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Must-Do's in NYC for foodies??

Hi we are visiting NYC for the first time! We've eaten our way around Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Vegas, and it's finally time for the big apple. Please recommend great food - big-name upscale or hidden hole-in-the-wall, as long as it's good!!

We are in NYC, staying in Manhattan but also visiting with friends in Queens, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, leaving Sun evening, so breakfast/lunch/dinner spots are all welcome.

Preferences: steakhouse, Izakaya-style Japanese, outstanding burgers/BBQ, seafood, Italian, Indian, Thai, Mexican/Latin, and deli. Also great upscale bars/lounges for thirty-somethings.

Really looking fwd to your responses! Thanks in advance.

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  1. For Queens, post to the Outer Boroughs board. You'll want recommendations for Thai, Indian, and Latin-American food there, at a minimum, although Saravanaas has delicious South Indian vegetarian food in "Curry Hill" on 26th St. and Lexington. A lot of people would also tell you the best steakhouse in New York is in Brooklyn.

    Now, having said those things:

    If "deli" is Jewish deli, there's really only one name to remember: Katz's. Yeah, 2nd Av. Deli has a wider menu, but the pastrami is outstanding at Katz's, and it's the reason to go there, though their brisket - if ordered "juicy" - can also be excellent.

    There are various "usual suspects" for the other things you're looking for, too. I'll let others comment on them. But if you haven't looked through this board and done searches on your terms of interest already, I strongly suggest you do so.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Pan

      Thanks Pan, I wanted to get some replies going while I looked around, I definitely will do so.

      By 'deli' I do mean Jewish deli. I've heard of Katz's and am planning on trying to stop by for lunch, or at least pickup some smoked meat and rye on the fly. (Curious to see how it compares to Schwartz's in Montreal).

      Re steakhouses, In addition to the chains I've heard of Peter Luger, Sparks, Craftsteak (been to the Vegas location), Del Frisco's, and Strip House. I would be interested in comments on any of these.

      1. re: Live_2_Eat

        It's different from the smoked meat. It is saltier I think but just as good.

      2. re: Pan

        Ditto -- most people would say the best Thai food in the city is in Queens.

        1. re: Pan

          Went to Saravanaas based on multiple recommendations from this board (was in town this week from Boston) and it was terrible - I don't get it.

          My detailed review http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/616404

        2. How much are you willing to spend maximum, including tax, tip, and drinks (wine, cocktails, etc)?

          NB: places with great atmosphere/history/a name often don't try very hard in terms of food, ditto to those with a view (seriously the best skyline views are OUTSIDE of Manhattan you know?), Tavern on the Green is a tourist trap, Little Italy is also a tourist trap, Magnolia Bakery is not that good despite what all the Sex in the City bus tours say, try to stay out of Midtown (many places are either touristy or overpriced), Manhattan is not super strong in Thai or Mexican so you'd be better off searching for those in Queens.

          It sounds like you like "ethnic" food but there's probably some niches that may not really have a foothold in your home town. Where are you from, BTW?

          I think these threads will help narrow things down:

          Don't Leave NY Without Eating These:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/610739

          Best brunch:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/598414

          3 Week Chowfest; Help!!!
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611116

          Londoners Seeking Top Restaurants in New York in June
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/612723

          Help narrow down must trys for 3 night anniversary foodie trip!?
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/596477

          For a steakhouse, I'd go to Keens as it has both delicious food AND atmosphere AND history in spaces.

          For an Izakaya, perhaps Rockmeisha (my friend Tam loves it) or Yakitori Totto? See a review of Rockmeisha here:
          http://newyork.seriouseats.com/tags/i...

          For outstanding burgers, it depends if you like yours with fancy toppings and sauces or plain, if you like thin patties or thick patties, if you like yours grilled vs. griddled, etc. A lot can come down to personal preference re: burgers. You'll probably get directed to Shake Shack, though (like an upscale In'n'Out).

          For BBQ, do you want St Louis style ribs? Texas style brisket? NYC is not really good at Carolina style pork BBQ I've found.

          For seafood, what kind do you want? A fish shack? Do you seek oysters? Or cooked fish in a pristine temple a la Le Bernardin? Or lobster/crab/something else? How much are you willing to spend? Do you want cooked seafood or sushi?

          For Italian, do you want more modern Italian or Italian American? Are you into pasta? How formal or informal?

          For Indian, what kind of Indian? Upscale or casual?

          For Jewish Deli, there is Katz's and there is Katz's. :) Pastrami on rye. Also look up RGR's Lower East Side Gustatory Tour.

