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London Chowhound needs a little help (kinda long)

Hello NYC 'hounds, London 'hound here needs some advice on choices and help narrowing down a pretty long list. I'll be visiting in late August for a bit longer than a week with my girlfriend, we are both 20 years old so cannot drink, therefore we are looking for places that don't mind us not drinking alcohol and are pretty easy going with it. Budget is...well, we can spend a lot when we want to but we would also love five dumplings for a buck, as you can probably see from the list I've compiled from reading the boards. I'm not sure where we'll be staying and it's not really that important to us that the places are local, we enjoy traveling - might seem preposterous to NYC natives but your subway system is so much better than the London tube in our eyes.

I've only been to NYC once before and visited and enjoyed: Katz's, Gray's Papaya, BLT Burger, Nathan's in Coney Island, Yola's Cafe in Williamsburg, Momofuku Ssam, Halal Cart, Joe's Pizza. Didn't enjoy: Grimaldi's was the only duff note. Also to note that I'll be in Maine for a couple of months before coming to NYC so am thinking of ruling out any seafood places in the assumption that I'll be sorted out for the rest of the year from my time in ME...Oh, and that's the reason I'm posting this so early, I won't have much internet access for the next couple of months.

I hope this thread doesn't look too long but a list of places that have interested me or seem interesting:

RGR's lower east side tour, maybe add on a short visit to chinatown to get some prosperity dumplings if we can manage it
korean chicken places - we have nothing of this sort in London
momofuku ssam - set lunch
shopsins - breakfast/brunch/lunch
clinton st - brunch
barbecue joint of some sort - RUB, fette sau, dinosaur bbq, hill country
steak place - peter luger, keen's, blt, minetta tavern
burger - shake shack
hot dogs - papaya king, crif dogs, hot dog co.
bagels - H and H/ absolute bagels - any others?
mexican food - fish tacos in particular
japanese - sushi yasuda - how much are we looking at for omakase with yasuda? i'm not really a sushi guy but apparently this guy's the best so i'm thinking if anyone can change my mind it may be him...but it can be dropped in favour of another option.
street food - halal cart
dessert places - chikalicious/two little red hens cupcakes
pommes frites
dim sum in flushing
pizza - di fara/lucali/patsy's harlem/artichoke (we'll see how we're feeling as i understand any of these are good choices)
otafuku for takoyaki and okonomiyaki
jean georges lunch
per se salon menu - ever since I read the review on here from the user 'roze' I have been dreaming of going
madonia brothers bakery in the bronx for canoli - worth it? i think i saw a video with 'famous fat Dave' or Bourdain or someone and they looked pretty good...
eisenberg's sandwiches
places with good root beer. our favourite drink.

In fact, I can probably do a few of those with Kathryn's suggested itinerary to another poster:
- Start at with a pork bun at Momofuku Milk Bar
- Get some Gnocchi at the bar at Hearth
- Square slice of pizza at Artichoke
- Chips and dip, bacon peanut brittle, and/or mushroom flatbread at the bar at Redhead
- Egg cream at Ray's on Avenue A (an egg cream has neither egg nor cream, it's more like a chocolate soda with milk)
- Grand Sichuan for an order of soup dumplings
- Split a banh mi at Baoguette
- Deep fried NJ style hot dogs at Crif Dogs, I like mine bacon wrapped with cucumber and jalapeno
- Otafuku for okonomiyaki and takoyaki if you're still hungry
- Vanilla soft serve, cookies, or cupcakes at Chikalicious Dessert Bar

Apologies for the length of this and a couple of Outer Borough points, any help is appreciated :)

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  1. first of all i have to say....wow! dude you are all over it!

    i love you man for doing your homework -- i can't wait for your post trip report!

    first of all, you have time for the outer boroughs, so arthur in the bronx is worth it if you might like old school italian. tie it with a bronx zoo or botanic garden visit. flushing is another grand idea and i'll add in a jackson hts under the 7 train stroll too. scan the ob board for details/tips.

    a few remarks on your list:

