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LA to NYC with kids, but don't dumb it down

I'm doing a mom & daughter weekend with a friend and our 10-year-olds. We're staying at the London and seeing 2 shows and other than that, I was wondering what some great NYC dining experiences would be. I remember liking August and Spotted Pig, but maybe with kids, it's more like Balthazar & Magnolia Bakery. We'll be near the Theater District, Nat. History Museum, Skating in the park and I know we have to hit Dylan's Candy bar. Happy to get recs on Asian (Vietnamese?) (Malasian?), pizza, Italian, don't-miss NYC institutions, or cool secret holes in the wall. Lastly, is Serendipity tourist junk, or is it worth it for the kids?

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  1. Balthazar is a really pleasant place that I recommend, but have you been to Magnolia? If you like it, fine. If you haven't been, please don't go. The cupcakes are gross - mostly icing that tastes of massive amounts of sugar and shortening - and your kids won't enjoy waiting on a long line, particularly if it's cold.

    Where is the London? Most New Yorkers have no idea where any but the most famous hotels (e.g., the Plaza, Marriott Marquis) are located. But anyway...

    I think your kids would like any pizzeria that's both good and has character. The two that I think of most in that regard are Patsy's in East Harlem (1st Av. between 117th and 118th Sts.) and Arturo's in the Village (Houston, corner of Thompson).

    My favorite Malaysian restaurant in New York, as regulars on this board know, is Skyway, Allen St. between Canal and Division. For Vietnamese, the best thing to do is get some great sandwiches at Banh Mi Saigon (Mott St. between Hester and Grand), which is also cool because there's a crystal and jewelry shop in the front of the store. The one problem is that there's no place to sit down there, really, so it's best if it's a mild enough day for it to be reasonable to sit and eat in a park, such as the one on Spring St. and Mulberry.

    For a standby Hong Kong style place that's been a haunt of many New Yorkers for the last 25 some-odd years (maybe longer) and is still dependable and good, you can go to Great NY Noodletown, Bowery and Bayard. Another Chinatown restaurant that your kids will probably find cool is New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, Bayard between Mott and Elizabeth/Bowery. Sit in the back, across the little bridge. In terms of dim sum, my standby recommendation is Dim Sum Go Go, where they make it to order, but I think your kids will really enjoy a big eating hall with all manner of items carted around the room. I am no longer current on which of the big eating halls is best. The last one I went to was Jing Fong about a year and several months ago or so, and I had a satisfactory experience there. Slightly more recently (December 25, 2007), I went to Chatham Restaurant and had an above-average experience (i.e., better than Jing Fong), but I've been reading that they sometimes have no carts on weekdays. I think a big eating hall would be more exciting for kids, though, and Chatham Restaurant is middle-sized at most.

    A New York institution I think you shouldn't miss is Katz's, Houston, corner of Ludlow. So much history there! The pastrami is wonderful, but if your kids don't like pastrami, their brisket is also excellent, the corned beef, very good, and the turkey can be good, too. Have 'em try some Dr. Brown's soda - Cel-Ray, Cream, whatever. That's also a New York institution.

    If you want Italian pastries, I think Rocco's on Bleecker St. is probably the best in Manhattan. I don't recommend any of the places in the East Village, and the best place in "Little Italy," La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry between Canal and Hester, is far inferior to Rocco's. For American baked goods, I really like Two Little Red Hens, 2nd Av. between 85th and 86th. Go there if you go to the Metropolitan Museum. Another fun thing would be to go for chocolates. Kee's is really interesting. Her chocolate is pricey but has a variety of flavors that all of you will enjoy exploring. Or another possibility is Jacques Torres (Hudson St., corner of King in west SoHo, extension of the Village). If you go there, get some hot chocolate and share one of those colossal chocolate chip cookies that has a layer of (if you're lucky, molten) chocolate inside.

    In terms of the neighborhood around the Natural History Museum, if you want a good cheap to moderate meal, I think your best bet would be either the new location of Kefi (I haven't been yet and don't know how cramped or spacious it is, but it's been one of my favorite restaurants in the last year or so) or Zeytin, a Turkish restaurant that makes very good mezes.

    That's all I can think of right now. Have a great time!

    8 Replies
    1. re: Pan

      Definitely second Arturos/Patsys, though would lean Arturos, since I'm not sure if you guys are heading far uptown. I'd also add on Artichoke (it's not a sitdown-place like Arturos/Patsys, a real good slice with usually a small line 5-10 min wait, but popular amongst new yorkers) and Una Pizza Napoletana (If you want authentic Napoli personal pizza with clean, imported ingrediants)

      Manhattan Thai: Hardcore foodies often venture deep into Queens for authentic Thai food, but there are some good choices in Manhattan. My personal favorite is The Holy Basil in the east village. The vibe is relaxed, dark wooded, genuine; it also is popular on weekends so best to reserve a spot. Staff all Thai, kind. The food is fantastic.

