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Quintessential Dining Spots for a First-Timer in Manhattan

Hi-

I am a chef at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and I will be going to NYC for a few weeks to visit a few friends and would like to experience a broad cross section of all NYC has to offer! My other friends are also in the restaurant industry but we are not necessarily interested in hitting the typical spots (per se, jean georges, etc), we personally go for the more hidden local gems.

All price points are welcome, but probably no higher than $100 per person check average. That said, we love going into hole in the wall places that cost $10 per person as well. All styles of cuisine are welcome also.

We will be staying at the Plaza Hotel but we would also like to visit Brooklyn, etc so would appreciate any suggestions outside of our immediate vicinity as well.

Thanks so much for your help, this is a very intimidating search so I appreciate any recs!

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  1. 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:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/493333

    Best NY style pizza:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890813

    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):
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8343...

    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).
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8383...

    Some common tourist inquiries:

    Where to Eat Near Times Square:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/0...
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/833282

    Where to Eat Near MoMA (the museum cafe is actually pretty good, as is the Modern next door):
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/771459
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/767638

    Where to Eat Near Museum Mile (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney, Guggenheim, etc) on the UES:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/0...
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/963070
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/906331
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/793684
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/795435
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/793684

    Where to Eat Near the Museum of Natural History on the UWS:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2011/0...
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/793258
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/748686

    Where to Eat Near Macy's/Herald Square/Penn Station/Empire State Building:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/894256
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/725320
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/757797
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/0...

    Where to Eat Near Grand Central/Midtown East:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2014/0...
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/0...

    Where to Eat in Soho:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/701593
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7577...

    Where to Eat near 5th Avenue shopping / Bloomingdale's / Rockefeller Center:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2010/1...
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9064...

    Where to have dinner before a Broadway show/pre-theatre dining (many of the same Times Square recs also apply):
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2011/0...
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2011/0...
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/671275
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/755684
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715535
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/788254

    Where to Eat Near the 9/11 Memorial:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8461...

    Notable food trucks/carts:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/701278

    Prix fixe lunch deals:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8747...
    Late night dining:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/908581

    Best Old New York Restaurants:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697307

    Old school cocktail bars:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/805116

    Best mixology:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/925938

    Best breakfast/brunch in NYC:
    It is (IMO) at the Breslin, Locanda Verde, Shopsin's, Clinton St Baking Co., or Minetta Tavern.
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8093...

    Best bagels in NYC:
    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2009/1...
    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:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7116...

    A West Village food crawl
    https://foursquare.com/kathrynyu/list...

    East Village:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/882582

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      PS I highly recommend focusing more on the only in NY type foods esp smoked salmon, pizza. And at least one old school place. Maybe Minetta Tavern. And my LA dwelling friends love Momofuku Ssam Bar.

      1. re: kathryn

        Ok, so to answer your questions:

        -I am coming from Los Angeles, I am a chef at a high end steakhouse but I am definitely not interested in trying a bunch of steakhouses there (my employer can pay for that trip...haha)

        -I will be in NY Sat around noon until Monday around 1 pm, all meal periods are potentially open.

        -I'm willing to wait for a table but nothing too outrageous since my stay is short. Price point for us will probably have to max out around $125/person for everything, but I am willing to pitch to help cover my friend's tab for the right experience.

        -Our itinerary is open, I am not into super-touristy stuff at all, and I love walking around a new city and exploring, nothing stuffy or with a confined timetable. I'm also fine with basing our day around our dining destinations!

        -I would love to try NY unique-type food, bakeries, and brunch. All socioeconomic class levels and ethnicities are welcome.

        Thank you so much for all of the tips, I am loving all of the info so far!

        1. re: kwool2004

          You want to sample a broad swath of NY, like any visitor, but 48 hours is tight.
          I'd suggest having a loose itinerary with a few decisions (dinners or lunches) already made, and a few "maybes", and a few "play it by ear".
          Have you thought about Katz' for a lunch. You can mix this with a walk around the LES and Chinatown and maybe Little Italy.
          To me, THIS is quintessential NY.
          From Katz, maybe zigzag south and west towards Delancey, Grand, and Canal, into Chinatwon proper, then into Little Italy.
          Lotsa bars (divey/hipster/rocker/what-have-you), brick-a-brack, eating joints, Chinese plate lunches, pickle shop, meatball shop, etc etc

          1. re: kwool2004

            Definitely look into the walking tours I posted above. You could do High Line/West Village on Saturday. Maybe go to Soho to check out some bakeries like Dominique Ansel, Payard, Mille-Feuille, Birdbath, etc. LES self guided tour on Sunday. Monday brunch at the Breslin or Clinton St.

