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Single female and 7 yummy days

Hi guys ! I'm going to be going to NY on a biz trip for 7 yummy days, and I'm busily compiling my dine list. Its been 10 years since I've been to NYC and a couple of matters of dining etiquette I need the help from the friendly New Yorkers

I'm pretty comfortable dining out alone when I get sent to Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and other parts of Asia, but who know how an American maitre d' will react when I rock up with a "table for 1 please" request. For example, will I get a table at Peter Luger's or Keens right next to the gents room ? Do i need to make reservations ? Some places just don't like giving up a whole table for a bill for 1. Single females usually get left alone in Asia, but if I'm at the bar at corner bistro for a beer and burger by myself, will I look like I'm trying to pickup ?

Tipping etiquette - I'm told 10-15% is the way to go for everything if you don't want your change thrown back at you. This is for everything ? pushcarts ? cabs ? a sit down meal ? takeaway food from a counter ?

Here is my list for the moment

Shake Shack
Peter Luger / Keens
Barney Greengrass
Papaya King

I'm looking for good ol Americana - no fusion japanese, sichuan, thai (why get it in NY when its at my doorstep in Asia ?). However I am missing a couple of items I want to get down my gullet before flying out.

A really good Pecan Pie
And a good hot dog pushcart for lunch like the sort Liz Lemon goes to on 30 rock (omg i'm such a tourist). Work is near Lexington & 59th so anywhere close by for lunch would be good.

Suggestions ? anything missing from my list ? Calories are not an issue

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  1. On the tip ?, I think 10% is a punitive tip that could well lead to confrontation. As to the geography of tipping (when yes, when no) I will defer to others.

    2 Replies
    1. re: yebo

      Agree, but depends on the place. Tips are not necessary at all at pushcarts, though they work hard and would appreciate any tip you choose to give. $1 or $2 would be generous. For cabs, generally round up and add $1, unless it's a particularly long trip. Sit down meal, I think closer to 20% of the total bill is the norm, at least for me.

      1. re: glutton08

        I have never heard of this formula for tipping cab drivers and would think unless it's a couple of blocks it would be pretty stingy; 15-20% is customary and credit card machines that are not in all NYC cabs do the math for you if you select the percentage. Agree on the 20% for a restaurant meal.

    2. Plenty of people dine alone in NYC. You should not be treated unusually. However, many solo diners do prefer dining at a counter style restaurant or at the bar rather than a table. But you should not be denied a table; if this happens, this place does not deserve your business.

      For popular restaurants, yes, reservations are highly recommended. However, most of the places that you listed on your shortlist don't take reservations, save for Peter Luger and Keens.

      I have female friends who often dine alone. If they feel that they are getting unwanted attention, they pull out a magazine or a book, or the friendly bartender will try to help. Definitely make friends with the bartender! Even if they are busy, they will appreciate someone who is friendly, patient, tips well, and smiles.

      I tend to tip closer to 20%, especially for nicer places. For more discussion on tipping in the USA, you'd have to look on another board, but for street carts and takeaway, there doesn't seem to be a consensus. It's a *very* contentious topic. Personally, I lean on the side of tipping more than less (20-25% of the total for takeaway or sitdown, $1 for street carts) but not so much as to appear ostentatious.

      Here are some threads on dining solo:

      Here are some threads on tipping in the US (there are many many more on the Not About Food board):

      Your list seems very much about the more casual options in NYC (pizza, NY deli, burger, bagel/smoked salmon, hot dogs) except for the steakhouses you have listed. Any interest in something nicer, more upscale?

      A few tips about dining out in NYC: places with great atmosphere/history/a name often don't try very hard in terms of food, ditto to those with a view 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, please try to stay out of Midtown (many places are either very touristy or overpriced) for dinner! Though it looks like you're willing to schlep all around the city for good food.

      Additionally, you can peruse the menus of many restaurants on menupages.com. And OpenTable.com is handy for making reservations. However, not all restaurants are on Open Table, and for the ones that are, they don't put up every single available table, so call if you can't find the time and date you want.

      Restaurants in NYC take reservations usually 31, 30, 28, days in advance or similar. Sometimes restaurants take them by phone 28 days in advance but ALSO limit OpenTable to 27 days in advance. So the OT limit might be different from the phone limit. It's not a perfect tool but extremely helpful if you're not dead set on the MOST popular places.