      They kids might like Ippudo, Japanese Ramen(noodles) done right. Staff is virtually all japanese and the vibe reflects that. The only dish I recommend is the Akamaru Modern, because it's just so amazing and Time Out NY agrees (#3 in their latest 100 Best things we ate this year). Perhaps they might like Caracas too, a locally popular spot also in the east village, that serves Arepas (rice-like-pita-crepes, made with corn flour) with choices of serving. The restaurant's vibe is very chill, youthful, fun. If you're kids like trying new things in their trip to NYC, especially that are accessible, I'd recommend this place.

      Eileen's Cheesecake - In the handful of best cheesecakes in the city, and my personal favorite. It's also right near Balthazar, and they offer about a dozen or more small-sized selections.

      Also the desserts at Balthazar are amazing! Ice Cream at Cones (near Roccos) is my favorite in the city. Jacques Torres I'd also recommend.

      Quickly some Italian to look into: Insieme (near theater district, one mich star italian, excellent) Convivio (Vibrant room, can get noisy, but simply fantastic (former L'Impero space). Also I like Po in the west village if you're going to be in that general area.

      Cheers! and feel free to ask any questions.

      1. re: silencespeak

        5-10 minutes is underestimating it, I've been there where the wait is more like 20 minutes dependent on what pie you want. And there's often nowhere really to stand.

        > Una Pizza Napoletana (If you want authentic Napoli personal pizza with clean, imported ingrediants)

        Note that they are only open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5pm until they run out of fresh dough. Whole pies only, ~$20 each. The waiting area is outside.

        1. re: silencespeak

          "Hardcore foodies often venture deep into Queens for authentic Thai food, but there are some good choices in Manhattan."

          I'd agree on both counts. I haven't been to Holy Basil in many years (and was underwhelmed when I did, but it was probably at least 10 years ago), but had a very good meal at Pam's Real Thai on 49th St. just west of 9th Av. recently.

          1. re: Pan

            rhong tiam if you're downtown, land northeast thai if you are uptown

            1. re: Pan

              I was totally disappointed the one time we went to Holy Basil several years ago.

              We have had several very good meals at Lantern Thai, on the corner of 2nd Av. & 18th St.


              1. re: RGR

                What have you enjoyed there? Any other Thai restaurants you like in Manhattan?

            2. re: silencespeak

              i haven't been to Holy Basil in many years so i can't comment on the current state of the food, but when i went there the bartender was Mexican, not Thai

            3. re: Pan

              I have to add a mini-report on my recent return trip to Chatham Restaurant for dim sum: It was thoroughly mediocre, except for the item with bean curd skin wrappers surrounding excellent, tender meat. Most of the items had thick wrappers. Very disappointing. I can't recommend the place.

            4. "is Serendipity tourist junk, or is it worth it for the kids?"


              1. Midtown for Pizza, I rec. Angelo's Pizza (also great salads & good pasta - pizza is thin crust) which is on 57th St. between 6th & 7th Aves. As noted by others, SKIP Serendipity. It hasn't been really good in decades. Fall into any Pain Quotidian for afternoon pastry/snack/coffee. If cheese fondu (and a chocolate one for dessert) sound like fun, then La Bonne Soupe on 55th St. bet. 5th & 6th Aves. Check the menu at Marseille for a French Bistro in the theater district. You'll find all menus (and location listings) on menupages.com.

                1. You can definitely skip Serendipity. I usually direct people to FAO Schwartz's ice cream parlor instead. It's a fantastic old school soda fountain. Get a milkshake (they are GIGANTIC) to share. They put super-fun oversized straws in them. People always have a great time when they go (and usually a minimal wait).

                  When visiting the Natural History Museum, you can also go to Hampton Chutney Co. for southern indian dosas (large rice crepe with various fillings). It's counter service, but they have seating. And I know them to be very kid friendly, but it's not dumbed down for the kids.

                  John's Pizza in Times Square is also a great place. It's in an old church so the environ is interesting and the pizza is also good.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: piegirl74

                    I don't agree on John's Times Square location. I have found their pizza underwhelming and there are really long waits there at peak times. In general, I think the Times Square District is a place to leave if you're looking for good pizza or good Italian food of any kind.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Need a celebratory dinner place for a birthday on in Mid-town. Is Tavern-on-the-Green old and busted? What feels like an event, but not too stuffy for the kids?

                      1. re: fuzzbucket

                        I've never - literally never - gone to Tavern on the Green for a meal or even a drink, and I'm a native New Yorker who's lived here most of my life and have walked past the place hundreds of times. So you'll have to rely on others' opinions, but I can tell you the place is mostly panned pretty hard on sites like this one.

                        But I'm not really sure what you mean by "feels like an event." For some kids, a great pizzeria would be perfect for a birthday; for sophisticates, a place like Balthazar could be just the thing. So if you could define your terms a little - like how much you want to spend, what makes something an "event," etc. - that would be great.

                        1. re: Pan

                          The feel of Balthazar seems hopping and festive to me. I tried and can't get in, so I was looking for something similar. I will check back as the week progresses, but I wanted a few stand-bys.

                          1. re: fuzzbucket

                            I've not been to Tavern on the Green for about 15 years - and then at the insistence of a friend. I would not recommend it, based on that experience, and things I've read here on CH. Will try to think of other ideas, and do keep trying Balthazar.

