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Apr 27, 2012 09:30 AM

Manhattan virgin with adventurous palate

Hello all! My name is Matt and I am traveling to NYC with my wife at the end of May to stay with a friend that lives in the UES of Manhattan. At age 27, this will be my inaugural visit to your sprawling metropolis. My wife and I like to consider ourselves entry-level foodies, and are unspeakably excited about spending a week in one of our country's great food meccas. We will be staying in town for 7 nights and would like to hear some locals opinions on some can't miss dining adventures. We wouldn't mind any suggestions, even touristy ones that might intrigue an outsider. However, we are admittedly partial to off-the-beaten-path eateries where food (not necessarily status and ambiance) is the focus. We would ideally like to sample a wide range of cuisines, and are honestly up for trying anything if it tastes good. I realize that a week is obviously not near enough time to sample all of the vibrant offerings that NY has to offer, but we'd love to say that we've eaten at some of your better places. So come on guys, it's bragging time! I'm looking for heavily opinionated responses, with rationale and 'best dishes' if possible.
Off the top of my head questions:
Where's the best place to be outside while drinking a local brew?
Best (freshest) sushi in town, what makes it stand out?
Most authentic NY steak, why?
Where would you drink a cocktail with some of your closest friends?
Where should I satisfy the healthy eater in me after a turbulent evening about town?
Where should I satisfy the drunk eater in me during the wee hours of the morning?
Best dive bar?
Freshest seafood around?
The ultimate NY hot dog, where does it live?
What to avoid at all costs even if others swear we must go?
Sorry to ramble on, but we are brimming over with anticipation. Any help with my food upcoming food and beverage excursion would be sincerely appreciated. Hope to hear from many of you guys soon as I continue to investigate your town's exceptional dining options. I will also be posting this on the 'outer boroughs' board in hopes of broadening my scope of responses.

So Thankful,

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  1. Welcome Matt!

    First off, where are you from? That way we can better steer you towards items that you may not be able to find at home.

    Note: the moderators frown upon discussion of things like people-watching vantage points and live music venues, preferring discussion of food and dirnk.

    It sounds like you have a pretty flexible budget, is that true? Most upscale restaurants book 31, 30, or 28 days in advance. Given that you are coming at the end of May, you'll need to book soon if you wish to eat at one of our upscale fine dining establishments. But I'm not sure if that's what you want.

    First off, I'd focus on some iconic NY foods. While not really adventurous, you should check out some of these places since it will be your first time here.

    Only in NY type foods: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts.

    Are you interested in street food, too? The Dosa Man, Kwik Meal, Biryani Cart, Famous Halal Carts, Jamaican Dutchy, there are tons of great street vendors you might enjoy. I've pasted a link below (Foreign Street Grub) that details some ethnic street carts.

    Best bagels in NYC:
    Summary: the freshest bagels are the best; bagels don't age well at all.

    I'm fond of red onion, capers, regular cream cheese, and tomato on mine. Try a few smoked salmons before you settle on one, they're surprisingly different (and lox is not the same as smoked salmon, because lox is salmon cured in salt brine, and most people actually prefer the more modern, Nova-style smoked salmon). You can get a mini-sized bagel sandwich at Russ & Daughters, too, if you wish. Takeout only.

    Best breakfast/brunch in NYC:
    It is (IMO) at the Breslin, Locanda Verde, Shopsin's, Clinton St Baking Co., or Minetta Tavern.

    Best pizza:
    Really, it depends what you're looking for: gas oven style, coal oven style, Naples style? A slice? A pie? Takeout? Sit down? Or is standing up OK with you?

    There are a few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York gas-oven style, Neopolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two that is also unique to New York (usually coal oven). Then to throw another wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke).

    Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are pies only. Hard to make a recommendation without knowing what you're looking for: whole pies or slices, gas oven vs. coal oven.

    If you are limiting yourself to only Manhattan, my favorites, agnostic of oven type:

    John's of Bleecker, if you ask for it well done. Get it plain or with one topping, max. I'm partial to their green peppers. This is classic coal-fired NY-Neopolitan hybrid style pie. They do sometimes undercook/under char it, though. Whole pies only.

    Motorino for Naples style. Delicious but not really historically "New York" style. Crimini and sausage, spicy soppressata, or whatever their special pie is. Wonderful crust, quality toppings. Whole pies only.

    For both you may have to wait in line. I have also enjoyed Patsy's in East Harlem (coal oven) in the past but it is a bit far uptown dependent upon where you are starting from, and I've not been very recently. Whole pies OR slices if you want.