      The most popular places will book up the day they open up their books. BUT you can ask to be put on the waitlist or call day on the day of and ask about cancellations. Or ask if you can dine at the bar. There is no stigma to dining at the bar and it's often a more fun experience because you can interact with the bartender and other patrons.

      A few notes about Peter Luger: service can be gruff, they don't take most credit cards (pay cash or use a Peter Luger card but not a regular Visa/Mastercard/AMEX/etc), and it can be hard to get a table.

      Regarding Lombardi's and Grimaldi's, be aware that they do not serve individual slices. Many reputable places in NYC do not serve pizza by the slice. So that is a pretty big pie for one person! There is usually a long line. Over the years, they have become a bit more like a "pizza factory" focused more on turning tables, unfortunately. (For such places they usually put on more toppings than the crust can handle because that is what out of towners often require and undercook the pie to increase turnover.) It also depends if you want a typical gas oven NY slice, a NY-Neopolitan coal oven pie, a Neopolitan pie (probably the smallest and therefore easiest for one person to eat)... there are actually many styles of pizza to choose from in NY these days!

      Best pizza in NY:

      This 3 week chowfest report is worth a look:

      Don't Leave NY Without Eating...

      NYC for visitors:

      I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour:

      If you are looking for more "American" food options I would also look into some BBQ, some Southern/soul food, maybe some localvore/farm-to-table spots.

      List of farm to table places:

      I would also consider getting some French, non-pizza Italian, Indian, Greek, Spanish, or Latin American food, but I'm not familiar with what you have access to.

      Thread on good Mexican in NYC (admittedly not the best in the country but ostensibly better than what you can get in Asia?):

      For chili, a good friend loves the chili at the Blind Tiger.

      In terms of hot dog pushcarts, they all seem about the same to me. Dirty water dogs. It's more about convenience than taste.

      For suggestions on inexpensive lunches near 59th and Lex, I would look here:

      1. Wow Kathryn thanks for the comprehensive guide. Yes upscale choices would be good too. I do get a $100 a day meal allowance but more than happy to supplement out of pocket - its my tastebuds after all ! I realise the list sounds a bit high schoolish - burger, pizza, steak.

        What is upmarket American food ? Most of the upmarket choices I see on the board are French / Italian / European inspired and after a month recent gastronomical driving holiday through the French countryside, I'm not sure French American would cut it (I might get flamed here). Southern / Soul and BBQ sounds ideal ! any suggestions ?

        I get the point regarding the 20%. Last thing I want is an angry confrontation with a waiter, so thanks for the tip. I find the concept of obligatory tipping a somewhat novel idea. In Asia tipping usually only occurs when service is good to exceptional, however I understand wait staff in US don't necessarily get paid by the restaurant so *shrug, when in Rome ...

        4 Replies
        1. re: baajee

          For Southern/Soul food, my current favorite is Redhead which isn't that upscale, it's more homey, but service is very friendly and they have food: great bacon peanut brittle (more like a snack mix than candy), mushroom flatbread, chips and dip, burger, and fried chicken. Rack & Soul is good too (like their baby back ribs) is Amy Ruth's (fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup and hot sauce).

          For BBQ, I like Hill Country which is Texas inspired. Their specialty is beef brisket. Not so much on pulled pork. I like the non-traditional pulled pork at Blue Smoke. For traditional pulled pork, Dinosaur is good, and many hounds like Daisy May's. It is important to note that there are multiple styles of BBQ so a recommendation depends upon what you want -- brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, baby back ribs, etc.

          For upmarket American food, I would say Gramercy Tavern, Blue Hill, Craft, Gotham Bar and Grill, etc. all qualify. Most of the restaurants that are listed in the "farm to table" thread above.

          For less upscale, I would do Blue Ribbon Bakery (or Brasserie), Perilla, Little Owl, or Hearth. For the solo diner, I like Hearth because you can sit at the bar or at "the pass" where you can see into the kitchen. The bar in the front room of Gramercy Tavern is good, too, you can order from the Tavern Room menu and it's quite lively.

          1. re: kathryn

            "I'm looking for good ol Americana..."
            Pearl's Oyster Bar
            Mary's Fish Camp
            One wonderful strain in American restautantdom is devoted to: keep it clean, low frill, and great (the old Dominick's, Tadich (S.F.), Lundy's come easily to mind as touch stones). The above two gems continue this tradition, and if they are smaller in size and offerings than their predecessors they are more consistently excellent. America for American eaters

            1. re: wew

              Lovely ! thanks all. will be hopping on the plane now with 20 hours to decide my first stop when I touch down. cheers !

