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Feb 28, 2013 08:20 PM

Overwhelmed...need help!

Papaya Kings, Ess-abagel, Calexico, Taim, Katz, Pudding NYC, Excellent Dumploing House... self-confessed novice foodies, we are "youngish" first-time visitors to NY in three weeks time. I've been researching NY eateries however am overwhelmed by the number choices and my list is reaching a fulll A4 page.

Hailing from New Zealand, currently living in Sydney, we will shortly be vacationing in the US, before moving to Singapore next month. We only have 4 days (Thurs pm - Mon pm) to explore NY's food scene - oh and everything else NY has to offer! We pretty much eat anything, love to experiment with lots of cuisines, and will be after cheap and cheerful casual eats in NY.

My research on amazing SF food spots (as well as research for eateries in Chicago, NY, and Vegas) is starting to overwhelm me so thought I'd just go to locals for advice. There is nothing more upsetting to me than paying money for a bad meal in a place where good food is plentiful!

I welcome all food ideas and itineraries - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. We are staying in the Upper East Side and also hope to get to Harlem and Brooklyn. We will manage our tourist attraction schedule to our food one (other than our NBA and MLB games). I know asking for a four day eating itinerary seems a little "lazy" however I just don't know how to pick from the dozens of options I have - first world problems huh.

Thanks in advance - I don't think 4 weeks, let alone 4 days, will be anywhere long enough!!

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  1. If you're going to Harlem, Patsy's Pizzeria might work very well for you.

    1. if you want to stick with cheap eats...and visit places that are somewhat memorable in nyc, i'd suggest the following:

      -shopsins - food is massive so try and order small. i usually get the pancake sampler with some sandwich that piques my interest.
      -taim - their sabich platter and falafel are really awesome. i get the falafel with everything. i have no idea what everything constitutes but im happy every time. get a date shake as well.
      -parm - chicken parmigiana platter and the saratoga club...or the italian special but get the chicken parm...with ziti and meat sauce.
      -mission chinese - thrice cooked bacon, kung pao pastrami, egg egg noodles. ridiculous wait and the food has been inconsistent but when they are on, they are amazing and cheap.
      -ippudo - akamaru modern ramen, hirata pork buns...nothing else to say.
      -mile end - smoked meat sandwich and fries...quite good.
      -keste - pizza keste...just an amazing pie.
      -shake shack - shack burger, fries, chocolate shake.
      -artichoke - only get their sicilian slice.

      katz's is filled with tourists and im done paying too much for inconsistent sandwiches and brusque service. papaya king is fine for 2am when you want a hot dog but not a destination. ess-a-bagel...fine bagel but not going out of your way for. calexico is mediocre mexican in my opinion...nothing special there. pudding...just didnt like it...especially for the money...try dessert club's chocolate pudding instead.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sam1

        Sam. Wow. Friday afternoon sitting at my desk wishing it was the weekend and now actually salivating... roll on three weeks!

        Thanks, this is exactly the sort of info I'm after!

      2. Papaya King - nix from me. I don't like their papaya drink and nothing else is special about the place.

        Taim - Taim is great, and as sam1 says, their sabich is particularly good.

        Katz's - Unlike what sam1 says, Katz's is a must. I am a native Manhattanite, and it's OK with me that a lot of tourists go to Katz's, because that keeps the place open in a neighborhood of rising rents. Get a juicy pastrami sandwich. The counterman will give you a taste. If there's anything you don't like about the piece he gives you, tell him what you want different, and he may bring over another slab.

        Excellent Dumpling House - I haven't been there in years, but unless there's been some drastic change, it has never been good, let alone excellent. Go somewhere else for dumplings.

        Besides, you'll be in Singapore soon. Singapore has fantastic Chinese food. So maybe you're best off concentrating on cuisines that you won't easily find in Singapore. I'm not sure how much Dongbei (Northeastern Chinese, i.e. Manchurian) or other Northern Chinese cuisine Singapore has, so if that's something that interests you, ask on the Outer Boroughs board for recommendations of places serving those cuisines in Flushing, Queens.

        I have a suggestion for you, though it's on the West Side of Harlem: Have an Ethiopian meal at Zoma. I was part of a party of 3 there a few weeks ago, and it was probably the best Ethiopian food I've ever had. And it's not expensive. They also have nice tej (mead).

        You'll also want to have some soul food in Harlem. I haven't had any since 2011, so it may be best to consult others' opinions. I definitely agree with the suggestion of Patsy's for pizza, though, and make sure to order a margherita pie. Don't get any pies with toppings other than sauce and cheese.

        For Brooklyn recommendations, go to the Outer Boroughs board.

