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Chicagoan in NYC for Writer's Conference - where to eat?

Hey guys,

New here. Great site. I'll be in NYC end of January for the AWP NYC (a writing conference). I'm staying at the Sheraton on 53rd. I've only been to NYC once before, but loved it - spent some great time in Greenwich, SoHo, Village etc., all over.

Can I get some suggestions on great places to eat that are uniquely NYC? So far I'm looking at Butter and MonkeyBar. I'm up for Italian, Steaks, Thai, Chinese, Sushi, etc. I don't mind dropping a little coin, but if you have a bargain, please share. Chicago SHOULD be similar in pricing. I don't know when I'll get back, so I'm looking for some special dinners, as well as some quick, fun lunches as well.

Ideas? Great new places? Hidden gems? Favorite spot?

Also, is Lola gone? My wife went there for great Cajun a while back, but I can't find it now.


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  1. Hey, Richard,

    Keens, our favorite steakhouse, has been in its 36th St. location, b/t 5th & 6th Avs., since 1885. Thus, in addition to delicious food and excellent service, there's unmatchable old NY ambiance, i.e., walls filled with authentic American memorabilia and row-upon-row of clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings + pipes belonging to famous people in display cases in the vestibule. Definitely uniquely NY!


    For upscale dining, I highly recommend Eleven Madison Park. Chef Daniel Humm's French-inspired cuisine is exquisite, there's an excellent wine list, service is both cordial and professional, and the space is gorgeous!


    I don't know if you'll have the time while you are here to take my (in)famous Lower East Side eating "tour." It provides an opportunity to walk the streets of this interesting, historic neighborhood while sampling foods which are emblematic of NYC. If you only have time for one spot on the tour, then definitely make it Katz's. 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.

    Enjoy your visit and Bon Appetit!

    1. First of all, I'm unfamiliar with the places you've mentioned. But secondly, when you mention "uniquely NYC," the first place that comes to my mind is Katz's Delicatessen, Ludlow and Houston.

      The second thing that comes to my mind is a category: Old-fashioned coal-oven pizzerie. Here, you might consider a visit to East Harlem to go to Patsy's on 1st Av. between 117th and 118th Sts. There are other worthy pizzerie in other neighborhoods; just do a search for "pizza" and you'll find some long threads.

      I guess my next thought in terms of "uniquely NYC" is New York cheesecake. If you have any plans to go to the Metropolitan Museum, you can combine that trip with a nice walk to 2nd Av. between 85th and 86th and go to Two Little Red Hens, which has very good cheesecake, though I think I like their bars (lime/coconut, lemon, linzer, chocolate/pecan, etc.) better. The best New York cheesecake I've had is from Riverdale in the Bronx, which is probably further than you (or I) want to go just for great cheesecake.

      If you want other suggestions, the more specific you can be, the better. "Hidden gems" searches are unlikely to be fruitful, because if it's a real gem that's been around for more than a few days, Chowhounds probably know about it and have posted about it.

      Happy New Year, and enjoy your trip!

      1. I'd consider Babbo a uniquely NYC Italian restaurant. This popular establishment by Mario Batali provides the kind of Italian dishes that, imho, are in line with those found only in good restaurants in Italy.

        If a Babbo reservation proves to be difficult to secure, go for its more casual sister trattoria, Lupa, for some very good Italian fare. Babbo and Lupa are both in the West Village.

        For sushi, Yasuda in Midtown East is considered one of the best, if not the best, especially among those in this message Board. Most here would suggest to secure a spot by the sushi bar, order the omakase, and I agree that this is the best way to experience this culinary gem of restaurant.

        Sparks, also in Midtown East, is one of the best steakhouse in the city. I'd venture to declare that their deep wine list is one of the better ones, in terms of quality and value, especially among the city's popular steakhouses.

        I'm not sure how to define hidden gems, and it probably means different things to different posters, but to me, NYC if full of so-called hiddeb gems. I would consider:
        Little Owl in the Village, and
        a few tapas places like Tia Pol, La Boqueria and Casa Mono as hidden gems.
        Heck, lately I'd even consider a place like inoteca in the Lower East Side as a hidden gem.