    RGR's lower east side tour - yes, do it!
    korean chicken places - BON CHON is one in koreatown so that's convenient. i like this style fine, but i like usa popeye's chain better.
    shopsins - breakfast/brunch/lunch - eh, but he is an institution & essex market is worth a look if you are on the les
    barbecue joint of some sort - RUB, fette sau, dinosaur bbq, hill country - tried'em all and eh. but you should prob have some bbq. flip a quarter.
    steak place - peter luger, keen's, blt, minetta tavern - KEENS. you're a tourist - i mean that in a good way & in my book KEENS=nyc.
    burger - shake shack. sure i like ss fine, but i like the bigger ny style burgers at CORNER BISTRO even better (go mid afternoon and get a rare bistro burger).
    hot dogs - papaya king, crif dogs, hot dog co. -- pick any you happen to be near.
    bagels - H and H/ absolute bagels - any others? MURRAYS are the best.
    mexican food - fish tacos in particular. haha, good luck on the fish tacos. sorry. otherwise i'd go with LA ESQUINA, ROCKING HORSE or MEXICANA MAMA as you get good mexican & good people watching too.
    japanese - sushi yasuda - how much are we looking at for omakase with yasuda? - if you want to do it be advised you can set your price.
    street food - halal cart - kwik meal cart in midtown & the dosa cart man on wash sq park are cart favorites. this link will help: http://streetvendor.org/vendys/past
    pommes frites - sure, but i like the frites at BRUXELLES belgian resto better.
    pizza - di fara/lucali/patsy's harlem/artichoke (we'll see how we're feeling as i understand any of these are good choices) - pick any as you have the time! i'll add that FRANNYS in bklyn and UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA in the ev are upscale/sitdown restaurant pizza favs.
    otafuku for takoyaki and okonomiyaki - absolutely. on the little tokyo e9th st strip in the ev.
    eisenberg's sandwiches - tuna sandwich & a lime rickey is the classic order.

    hope that helps a bit -- ask away if as you want more.

    and thx again -- us older 'hounds really appreciate a well prepared guy like you!

    20 Replies
    1. re: mrnyc

      agree with mrnyc that you *rock* for doing so much research first! if only all visitors were so thorough...

      i really only have a couple of suggestions to add:

      - if you decide not to do RGR's entire LES tour (since you've already been to Katz's), definitely keep Kossar's on your list - you're really missing out if you don't try one of their bialys.

      - NYC has an incredible selection of gourmet markets, if that's something of interest to you & your GF: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/439954

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        And, if it helps, here are two lists that I've created:

        http://www.chow.com/lists/edit/33

        http://www.chow.com/lists/edit/924

        And, I agree - great research.

        1. re: MMRuth

          MMRuth, i'm so glad you posted your links - i meant to mention them and totally forgot!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Not a problem - I'd forgotten about the lists for a while and just updated the UES one I made recently, as well as starting that fish market one. I do think it's a great resource - making lists, I mean, not necessarily mine!

            1. re: MMRuth

              Wow, those lists are brilliant MMRuth! I'm printing them out; so much better than any guide I've consulted. One question that may be a bit difficult to answer: what sort of stuff should I be looking to buy from these places, considering I will have to transport it back across the Atlantic, so they will be subject to a bit of travel and also immigration? Reckon I should just wing it and see what takes my fancy? Thank you again.

              Thank you goodhealthgourmet for the link to that thread, also very helpful. I will definitely hit Kossar's - never had a bialy before, not entirely sure what one is, but certainly wish to try it. Also I think Katz's has to be done again as I've been dreaming about a pastrami on rye since we went last (last May) :D

              1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                In terms of immigration - I'd just see if the UK customs authorities have a website with information about what you can bring back to the UK and what you can't. And, I tend to just buy what I fancy when I'm in the UK ... though I did look for and bring back some smoked eel.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Good point. Did a quick search and came up with this:
                  http://campaigns.direct.gov.uk/dontbr...

                  I don't think bagels and the like will travel very well, so I'll stick to sweets and perhaps some canned stuff. Thank you :)

                2. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                  a bialy is a type of roll. it's not boiled like a bagel, just baked. and instead of a hole, it has a dent in the center that's usually filled with diced onion & garlic, and sometimes (if you're lucky!) poppy seeds. the texture is slightly drier/crispier and the taste is a bit yeastier and more savory than bagels because they don't contain sugar or malt. personally, i'd take a bialy over a bagel any day! Kossar's makes the best bialys you'll find anywhere.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    That sounds great, I'll definitely give it a go and give you my thoughts :) Thanks for the explanation.

                    1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                      my pleasure - i really hope you enjoy it. since i had to give up gluten, it's one of the things i miss the most!

                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Ditto re: Kossar's. RGR's tour (Economy Candy, Essex Street Market, etc.). I'm not a Clinton Street Bakery fan (long lines, overrrated and not that special, especially if you cook). Shopsin's is fun. I like the slutty pancakes.

                      We went to Keen's and I love the atmosphere. We sat in the Lillie Langtry room. My SO is a Luger's guy and rated their steak below Luger's. At a minimum it's a great place to check out the history, pipes and have a non-alcoholic cocktail :)

                      I'm sure it's in one of the links below (MMRuth and/or Kathryn have it covered) but just in case Union Square Greenmarket and Chelsea Market are fun.

