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Help me eat like a local!

This will be my 4th trip to NYC and I want to make sure I'm eating right...I'm visiting this time with my husband, Mom and little brother (who is a BIG eater).

Basically what I need is 2 Birthday dinner locations, 5 lunch spots and any number of fun snack, quick stop options. I hate nothing more than eating at places we have back home (Columbus, Ohio) so I want to have as many great local options as I can. Budget is inexpensive to moderate. Here are some places I'm considering:

1. L'Ecoles
2. Mesa Grill
3. Max Brenner
4. Pomme Frites
5. Shake Shack

Also interested in a great Chinatown lunch spot, coffee shop, Greek kabob place and late night bites. Any comments, questions and other suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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  1. first things first:

    mesa grill is horrible...or at the very least, overpriced, dull, and full of tourists...it may have been original when it opened but i think that was over 15 years ago. nyc does a horrible job at mexican, latin fusion, etc...if you're dying to go to something like this, id steer you to suenos in chelsea or rocking horse cafe...but id go for something else.

    max brenner...i labeled it the starbucks of chocolate and i think thats a compliment. its pretty horrible quality chocolate...skip it.

    pommes frites...just a stand really...i wouldnt go out of my way for it as there are plenty of places serving good fries these days.

    shack shack...very good but im sure you get good quality fast food in ohio.

    on the inexpensive end, id recommend 'ino on bedford for italian meats and cheeses, da andrea for amazing italian, moustache for excellent middle eastern (get the merguez sandwich), artichoke pizza on 14th street, jack's coffee shop or joe the art of coffee for espresso and lattes, city bakery for baked goods and coffee, and freemans from brunch.

    cant really recommend a top nice restaurant for a cheap price but i like perilla for nice evenings out with family these days...

    have a good time.

    1. Yes, definitely eat at our local restaurants! There's an embarassment of riches.

      For the birthday dinner, what is "moderate" to you? Manhattan is FILLED with great local options but it's hard to narrow it down without ANY price or neighborhood or cuisines specifications. When are you coming? Reservations at popular celebration spots get snatched up a month in advance.

      Please don't go to Max Brenner as sam1 says. It's more like the Applebee's of chocolate than Starbucks....

      9 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        We'll be there June 5th - 9th. Moderate to me would be around $25 and under a plate.

        Any feelings on L'ECole's?

        1. re: emi683

          Never been, so I can't help you there.

          Does $25 include tax and tip? If so, we're talking entrees $15-20, no wine? It's difficult to do Special Birthday Dinner in Manhattan at those prices. This is NYC! To me, moderate would be more like $30-50 per person.

          1. re: kathryn

            Before tax & tip. I guess one of the birthday dinners could be a brunch....

            1. re: emi683

              Neighborhood or cuisine preferences? Ethnic cuisines tend to be a little cheaper...

              1. re: kathryn

                I'll be staying in Midtown off of Herald Square.
                Honestly $30 (and a little more) a plate would be fine, I'm just trying to keep cost down if i can...

                I love all things Italian, American would be good too for the birthday dinner and/or brunch...

          2. re: emi683

            L'Ecole isn't worth your time--poor food and service. And I second the cautions against Max Brenner. Go to Kee's or Jacques Torres (Pierre Marcolini and La Maison du Chocolat too, for non-local chocolates w/local retail locations).
            I love the Shake Shack, so that's worth a visit, in my opinion. I haven't been to Mesa Grill b/c of poor reviews it gets on this board. And, pomme frites is good, but there are better fries in the city (Cafe de Bruxelles, Petite Abeille, e.g.), so it's not worth going out of your way for.

            1. re: Lucia

              I've been to L'Ecole once before but it has been 5-6 years, so I wasn't sure how it is now, thanks for the tip.

              1. re: Lucia

                Yes - there are a lot of great local chocolate shops. However, none of them really provide a post-dinner, sit-down restaurant service like Max Brenner does (except for many Will Goldfarb's bar into ABC Carpet and Home).

                If you're only interested in getting good quality chocolate and eating it on the fly, then all of the others will work.

              2. re: emi683

                L'Ecole (no "s" has very good to great food, depending on the group that is in the kitchen. We've always found the food better than the desserts, and the bread is always stellar.