        These are the ones that we currently frequent for the good food quality and service.

        1. NYC is amazing because you can find the cuisine of the entire world in some variation or another. Uniquely New York CIty foods would include Jewish deli sandwiches, bagels, and, my favorite, the perfect slice of New York pizza. For that, I would personally recommend Rosario's in the lower east side.

          One of my favorite things about New York is the popularity of the French-style brasserie, of which there are many. I would recommend trying Balthazar or Pastisse. Especially in the winter, you will find a delicious meal in the perfect surroundings with plenty of New Yorkers and visitors alike.

          1. Thanks guys, WOW, some great ideas. I'll have to check them out. I know this is probably a weak newbie follow-up question, but do you have a favorite place that you frequent, a when in doubt, lets go there kind of place? I know I probably need to break that down into every category of food (Italian, French, Sushi, Thai, Chinese, Steak, etc.), but if you were going to take a friend out to dinner, and they had one night, where would you go?

            Here in Chicago I have a couple of default places. Mia Francesca is one of my favorite Italian places. I would go there any time. I'm big on comfort food.

            Thoughts? And thanks again for the help, I'm salivating already.

            3 Replies
            1. re: wickerkat

              Although RGR's post says it the best, I might add the one I will always go back to in a pinch -- Vice Versa (Italian) and Shun Lee West (Asian across from Lincoln Center)
              Both serving solidly good food consistently in a pleasant atmosphere.
              Bon appetit!

              1. re: idia

                idia, I'm surprised you didn't mention Crispo ;-) So I'll take the opportunity to offer it up as my "when in doubt" place - solid Italian, well-prepared in a bustling atmosphere. Yes it can get a bit loud and yes the tables are very close together but those two things are what I think make dining out in NYC fun. The pasta carbonara is outstanding. And if they have a roasted bronzino, get it.

                For French, I'm partial to Le Pere Pinard. I do like Balthazar but it is a scene so if something smaller and low key is of interest, then Le Pere Pinard does very well. It's on the Lower East Side.

                For Chinese, since I live out in Queens I have the advantage of Flushing being pretty close so I don't go out much in the city for Chinese food. But since a trip there isn't very convenient, I'll suggest NY Noodletown for a hole in the wall setting, but good food. Get the soy sauce chicken. Even if you're not a white meat person, ask for the entire order as white meat because otherwise I think the order comes as a lot of bones and not enough meat. I think there is a minor extra fee involved but worth it - the white meat is incredibly tender and soft.

                And while I'm at it, my latest great meal was at the Spotted Pig, a NYC version of the London gastropub. Despite mixed reviews here, I took my boyfriend for his birthday and we loved it. Burger is excellent as are the gnudi. Started with chicken liver toasts and they were delicious. It's rich food for sure - so if you drink, opt for a Magner's Cider to keep the balance :)

                1. re: pellegrino31

                  Hahaha! Pellegrino: Nobody's perfekt!

            2. If you're still hungry after eating at all of these great suggestions, there's the famous Halal chicken cart on 53rd and 6th Ave. Lines are generally at least 1/2 hour long. But there's nothing more NY than waiting in the freezing cold for a $5 huge plate of chicken, gyro and rice.


              1. Prices at the higher end places are going to be more than Chicago (I just got back from a week back home.) Chicago right now is having a surge of delicious Mexican and Latino places that outshine NYC, IMHO, so skip that. Do get some Sushi and Chinese food - there's a reason why Japanese restaurants cover the city - we rate it number 1. Also there's a wealth of different Chinese regions represented in NYC cooking versus the standard Cantonese in Chicago.

                Quick, fun lunch: New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on 86 Bayard (1 street south of Canal, next to the delectable Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.) New Yeah has some killer soup dumplings, a to die for honey BBQ pork shoulder, and is really cheap, and the Ice Cream Factory is pretty much only in New York. (Some fav flavs are the lychee, mango, peach, black sesame ice creams.)