                      NYC is not really a seafood town (Le Bernardin may be the exception) so it's good you're going to Maine.

          2. re: mrnyc

            Haha, thank you for the kind words mrnyc, a post-trip report will definitely be on the agenda. Might give me some impetus to start up another blog, even. Thank you so much for the pointers on each of my choices, very very helpful indeed. One quick off topic question: is the 'free day' (Wednesday?) at the Bronx Zoo hellish? Should I go on another day and just pay up?

            I think Keen's is definitely in the lead for a steak joint, but I'm not sure if the manliness of the place will put off my gf. Forget that though, she loves meat as much as I do, so I'm sure she'll enjoy the place! Thank you once again, I've updated my lists to include your choices and will be doing a bit more research on each.

            1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

              Oh yeah mrnyc, about Corner Bistro, I did consider it but vetoed it on the assumption it was a drink and eat kinda place, not an eat and eat joint and being under 21 I would be uncomfortable in there. Can I go in and eat one of their burgers and drink a root beer?

              1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                You can absolutely have a root beer with your burger and not feel uncomfortable.

                As for Keen's, I am a meat-loving lady myself and I love the atmosphere there.
                Also want to throw in that one of the best burgers in the city is at Peter Luger(served at lunch only).

                1. re: AimeeD

                  Ah yeah, I was considering going to Peter Luger's for a burger only but I think I might give it a miss this time - far too much meat going on already :D

                  Do you know which root beer they have at the Corner Bistro?

                2. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                  Not for beer, but I'd skip Corner Bistro because the burger is not very good and hasn't been in years. There have been tons of recommendation on this board for burgers, and this is a very sensitive subject with lots of disagreements.. Some of my favorites are as follows (in no order)

                  Blue Smoke
                  Stand
                  Primehouse
                  Michael Jordan's Steakhouse
                  Back Forty
                  Shake Shack
                  Waterfront Ale House
                  Burger Joint in Parker Meridien

                  Also, for bagels, I'd add Ess-a-bagel on 21st and 1st to the list. I dont like H&H as their bagels are way too sweet

                3. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                  I'm female, and I love Keens. And I get a kick out of the decor, atmosphere, pipes on the ceiling, and who can forget the portrait of Miss Keens in all her nude glory in the bar!

                4. re: mrnyc

                  For pizza: Di Fara, Lucali, Patsy's *East* Harlem :), Artichoke, Franny's, and Una Pizza Napoletana -- nearly all of these except for Patsy's all have long waits if you go nights/weekends.

                  If a place is open for lunch, I'd try to go for a weekday lunch (exception: Franny's only has weekend lunch, and UPN isn't open for lunch at all-- note hours for UPN, they are only open for dinner a handful of nights a week).

                  I'd also write down Di Fara's hours, Dom's been taking a 2 hour break in the late afternoon after being in a car accident, and people on the OB board have reported trying to show up at 7-8pm on a weekday, and finding it *still* closed. The hours can be...flaky.

                  > eisenberg's sandwiches - tuna sandwich & a lime rickey is the classic order.

                  PS if you can find clips from Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show, specifically the "Disappearing Manhattan" episode, Eisenberg's is prominently featured. Actually, I recommend a viewing of that episode for any food savvy explorer of NYC.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    I think we'll go to Di Fara for a slice (perhaps a square if it's available) on an off hour, otherwise it sounds too long a wait. I think we might go with Patsy's in East Harlem (thanks for the correction) :)

                    Oh and I saw that episode of No Reservations - it was brilliant, and was what introduced me to Eisenberg's actually. Will get what he got - tuna melt, tuna salad, lime rickey and an egg cream. Thank you.

                5. Impressive research, Ibrahim!

                  Some comments:

                  Not everyone thinks that Artichoke is a good choice, and based on the one time I had an artichoke slice and tried some of a crab slice, I don't.

                  Your best bet for a banh mi in Manhattan is Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Mott St. between Grand and Hester, which is a lot better than Baoguette St Marks (though I have to say, the banh mi is probably the best sandwich Baoguette makes, and I do see that it's part of an East Village itinerary).

                  If you want to go for any full Sichuan meals, check on some possibilities in Flushing on the Outer Boroughs board. There's also an excellent Hunanese restaurant there. If you prefer to stay in Manhattan, there's Szechuan Gourmet at 39th between 5th and 6th, which is quite good. But the places in Flushing are cheaper, better, and have longer menus and more varied cold dishes.

