First Timers from Orange County, CA
My husband and I are going to be in NYC for 7 days (6 nights) and are completely overwhelmed with the options. We are avid foodies, some of our faves are Pizzeria Mozza and Bouchon.
We do not want to go anywhere that is on the west coast (including Vegas) so no Scarpetta.
We want to have at least two fabulous dinners ($400, tip, wine tax inclusive) but mainly as first timers want to have experiences we that are quintessential NY.
On my list is Balthazar and Eleven Madison Park AND Le Bernadin (lunch)
So what's not to be missed for first timers to NYC?
EMP is $225pp before tax, tip, wine. Tasting menu only. Well over your budget once you factor in wine.
Also alcohol habits vary widely so it's better to give a range BEFORE tax, tip, and wine.
Have you looked at the NoMad?
When is this trip?
Balthazar takes reservations 30 day out.
Le Bernardin takes them on the first business day of the month for the ENTIRE following month.
EMP is 28 days out including the current day.
Here's what I've written for other visitors & it may help you.
Where are you coming from?
When are you coming? How long are you here? How many meals do you have available?
We don't want to recommend food that you might do better at home, but we also may have some cuisines you can't find at home...
I'd say we are pretty strong in a lot of different cuisines but not equally. Budget will makes big difference in where you can go.
Are you willing to wait for a table at a no reservations restaurant? If so, for how long?
How hard are you willing to work for a reservation at a restaurant that's hard to book?
What is your budget, per person, per meal, BEFORE tax, tip, wine/drinks/etc for your meals? It is much easier for us to help you if you give a pre-tax-and-tip figure.
Feel free to break out your budget in terms of upscale/fancy meals (and number of them) and cheaper/everyday meals.
What else are you doing while you are here? Planning around sightseeing, shopping, Broadway shows, etc? Also if you are sightseeing, to make the best use of your time, you should try to find things to eat to/from the tourist destinations or near the tourist destinations. Our tourist destinations are spread out all around town.
Note that popular places tend to book about a MONTH in advance. Most upscale restaurants serve weekday lunch (but not weekend lunch), and serve dinner Monday through Saturday, and are usually closed Sundays, though there are a few exceptions to the "closed Sundays" rule (ex: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges).
Check out some "Only in NY" type foods while you're here: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts.
Russ & Daughters (takeout, busy on weekends), Katz's Deli (from When Harry Met Sally), Papaya King etc. (not gourmet but iconic), William Greenberg's black and whites, Junior's cheesecake, egg creams from Gem Spa or Ray's, Pickle Guys, the Halal Guys (53rd and 6th after sunset), are all iconic "NY" sorts of places that are worth a look.
If you're interested in some of the places I listed above, you could do a LES food crawl. 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:
Best NY style pizza:
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 do a restaurant doing creative takes on Asian, like at Momofuku Ssam Bar, Wong, Fatty Cue, Takashi, RedFarm, Mission Chinese, Jungsik, Kin Shop, or Danji.
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).
Some common tourist inquiries:
Where to Eat Near Museum Mile (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney, Guggenheim, etc) on the UES:
Where to Eat Near Macy's/Herald Square/Penn Station/Empire State Building:
Where to Eat Near Grand Central/Midtown East:
Where to have dinner before a Broadway show/pre-theatre dining (many of the same Times Square recs also apply):
Where to Eat Near the 9/11 Memorial:
Notable food trucks/carts:
Prix fixe lunch deals:
Best breakfast/brunch in NYC:
It is (IMO) at the Breslin, Locanda Verde, Shopsin's, Clinton St Baking Co., or Minetta Tavern.
Best bagels in NYC:
Summary: the freshest bagels are the best; bagels don't age well at all. Focus on the smoked salmon instead. Preferably at Russ & Daughters! Featured in shows such as No Reservations and Louie!
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.
If you like the idea of RGR's self-guided LES tour above, check these out, too.
