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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:
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/514186

              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.