    South Brooklyn Pizza or Joe's for a slice (gas oven). Joe's is a bit less crisp/more chewy and on the more cheesy sied and has a more uniform appearance. South Brooklyn is more crispy and has an interesting cheese blend (mozzarella, grana padano, and fontina) with fresh basil, and the cheese and sauce are more scattered, which you usually don't see at slice joints.

    We also have some of the harder to find Chinese cuisines: Henan, Shaanxi (Xian Famous Foods) and Fuzhou in Manhattan, and many more in Queens and Brooklyn (Shangdong/Qingdao and Dongbei to name a few).

    scoopG's Chinatown list (dependent upon where you are coming from these may be exotic or not... most places don't have Henan or Xian style food though):

    You might also want to consider creative Asian, like at Momofuku Ssam Bar, Wong, Fatty Cue, Takashi, RedFarm. More expensive than Chinatown but not near the level of a four star restaurant like EMP or Le Bernardin. Not sure what the Asian scene is like where you currently live.

    My favorite unique places in NY serve Xian (Chinese) food, Issan (Thai) food, organic/local/sustainable Japanese BBQ, authentic Basque (Spanish) tapas, creative diner food, pretzels, hot dogs, halal food, steak, upscale rustic Italian, Italian subs, creative Italian-American, high end non-sushi Japanese (like kaiseki), creative desserts, molecular gastronomy, mixology/creative cocktails, and creative brunches (sometimes every day of the week).

    My favorites:

    Don't leave NY without eating these foods

    I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour but sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

    For non-Western European/American

    Foreign Street Grub

    Offal in Manhattan

    1. > Where's the best place to be outside while drinking a local brew?

      The weather here in May can be fickle, so don't count on being able to drink outside. What matters to you more, being outside or good beer?

      Also you definitely need to get out to Brooklyn if you are a beer nerd.

      Recommendations for a Beerhound in Manhattan:

      > Best (freshest) sushi in town, what makes it stand out?

      How big is your wallet? Hard to answer w/o knowing a budget.

      > Most authentic NY steak, why?

      For the best room and a delicious steak, try Keens. I'm not a steak expert so I can't answer to its "authenticity" though.

      > Where would you drink a cocktail with some of your closest friends?

      I have taken visitors from out of town to PDT, Death & Co, Booker & Dax, Lani Kai, or Milk and Honey.

      Best mixology / bespoke cocktails:

      > Where should I satisfy the healthy eater in me after a turbulent evening about town?
      > Where should I satisfy the drunk eater in me during the wee hours of the morning?

      Depends what day of the week and where you are.

      > Best dive bar?
      > Freshest seafood around?

      Do you want oysters? Crab? A lobster roll? Fish? What's your budget?

      > The ultimate NY hot dog, where does it live?

      The base dog is typically the same hot dog from the same provider (Sabrett).

      Unless you mean iconic or most famous, in which case, you mean Gray's Papaya or Papaya Dog (not gourmet but cheap and satisfying, and an oddly NY thing).

      I do really like the artisanal ones at Dickson's Farmstand Meats and the deep fried w/o batter ones at Crif Dogs. But neither fit the "only in NY" hot dog mold.

      > What to avoid at all costs even if others swear we must go?

      Don't eat in Little Italy or at South Seaport. I don't find any of the Indian restaurants on East 6th (Curry Row) to be all that great.

      See this:

      Though I do happen to like Magnolia Bakery's non-cupcake items. John's on Bleecker can be really good if you get your pie well done and you like that style (coal oven, working man's, not gourmet). I don't care for Grimaldi's or Lombardi's.

      1. Some Manhattan suggestions:
        For a true NY moment get a pastrami sammich on rye @ Katz's deli. They are big enough to share.
        I like the 79 St Boat Basin for outdoor dining. The food is good, not spectacular but it's all about the location.
        Check out Chinatown!
        DeFonte's Sandwich shop is great and has fabulous sammiches.

        1. Not necessarily "the best" but as a fellow 27 year old here are some my favorites:

          Where's the best place to be outside while drinking a local brew?
          -Don't know much about local brews but fave outdoor drinking places: La Birreria @ Eataly, Frying Pan, Met Museum Rooftop, Astoria Beer Garden, Zum Schneider, The Standard Beer Garden, brown bagging it in Central Park

          Where would you drink a cocktail with some of your closest friends?
          -I like Little Branch-small, intimate, great cocktails

          Where should I satisfy the healthy eater in me after a turbulent evening about town?
          -Healthy? Is a bagel considered healthy? Let's move onto the next one...

