Tourist season only started a few weeks ago in New York, but I've already played host to to more than a few guests. If you've lived here for a while you probably know the deal: the weather turns warm and suddenly everyone you know remembers that you live in New York and have a comfy couch.
I don't mind taking in tourists at all—I love showing them the best my city has to offer—but it can be a challenge to bring them to just the right places. If I'm eating out with a friend who lives here I don't mind taking a chance on something new, but I want my guest's experience to be perfect. Here are the thoughts that run through my head when showing (and feeding) people around the city:
- The food must be consistent—I have to trust it'll be great every time.
- It should be interesting and exciting to me, not just the tourist.
- It shouldn't break the bank. My guests usually come with a pretty ample travel budget, but my editor's salary doesn't leave much room for a tour guide expense account.
- The destinations must make me look like the coolest, in-the-know tour guide out there.
With that in mind, here's a great way to spend an afternoon with your guest walking and eating around the West Village and Soho. And if you're visiting town, feel free to take this walk without a guide. You can do so in the comfort that you'll be eating just like a real New Yorker.
First Stop: Otto
Otto isn't new or groundbreaking, but it's consistently delicious, plenty civilized, and surprisingly affordable. I never tire of stopping by for some wine, vegetable dishes, and a pasta to share. Don't bother waiting for a table; make a beeline for the bar, and if you're lucky, Dennis, the charming bartender with the baritone voice and silver goatee, will make you feel like the only and most beloved diners in the world. A couple glasses of wine, a few killer vegetable sides, an excellent pasta to share, and some of our favorite gelato in the city will set you back all of $60 or so plus tip. I can't think of a better affordable place to eat in the area that treats you so well. To say your tourist will be charmed is a gross understatement.
Second Stop: The Meadow
After your impromptu three-course lunch, take some sun by walking through Washington Square Park on your way to The Meadow. This Portland-based shop has the best collection of specialty salt, actually-artisan chocolate, and small batch bitters in the city. My guests love it because they can load up on things they can't get anywhere else, like three year-aged small batch soy salt flakes or a careful selection of rhubarb bitters. I love it because if I'm going to take a tourist shopping, it might as well be somewhere that I'll always want to visit. I make a point to buy a different cool chocolate bar every time I'm near The Meadow. So really, a visit here is tour guide multitasking: my guest can be floored by the huge selection and charming sunlit atmosphere while I restock on red clay salt and fancy dark chocolate.
Third Stop: Famous Ben's Pizza
You may not feel hungry again yet, but the 15 minute walk from The Meadow down to Soho should kick up your appetite. At least enough to share a Palermo slice at Famous Ben's on Spring Street. We've written about this slice before, but some lessons bear repeating. This sfincione pizza from Palermo, Sicily is as clear an expression as any of the unbearable lightness of being good pizza. It's a poofy slice with a crisp, lightly fried bottom. The sauce is sweet and thick but bright; it gets heft from some onions and texture from a lovely layer of bread crumbs mixed with parmesan and pecorino.
Your tourist will call it too heavy and push it away. Keep a firm hand—be insistent that it really is quite light and not what they're expecting. They'll eventually cave, take a bite, and shortly thereafter devour the rest. Kill off any remaining hunger with a couple scoops of surprisingly delicious homemade Italian ices. Chocolate and lemon are nice; crem-o-lata, the horchata-like almond and cinnamon flavor, is awesome. You'll eat all of this in as classic a New York environment as you can get, and no matter how many tourists I take here, I never tire of coming back. There's always room for another Palermo slice.
Last Stop: Dominique Ansel Bakery
I'm the kind of person who has to cap off a food crawl with something sweet, and since Dominque Ansel is right across the street from Ben's, it's a no-brainer last stop. Even if you're not on a mission to eat every pastry they offer like I am, it's always a good idea to pop in for a visit and sun yourself on the patio in the back while noshing on a pastry. Pro-tip: if it's a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after 3 PM, get your tourist comfy with some coffee and a pastry (a cannelée, kouign amman—the croissant on crack—or an éclair will do you right), then sneak back to the register and ask for some madeleines baked to order. They'll arrive about ten minutes later, light and lemony and buttery and perfect, and your guest will think you just did some magic or have an in with the bakers. I can't think of a better way to express your hospitality, especially when those madeleines are plentiful enough to share.
Take this Guide To Go
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There are, of course, literally hundreds of places to take visitors in this part of town. But this afternoon-long tour is both budget conscious and never disappointing. And it's one you'll enjoy as much as your guests.
Oh, and for the record: the people I took on this walk? They're moving here in November.