                  Remember that you can always access the internet at public libraries in the U.S. Different systems have different rules, but I do believe that the New York Public Library would let you use a terminal for free for 30 minutes; you'd just have to wait for your turn.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Pan

                    Thank you Pan.

                    I remember reading the square at Artichoke is pretty good? I think I'd give that a try if we happened to pass it, but I'll bear your comments in mind. I saw a picture of the crab slice and to be honest it didn't look the best... You guys have so many great pizza joints, I'm sure I'll find one that I enjoy.

                    Excellent, thank you for the recommendations on banh mi and sichuan food, I was keenly stalking an OB board thread about a tiny place in a mall - Chengdu Heaven, I think? We'll definitely hit Flushing so will check out one of these places.

                    Thanks for the tip about the New York Public Library. Funnily enough I went there the last time I came to NYC, partly to see where Ghostbusters was filmed (I know...) and also to get some free internet access. Was very useful. I think I'll print out or write down the lists of where I'll be headed beforehand.

                    1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                      For what it's worth, I dont like Artichoke either. DiFara's and Lucali are well worth the trips and wait. I'd change dim sum to World Tong in Brooklyn... yes, there are good places in Flushing, but this is better. I went out of my way to hit Tayyab in London, even though there's plenty of Indian/Pakistanian places better than NYC throughout London, and was glad I did. Same theory here... World Tong is worth it. However, I'd still go to Flushing and hit the stalls at the indoor malls written about on this board. And dinner at Spicy & Tasty. I'd also change out H&H bagels for somewhere else... H&H uses too much sugar and doesnt represent NYC bagels at their finest. As suggested above, Murray's is better but, if you're going to be in Brooklyn for DiFara's, World Tong or anything else, just stop by the local places and taste. As an aside, there are food places that arent restaurants that you might like to hit as well: Zabar's on Broadway and W.81 St., Murray's Cheese on Bleecker and especially Sahadi on Atlantic Ave (in Brooklyn, closed Sundays). All are great for buying things to snack on.

                      Nice research... especially Kathryn thread's gnocchi at Hearth and bar nuts/bacon brittle at Redhead.

                      1. re: Steve R

                        Wow, more places to add to the list and now H & H has been dropped. Thank you very much for the World Tong suggestion. How busy is it on a Sunday afternoon? Difficult to get in to? I think I will still go to Flushing as it sounds like it will remind me of a place we used to have here in London, called Oriental City, with a range of Asian grocers and stalls.

                        Zabar's is on the list too :) Thanks

                        1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                          World Tong is busy Sunday afternoons and it'll be somewhat of a wait. However, if there are just 2 of you, it wont be long since they do communal seating and will put you at a large table with 6-8 others. The down side is that, although they're near a train, they're not near anything else of major interest (unless you like walking thru residential and small business neighborhoods) whereas Flushing is wall to wall interesting.

                          If you plan to go to DiFara's, then I'd suggest that you come back toward Manhattan from DiFara's with a stop at Sahadi's on Atlantic Ave (off Clinton/Henry Streets). You can then go to Sahadi (open till 7pm, except Sunday) and the other places around it, walk to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and see the Manhattan skyline, then walk the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan, leaving you by City Hall and all the trains (or Chinatown, only 7-10 short blocks away).

                      2. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                        Szechuan Gourmet in Manhattan has a much more extensive menu than any Sichuanese place in Flushing and plenty of cold appetizers. I'd skip Chengdu Heaven and opt for Little Pepper in Flushing instead, or Spicy and Tasty. Chengdu Heaven is a food stall to be precise, in a basement with a more limited menu and it is proving hit or miss based on my past two visits within the past 6 weeks.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Ah, thanks for the opinion scoopG, very helpful. I think we'll see how we're feeling as neither of us are very hot on spicy food (pun intended) but we wanted to try some as it's something we just don't have that much of in London, though it is getting bigger.

                          1. re: scoopG

                            Szechuan Gourmet has a more extensive menu than Spicy & Tasty? I didn't think so. But even if it does, I find Spicy & Tasty much more consistently good, including their non-spicy items. And though they do have a good number of cold dishes, Spicy & Tasty has a bigger and better selection.

                            1. re: Pan

                              Little Pepper beats S&T hands down IMO.

                          2. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                            I couldn't tell you about the square slice at Artichoke, but the big round slices I tried were pretty gloppy and weird.

                        2. > We are both 20 years old so cannot drink, therefore we are looking for places that don't mind us not drinking alcohol and are pretty easy going with it.

                          The law is pretty strict in NYC, and you will get carded at a lot of bars. Many places are afraid of losing their liquor license (especially since it is now harder to get a new license granted in lots of neighborhoods). There are also insurance concerns. I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you.