              1. re: baajee

                Please report back with where you end up going!

        2. My Favorites...

          For great BBQ and Soul..Blue smoke on 28th and Park, they have a jazz club downstairs

          Dont waste the trip to Grimaldi's, so touristy and a waste of the trip to bklyn......I love Luzzos pizzeria on 11th and 2nd..much better and Pizza 28 right by Lombardi's is much better

          Steak...if you can get in Lugar's worth it..

          1. There are lots of good restaurants in New York that will serve full meals at the bar, which I think is terrific for a single person to do, especially if you would enjoy conversation (there's the bartender and neighboors).
            Consider: Gramercy Tavern, Degustation (the bar is the only option) Gotham Bar and Grill, Union Square Cafe. Telepan, Ouest.

            1. Ok... so far its day 3 in NY and I've spent 2 days stuck in 10 hour full day meetings - so I didn't get any chance to hit the lunch spots you recommended Kathryn. Took a cab to Shake shack after work - what a line... but omg what a great burger ! The beef patty is fantastic, just the right amount of fat and gristle, its so fragrant with yummy meaty beefy juices when you bite into the burger. First bite was bliss. Crinkle cut fries were good and the vanilla shake a tad too sweet, but really rich and yum. I had to ditch the cab and walk back to 57th street after the calorie guilt trip.

              One lap around central park later, I hit Keen's tonight (Peter Luger was fully booked). I had the NY strip - meat was typical dry aged, with the kinda fragrant charcoal flavour but I found it just a tad dry (probably my fault - I ordered medium instead of medium rare and I'm used to the fattier marbled beef out of Japan). The wine list by the glass was seriouly lacking, the vino selection just does not match up to the steaks. Cheesecake was ok - nice and creamy with no serious faults.

              Unfortunately I'm lined up for dinner with the boss tomorrow night, so that takes up 1 precious dinner spot.. bummer.

              I've carefully planned my last 2 days after. Gotta hit Katz and Barney Greengrass (if I get out during lunch), and I get to choose 2 dinners out of either Lombardi's, Redhead or Rack & Soul on the last 2 nights. Decisions decisions ! What should I do ?

              Reminder to self : take some pastrami home for hubby.

              2 Replies
              1. re: baajee

                You should have gotten the King Cut's Prime Rib at Keens. Or the porterhouse... hey if you had leftovers jus eat them the next day!

                1. re: baajee

                  if you go to katz ask for marty ... he is a great waiter!

                2. German sausages are on the Hallo Berlin street cart till 3:30PM every day.. location..?50th/5th NW corner?. I like the Chicago Dogs at Shake Shack (more than their burgers) and they may be served at the UWS location? I really like chicago dogs from Hideway in Tribeca as well. For regular hot dogs.. avoid the dirty water dogs in the street carts in my opinion.. would either do Katz deli hot dogs.. or do Papaya King or Gray's Papaya (not the others which sound similar and are imitators).. both those purveyors sell a ton of dogs. I'm not sure if Papaya Kings/Gray's Papaya have synthentic or natural casings (for that snap). These last two "establishments" are cheap, chain around the city and as you will see are basically street food.. so don't get your hopes up for gourmet in my opinion. I like the Papaya drink too, albeit its a bit sugary.

                  My favorite steakhouses are Peter Lugars.. and some may disagree but I think Wolfgangs on Park Ave is a close #2 for top steakhouse in the city. I would recommend going to Wolfgangs or Striphouse over Keens personally. Strip House has better ambience than Wolfgangs by far so perhaps that is where to go. I haven't gone to SH enough to say if its my #2. Keens is fine, but its not nearly on same level as Lugars.

                  Shake Shack.. I feel so overrated. But I understand the press/PR Meyer gets and its a fine In'n'out Clone. For a local great burger, try JG Mellons on 73/3rd (not too far from your office). I get a Cheese burger, medium with bacon on the side. Its my favorite burger in the city by far. My #2 is Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien on 57/6th (also near you). Would love for you to check out all 3 and rank them :) All 3 of these burgers are highly rated burgers in the city.. burger joint/shake shack I guess are similar types.