          For great upscale bars/lounges for thirty-somethings, what are you criteria? What do you like to drink? Craft beers? Obscure wines? Proper cocktails (freshly squeezed juices, jiggers, house made ginger beer, brown spirits)? Something else?

          16 Replies
          1. re: kathryn

            I think you should be appointed Official Manhattan Chowhound Hostess. You put in such efforts and are so unfailingly helpful!

            1. re: Pan

              Absolutely agree, Pan! kathryn is the best!! And I'm not saying that just because she so often manages to slip in a reference to my (in)famous self-guided LES noshing tour. ;-)

              1. re: RGR

                I think Kathryn and RGR should both get some kind of Chowhound award for welcoming people to Manhattan with outstanding recommendations. I still say RGR should create a website devoted to the LES tour.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  Thanks for the compliment, a_and_w. :-)

            2. re: kathryn

              Kathryn is always very reliable as to her picks! I must throw in a caveat as to the "avoid midtown" rec: while I agree to stay out of the standard midtown, Hells Kitchen has some great ethnic options if you're looking for that. There are hole-in-the-wall taquerias, one of the best cupcakes in town (Kyotofu), and some great middle eastern. Nothing that is specifically a must-do, but i would say the area is at least a must-visit for the variety.

              Other things, to throw in my two cents: Chinatown, for Dim Sum or Chinese Ice Cream Factory. Cocktails at a speak easy-my personal favorite is Death & Co, but PDT would also be very fun for an out of towner. RGR's LES tour. And a choclate tour: Soho is good, as one can hit up Kees, Jacques Torres, Mariebelle, Vosges all at once. Enjoy!

              1. re: orthorunner

                I suppose it is clearer to say Avoid Times Square -- once you get out to say 3rd Ave or 9th Ave there are a bunch of great options, you're right.

              2. re: kathryn

                Wow Kathryn thanks for your reply - I realize now that I should have been alot more specific in my Qs. I'm in the process of reading through the posts on this board, and I will post some more direct questions once I'm better informed.

                It's a mini-holiday and we're visiting close friends to celebrate so I don't really have a budget. There will probably be 4-6 of us (the others less adventurous), and for dinner at a great steakhouse or Italian cost isn't really a factor ($150 per person incl. wine/drinks?), same with going out for drinks - martinis and cocktails in a lively upscale bar/lounge (we're in our 30s and listen to 'urban', peppered with a little of everything).

                I'll check out the links and recs you listed, but for burgers I'm pretty much set on Shake Shack - I keep hearing about it and can't avoid the hype. I'm sure it won't disappoint. (I prefer my burgers grilled and thick btw but I'm not averse to trying 'theme' burgers if they sound good.)

                BBQ: Texas style brisket; Seafood: a raw bar or a combination of cooked/raw seafood, more upscale; Italian: moderne Italian, yes for pasta, smaller plates and selection, popular and stylish, fun atmosphere; Indian: either formal or informal as I'm not sure when I can fit this in, but authenticity and liberal spices and seasonings (read heat) are essential. Favs are butter chicken, tandoor items, biryani, kababs, and keema, but I've also had some great 'modern' and innovative dishes at progressive Indian restaurants.

                Katz 's is a definite stop. For pizza I was thinking Scott's Pizza Tours heard of it?

                For great upscale bars/lounges we've been assured that our friends have some places in mind so I think that's covered. Thanks again!

                1. re: Live_2_Eat

                  If you're perusing the links Kathryn gave you upthread, then you'll probably come across these, which are my recs:

                  Steakhouse: Keens. Not only for the delicious steaks, chops, etc., and excellent service, but also the unmatchable Old New York ambiance. Also, you can get steak in many places, but Keens' signature mutton chop is not served anywhere else.

                  http://www.keens.com

                  Texas-style brisket: Hill Country is it. And it's very good. Make sure to get it fatty. Excellent sausages, and the beer can chicken is not too shabby either.

                  http://www.hillcountryny.com

                  Modern Italian: Convivio. The $59 4-course prix-fixe is the way to go, a bargain for food of such high quality. The restaurant's name describes the vibe -- convivial.

                  http://www.convivionyc.com

                  Innovative Indian: Tabla. Indian-inspired New American cuisine. Chef Floyd Cardoz is a master at creating dishes which incorporate many subtle textures and flavors. Upscale, but far from hideously expensive.

                  http://www.tablanyc.com

                  A tip re: Shake Shack. The best way to avoid the hideous hour-long lines is to go on either Saturday or Sunday morning and arrive a few minutes before it opens at 11 a.m.

                  And finally, in case you are interested in taking my (in)famous self-guided LES noshing tour, which begins at Katz's, here's the link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493333

                  1. re: RGR

                    Agree with all except Hill Country. Brisket lean is the only way to fly...