                          > RGR's lower east side tour, maybe add on a short visit to chinatown to get some prosperity dumplings if we can manage it

                          Definitely do this! But mind what day you do it on, as some places might be closed.

                          > shopsins - breakfast/brunch/lunch

                          I love Shopsin's, but I hope you know what you're getting yourself into! :) I'd definitely go on a weekday rather than Saturday. Note the hours and days they're open.

                          > clinton st

                          Love this place, I'd definitely go on a weekday rather than Saturday or Sunday.

                          > steak place

                          Seconding Keens. It's worth a look for a little piece of NYC history. And the food is good, which you can't say about a lot of famous/historical spots here (unfortunately).

                          > places with good root beer. our favourite drink.

                          Momofuku Ssam Bar serves a variety of root beers. Sprecher (made in Wisconsin) is my favorite root beer and they have it there.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: kathryn

                            I think, re the alcohol thing, they want places that won't mind their *not* drinking alcohol.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                That's right. A few places in London seem to look down on customers who aren't drinking £60 bottles of wine with their meals, and I wanted to gauge if high-end restaurants in NYC were similar. My thinking on it though, is that it is my money and I can drink if I want. I hope they share this opinion...

                                Anyway thank you Kathryn. Shopsin's does sound quite an experience but I think we'll be able to handle it - his Mac and Cheese pancakes sound too great to pass up on.
                                What would be the best day to do the LES tour? Any day except Friday, Saturday and Monday?

                                I've heard of Sprecher. Wasn't it voted the best root beer by a magazine or paper of some sort? We'll give it a go, thank you.

                            1. Hey, Ibrahim,

                              As others have said, your pre-trip planning is truly impressive. You're a total breath of fresh air from the ubiquitous, "I'm coming to NYC. Where should I eat?" If only they did even a tiny percentage of the research you did!

                              Of course, I'm glad to see you're including my LES tour in your plans. :-)

                              Re: Bialys. The only good bialy is one that is fresh out of the oven or nearly so. They must be eaten almost immediately because after a very short while, they become like rocks. And they do not reheat well.

                              You can learn everything you wanted to know about the bialy + see some photos on Kossar's website here: http://www.kossarsbialys.com/bialy%20...

                              Do keep in mind that Kossar's is Sabbath observant, so they close early on Friday and are closed all day Saturday.

                              In addition to Ray's, you can get an excellent egg cream at Gem Spa, which is not a "spa" at all, but a corner "candy" and magazine store, on 2nd Av. & St. Mark's Pl. (two avenue blocks due west of Ray's).

                              http://gonyc.about.com/od/photogaller...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: RGR

                                Thanks RGR :) Great link there re: bialy making, very useful. Looks a little like a Lebanese pastry I can't remember the name of. Is there any way to guarantee you get it fresh out of the oven, or is it trial and error?

                                Gem Spa looks exactly my kinda place, will definitely pay it a visit if I find myself enjoying the egg creams I plan on drinking before I go there. Thank you :D

                                1. re: Ibrahim.Salha

                                  I'm not certain, but I think they continuously bake the bialys for a good part of the day. However, you are sure to get one fresh out of the oven in the morning.

                                2. re: RGR

                                  RGR, actually Kossar's bialies freeze and toast pretty well. That said, fresh and warm is best and preferred.

                                3. FWIW, my husband and I ate an omakase lunch at Yasuda late last year and spent well under $300 ($265? $275?) for the two of us and we were stuffed. I'm small but my husband can put away sushi like nobody's business and was taking more from Chef Yasuda long after I'd stopped. Every time we're in NYC we do the same--lunch in front of Chef Yasuda--and we always end up in the $200 range.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: PegS

                                    To add to this - I've never eaten at the sushi bar at Yasuda, though I keep meaning to. When we've eaten at a table there, the check is usually about $225 before tax and tip, and well worth it. This includes several glasses of white wine and some sake, so the OP's bill could well be less. Much as I love Gari, Yasuda is my favorite place to have sushi.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      We ate at the bar, shared the Sushi Matsu, ordered some a la carte, and ha the chef choose some pieces. 13 pieces of nigiri each (plus 1/2 roll) for just over $100 TOTAL (yes you read that right) before tax/tip. We were not stuffed but were very satisfied. I imagine the omakase is even better, but (esp for the money) we had an absolutely fabulous meal. I think if you don't drink, it would not be difficult to have omakase for $100 each (just specify). Basically, you can spend $70 pp all in or double that (or less if you stick to the more basic combos, but I wouldn't) and either way it is well worth it.