                  Lombardis.. yikes! My friend owned the building that housed lombardis and it did no money.. and then Nolita turned trendy and world took over. Lombardis is basically a better version of Pizzeria Unos / tourist trap. Its not bad and maybe its your type of thing. The first Famous Rays Pizza is I think on the same street (SPring) and is your old NY regular slice.. but I wouldn't make a trip for that. I say strongly also avoid Grimaldis and Di Faras. But if you are intent on hitting Grimaldis.. call ahead for pickup.. show up and bypass line.. and take your pie to the water and enjoy it. Right now in NY there is no quissential slice in my opinion. I've been enjoying Pizza Mezzalunna on Houston Street as of late, it has no press etc. but I think up there (I get the Piccante). Before that I did enjoy Pizza Fresca as well as Luzzos. Don't go to Arthichoke Basils, it is awful.

                  Katz Deli.. I have only gotten Corned Beef, Pastrami, Dogs and Matzo Ball Soup. Classic deli. Absolutely remember to get some half-sour or full-sour pickles as well (they come from Gus's pickles.. Gus is the pickle king of the city). I love the full-sours myself, but I also like pickles.

                  For Mexican.. I'm curious to what folks recommend. I used to go to Zarela which should be near where you work. Pampano is in same areas as well and very good/seafood heavy, but I am not big on seafood personally. I think Pampano has a taqueria for lunch (google it up on midtown lunch), I haven't been but comes highly recommended for cheap lunch. Personally most recently I have gone to Mexicana Mama Centro on 12th street.. but I love their Honeydew Margaritas.

                  Chili.. in Grand Central there is a chili bar. I'm not sure if I have a favorite chili. If you don't have time, Devon and Blakely also sells chili but I don't anyone would say its the best in the city. That would nee dto be reserved for some real restaurant.. but I always get burgers or steaks at those places...

                  how about curry hill visit? Haandi for $7 taxi driver meal.. or Saravanna for south indian (get idlis and dosa).. or Copper Chimney for more sitdown.. or Tamarind/Devi for more fancy

                  Saw you like oysers.. Grand Central Oyster is very solid option right near you. I odn't do oysters/lobster rolls but coworkers like that place.

                  For pies there is a Little Pie Company. They have a location in Grand Central as well. I have no idea if they are good or not, but a few locations in the city now.

                  For BBQ.. ditto Hill Country. I think Hill Country and Dinosaur are the best BBQ spots in the city. For Hill Country I love the Jalapeno Cheese Sausages + everything else is great. Moist brisket is great but may be too fatty for you. Dinosaur is up near harlem, so not sure. Along those lines.. soul food trip in Harlem? or fried chicken? and i fyou don't have time for fried chicken, Popeyes is a chain but makes phenomenal fried chicken.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: shanshan

                    Yikes ! just when I thought the hard decisions were made, the list is down pat for the next 2 days, along comes more yummy options !

                    So update on day 4 : Was hoping to hit Barney Greengrass in the morning but a breakfast meeting canned the idea, I ended up with cereal at the office instead. Lunchtime had me frantically looking for Papaya King which according to google maps is on the cnr of Lexington and 58th (this is wrong incidently - I couldn't find it). With 15 mins of lunchtime left before my presentation back in the office, I ended up settling for a street corner dirty water dog with saurkraut, onions and mustard. What can I say ? It actually tasted decent after cereal and the vendor took time out to flirt with me. At least I got my Tina Fey experience.

                    Dinner with the boss was at Dos Camedos (not my choice). Very blah mexican. The avocado dip was very nice, empanadas needed help and my tacos were soggy. To top it off, the boss wanted to talk business the whole night. Making your employees talk business over dinner is a cardinal foodie sin and people who do it should be punished by eating airplane food for a month.

                    I'm really looking fwd to the matzo ball soup at Katz - should I get the corned beef or the pastrami ? What do you reckon ?

                    Also I had settled to dine at Redhead and Rack & Soul for my remaining 2 nights, but now Hill Country is in the equation - I love fatty brisket. I cook it all the time chinese style in a broth. I'm really intruiged to try the American Soul version. Kinda Jackie Chan vs Aretha Franklin of briskets. hmmm...

                    Btw, I still haven't found a good pecan pie

                    1. re: baajee

                      by all means the pastrami at katz's

                      and papaya king is on 86th and 3rd

                        1. re: baajee

                          I really love the pecan pie at Two little red hens, but I haven't tried enough around the city to gauge the differences.