                One of the things that NYC excels at is lots of really niche restaurants - Rice and Riches for example, which has a crazy good tres caramels rice pudding, and only serves different flavors of rice pudding. Or Pommes Frites (2nd Ave and 7th St), which is right by the egg cream place that RGR writes about. Pomme Frites only serves fries, with lots of different toppings (get the mango mayo chutney.)

                Personally I have yet to find an Italian place in NYC that matches up to Chicago, but I'm biased. If you're willing to go not too far into Queens, Sripraphai in Woodside (just off the 7 train) is insanely flavorful and quite affordable Thai food.

                Happy hunting!

                7 Replies
                1. re: windycity

                  I'm largely in agreement with your assessment after having returned from my own trip home in the past week. Chinese and Japanese really shine in NYC, in comparison to Chicago. Whenever I leave the city, I always find myself craving soup dumplings and Szechuanese specialties I can't seem to find in Chicago. I wouldn't necessarily travel to Flushing when Chinatown in Manhattan fits the bill well enough; though I think a trip to SriPraPhai for outstanding Thai is never unwarranted.

                  While the food at Butter is great, I found the service sorely lacking. Near the Sheraton, I might recommend trying the Modern instead: a similar restaurant with excellent drinks and food that really captures the New York dining scene, imo. Crispo and Mia Francesca aren't exact corollaries, but I doubt the OP would be disappointed in visiting Crispo (whose prices are a lot closer to Chicago's than many other restaurants in this city).

                  1. re: windycity

                    Agree with you about the higher New York prices. And, yes, Chicago's offerings of Mexican is much better than NY's.

                    If you like Korean, you may want to check out Koreatown on 32nd between 5th and Broadway. Chicago Korean is not really very good. There's the new Korean fried chicke everybody's been raving about.

                    And are you wed to Butter? I think there are a lot of other places that are better.

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      Ah yes, Bon Chon. Supremely delicious and yet not too filling, and overly expensive.


                      In agreement on Korean food here - I never appreciated Korean food as "gourmet" until eating here.

                    2. re: windycity

                      Hey, windycity,

                      Pommes Frites is not right near the egg cream stop on my tour, which is Ray's, on Ave. A. Rather, it's on the same block as Gem Spa, another spot for an excellent egg cream.

                      1. re: RGR

                        Wickerkat, does your outing have to be lunch? Jean-Georges has a pre-fixe lunch that is amazing: $24 for two courses, $8 for a third course, $8 for dessert. You would get a fantastic meal, the service is excellent, and you could linger.

                        Re your comfort food, I'd recommend Beppe. It's Tuscan Italian, they make their own pasta, import beans, and have a wonderful pastry chef. The maitre d', Tom, makes everybody feel welcome. You also can eat in the bar which I do all the time. Dinner with a glass of wine would be about $40-$50.

                        1. re: brendastarlet

                          thanks brenda (and everyone really) JG for lunch sounds fantastic, i'd drop $38 for that kind of lunch, hell i do that on sushi in chicago now and then

                          great ideas - but wow, seriously, has anyplace been mentioned twice here?! HA so many choices, so little time

                          1. re: wickerkat

                            I live right near the Sheraton, so if you are too tired to venture far here are some regular favorites of mine:
                            Shimizu Sushi: 51st betw 8&9 (in WJ hotel); truly a high end, hidden gem sushi place
                            Wu Liang Ye: 48th betw 5/6th; best Chinese outside of Chinatown (and delivers)
                            Yakitorri Toto: 55th betw Broadway/8th; authentic Japanese focused on meat skewers

                            And when in doubt....walk to 8th or 9th ave for great food, just don't eat on 7th ave!

                    3. Wickerkat,

                      If you are a fan of Ba Le, then you have to try nyc's bahn mi at Bahn MI Saigon Bakery.

                      Are the refried beans at Nuevo Leon still to die for? I ate very well while going to grad school in Chicago and loved it!

                      Agree about Katz's....and raise you a "Jewel Bako". :)