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Spur of the moment trip to NYC

My husband and I made a last minute decision to visit the city next week with our two kids -- ages 16 and 18. This is our first visit since the kids really started enjoying eating, which both means the cost will be higher (paying for four adults) and the decisions more difficult (just try to satisfy two teenagers at one time!).

Also -- we live in Austin and are used to quite a casual dining scene. Excellent food but no one cares if you show up in shorts (with a few exceptions).

We're looking for spots that aren't too formal but that take food seriously, spots where we won't feel like rubes for not dressing up (not that we're going to show up in our shorts and flip flops). And since we arrive this weekend, any place that needs long-term planning is out.

Three of the four of us are adventurous eaters (the other is open but not to anything too odd; she's also a sometime vegetarian, although she can be tempted with pork).

We're looking for some budget-conscious places and one or two splurges (although again nothing excessively formal). We're staying in Stuyvesant Town, 14th between Ave A & B but are happy to go anywhere to eat.

Places on my radar (admittedly kind of random):

Locanda Verde, Momofuku Ssam and/or Noodle Bar, Katz's, Motorino, Keste, Maialino (too formal? too late for a reservation?), Public (for brunch maybe?), Shake Shack, Russ & Daughters, Clinton Street, Luke's Lobster, Eataly, the front room at Gramercy Tavern (an old favorite of ours).

Any thoughts or suggestions? I want to have a list of things I can put on my Google map so we can make decisions on the fly (or try to get a reservation if there's some great suggestion).

Thanks so much for your help. I'll be checking while on the road so keep the ideas coming! We're excited.

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  1. Maialino isn't formal at all.

    You could also try some newer spots like Yunnan Kitchen, Raymi, Alison Eighteen, Wong, Perla, and Cafe China.

    1. A couple of other thoughts: My son says what we're looking for are places that are casual but forward thinking. A good description I think. But tasty above all!

      Also -- I'm not sure what a splurge would look like for us. $200 for 4, with no drinks, before tip and tax? Maybe $300? A couple of $150 meals might be better.

      We're most interested in things we can't get in Austin. So, we're not interested in Mexican, barbeque, southern. We're especially interested in Asian and other ethnic foods (we're planning a trip to Flushing). Also Italian. And seafood.

      6 Replies
      1. re: sw2000

        Your son sounds bright. I think most "happening" dining places in NYC are casual, yet forward thinking.

        You don't say how many of the places you mention on your list you've visited before. Of course, Russ & Daughters and Katz's are quintessential NYC (and near each other), so worth a visit. I'm over Shake Shack (others will consider that sentiment blasphemy), but it's certainly nothing you can't get in Austin.

        I think when you mention Momofuku, you're getting warmer. I prefer Noodle Bar to Ssam Bar, personally, but actually like Ma Peche the best of Chang's places (that would be a splurge). Have you considered Ippudo? Always a long wait to get a table, but I think the food's worth it. (I prefer their pork buns to Chang's).

        I would think New England-style seafood would be something you cannot get in Texas. Luke's Lobster is excellent, but it's a very small location (the one in the East Village.) You might consider visiting the Food Hall in the Plaza Hotel, specifically the area behind the Food Hall proper, where No. 7 Sub and Luke's Lobster, and some other great places, have stations. A family could go nuts here, and assemble a great picnic to take to Central Park.

        For Flushing, I might suggest visiting the food court in the New World Mall. Certainly, visit the Outer Boroughs Board for some highly passionate, occasionally contentious, opinions about the many Asian restaurants there. It's definitely worth the trip, but lots of research would behoove you, otherwise, you could get great Sichuan, Korean, and other Asian cuisines in Manhattan.

        Definitely visit Eataly, and eat there too. It's a fun, delicious experience. (Not cheap.)

        1. re: BTaylor

          We have been to Katz's before (but maybe not with the kids; I can't remember). And Russ & Daughters and Shake Shack.

          You're right about New England-style seafood and Austin. I love the idea of assembling a picnic for the park. Oh and I've been scouring the Outer Boroughs board for Flushing ideas. I've put together quite a list already.


          1. re: sw2000

            I've not been to the Food Hall in the Plaza, but to me, my picnic in the park would be starting from the UWS so I could visit Epicurie Boulud, Salumeria Rosi, and Jacques Torres.

            1. re: kathryn

              Sounds like a trifecta of deliciousness!

        2. re: sw2000

          Momofuku Ssam (or noodle bar)
          There's lots of great Sichuan- i love Legend. Cafe China, Szechuan Gourmet, Lan Sheng are all solid
          Xi'an famous foods-spicy lamb noodles, spicy cilantro celery salad
          Zabb Elee

          1. re: rose water

            I second xi'an and the tiger salad mentioned (cilantro, celery).