                It is a great qpr! no doubt about it, and the ambiance is that of a fine French restaurant. No evidence that it is student-run. I recommend it!

                I also would forget Mesa Grill... and I thought Max Brenner was closed, but maybe I'm misinformed.

                Shake Shack while delicious and affordable, can leave you standing on line for over an hour. No burger is worth that!

                Quite a lot of Manhattan restaurants have the $24.07 prix fixe lunches year around. You would do well to google that and see what comes up. Tocqueville is one of my favorite places, and they have a value lunch every day that is as good as their a la carte menu.....

                If you are going to be in or near the Village, I would recommend asking for recs on favorite places. There are so many wonderful neighborhood places that are not expensive... altho even neighborhood dining has increased pricewise because of the high costs of food and fuel...

                I have a feeling many of us could give you lists of our favorite "little places" that would keep you busy for weeks!

            2. Here's a recent thread about quick take out / snack places:

              1. I third, fourth and fifth the negative reviews on Mesa Grill - it just sucks. And I am a Bobby Flay fan! If you want to go to a superstar chef's place, I think Lupa would work for you - it's one of Mario Batali's restaurants. Love the food, and it would probably fit in the upper end of your price range. Otto (his pizza joint) and Casa Mono (his tapas place) would work as well - I would choose Casa Mono over Otto, though.

                It might be easier for us to suggest places if you can give us an idea of what you'll be doing during the day - that way we won't tell you about a great spot on the UWS when you're planning to be on the LES. Also, locals often live and eat in the Outer Boroughs, where the best ethnic cuisine in the city is to be found. If you're willing to venture out to Queens or Brooklyn, you will have many more inexpensive choices as well.

                7 Replies
                1. re: biondanonima

                  Good Point - Ok, here is a tentative schedule:

                  • Thursday: Get in town around 10 AM. (Brunch) Financial District, Staten Island Ferry, Brooklyn Bridge, Chelsea Market, (dinner), Empire State Building(Late Night)

                  • Friday: Today Show (7ish/Grab breakfast), Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, (lunch) 5th Ave Shopping, MoMA, (Dinner)

                  • Saturday: (Brunch), Union Square, Washington Square, roam around the Village and SoHo, Grand Central Station,(Dinner)

                  • Sunday: (breakfast – grab & go to park?), Little Italy, (lunch), China Town, not sure what else, Times Square, (Dinner)

                  • Monday: Leave for airport by 2. Macy’s, Herald Square, Flat Iron, Shake Shack for lunch

                  Any changes/additions would be great! Thanks everyone!

                  1. re: emi683

                    Okay, so you need:
                    brunch/lunch in the Financial District
                    lunch in midtown
                    brunch/lunch near USQ or WSQ
                    lunch in Chinatown or Little Italy
                    dinner near Chelsea Market,
                    dinner in midtown/near MOMA
                    dinner near Grand Central
                    dinner near TSQ

                    Some of these neighborhoods are not really ideal for eating - TSQ and the area around GC in particular, although other hounds may have some good ideas. You may enjoy John's Pizza near TSQ - it's a fun place and would fit into your budget. If you're into oysters, the Oyster Bar in GC is great - for oysters only, don't order other food there!

                    For your day in midtown, pretty much all of the lunch options around here (I work near Rock Center) are geared toward the business crowd - there are some good eats, but not much that I would call a "local" standout. The Modern (inside MOMA) is a wonderful restaurant for either lunch or dinner but might be out of your price range. You might duck into the Parker Meridien Hotel (57th btw 6th and 7th) and hit the Burger Joint for lunch - it's a tiny little place that serves nothing but burgers, tucked into a corner of the hotel lobby. Cheap and good!

                    I'll leave USQ, the Financial District and Chelsea to others (although I second the Rocking Horse Cafe rec from above - the food there is pretty good). Otto, the Mario Batali joint I recommended above, is near WSQ, so you might consider that for a meal that day (either lunch or dinner).

                    I would recommend that while you're in Chinatown/Little Italy, you eat in Chinatown. The food in Little Italy is pretty mediocre. Search for Brian S's posts about Chinatown for excellent recs there.