        1. I'm sure you will enjoy NYC and all it has to offer.
          If you search those ChowHound boards Manhattan and Outer Boroughs you will find many suggestions of Best of Manhattan, or Must go to Places etc. That being said, I will list some must do's,, then you can search the more upscale places if those fit into your schedule i.e. Jean Georges, EMP etc.
          I will list the "Ny special" places, maybe similar to Big Al's Steak Sandwiches in Chicago, which is a must.
          Katz's is a MUST ,,, Sam is a minority in this city steering you against it , calling it a tourist trap. It is not a tourist trap , it is a tourist MUST. Even movie stars and Bill Clinton eats there.
          Shopsin's would be a good one.
          For Pizza I would do Motorino, Patsy's for slices, maybe even John's. I do not like Keste at all ( soggy pizza).
          Golden Unicorn for it's cart service dim sum , and you get to eat in Chinatown.
          Zucker's would be an alternative to Ess-a Bagel.
          Papaya King would be fine to try a NY hot dog. They used the same supplier as Nathan's and Katz's ( Marathon) for many years. It's changed now for Katz's and Nathan's . But it's a good hot dog. You might want to go to Brooklyn to the original Nathan's in Coney Island,it's a real landmark spot.
          Big Nick's on Broadway, for real NY diner experience or a great Cheeseburger. ( "cheeseburger cheeseburger")
          Yonah Shimmel's for a knish.
          Nish Nush for hummus or falaffel.
          Meat Ball Shoppe for some meatballs
          Buddakan for kind of upscale Chinese food, but it's an amazing looking place.
          Luke's for a lobster roll.
          Porchetta for a pork sandwich or crispy pork and potatoes
          Bar Pitti for Italian Food
          Veslka, Stage, or Ukrainian home for Eastern European or Ukrainian Food.( Stage and Veselka also have American hamburgers etc)
          Georgia's for Bar-B-Q
          Chickalicious for desserts
          Pig and Khao it's not NY, but it's trendy, young, reasonable, and on the Lower East Side.
          In the same area you have Inoteca ( italian small bites), Mission Chinese, Yunnan Kitchen,
          Hero Boy for Italian American sandwiches
          Carl's Philly Cheese Steaks ( since you won't be in Philadelphia this is somewhat close to what Philly is famous for)
          Grand Central Oyster Bar-- try the Oyster Stew, raw oysters, it's a landmark worth checking out
          Paradou for foie gras tasting , it's in the Meat Market Area
          St. Marks Place , for lots of little tastes of things at many places
          Cafecito for good inexpensive Cuban Food.
          Also on Broadway around 200th Street are several Dominican Restaurants. Also on Lower East Side El Castillo de Jagua will be a good example of this food.
          Yokocho or Taisho for some inexpensive Japanese yakatori and other Japanese dishes.
          Sabrett cart ( with the umbrella) for a NY hot dog
          Try all the food trucks.

          10 Replies
          1. re: foodwhisperer

            Golden Unicorn is probably not going to compare favorably to SF dim sum let along dim sum Asia.

            Isn't Nathan's on Coney Island closed still?

            1. re: kathryn

              There's a place in South San Francisco that served me and my girlfriend the best dim sum I've had in North America, so no, definitely not.

            2. re: foodwhisperer

              You're trying to be helpful, but you're overwhelming our friendly visitor with too many recommendations, some of them not that special in my opinion. I'd remove the following, at least, as either inessential or/and not special:

              Golden Unicorn
              Papaya King
              Meatball Shop - it's fine but not a tremendous highlight.
              Buddakan - remember, eatfreaks is going to Singapore.
              Veselka, Stage, or Ukrainian home - nothing that amazing.
              Cafecito - not that inexpensive and merely OK, unless it's drastically improved since the last time I was there a couple of years ago or so. Even their mojitos weren't that good, shockingly.
              Big Nick's - worth going to if you're in the area, especially if it's late at night and everything else is closed, but not a big highlight, with the caveat that I haven't had their burgers (I'm not a big burger person).
              Yonah Shimmel - unless it's drastically improved since the last time I ate there...wait for it...15 years ago(!), it's underwhelming

              The ones I agree with:

              Inoteca - not a must but consistently good and in a cool neighborhood for barhopping.

              And there are a bunch of other places on your list that I haven't been to.

              Finally, there's this:

              Sabrett cart - OK, sure, why not, but not in my opinion the most important thing to do.

