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Upscale Non-touristy Advice Needed

I'm giving my 21 year old daughter her first taste of New York next month. (I've been many times, albeit not so much with money in my wallet.)

We'll likely be in town from Saturday afternoon through Wednesday morning over Memorial Day weekend. We want to avoid touristy places, but both of us like to eat and drink well. (I also know some big name places do serve fine food.) We'll likely be staying somewhere below Grand Central Station, and both walk and do public transportation.

Dinners in the $100-150 range for two, including a total of 2-3 drinks. Lunches for less, and we're very willing to hit a great restaurant at lunch time and do "downscale" at dinner.

No Indian or Asian, other than sushi, and we're from Arizona and can't imagine good Mexican food east of Albuquerque. My daughter also doesn't love pasta.

Downscale advice also welcomed

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  1. What places were already on your radar? What have you enjoyed in the past?

    $150 for two minus 8.875% tax and 20% tip and 3 $15 cocktails or so leaves about $35pp for food max.

    Is that what you're thinking? It's always better to give a per person food ONLY cost. For both lunch and dinner. What about brunch?

    For example, $20pp for lunch and $35pp for dinner, is at the very low end of moderate in Manhattan nowadays, venturing close to cheap eats territory. Not really upscale.

    It's almost impossible to eat where there are absolutely no tourists--I am thinking you mean you want to avoid tourist traps, but avoiding tourists (of which you'll be one!) altogether is very hard.

    Also you don't mention what cuisines you ARE looking for--other than no Indian, Asian (except sushi), Mexican, or Italian/pasta. This cuts out a lot of what NYC is good at. Is pizza OK?

    Any specific interests? Things you can't get at home?

    1. No Asian other than sushi and you live in Arizona?

      1. A place my son (30) and his fiancee enjoyed with me is Black Tree, on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Informal and fun, and definitely even below your price range.

        Another fun place in the area with delicious food is Pala, on Allen Street. Very very fresh ingredients, not a "pizza joint" even though flatbread pizzas are one of their specialties. If the weather is nice, the front of the restaurant is opened up completely.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Elisa515

          I went to Pala when they first opened. Think I discovered them via The Daily Candy. Have not been in ages.

        2. Why no tourists places?

          Some of the best restaurants in Manhattan wouldn't be around but for the tourist crowd.

          1. Highly recommend the $55 5-course lunch tasting menu at Bouley.

            Also highly recommend The NoMad and Betony for both lunch and dinner. The NoMad does a wonderful brunch too.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ellenost

              while these are all amazing restaurants, they dont seem particualry responsive to the OP's request, as they are nowhere near the price point.

              1. re: cubicles

                There's a $38 lunch prix fixe at Betony.

                The NoMad is theoretically doable, only without drinks, or with maybe just a beer or two - if they don't drink (or have dessert) at lunch, they could make it work.

                ACME is another one that just came to mind where a dinner with light drinking could be doable, especially if they were to share a bunch of smaller plates rather than go the typical app/entree/dessert path. Also, further South, Skal for something similar - though Skal (which I like) is still a bit spotty, where ACME has really found a solid groove. Either way, they probably don't have many Nordic restaurants in Arizona, I'm just guessing.

                Personally, if I were here four nights, rather than set aside $100-$150 per night for dinner - let's say the four dinners must not exceed $600 total - go cheap eats for three nights (no more than $60 average, some nights could be even cheaper doing classics like Katz's and whatnot) and whatever's left over, could be $420+, can be the stash for one real big-ass splurge night.

            2. Having spent a couple of days here w/ my 15daughter year old, I think you might either raise your price point or not aim for upscale dining. We don't drink and hit that upper mark at the more moderately priced Ma Peche. I have no doubt we were on the low end of diners there, by far.

              1. Louro - 142 W 10th St, New York, NY 10014
                Phone:(212) 206-0606

                2 Replies
                1. re: needfoodadvice

                  +1; if you order carefully, you can definitely get out of louro and not exceed your budget. the food is also outstanding.