                    On Monday, if you need to leave for the airport by 2, I would suggest that you get to the Shake Shack no later than 11:30am. Seriously, the lines can be LOOOOOOOOOOONG.

                    1. re: biondanonima

                      I would stresssss getting to Shack Shake when they open if you want a full lunch there (or hire an NYU student to stand in line for you). I work in the Flatiron across the street, the line can be upwards of an hour and a half between 12 and 2ish rain or shine. The shack has a live camera up during business hours, you can see it from their website. Before you go on your trip, check it one day at 12:30 and you'll see what I mean.

                      1. re: bookmonger

                        Shake Shack is good but not even remotely worth the absurd line, unless you happen to get there at an off point. I'll take Corner Bistro over SS any day anyway.

                    2. re: emi683

                      Oh, just thought of one more thing - if you're doing the Brooklyn Bridge, that means you'll be on the Lower East Side - you should consider Katz's Deli and/or Russ & Daughters for a meal. Katz's is widely considered the best deli in NYC (and the most authentic), and Russ & Daughters makes some of the best smoked fish (and other deli specialties) in the city. If you search for RGR's LES food tour, you'll find lots of good recs there, all for very authentic, unique-to-NYC places.

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Katz's is great, and a really unique place. Don't waste your money at Carnegie or any of the midtown delis (we locals sure don't).

                    3. re: biondanonima

                      Just for the sake of accuracy, Casa Mono is the brainchild of former Batali chef Andy Nusser, so other than being a partner (along with Joe Bastianich) I'm not sure how much of a Mario place it is as compared to say, Babbo, Lupa, or even Otto. Also, it is significantly more expensive - albeit better - than Otto.
                      And if Lupa is too busy, try Crispo, where you can actually get a reservation and not deal with those profoundly irritating front of the house ladies who have mysteriously been assigned to greet customers...

                    4. I'm not sure how people feel about S'MAC or Supermac (since I'm kind of new to this site), but I think the mac & cheese places are a fun, inexpensive way to go for a cheap lunch or for a snack. It may not be SO local-y, but it's a novel idea (it definitely caught my brother's interest from Boston).

                      For the record, I haven't been to Supermac, but I've been to S'MAC numerous times. I was underwhelmed with the LES location when it first opened, but I gave them another shot when they moved to my 'hood-- the UWS-- & now I love them.

                      1. For dinner near Times Square, Marseille serves excellent French and Moroccan. Be sure to reserve for prime times. If the West Village is a good location for dinner, I would go to Crispo for great Italian food. Again, be sure to reserve. Perilla is wonderful, somewhat more expensive, and you will need to reserve well ahead.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: rrems

                          Was at Crispo for the second time in a month last thursday....wow that place has gone downhill....it aint good anymore and the prices just keep going up ($20 bucatini amatriciana, it is $20 at Babbo??!!)....Crispo seems to be way more about the scene than food...in the WV Cafe Cluny, Little Owl, Corner Bistro, Centro Vinoteca (this is similiar to Crispo except the food is considerably better)...Oh, and Mesa Grill sucks

                          1. re: Cpalms

                            We were at Crispo last night and everything was as delicious as ever. If I recall correctly the pasta portions at Babbo are smaller, not main-course size. A dinner at Babbo is typically $20 to $30 per person more than Crispo. Not to say it isn't worth it, but the price is not comparable. I agree with you completely about Mesa Grill.

                            1. re: rrems

                              Agree w/rrems. Was there about a month ago again and didn't notice any decline in quality.

                        2. How about a dinner spot for Soft Shell Crabs?

                          5 Replies
                            1. re: Lucia

                              Is the soft shell crab appetizer at Perilla large enough to have as an entree if you aren't sharing it?

                              1. re: emi683

                                No, but if you ask I'd bet they would do a double portion as a main course.

                                1. re: rrems

                                  I was at Crispo too and it was not my favorite. Granted it was a Saturday night and we were a large party. Not the homerun I expected.

                                  1. re: rrems

                                    Do they offer the Soft Shell Crab for Brunch?

