorated, or that its stuff is better than Ukranian East Village in the Ukranian National Home, or the Stage Restaurant?

                                            2. First of all, you're in NYC. Secondly, you're in Brooklyn. There's no better place to be for a slice of pizza ... ... try Di Fara or Grimaldi. For a great view of Manhattan, enjoy a nice meal at River Cafe (good deal for lunch), then walk over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory by the broadwalk. In the city, grab a pastrami sandwich at Katz and a hot dog from Gray's Papaya, but don't forget to stop off on the corner of 53rd Street & 6th Avenue for some Chcken/Lamb Combo Over Rice (with extra white sauce) from the Middle Eastern street vendor (can't miss it, the one with the long line). For Greek, go to Agnanti or Taverna Kyclades in Astoria, Queens. While you're there, try Malagueta for some inexpensive authentic (not rodizio) Brazillian fare. In other parts of Queens, you'll find Unidentified Flying Chicken (Korean fried chicken), Ihawan (authentic Phillipino), and Himalayan Yak (authentic Tibetan and Nepali). And since you're coming in colder weather, I highly suggest trying the $25 (soda, beer, tax & tip included) all-you-can-eat shabu shabu at Shanghai Tide in Flushing, Queens. It's perfect on a cold breezy night and all the restaurant's dim sums are included as well ... ... order the mini steam pork buns or the fried ones. Enjoy!!!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: naphime

                                                jfood is overly unimpressed with the Grey Papaya dog. all the hype, yet is was a salty blech and definitely not worth the trouble of the detiur. others may disagree but the dogs in NJ and CT are waaaay better and jfood would not want someone from the left coast thinking Greys was the best the nyc area could produce

                                              2. I agree with the nod to Keens. So historic...you'll be torn as to whether you want to explore the place or have a lingering martini in the gorgeous bar. Expensive, sure, but there are a lot of steakhouses out there...why not go for Edith Wharton old New York at Keens instead of the umpteen new guard?

                                                The Islands in Prospect Heights is just terrific. On Washington Ave, right across from the Brooklyn Museum, you'll find a tiny place tucked between Key foods and a Chinese takeout. Step through the year-round Christmas lights and two sweet ladies will cook the best jerk, curry, pepper pot, everything - that you've had! It's like being in your beloved auntie's kitchen. Get the take out (wait service is slow and the place is tiny) and grab a few Ginger Beers from the cooler. I promise you'll like it.

                                                If you travel to Queens for some Greek, check out Agnati at Ditmars near Astoria Park. A bit off the path, but the food is incredible and the view of the park is just lovely.