                    Seriously, though, if you're new to Texas-style bbq brisket, start off with a quarter pound of each of the brisket moist (or fatty) and the brisket lean, and go back for another pound of whichever one turns out to be your true love.

                    1. re: planetjess

                      I tried the lean brisket once. Shoe leather! Feh!

                      1. re: RGR

                        I promise I am not in any way suggesting you should pay more of your money for something you didn't enjoy before, and I know that some nights the lean is better than other nights (even on the same night), but...oh goodness me, it's usually so good that I forgive them the occasional lapse. It's why I usually start at a quarter pound to get a look at it, and then if it looks tender and delicious like it did a couple of nights ago, I proceed from there...

                        Great, now my mouth is watering again.

                  2. re: Live_2_Eat

                    Ditto to RGR's recommendations for Keens, Hill Country.

                    I think the best raw bar in town is probably Aquagrill - they'll have 25-30 varieties of oysters every day - but the atmosphere is definitely on the casual side, and the cooked dishes aren't as good.

                    Blue Ribbon Brasserie (no reservations unless you have 5 or more) is also good -- if you can guarantee at least a party of 5, you can reserve, and be the envy of everyone waiting an hour for a table.

                    Lure Fish Bar is decent but a little overpriced, however, the atmosphere is a bit hipper and younger than at Aquagrill (the entire inside is done up like a hip cruise ship). Balthazar has a good raw bar and good cooked fish dishes but it is more of a French brasserie.

                    Scott's Pizza Tours are cool, just keep in mind scheduling and timing. The bus tour looks like it hits up better quality places than the walking tour. I've never been on it but I've talked to him about the bus tour, and it seems like it could be pretty time consuming, and you don't really have any control over which pizzerias you go to (although he seems to pick really good ones).

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Thanks RGR, I am going to try to hit at least 2 of those 4, because I've also got to fit in one of Kathryn's raw bar recs (prob Aquagrill or Lure) as well as Shake Shack, Katz's, Jean-Gorges (lunch), pizza (Lombardo's/Fornino/Joe's Pizza/DiFara/Patsy's Uptown), and some cart food (tamales from 110th and lexington or the halal chicken and rice cart at 53rd and 6th ave, or Crif Dogs), so I've got a full plate ;)! I'd love to do one of your tours but time is an issue and I'm going to have to pass on Scott's Pizza Tour as well this time round as well.

                      Really wanted to try for Babbo, Sakagura, Donut Plant, Szechuan Gourmet, Chickalicious and many others, will have to wait for the next trip!

                      Kathryn do you have a rec for Italian? Convivio sounds great but I'd love some options.

                      Can't wait, I'm salivating just thinking of all this great food (and experiences), only 6 more sleeps to go! I will definitely be providing a follow up to each place I visit.

                      1. re: Live_2_Eat

                        I'm a huge Babbo fan and would encourage you to try Lupa or Otto but both of those can be loud, busy, hard to reserve, etc. For more upscale Italian I usually go to Babbo. I've heard great things about Alto, Convivo, and Scarpetta (the last one being really popular and hard to get into sometimes).

                        1. re: kathryn

                          The food at Alto, which is Convivio's more upscale sibling, is every bit as excellent. Not surprising since the same chef, Michael White, is in charge of the menu. The ambiance is quite the opposite -- subdued and civilized, though not stuffy.

                          Btw, the newest restaurant from the Convivio/Alto team, Marea, is scheduled to open tomorrow, May 1st, in the space on Central Park South formerly occupied by San Domenico. The menu will concentrate on fish and seafood.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Lupa, Otto, and Scarpetta all sound like perfect options to Babbo or Convivo. Thx!

                  3. My favorite steakhouses are AJ Maxwell's and Primehouse NY, because they have very good food and tend to be a bit more laid-back and enjoyable atmospheres, compared to your average testosterone-filled steakhouse experience.

                    The best pizza (in my humble opinion) is at John's on Bleeker St for casual or Otto (Mario Batali's pizza place) for a little nicer.

                    1. My recommendations would be:

                      1) Visit Eli's market at 1411 3rd Avenue near 80th Street. This is a food shoppers heaven, and IMHO has the most incredible array of food items anywhere in the city. Everything is SOOO beautiful, and SOOOO expensive. You want little marshmallows shaped like button mushrooms? Eli's sells them, for like $10/bag! You looking for Creme Fraiche (very hard to find)? Eli's sells it. You want hand-churned fresh butter? An obscure type of cookie only sold in Denmark? Chances are Eli's carries it.