              1. re: Pan

                Pan, with all due respect. The visitors are coming in from New Zealand and never been to NYC. they want several choices.
                So, a NY hot dog is a must. whether it be Papaya king, Gray;s or Sabrett.(Nathan's should be open in 3 weeks)
                Big Nick's is "so NyC " and has great burgers. it's a must.
                The OP seems to be on a budget so I named mostly inexpensive places.
                I mentioned Golden Unicorn in case they haven't done cart dim sum, but i'm happy to take it off the list.
                Veselka, Stage , Ukr home, are cheap eats with East European taste , that they ain't getting in New Zealand nor in Singapore afterwards.
                Cafecito's braised lamb shank is absolutely great. also they are not getting Cuban food in New Zealand., same with Dominican or Puerto Rican food.
                I threw Meatball shoppe in because they are young and going to be on LES for sure , and it's kind of Italian American so it's a place to eat , not a MUST.
                Buddakan,,,i figured I'd throw in a beautiful busy place.
                Yonah Shimmel i'm not a big fan of,,but the knishes and the "ambiance" or "lack of ambiance" might be cool for someone from far away.
                Well at least my Katz;s made your list,,, and Sabrett kind of made your list ,,but Sabrett is "real NY" and cheap.
                Based on Kathryn;s list at least she mostly agrees on the kinds of foods ,, i.e., burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pastrami etc,,
                Anyway, I figured I wasn't overwhelming the OP because the OP said they were overwhelmed to begin with. So I guess i Over-overwhelmed them lol

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  OK, I do see your points about special New York things. I don't think hotdogs or hamburgers (and I don't mean the over-the-top kinds at places like Minetta Tavern) are anything special, but I guess someone who's never had one in New York might.

                  So point by point: I admittedly haven't had lamb at Cafecito, but everything else I've tried there has been just OK. I take your point about recommending Caribbean food, but in that case, my recommendations would include El Malecon for Dominican pollo a la brasa (the W. 97 St. location is probably least inconvenient for someone on the Upper East Side), Casa Adela for Puerto Rican pollo a la brasa and other things, and a Cuban place I've been to that has not great but certainly solidly good food, though it's not very cheap, unfortunately, is Guantanamera. They also have good music, though it might be a good idea to bring earplugs because it's sometimes overly amplified. Also, at least within Manhattan, Freda's serves very good Jamaican food (though places in Brooklyn are better). And for South American food, it's best to go to Queens, but within Manhattan, there's always Flor de Mayo for Peruvian pollo a la brasa.

                  I take your point about Ukrainian/Polish food, though I believe there is some in SF. Stage is the cheapest of the ones you named, I think, but lately, I think Ukrainian East Village/National Home may be the best, and it has that nice somewhat faded old-world charm, so it's really a pick-'em. eatfreaks, if you decide to go to either, I can recommend some things to get.

                  I think of pretty much all the places we're talking about (except Katz's) as neighborhood restaurants. I liked the Upper West Side pollo a la brasa places when I used to live up there but don't make special trips there from downtown, and I go to Stage and Ukrainian East Village because they're in my neighborhood and the better places of yesteryear like Odessa when it used to be good and Leshko's and Teresa's are gone. But again, your points are well taken.

                  1. re: Pan

                    "I take your point about Ukrainian/Polish food, though I believe there is some in SF"

                    Not really.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Ukranian National Home gets great kudos - welcome any order suggestions Pan?

                      1. re: eatfreaks

                        Their soups are pretty good, generally. I like their mushroom barley soup. The varenyky (pierogi) are worth getting. They will do mixed orders for you if you like (e.g., 4 with sauerkraut and mushrooms, 3 with spinach, or you could ask for a combination of 3 different types). Get them with fried onions and sour cream for a real authentic experience. If you want something else, their kielbasa are fine, their potato pancakes are very good and so are their kasha varnishkes (I like them with mushroom gravy). Other things I've liked have included their goulash (Hungarian or Ukrainian) and their liver and onions. The bigos (sauerkraut and sausage stew) is very hearty. Among their vegetable sides, I particularly like their red cabbage, which is lightly pickled (by which I mean, marinated in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt, from what I can taste).

                      2. re: Pan

                        Pan, I appreciate you understanding where I was coming from .There are better places i.e. Carribean, but I couldn't think of the names. There used to be some Cuban-Chinese places on 8th avenue that once upon a time I went to. I'm not sure if any remain. They also used to be around 101st and Broadway.
                        Teresa' had better food than Ukrainian Nat;l Home, I was just at Teresa's in Bklyn Heights ( still pretty decent). B&H was a neighborhood one I left out, and i'm not sure if Gem Spa still makes good egg creams. Anyway, thanks for understanding.
                        Interestingly , when I asked Puerto Rican and Dominican friends of mine what Guantanamera means, they said it's a made up word and means nothing. Can that be right?

                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          Yes, I do get where you're coming from now.

                          Guantanamera is a woman from Guantanamo. It's also a famous song:

                          La Taza de Oro, a Puerto Rican restaurant, to my knowledge (unless it closed very recently) is still on 8th Av., I believe between 14th and 15th (I may be a block off). It was disappointing the last time I went, though.