                            2. I agree with all about your choices. Way cuter and better more interesting new york places to eat.

                              For French Fusion and a fabulous Brunch is this tiny spot called Cafe Joul on the East side. 1st and 59th
                              For Contemporary Italian. Just recently discovered a new restaurant Dolce Vita on Grand Street. Rustic, intimate setting and good for groups. Had dinner with 15 of my girlfriends and food was to die for. You have to try this one.
                              For New American. Try Whym on 9th and 57.
                              For great wine and something different in a beautiful spot, try Xai Xai on 51st between 8 and 9th. South African wine list and small tapas like tasters of their food. Place is always packed and just a good hang out spot.
                              I like Shake Shack though.
                              Oh and then one of the best kept secrets is Tre Dici Steak on 26th between 6th and 7th. But go to the upstairs part of the restaurant. I love it! You have to go thru this unmarked door to get in.
                              Something "sceny"is this chocolate and cheese wine bar called Ayza. Try the goat cheese creme brulee.
                              Last but not least I think is this hole in the wall mexican joint called El Paso on 116th and 3rd. Oh fun place too is Mama Juana in Inwood. Live music and good food and fabulous Sangria. Another live music spot where this guy rolls cigars in the window from scratch with good mojitos is Guantanamera on 8th ave and 54th I think.

                              Have Fun

                              1. I was at L'ecole within the last two weeks and strongly recommend it. Its definitely not something you would get at home, and the value of a 5 course dinner for 40 bucks is amazing.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: maruvius

                                  Odd question but is the lunch time at L'Ecole's a little more casual in dress? I have a reservation for lunch and we will be site-seeing all morning and I want to make sure we are dressed appropriately.

                                2. -- Balthazar is very fun late-late at night and not crazy expensive: they do a great burger and interesting salads and desserts and reasonable carafes of wine (also good on late weekday afternoons)

                                  -- Il Giglio is fun for a bday...entrees in the upper-20's but gratis antipasti, fantastic wine list, old-school upscale Italian...in Tribeca...

                                  -- Cafe Mogador in the East Village for breakfasts or Moroccan lunch or dinner...reasonable price and good East Village vibe...

                                  -- Great NY Noodletown in Chinatown

                                  -- Cafe Cafe in Soho for peoplewatching and coffee...

                                  -- Grand Central Oyster Bar (as mentioned above: sit at the counter and only order oysters, maybe soup and coleslaw, and beer/wine)...

                                  -- Lucien...First Ave/First St...classic East Village French bistro...great in the mid-afternoon

                                  -- Cacio e Vino...moderate charming Sicilian in the East Village, w/ very warm staff...

                                  -- Malatesta...much-loved Far West Village Italian w/ outdoor seating...lovely on a summer night...

                                  -- Ciao Bella or one of the other fav gelato places

                                  -- Russ and Daughters for a bagel and lox to go

                                  Have a great trip!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Simon

                                    Thank you for the response! Great suggestions!

                                    1. re: emi683

                                      Cafe Mogador is a great call. inexpensive, tasty and a great vibe. one of the few places I go out of my way for since moving from the East Village.

                                  2. there's a place in the Village called Peanut Butter and Co. it's a funky little sandwich shop.....been there once and enjoyed it....inexpensive place for a quick lunch

                                    1. Somewhere in this thread, I read you were looking for something in the Financial District. I would suggest you try something along the water and enjoy the view.

                                      The World Financial Center has a few dining options (http://www.worldfinancialcenter.com/d...). If you are looking for a quick lunch, most of the places in here have quick take-out and lots of common seating, both inside and outside. Most places get you with expensive soft drinks. There's an Eckerd's drug store near Cosi's, where you can grab drinks. You can sit outside by the marina or along the promenade (which goes to the southern tip of Manhattan).

                                      If you want sitdown with a view:
                                      Southwest NY - their food is pretty good. And they have fun margarita's. I would stay away from their wine by the glass (taste like they come from metal barrels).
                                      The Grill Room - the food is really good but expensive. Great wines by the glass, and a really nice place to enjoy a glass a wine at sunset.
                                      PJ Clarke - has al fresco dining but can be pretty expensive.

                                      Now, Chinatown... unfortunately, many of the places are so-so now a days. If you are talking hole in the wall and totally traditional, you can try Wing Wong on Mott Street (off Broadway).