          Where should I satisfy the drunk eater in me during the wee hours of the morning?
          -I usually hang out in the East Village so my go-tos are Two Bros $1 pizza, Pomme Frites, Mamoun's Falafel, Meatball Shop, Artichoke Pizza and Veselka

          Best dive bar?
          -Karpaty Pub aka Sly Fox, Grassroots Tavern, Blue & Gold

          Freshest seafood around?
          Luke's Lobster, Mermaid Inn....there are many others but I tend to make seafood at home

          The ultimate NY hot dog, where does it live?
          -Not sure if there is one but try the recession special at Gray's Papaya

          What to avoid at all costs even if others swear we must go?
          -Do not eat anywhere in Times Square

          1 Reply
          1. re: ukitali

            You can eat pretty well in Times Square nowadays if you know where to go.

          2. Great NY Noodletown is open until 3 AM, so depending on where you've been drinking, that could be a good option. 'Inoteca's Lower East Side location is also open pretty late (until at least 2 on weekends). Both are very good restaurants in any case, and 'Inoteca also has good wines.

            If anyone insists that you go to Wo-Hop, tell them you'll meet them for drinks later, and don't go there even if you're drunk. Also, if people recommend Veselka, don't pay attention. It's a sub-mediocre place. If you want Polish/Ukrainian food, check the Outer Boroughs board for places in Greenpoint or ask and I can give a tepid recommendation of a couple of places that are definitely decent and quite a bit better than Veselka, though not open 24 hours. If you have to go to Veselka, stick to omelettes and you'll be OK.

            16 Replies
            1. re: Pan

              The burgers and breakfast fare at Veselka are pretty good.

              1. re: kathryn

                I generally don't eat burgers, so no comment about those. However, I found their omelettes just passable. I might grudgingly say the place is mediocre, considering that the last time I was there, the pierogies were actually OK, rather than a pasty, buttery mess.

                1. re: Pan

                  Their pancakes really hit the spot at 3am, sometimes.

                  I've only ever had the fried pierogi, which I like a lot, but I also go really non-traditional with the fillings by choosing their special ones.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    I greatly respect your taste, but I've been burned way too many times by Veselka for me to ever recommend it. I also have pierogi boiled, though. My grandfather was from Poland and my grandmother was from what's now Ukraine, so I have some opinions about what the food should taste like, based on how home-cooked food used to taste when I was a child (plus, I have dim memories of getting dairy meals at Ratner's back when). I greatly, greatly prefer Stage Restaurant, and Little Poland is not bad. Too bad Teresa's is long gone from the neighborhood, as is Leshko's, and that Odessa hasn't been good for 15 years or so.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Oh I loved Teresa's! I miss that place. I know there's one in Brooklyn, but it's so far out of the way. Veselka doesn't cut it for me either :(

                      1. re: uwsister

                        I occasionally go to Teresa's in Brooklyn Heights. It's not that far from Tribeca. The food taste like it used to . The chicken cutlet is great and so are the pierogies. The Ukrainian Home used to have good pierogies. I like mine boiled with onions and sour cream. My grandparents were from what is Ukraine now.

                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          Yes, the food at Teresa's in Brooklyn Heights does taste the same as the East Village location did, but somehow, it tasted better when it was around the corner. :-) I like some of the new restaurants that have sprouted up in the East Village, but I'm being increasingly priced out of my neighborhood, and that's sad.

                          1. re: Pan

                            Still some of the old standbys around in East Village, like B&H Dairy, Odessa, Veselka, Ukrainian Home, Yokocho, John's, Veniero, Lanza, Little Poland ( i think is still there), I'll throw Lucien in because they are reasonable for what you get.. But you're right, prices are getting higher and higher.

                            1. re: Pan

                              You know, for some reason I'd thought Teresa's in Brooklyn was on Brighton Beach. Now Brooklyn Heights isn't far at all. I'm definitely gonna take a short trip there soon.

                        2. re: Pan

                          I loved Teresa's too! I think they put chicken stock into the potato filling of the pierogi to make it taste better.

                  2. re: Pan

                    Only reason I recommended Veselka was the 24 hour option. I personally think their food is overpriced and not very authentic but it does the job at 5am. I am Ukrainian and definitely prefer Stage, Ukrainian National Home and Streecha for authentic, just like grandma-makes-it Ukrainian food.

                    1. re: ukitali

                      Yeah, there's not much else that's open at 5 AM. By that time, even pizzerias like South Brooklyn are closing.

                        1. re: uwsister

                          You'll see in the other thread why I didn't even consider them.

                        2. re: Pan

                          Other 24/7 options:
                          Sunny and Annie's Deli
                          Donut Pub
                          Empanada Mama
                          Koreatown places like Han Bat, Kang Suh, Kum Gang San, etc.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Coppelia is not bad at all. Kunjip is another Koreatown place that's open 24/7, I believe.