        3. Add Mission Chinese to your list. Very inexpensive by even New York standards, but the food is terrific. There will likely be a wait; Spitzer's around the corner has a good beer menu.

          How about Red Farm for your splurge (it's not formal)?

          3 Replies
          1. re: von_levi

            Mission Chinese is excellent, but very loud, crowded, and almost painfully hip. They do take a limited number of reservations over email. The prices are indeed very, very reasonable for the quality of the cooking. Do you like spicy food (including Sichuan peppercorn, which causes a numbing sensation)? If so, this is a great place to go. However, it's not for the faint of heart. All of the dishes are quite bold and assertive in terms of flavors.

            1. re: kathryn

              Mission Chinese looks interesting. We almost went to the SF one last summer but missed it somehow. We do like spicy food (especially my son and husband) and I'm thinking we definitely need to try some Sichuan. Our Chinese in Austin (unless we ventured far north) is not that interesting.

              1. re: kathryn

                I don't think the seating situation/noise level is any worse than a place like Motorino (and last time I was at Motorino, they ran out of chairs and I had to sit on a stool).

            2. Welcome! I love Austin. Some of my favorite places there are/were Odd Duck, Pig Vicious, Peached Tortilla, Bar Congress, Parkside, Uchi, the BBQ places in Hill Country (like Black's, Smitty's, etc), just to give you a bit of my preferences.

              You're staying in a great neighborhood to eat in.

              Within walking distance you can have modern Thai at Ngam, Issan Thai at Zabb Elee, Vietnamese at Sao Mai, Asian fusion at Momofuku Ssam Bar for dinner, duck over rice at Momofuku Ssam Bar for lunch, Sichuan at Grand Sichuan or Hot Kitchen, Taiwanese gua bao at Bao Haus, Shaanxi at Xian Famous Foods, ramen at Ippudo, and more. I'd avoid the Indian places on 6th Street though. The ones a little uptown in "Curry Hill" (the 20s near Lexington) are much better.

              For Locanda Verde, it'll be a long wait for dinner or a very early/very late reservation. Go for breakfast, lunch, or weekend brunch.

              Momofuku Ssam over Momofuku Noodle Bar. Get ramen at Ippudo instead. Pro-tip: put your name down at Ippudo for a dinner reservation earlier in the day to skip the lines.

              Katz's is a great choice.

              I prefer Motorino over Keste. It's also closer to where you're staying. AND they deliver to your area IIRC. Depends on your preference for crispier (Motorino) versus softer (Keste is softer and more Naples-ish, some complain it's too doughy and heavy) and how charred (Motorino is pretty charred and more crispy than Keste but also gets soft/wet in the center).

              Maialino has a front area that I think is walk-ins only, so, no, it's not too formal. Probably too late for a reservation. I do like lunch there -- the restaurant is bright and cheery during the day, and you can see a little of Gramercy Park. They have a nice weekday lunch prix fixe now as well. $35 for three courses.

              Public for brunch is great but I think their best dish might turn off the picky one. Blood pudding waffles with foie gras butter. No reservations for brunch. Think about dinner here as well, to have some venison or kangaroo!

              For Shake Shack, note that their only vegetarian option is a deep fried mushroom with tons of cheese. There are many locations now. The Madison Square Park one remains my favorite, but the line can be mighty long on a nice day. Some of the other ones won't have a long line at all (like the Battery Park City one).

              I love Russ & Daughters, note it's takeout only, and quite busy on weekends. They have benches in front of the store.

              Clinton Street is excellent for pancakes and biscuit sandwiches. Go on a weekday, not a weekend. Unless you want to wait 2-3 hours. No reservations for brunch.

              Eataly is interesting in that it's a grocery store w/ various restaurants inside. It's really crowded on weekends. It's nice, I just am not sure it's that great as a tourist attraction. Maybe the beer garden on the roof? It might be problematic for your daughter unless you only go to the pizza restaurant or the vegetable restaurant. Make sure you review the restaurant options beforehand. No reservations taken except at the formal restaurant Manzo, or at the beer garden for big groups. It's very peaceful early around 10-11am on weekdays, before the office worker lunch crowd descends.

              As someone from Texas with an interest in Asian food, I'd look at the menu for Fatty Cue. It's got some Thai and Malaysian influences. Might be a bit meat heavy, and/or pricey, but the ingredients are high quality and the food is creative and delicious. And it's not formal at all. Reservations on OpenTable.

              Another contender is Wong, which is a Pan-Asian restaurant. Reservations on OpenTable.

              3 Replies
              1. re: kathryn

                Holy cow! Blood pudding waffles with foie gras butter sounds like it was made for my son! If I tell him about it I know he'll be pestering me to go to Public.

                Thanks so much for all the great suggestions and advice. Your favorites in Austin are similar to ours so I'm thinking we're on the same page.