Maybe scoopG's self guided Chinatown tour:
A West Village food crawl
Wow - thanks for all the information! Such a great start to my research. I've answered your questions below
Where are you coming from? Coming from Orange County
When are you coming? How long are you here? How many meals do you have available? early June for 7 days, 6 nights
Are you willing to wait for a table at a no reservations restaurant? If so, for how long? Yes, willing to wait - but no more than 45 minutes to an hour.
How hard are you willing to work for a reservation at a restaurant that's hard to book? Pretty hard. I can call/email/stalk to get a reservation
What is your budget, per person, per meal, BEFORE tax, tip, wine/drinks/etc for your meals? It is much easier for us to help you if you give a pre-tax-and-tip figure. $150/per person for our fancy dinner (maybe two max) but the rest we are pretty flexible. We get great Mexican food out here in California so I don't care to waste my time. Big seafood/sushi lovers. And Thai and Asian food are some of our faves.
What else are you doing while you are here? Statute of Liberty, 9/11 memorial, a broadway show, not sure which one yet, shopping at Century 21 & in Soho. The Met, the Moma and Natural History Museum. Empire State Building, the high line, Central Park and Rockefeller Center. We are first timers - so we want to do MOST of the touristy things.
Also be sure to take note of the restaurants listed in kathryn's pre-fixe link, there are high end restaurants like bouley, del posto, jean-georges, among others who have lunch specials for approx $30-40 for several courses. A great way to enjoy more fine dining without breaking your budget.
Reports lately from Balthazar are not that great. Perhaps you can get there for breakfast when it's mostly NYers.
EMP can be done well within your budget - if you sit at the bar and order food and eat there. Nomad, as Kathryn mentions, works within budget too.
I'll add it cause I don't see it up in Kathryn's post, but Alder was one of my 2 or 3 favorite places to open in the last year. Excellent cocktails, creative food, nice scene, reasonable and u can reserve and get a table or walk in and sit at the bar.
Contra just got 2 starred and though I haven't been, people who have say it's really good.
Rosette is quite new, and chef is dishing up some great food - good cocktails here as well.
Plenty of great $1 oyster happy hours around town. Dead Rabbit will bring you a fine drink selection to go along with the bivalves.
Lunch at Rosemary's (no rez)
Brunch at Clinton Street Baking Co (no rez)
Dinner at Boulud Sud in Lincoln Center
Check out one of the Momofuku spots if you have never been (I love the Saam and noodle bars)
Wolfgang's for classic NY steak house
Corner Bistro is my favorite hamburger (lunch)
Go to Levain on the upper west side for the best cookie you will ever try
People love Marea but I have had mixed experiences there
Will keep thinking...
Hey, my g/f and I spent the holidays in NYC(we're also from OC). One place that was not mentioned on here was Barneys Greengrass in the Upper West Side. Great place for breakfast and a cup of coffee!! Since you are going in June I highly recommend going to the roof garden cafe and martini bar at the metropolitan museum!!!
Craft (LA is not NY)
Dim Sum Go Go
As others have mentioned I think you can work the system and get in to both EMP & Le Bernadin. I in fact did both of those places at lunchtime but go sit at the bar and you can get wonderful meals.
Pizza is one of those derisive topics - but if i may - i'd suggest Di Fara. I don't consider it the best pizza in that category, but it's an experience that is definitely worth happening ... especially since it will probably cease to exist sooner than later. Motorino is another good option.
I'd be remiss if i didn't mention Estala #DamnSmokey.
Bagels -> depending on whether your focus is bagels or the salmon on top - here are some nice options:
Baz, Russ & Daughters Cafe (same as the original but w sit down), Ess-A, Absolute Bagel
Go cocktail hunting - Death & Co, Gin Palace, & Pouring Ribbons are all right by each other - PDT & Dead Rabbit are also fantastic.
Oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere
Oyster bar Grand Central
Russ & Daughters