                  1. re: needfoodadvice

                    Louro is great and has excellent cocktails. (But it is not really upscale.)

                  2. As kathryn pointed out, drinks can REALLY eat up part of the tab. So it kind of depends more if you're the sort to have a couple of beers, a few cocktails, a bottle of wine, etc. A cheap but decent bottle of wine will run around $40 average, which puts the food budget around $42pp before tax/tip. Astounding how quickly $75/pp nearly halves itself.

                    A few thoughts -

                    For Italian, assuming your daughter likes it outside of pasta, Lupa is a great choice. Apps in the $11-14 range, secondi usually $21-$24. The wine list is VERY resonable - they say half the list is under $50 (it isn't, that must be outdated) but there are still a number of bottles in the $30s that are perfectly good, tasty table wines.

                    Also on the Italian tip, a few great lunch deals are Lincoln ($36 for two savory courses), Maialino ($35) and Del Posto's ($39 for two savory + dessert) - neither savory course need be pasta at any of them.

                    Speaking of lunch deals, which are oft-written about on Chowhound, other ones to note are Jean-Georges ($38 for two courses), and if you want to really splurge at lunch and balance it with a super-cheap-eats dinner, Bouley's $55 5-course extravaganza. You probably won't have room for much dinner after that lunch, anyway.

                    For downscale... most of our best options are Asian or, if not Mexican, Central/South American. Is Cuban / Dominican / Puerto Rican etc too close? Margon is touristy, but their Cubanos and Octopus Salad can be worth the wait. I also like Casa Adela (less crowded, but still very popular hole-in-the-wall in Alphabet City) for the same.

                    How about Middle Eastern? There are a lot of good cheap eats options there, especially if you want to take a day out in Queens. (There are good options in Manhattan as well, but "Little Eqypt" in Astoria has some of the better, more unique places)

                    We also have some great felafels here - mere mention of which can spark a debate over whose are best or, god help us, "most authentic" (yawn) - but many (self included) like Taim quite a lot. My nostalgic attachment is for Cafe Rakka, and I've also come to like The Felafel Shop on the LES. That said, if your daughter's pasta aversion is on account of wanting to go low-carb, felafels may not be the best call.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sgordon

                      Freddie the Falafel King reigns supreme.

                      1. re: sgordon

                        Love Casa Adela. Red and white checked plastic tablecloths and delicious bacalau (PR style). Hole-in-the-wall? More like Grandma's kitchen to me. Definitely NOT upscale :)

                      2. Not sure if my suggestions are up-scale enough, but you might want to consider Aquagrill (oysters and seafood) and Union Square Cafe (American/Italian American food), both have great food and are very nice restaurants.

                        1. This is one of the challenges of NYC. $100-150 for dinner two isn't a lot. While its not low end, it not in the upscale range. I think of that as the amount for a Wednesday dinner out with my wife in decent neighborhood restaurant. You can have a nice meal, it may be one par with the better restaurants where you come from, but it won't be close to the upper range of what NYC has. We could give you better advice if you provided more parameters. You have to keep in mind that a hamburger, fries and a beer can cost you $40+ all in at some upscale places so your budget doesn't go very far. If that's your limit for 4 dinners, I would follow sgordon's advice and go real cheap for a few meals to give yourself room on the others.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bkeats

                            I can't even get a spicy tuna roll and a sapporo for less than $40 these days

                          2. Consider Lever House. It's in the heart of midtown with a very chic atmosphere and a 'New York sophisticate ' feel. I recommend it for lunch, when it is filled with attractive denizens from the world of finance,etc the food is great too! And they have a reasonable prix fixe menu.
                            AlsoBLT steak on 57 th street. Same vibe and delicious. I street both these for lunch. They are both very attractive options.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: pammi

                              Didn't the Lever House restaurant close a while ago? I think there is an italian place in the space now. But I don't these will fit the OP's budget.

                                1. re: Bkeats

                                  It's called "Casa Lever" now, serving Milanese cuisine. A quick look at the menu [http://www.casalever.com/menus/Lunch.pdf] suggests it's beyond the OP's budget.