                          1. re: baajee

                            "Making your employees talk business over dinner is a cardinal foodie sin and people who do it should be punished by eating airplane food for a month."
                            LOL, and amen!

                            assuming you meant dinner with the boss was at Dos *Caminos* i'm sorry to hear you had to waste one of your precious meals there...it's definitely not a "destination" for a self-respecting Chowhound ;)

                            just a note about your trip to Katz's for lunch...Russ & Daughters is less than 2 blocks away on the same street, so hopefully you'll have a little extra time to run over there & check it out.

                          2. re: shanshan

                            Pampano tacqueria probably has the best tacos in that noreast corner of midtown that the OP is asking about. its in a food court in the downstairs of a building at 50th and 3rd.

                            Hotdog cart is more the experience than the food, but, there's a cart on 55th and Madison that does good grilled hotdogs (as opposed to the generic boiled "dirty water dogs"). They also have a decent chili for chili-dogs.

                            1. re: shanshan

                              Pampano is a wonderful suggestion. They currently have a three course restaurant week menu ($35 for dinner) that is excellent by any standard, but almost shockingly good for a restaurant week menu. Choices are of course limited, but my mixed seafood ceviche (octopus heavy in a very good way) + miso marinated sea bass + corn cake with coconut ice cream were all very well made. Many of the current wines by the glass are also excellent (pinot noir and shiraz, in particular).

                              Baajee, I agree: Dos Caminos is very blah.

                              Another option for Mexican that I like: Mercadito Grove for tacos -- especially fish tacos -- and ceviche.

                              In general, a good list of suggestions, shanshan.

                                1. re: shanshan

                                  the first of MANY, i'm sure. :)

                            2. I usually tip 20% if its very good service, and I usually do. If the service was mundane and standard, then 15% is fine at a sit down place. If its crappy, then they can expect no more than 10%. However if the bartender was entertaining and sociable, I would tip minimum 30%. That is just my personal thing.

                              1. Its the end of day 5 and I've definately got to rave about the Sturgeon King. Hiked up to Amsterdam and 87th and ordered the Matzo Ball soup, a sturgeon appitizer and a side of potato salad. Boy New Yorkers know their bagels ! Some cream cheese and biting into the chewy but still toasty bagel goodness washed down by a glass of freshly squeezed OJ is something special - simple but perfect. The Matzo Ball soup was good, the sturgeon was very spectacular and matched with the potato salad is right up there or better than some of the herring salads I've had in Copenhagen.

                                I took some of their chopped liver away for lunch at the desk. There's chopped liver and there is chopped liver. This one was perfectly executed with a sweetish oniony tinge, texture was nice and chunky - not too pate like, tasty and melts in your mouth without that unpleasant aftertaste that occasionally comes with liver.

                                Went to Lombardis for dinner - it was a mistake to rock up on a Friday night. After perusing the queue, I decided to take my pie to go. Its not much fun eating by yourself in a noisy restaurant on a Friday night anyway. I'm inclined to agree with you Shanshan - its a bit overated and tourist friendly. I had a pie with sausage, but in retrospect I should have kept it simple with no toppings. The cheese and tomato base is good. Wood fired definately helps the texture of the crust and the rough chopped basil leaves a nice fragrance when you chomp in. The sausage tasted a bit too processed for my liking. Zagat - if you're reading this, its a good pizza but "the best pizza on the planet" it definately aint.

                                Btw, how much am I supposed to tip my doorman ?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: baajee

                                  What is the reason for tipping the doorman? I tip my apartment doormen on Christmas generally, not during the year (though I guess if i had a very special request etc. then I would consider layering on another tip, I do this for my super sometimes)

                                2. http://streetvendor.org/vendys/

                                  As to Lugar and maybe Keen's, eat at the bar, it is interesting.

                                  This is for everything ? Normally 15% (double the tax in NYC) just sit down restaurants where there is table service. You might watch the Little Green Bag - Reservoir dogs video on youtube. Cabs I give 10%

                                  takeaway food from a counter ? I rarely put money in the cup at the counter.

                                  Grimaldis - check for recent reviews. it goes in and out of fashion for some reason.

                                  Pecan pie Try this place. Acme Restaurant may have it when you are in town.