        2. Well,

          It's been a while since I hung in nyc where I grew up - but a couple of places always come to mind...
          Yelp is a good place to look
          Mamoun's felafel
          Cuban food in chelsea - you could check yelp for a really good cuban place
          I always check Cafe Reggio's in Greenwich Village (close to Mamoun's) for the expresso or cappuccino and cannoli.
          Also, Hungarian pastry Shop up by Cathedral of St. John's
          W 110th area) - also worth a visit.
          China Town has some great Chinese and there is a great southern place up at Cathedral Parkway area /cent. part as well (forget name.) Betty's? A woman's name I think.

          Indian restaurants on E. 6. Used to go to Benito's (Italian) and liked that a lot.

          For Pricey - cafe des artistes, that newe scandinavian place - akavit? -

          Queens, I think has some newer great ethnic restaurants.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cmc2

            Aquavit new? It opened in 1994
            Cafe des artistes closed in 2009

            1. re: cmc2

              These suggestions seem out of date, Some like Mamoun's for cheap felafel (like under $5) but Taim is the "IT Girl" felafel for about $8
              The Indian on East 6th is generally looked down on, Cefe Reggio is on nobody's radar.
              If one wants to work for a pastry a Cronut is a goal or anything from Dominique Ansel bakery...
              Not sure if there is a good ramen scene in LA but in NY it is growing.
              Go to Chelsea Market and Eataly... those are very NY things.
              Go to Shake Shack and compare to your hometown In and Out

              1. re: cmc2

                I would recommend Taim, Nish Nush, and Gazala's Place for falafel and middle eastern food over mamaoun's

                The newish malai marke on 6th st has been popular on this board
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/889897

                1. re: cmc2

                  Yelp is a good place to look for what?

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    Reviews about decor and other non chow restaurant gripes.

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      A mini map of the location and photos....

                  2. I stongly recommend one (or more!!) of the self guided walking food tours from kathryn's links- an amazing way to taste a wide variety of what certain places do best.

                    This thread discussed locals favorite "hidden gems" :
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9214...

                    Post and search on the outer boroughs board for more info about restaurants there. You could do jackson heights, astoria, flushing, etc... For ethnic eats

                    There are also great deals for lunches at many fine dining restaurants, this thread has great info:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/928792

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      The greater LA area has a lot of wonderful ethnic eats, so perhaps it should not be a big priority to get out to Queens for them.

                    2. Not necessarily quintessential, but Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam near W75 (kinda your neck of the woods) has some very good in-house charcuterie.
                      http://www.salumeriarosi.com/

                      1. Thank you all so much for your help, I have started scouring message boards and going through the different menus for the restaurants you provided, everything seems amazing!

                        -Question: does anyone have any feedback on Uncle Boon's? I read an article in the NY Times about it and was intrigued, was wondering if anyone had any insight.

                        A lot of co-workers are telling me I NEED to do Momofuku...is that a must or are there some lesser-known spots with just as good of food?

                        Thanks again!!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: kwool2004

                          Do Momofuku Ssam for dinner plus Booker & Dax for drinks.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Agreed on the Ssam/Booker and Dax combo. And Uncle Boon's is great, too, if you're looking for Thai (in a hip, non-divey space)

                        2. Jungsik - my meal there was brilliant (and the one meal I had in NY that I still think about weeks later). The tasting is $155 per person, which is out of your budget, but you can order off the a la carte menu. If you order smartly and share dessert, you can get it within your budget. I don't think I've ever recommended a place as highly as I'd recommend Jungsik.

                          Do one of the large-format meals at Momofuku Ssam meant for sharing. You'll be able to reserve a table. They have a duck meal and a pork shoulder meal (with the pork shoulder meal the more impressive of the two). Alternatively, go to Ma Peche for their large-format meals.

                          Go to Prince Street Pizza and order a whole Spicy Spring.

                          Find the food cart Comme Ci Comme Ça.

                          Make a reservation to try the all-beef ramen at Takashi offered from midnight-2am on Fridays and Saturdays only.

                          Maybe too touristy, but drop by Magnolia Bakery for their banana pudding. It's light, refreshing, and not too sweet.

                          1. I may get skewered for this (both for topicality and general venom related to the restaurant) but when i read sub 100, quintessential, and like to visit Brooklyn i immediately thought Roberta's. The pizza is really quite excellent, the non-pizza dishes are also terrific and i think from an industry insiders perspective its notworthy as a definitive example of the (semi)recent developments in NYC.

                            technically brooklyn requests should be fielded on the Outer Boroughs board, and if you head over there you can read a lot of what people have to say about the place, but its without question an inturesting look at what has happened at dining outside of midtown - some guys took over an old auto shop, started throwing pies, developed a broader menu, built out a bakery operation/tasting menu joint, garden, radio station, event venue and catering business all on a brand that mixes not trying at all and trying way too hard, but whatever you think of hipsters and pretension, the food is great and has kept people coming back to their various endeavors over the last 6 or so years.