                                  EDIT: ... located in what, for my money, is the most beautiful modern building in Manhattan -most especially if you look over your shoulder at the Seagrams.

                                  1. re: Phil Ogelos

                                    And it belongs to the owners of Sant'Ambroeus and Felice... It's really good, but pricey..
                                    Great cocktails program!

                              1. How about Bouchon, on Columbus Circle for lunch. Good meal in a neat setting for a very reasonable price. Prune on the lower east side ( I think) for a good reasonably priced dinner, or Momofuku for a dinner that is reasonable and unique. Chang was one of the top NYC chefs a little while ago. A very nice Italian, in the Central Park area, west, is Corvu Bianco. Very attractive interior and quite good food at a reasonable price. Also, in the same area is a very well known deli, that is called "Zabar's" , I believe. It was experience for me, a southern red neck, to have my Christmas breakfast in a Jewish deli.

                                ( Note: there are probably going to be some New Yorkers jump all over me for these suggestions)

                                1. Telepan at 69th near Columbus

                                  Marea for excellent seafood in Columbus Circle

                                  Nougatine also in Columbus Circle

                                  Bar Boulud for a people watching scene, across from Lincoln Center

                                  1. Thanks all, for the good advice! Some strategizing is necessary, clearly, and the budget may need to grow a bit too. Thanks again.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lawyerbriefs

                                      You should look at some of the lists of the lunch specials that are available. You can get a meal that is nearly the size of a dinner for a very good price. Perhaps the epitome of this is the lunch at Jean Georges. There are many great lunch deals outside of midtown... (Del Posto, Kin Shop, Bouley and Lincoln come to mind) Then get NYC ethnic eats at dinner. It will make the budget go much further.

                                    2. Rayuela (LES) might be fun:


                                      Not sure if I'd call it "upscale."

                                      Can reserve on www.opentable.com

                                      For Italian, Lavagna is an East Village (EV) favorite. Especially if you can't get into Lupa which was already suggested.

                                      I wouldn't eat Mexican food here either. Nor would I eat a bialy in AZ :)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                        Second Lavagna. It's very good and easier to get reservations for than Lupa (which I also like).

                                      2. I am guessing you will be staying at one of the hotels near Lex and 38th.
                                        Le Parisien on E33 St is excellent
                                        Blue Smoke on E 27 is very good for steak and comfort food
                                        S'mac on E 33 for downscale fabulous gourmet mac&cheese
                                        Duke's on 3rd Ave & E 37 for comfort food
                                        Rare on Lex and E 37 is very good
                                        Oysters and chowder at Grand Central Oyster bar is a real treat. Sit at the actual Oyster Bar. It's a NYC experience. Go somewhere else for your main meal.

                                        1. We ended up eating three dinners in New York. On our first night we had dinner at Yuba, with a pre-dinner drink in the bar at Union Square Café. Great service at both places, and for people from Tucson, Arizona, this was the best sushi we'd ever had. (Plenty of food, and with a cocktail for each of us at Union Square Café and sake at Yuba, we were all in at about $115.)

                                          On Sunday night we met my daughter's boyfriend and his family at Barchetta. (His parents picked the place.) Very nice dinner. Not perfect, but very nice. My half of the bill for six, with two nice bottles of wine and one Martini, with two courses for each person--a couple of us has salads and a starter as the main--was $220.

                                          On our last night--Memorial Day--we walked into Momofuku SSam Bar and were seated within 20 minutes. Great dinner. We shared the pork buns, there was a steak and octopus--as good as any I've eaten--and two cocktails. All in our bill was $120.

                                          Two great meals, and one very good one. For the rest of our visit we had a Sicilian slice from Prince St. Pizza (excellent), a Yonah Schimmel knish, a Super Heebster from Russ & Daughters, great bagels from Black Seed Bagelry, a slice of mushroom pie from Sullivan St. Bakery, just OK sushi from Aura Thai, and lots of street food. Great fun, lots of walking, and plenty of tasty food.