                                      WonTon Garden on Mott (off Broadway, other side) is another option is you are not that adventurous.

                                      If you want a nice Italian dinner, I would suggest Il Palazzo (http://www.littleitalynyc.com/ilpalazzo/) in Little Italy. I have never had a bad meal here. Their dessert are great, but if you are looking to experience Little Italy, skip the dessert there, and try one of the local pastry/bakery.

                                      Another option for Italian is Carmine's (www.carminesnyc.com)- famiily-style dining. There is a long wait, but they do take reservations for 6 or more (I think). I think the food at Il Palazzo is better, but Carmine's is great for large groups and with family-style (and their HUGE portions), they probably price better. And their tiramisu for dessert is a must - it's an entire pie, serves probably 6.

                                      I'll write again if I think of others. Enjoy your visit.

                                      1. Thank you all for so many great suggestions.

                                        Another question I have though is about the Soft Shell Crab at Perilla - we are going for Brunch and does anyone know if they offer the appetizers at brunch also? If not - is there a great seafood place in Midtown that offers them? That is my mom's only request is to have SSC at some point in the trip.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: emi683

                                          No, unfortunately, Perilla does not have appetizers at brunch. Frankly, though my dinners there have been absolutely fabulous, I found the brunch unimpressive. Here is a link to the menu:


                                          We also had a great soft shell crab at Olana the other day. It's not listed on their web menu, and the menu does change frequently, so I would call first to make sure they are serving it.

                                          1. re: emi683

                                            I recently had them at Esca, a very good but expensive Italian seafood place in Midtown. But you have to order quickly - they ran out fast this last weekend.

                                          2. Hill Country for Texas style BBQ. It's good on a budget because it's like a little market, you can buy a smaller portion for yourself or get a few larger portions to do a family style deal. Check out their drinks and desserts too.

                                            Also, I like pommes frites, try the poutine. Max Brenner is awful.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: brokeinEV

                                              I second Hill Country. Quality BBQ, not too expensive.
                                              Also, since you're staying near Herald Square - you should check out Koreatown. There are a lot of cheap and tasty options on 32nd between 5th and 6th.

                                              1. re: wanderluster

                                                Any specific Koreatown joints? I'm interested in trying some Korean food - but I'm not too daring if I don't know a little about a certain place ya know?

                                                1. re: emi683

                                                  Han Bat on 35th is always solid. Their bi bim bap and bulgogi are excellent. Kun Jip on 32nd is also good, but always crowded.
                                                  If you want a really fun, unique experience, BonChon Chicken on 5th b/w 32nd and 31st (2nd floor) is awesome. It looks like a swank bar - but it happens to serve awesome korean style fried chicken.
                                                  Pinkberry for dessert - on 32nd is fun.
                                                  Or if you like pho - and feel like having vietnamese in koreatown - Pho 32 is cheap and good.

                                                  1. re: wanderluster

                                                    I strongly second Han Bat. Lots of great dishes, open 24 hours, not too expensive (at all), and the whole Korean dining experience with all of the small plates, and even hot water if you want it.

                                                    Also second Bon Chon - the chicken is great, although the wait isn't and it's definitely on the overpriced side.

                                            2. go to max's and sit outside in the garden. it's italian and about $12 for a plate of pasta that your grandma might have made you. really excellent, not fancy but young and vibrant. and they have a nice selection of italian wines. it's in the east village. then nearby, you can walk to cocoa bar for a quality version of max brenners if you are in the chocolate frame of mind. get the spicy brownie. you won't be sorry.
                                              for japanese tapas try kasadela on avenue C and 11th street (?) , for the best sushi you have had (27 in zagats) and a total bargain try kanoyama on 2nd ave @ 12th street.
                                              pylos is fabulous and moderately priced greek food on 7th street at ave A. so delish.
                                              For a great burger for only $10 includig a beer (!!!) go to the clinton street bakery. that is a fabulous burger and they even bake their own brioche rolls.
                                              enjoy new york.
                                              avoid midtown if possible - with one exception which is right by your hotel. there's a new tiny french cafe called macaroon. stop there for a croissant and a beautiful coffee before you head out on your day. it's on 36th street between 7th ave and broadway.