                            1. re: fuzzbucket

                              Try Pastis. I feel like it is very similar and it's the same owner. Tao might be a fun place to go. It's a fun atmosphere, huge buddha in the middle of the room, plus I think the food is pretty good. It's a little past it's trendy prime, but I think the food is good and it's a different place.

                      2. re: piegirl74

                        Unfortunately the ice cream parlor at FAO Schwartz is gone. It is now a Candy shop. I went for Christmas and they said its gone for good.

                        1. re: steakrules85

                          Oh Im so sad!!!!! :-( But, thanks for the update.

                        2. re: piegirl74

                          NOTE: FAO Schwartz's ice cream parlor is gone. Noticed when I walked by the other day to go to the Apple Store.

                        3. I live one block from Serendipity and always see hoards of people outside good weather and bad. Is it really worth waiting hours in the cold for a cup of 'frozen hot chocolate' . I don'tthink so and neither will you.It isindeed touristy junk. Instead, try the restaurant on the 7th floor in Bloomingdales- 40 carats. The have great lunches and you can get a cup of the best frozen yogurt in NY with the meal. As for candy-Dylan's is a giant rip-off.Take your 10 year olds to Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, a veritable Ali Baba's cave of candy and very reasonably priced. Also there are so many wonderful restaurants down there too. A plus is the Tenement Museum on Orchard street- a lesson in how immigrants lived when they first came to America. Much more interesting than Dylan's and Serendipity..

                          1. PS- long lines abound at Magnolia and the cupcakes have only PR going for them . Sweet Sugar Sunshine has a dazzling choice of cupcakes. When my daughter comes to NY it is always a favorite stop. Last time I was at Artichoke pizza on 14th Street, the crust was burnt and the pizza not worth the wait in line.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: pammi

                              Second Sugar Sweet Sunshine Cupcakes! If you are not heading down to the LES, you can also get them delivered to your hotel (within an hour) by maxdelivery.com.

                              1. re: Snaps

                                Agree about SSS. Also in the area are Shopsins and Economy Candy. Both places that my kids adore.

                            2. katz deli, economy candy, chelsea market

                              1. Re: Serendipity,
                                While it's not somewhere I'd spend MY money voluntarily, whenever I took my visitors (who often INSISTED on going there) they had a great time. Go on weekday late-afternoon to avoid the LONG lines.

                                I think Magnolia is much better than Buttercup. I've tried many cupcake places in NYC and Buttercup was one of few places I couldn't finish my cupcake. Dry cake and crumbly frosting. Sugar Sweet Sunshine is my absolute fave, and you can make a stop at Economy Candy too if you're not sugar-ed out.

                                1. I don't know why this site relegates Brooklyn to a separate board, but there are great gourmet kid restaurants there and it's easy to get to on the train. Try Franny's on Flatbush or Applewood on 11th Street. Delicious for grown-ups, but very kid tolerant.

                                  1. There is also a Patsy's convenient to AMNH on 74th between Columbus and CPW. I second the recommendation for Le Pain Quotidien for a coffee and pastry mid-afternoon snack, or even for lunch.

                                    For a birthday party, Manhattan kids all go ga-ga over The Jekyll and Hyde Club on 6th Ave. between 57/58. Totally pre-fab food, but the horror-movie theme makes it kind of like dining in Disney's Haunted Mansion. The other place little girls love is the American Girl Place on 5th Avenue at 49. If they are still into their dolls, it's the kiddie hot-spot for brunch or tea. If you do want to do tea, skip crowded spots like Alice's Teacup and go straight to one of the grand hotels. The St. Regis tea is pretty nice.

                                    For fun with Asian food, I'd consider dim sum, or one of the grill-it-yourself places in Koreatown near Herald Square (I like Won-Jo on 32nd). Also on 32nd is the Koryodang bakery and tea shop. In the front you can order all the Asian fusion pastries like donuts with curried chicken inside, and in the back they have lots of cool fountain items like bubble tea and snow ices. The atmosphere is modern and pleasant, very good for kids and teens.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Amelia Eve

                                      Jekyll and Hyde should be avoided at all costs. Someone who once worked there told me it was the worst place she was ever in. If you look at who is on the line to get in it is all tourits.

                                      1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                        another great suggestion is Shun Lee Cafe for Dim Sum, My kids love it there and I do too!

                                        1. re: samiam123

                                          Maybe not in your kids' case, but in general, Chinatown is more fun for kids. And it's a whole lot cheaper!

                                          1. re: Pan

                                            I agree - long before my affection for Shun Lee West waned, my interest in going to Shun Lee Cafe waned - everything just seemed fried, greasy and expensive to me.

                                        2. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                          Re: Jekyll & Hyde: While I totally agree with your assessment, I hasten to add that my two sons -- born & bred Manhattanites who were exposed to good restaurants and now 20-somethings who would scoff at the place -- LOVED Jekyll & Hyde when they were kids. My husband and I occasionally made the sacrifice and went because it was a treat for them. And their friends loved it, too. The food is edible and there is decent beer at least for the adults!