                      2) You like Thai food? I highly recommend Pukk restaurant, at 71 1st Avenue, near 5th Street. It is a vegetarian Thai restaurant, and the dishes are inexpensive ($4-8 generally) and beautifully prepared and they taste delicious. The decor is a clean/funky design...sorta Miami looking. If you are a small party (2-3 people) you can generally just walk in and get a table. I've never had to make a reservation nor have I ever had to wait for a table.

                      3) As to the other recommendation here for Katz's, yes it's very good, but beware of long lines and waits for a table. Try to go there when you think it won't be so crowded. I suspect weekends are probably the worst....

                      4) For BBQ, I happen to like Virgil's BBQ in the heart of Times Square. You have to deal with crowds and a wait for a table, but the food is awesome.

                      5) for Burgers, I like Stand on 12th Street, between University and 5th. Their shakes are the best I have EVER had anywhere...super thick! It may sound strange, but their "toasted marshmallow" shake is delish!

                      6) Not sure what Izakaya-style Japanese is but....a place that's been on my to-go list is Sushi Yasuda, near Grand Central. The food gets a 28 (out of a possible 30) rating in Zagat. Very expensive, but the decor is simply beautiful!

                      7) As to upscale bars/lounges, I happen to prefer places that are not frequented by 20-somethings, or the "after work" crowd, or that are a pickup scene. If that sounds like you, I recommend the upstairs lounge area of the Chambers Hotel in Midtown (around 55th Street btwn 6th and 7th maybe?). It's a very open area with couch seating and tables.

                      There also used to be another very discreet, sophisticated bar that I liked at the San Domenico restaurant. The restaurant changed location, so I've yet to go to the new spot, but I think it is on the East side...maybe in the 30s somewhere... But assuming they have all the same owners and staff (which I suspect they do). the new spot is probably just as nice. Why the bartender there was even featured in GQ magazine a few years ago I think, as one of the top bartenders in the city. He was a very elegant, older Italian man who really knew how to take care of his customers!

                      Maybe you could also tell us WHERE in Queens you will be, so we can make some Queens reco's. (Queens is very big, so it wouldn't make sense to reco something until we know where you'll be staying...)

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: yippee1999

                        You "suspect" weekends are the worst at Katz's, but what's the longest YOU'VE waited on line there? I doubt I've waited more than 10, MAYBE 15 minutes EVER. When there are long lines, they move fast, because there are actually like 6 different lines for 6 different cutters. Granted, I wouldn't choose to go to Katz's on a Saturday afternoon, if I could go at another time, but it really isn't bad.

                        1. re: yippee1999

                          The re-opening of the former San Domenico, which will be called SD26, has been pushed back to the fall. The new location is on 26th, across the street from Madison Square Park.

                          We ate at San Domenico once. Service was the type where if they knew you, they showered you with attention. Otherwise, perfunctory with little in the way of cordiality. You can figure out what kind of service *we* got! Royally ticked me off!

                          Funny thing is when the move was announced, the owner, Tony May, made a comment that he's coming to the Madison Square Park area to give Danny Meyer competition. If the service I described is May's idea of competition, Danny Meyer -- known far and wide for the superb hospitality in all his restaurants -- can rest very easy.

                          1. re: RGR

                            All I can think is a) he's hoping for some of the Meyer magic to rub off on the venture my invoking the name, or 2) he's hoping that including "Danny Meyer" in his comment will make his restaurant pop up more on google searches... ;)

                            1. re: planetjess

                              The only way any of that Meyer magic might have the ghost of a chance of rubbing off on his new venture is if he and his foh staff take lessons from the "Danny Meyer School of Hospitality."

                          2. re: yippee1999

                            I assume that if the original poster is going to be in Queens, they'll probably just head for Sripraphai and not bother with Thai food in Manhattan.

                            Sushi Yasuda is a sushi restaurant, izakaya style Japanese is a sort of "Japanese pub food" with small plates that people share. Not really similar in style.

                            1. re: yippee1999

                              Thanks Yippee, it looks like we will be staying Midtown, likely somewhere not too far from 40th and 5th. We won't be in Queens much but when we are it will be around the St. Albans/Cambria Heights area (not too far from Lynden/197th).

                              Eli's sounds cool, but I always leave those kinds of places having spent too much!

                              Izakaya is Tapas-style Japanese - small plates built for sharing. In Japan these have traditionally been drinking venues where they serve small bites from an ever-changing menu featuring dishes of the day/week. The style has evolved and become very elevated and refined in some cases, Kingyo in Vancouver is a great example.

                            2. favorite izakaya for me is village yokocho, but I recommend walking down st. marks first to see the masses of people loving izakayas.