                We're definitely thinking of doing some big lunches so maybe Maialino would work there. But we're not too worried about long waits since just people watching in NY is fun for us. Quite different than what we see in Austin, mostly.

                Oh and I forgot to put Fatty Cue on my original list (or Crab. Which do you prefer?) It's already on my bulging Google map. The menu looks interesting for sure.

                Thanks again.

                1. re: sw2000

                  Keep in mind that some places won't have anywhere to wait indoors, so you'll be out on the sidewalk.

                2. re: kathryn

                  It's not destination worthy *at all* but for vegetarians who don't want to consume a week's worth of fat with the delicious but over the top shroom burger, shake shack does offer an off-menu grilled cheese sandwich

                3. I should clarify that my daughter the on-again-off-again vegetarian is usually easy going in restaurants with few vegetarian options (thank goodness!). So we don't have to limit ourselves to places with excellent vegetarian choices.

                  1. It sounds like you're looking for adventure and creativity, so I might - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - skip on places like Katz's, Shake Shack, etc. They're great, of course, but you might want something more than just a great-example-of-its-kind, and shoot for things truly unique - be it "cheffier" fare or simply a cuisine style you can't find back home.

                    (That said, don't skip Russ & Daughters. Go for breakfast, take your bagels to the little park on 1st & 1st and do a little people-watching while you nosh. Great way to start the day.)

                    A lot of good suggestions above already - Momofuku Ssam is basically the poster child for "casual but forward-thinking" and should be a must. In fact, you could easily hit them twice - once for the amazing duck lunch and again for dinner on another night, for the more adventurous/refined fare.

                    Public for brunch is a great call - most adventurous brunch in town, certainly. The blood pudding waffles are great (and I'm not a sweet brunch guy) but so are the venison burger, the tea-smoked salmon, and the coconut pancakes. Dinner, again, is great as well, and very reasonably priced for the level and creativity of what they're putting out.

                    Xi'an Famous, Mission, and Zabb Elee were also great calls for cheaper eats, and things you won't find back at home. Since you're from the Southwest I'll assume you can handle a little heat - and ZE and Mission certainly bring it.

                    A few other places coming to mind that seems you would dig but haven't been mentioned yet:

                    Marc Forgione - for one of your splurgier dinners. Hearty New American, much more playful & creative than Gramercy Tavern. Great casual atmosphere, and the food is just tremendous. Can be a tough rez on some nights, but worth checking on opentable.

                    Acme - very reasonably priced for the quality of the food, a little taste of the "New Nordic" sensibility but filtered through a local/seasonal New American palate. VERY tough rez on a weekend, but a weeknight should be fine.

                    Dirt Candy - take a break from the meat and have a special night for the sometimes-vegetarian. This is a veggie restaurant that even borderline-carnivores like myself love. Super-creative, Chef Cohen is like the Wylie Dufresne of vegetables. Surprisingly hearty, and generally flat-out delicious. Really fun little place.

                    Mehtaphor or Graffiti - Chef Jehanger Mehta's two restaurants do fun takes on small plates. Nothing's more than $17, IIRC. It can add up, as small plates tend to.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sgordon

                      Thanks so much for the detailed response. Some great ideas there, I think. And yes, I'd say we're looking for an adventure. Whenever anyone asks my son what we're going to do in NY, he says "eat."

                      1. re: sgordon

                        Great call on Dirt Candy. Totally fits the "casual but forward thinking" criteria. sw2000, keep in mind that it is *tiny* so if it interests you, do reserve in advance

                        1. Bar Room at The Modern is nice...Perilla and Kin Shop will satisfy your asian cravings...

                          1. Lots of great suggestions here...the ones i especially like for this post are:

                            Asian food: Cafe China, Yunnan Kitchen, Ippudo

                            Italian: Osteria Morini

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Simon

                              +1 for ippudo! You won't regret it, it's a fantastic place to dine! One of my faves in the EV.

                            2. No one has suggested Veniero's yet!

                              Veniero's is my neighborhood FAVE for sweets- it's an italian pastry shop that has been operating for over 100 years. They have a really nice air conditioned dining area with stained glass ceilings- just go to the back of the store around the corner from the take-out counter (be sure to oogle over the pastries in the showcases on the way). I strongly recommend the italian pastries over their cakes- my favorites are their lobster tails (crispy pastries filled with cream), sfogliatelle (crispy pastry shell with sweet ricotta/citron filling), cannolies, vanilla millefoglie (layers of puff pastry with barvarian cream) and pignoli cookies.

                              If you're in the mood for more traditional cakes I also recommend Blackhound Bakery around the corner. They have small single-serving cakes. They're pricey but of excellent quality. My favorite there is the busy bee cake (chocolate with marzipan).