                          La Tacita de Oro, which used to be between 100th and 101st St. and Broadway and then moved a block down, is long gone. The only Cuban-Chinese place still in that area (I think it's still there) is on Broadway just south of 95 St., and I'm sorry, but I don't remember its name (and never ate there).

                          I haven't been getting egg creams (I'm mostly low-carb now), but Gem Spa was always considered one of the best in the neighborhood, with the tiny storefront on Av. A between 7th and St. Marks its only competitor for that title, according to connoisseurs I know. I can't say whether that's current, though.

                2. If you are going to move to Singapore, I would avoid Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc. assuming you may choose to travel to those countries from your new home base at some point.

                  Also I believe that Sydney has a pretty strong Asian food scene?

                  You can also skip a Momofuku spot if you already go to the one in Sydney.

                  If you are going to SF and Chicago, get your Mexican fix there, not here.

                  I would focus on some only in NY experiences instead, or American foods that are maybe less common on the West Coast and Midwest (you posted you only have 36 hrs in Chicago, if you had more, I'd probably steer you towards some BBQ).

                  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.

                  American type foods you might want to try here: burgers, BBQ, fried chicken, lobster rolls. You should also probably load up on pancakes and waffles and American type sandwiches on good bread.

                  The only other American type food you should consider is a nice steak before you go, but I am not sure how often you eat steak in Australia. Or if it's in your budget.

                  Pizza in NY is definitely a must and VERY different from what you'll find in other parts of the USA. Side note re: pizza
                  There are actually 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).

                  Because you're visiting NY for the 1st time you should seek either coal-oven pizza (whole pies) or gas-oven (street slices) over the Naples style, preferably. With zero toppings or one topping, maximum. These are minimalist pies. The crust is too thin to support multiple toppings much of the time; newbies to NY pizza sometimes overload their pies with 5 toppings and then are disappointed when the pie falls apart. Don't make this mistake.

                  Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are whole pies only. Patsy's of East Harlem is the exception. They have a sit down/whole pie section as well as a takeout window.

                  I would also suggest reading this NYC Pizza Primer:

                  My recommendations below.

                  Thursday dinner:
                  Start with sharing a lobster roll from Luke's Lobster, and then share some BBQ at Mighty Quinn's. Both in the East Village, a few blocks apart.

                  Breakfast at Shopsin's - you must go on either Fri or Sat as they are closed Sun and Mon. Sat there will probably be a line. They don't take down names, you just stand in line. What to order:
                  Late lunch at Shake Shack - I am guessing your new home will be weak in burgers. Do a late lunch, you'll probably be full from Shopsin's for a while.
                  Dinner at a pizza place, maybe Patsy's East Harlem (coal oven style), Motorino (Naples inspired, wood fired oven), or John's (also coal oven style).

                  Brunch - Make a reservation at Minetta Tavern. It's on the spendy side for brunch, but their brioche french toast is excellent. And you'll feel like Frank Sinatra when you dine there. The atmosphere is classic NY.
                  Dinner: Fried chicken at Pies 'n' Thighs or the Redhead. I'm assuming you aren't going to be able to find Southern style fried chicken in your new hometown...

                  On this day you should take RGR's famous self-guided Lower East Side Tour. (Don't do it on a Saturday as some places will be closed.) You will hit up Russ & Daughters and Katz's among other places. Sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

                  I would not miss Russ & Daughters. Counter service only, though there are benches out front and a park across the street if you want to eat nearby. 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.

                  Katz's is great, too, and iconic. There is a sit down component with waiter service, as well as a counter component where you stand in line for your food, and are encouraged to tip the counterman. Their bread isn't amazing, but I really like the pastrami. Ask for it fatty. The sandwiches aren't small. BTW, have you seen When Harry Met Sally's famous scene at Katz's? Look for the signs on the ceiling, pointing to "their" table.

                  For dinner, maybe try a food cart/truck, like the Halal Guys at 53rd and 6th (SW corner at night, SE during the day) though others prefer Kwik Meal more. Chicken/lamb over rice with white sauce and red sauce. If you see references to "street meat" on NYC food blogs, this is what they are talking about.

                  Breakfast - Pancakes at Clinton St Baking Co. There may be a short wait. I would only recommend a weekday visit here as it is very, very popular.
                  Lunch - maybe Parm or Defonte's for Italian American.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: kathryn

                    Really great suggestions on this thread. I have to chime in and agree that you MUST go to Katz's -- best pastrami ever (though I wish they had better rye bread like Langer's in LA). And if you like pickles at all, you gotta go to the Pickle Guys -- they're super friendly and will give you a small sample to try if you ask. I bought a small tub of the pickled okra and regretted not buying a huge bottle to take home.

                    NYC is better than the other locations you're going to try European (esp. Eastern European) & Caribbean food. And you can compare NYC pizza vs Chicago pizza vs SF pizza!