Once a week or so, the question pops up in the New York talk boards: "I'm coming to the city for two days. Where should I eat?"
It's a question so open-ended that it's tough to answer. And most days of the year, Serious Eats New York is dedicated to the folks that live here. But our fair city has so many visitors that we figured it was high time to put out a little guide.
So here's our guide to eating in New York: whether you're traveling solo or traveling with kids, up for adventuring or not leaving Midtown. We hope there's something for everyone. And, of course, you should mix and match from categories as your heart desires.
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Note on this map: The places mentioned in this guide are clustered in Manhattan because, well, that's where most tourists will spend their time. We'll save the outer borough tourist guide for another day!
A Few Things to Note
If you're accustomed to cities where you can walk into most restaurants on a Friday night and get seated within half an hour, New York's crowds may come as a shock. Popular restaurants can easily have 1-2 hour waits at prime time, and those that take reservations (which many do not) can book up weeks in advance.
If you're planning a trip to New York and have a few restaurants you know you want to hit, pull out your calendar ahead of time. Check OpenTable or call the restaurant to see if you can get on the books. And if the restaurant doesn't take reservations, check the opening hours and days of operation; if they open at 5pm, consider an early dinner; if you're in town on a Tuesday or Wednesday, getting that table will be an awful lot easier than on Saturday.
The Classic Itinerary
You can't leave New York without eating pizza—you can't. So spend Friday night with cheese and tomato sauce, either at a sit-down coal oven spot like John's of Bleecker or a corner slice stand such as Joe's. (If the line's too long at John's and you're not wedded to the New York style, consider Neapolitan joint Keste across the street. And if you're in any of those places, stop by Grom or L'Arte del Gelato for dessert, both within a few minutes' walk.) Wake up and grab a bagel first thing: if the bagel itself is your priority, go for Murray's or Absolute Bagel; if smoked fish is your style (and it should be!), Russ & Daughters or Barney Greengrass. (At the former, you'll stand on line and chat with folks as you wait for your order to-go (no seating here); at the latter, you'll be able to sit down, and be cheerily abused by your grumpy-in-a-good-way server.) Ignore the hot dog carts on the street and stop at a Gray's Papaya or Papaya King for lunch on the go. (Yes, both excellent hot dog shops have "Papaya" in the name—but do not be fooled by any other hot dog shop with "Papaya" in the name! Pretenders, all.) Dinner should be a massive pastrami sandwich or Reuben at Katz's (kicked off with the slice of pastrami they'll hand to you as they cut yours to order). You probably won't be hungry for breakfast, though if you are, do the bagel thing; and don't leave without a massive Italian hero, like the meat-laden beauty at Faicco's Pork Store on Bleecker Street. Or a roast beef and mozz sandwich from Defonte's.
The New Classics
Above you'll find the real old guard, but certain restaurants have worked their way into the New York canon more recently. Make a reservation for dinner at Minetta Tavern, where red meat and some form of potatoes must grace your table. Or try for a reservation at Babbo, Mario Batali's beloved West Village townhouse restaurant (now open for lunch!). On Saturday, show up early to Clinton Street Baking Co. in the morning for pancakes (or Southern-style breakfast plates, but pancakes are the classic order). After a few hours to digest, consider a late lunch at Balthazar, the quintessential NYC brasserie, which is lively at all hours but more manageable when it's not prime time. (If you'd rather something less formal, hit up the now-legendary Shake Shack for a fast food-style burger and a frozen custard "concrete.") Saturday drinks and dinner should be at the Spotted Pig (crowded and loud, but undeniably delicious), and if you're out late, refueling at Blue Ribbon. In the morning, head to Prune for brunch, or the oddball Shopsin's—more on that later.
On the Cheap
Eatin' cheap? New York's full of foods that won't empty your wallet. No matter how much NYers might whine about slice price inflation, a piece of pizza will never set you back more than $4-5, and most still ring up at $2.50-$3. (My favorite accessible Manhattan slice is still Joe's Pizza on Carmine.) So that should set you up for Friday night. In the morning, a bagel at Murray's or Absolute Bagel should do you just fine. Or, if you happen to be in Midtown and it's a weekday, head to our favorite street cart; plenty of Manhattan carts serve up bad egg sandwiches, but Eggs Travaganza makes a killer bacon-chorizo sandwich on the cheap. Spend the afternoon wandering Chinatown, where at Golden Steamer you can get a pumpkin bun for sixty cents, or at Tasty Dumpling, you can get 5 fantastic fried dumplings for $1.25. (Check out our other favorite cheap eats in Chinatown.) Taim isn't the cheapest falafel in the city, but it is the best, and it's a damn good use of six bucks. At night, Caracas Arepas Bar is one of our favorite places to fill up inexpensively while still feeling like you're getting a real New York restaurant experience; plus, the East Village is an excellent place to wander and scout out cheap drinks. And in the morning, hit up a bakery like Ceci-Cela or Dominique Ansel, which might not be the cheapest bakeries in town, but why spend $2 for a bad croissant when you could spend $3 for a fantastic one?
"I'll Go Anywhere"
Then we'll run you around the city! For dinner, pizza should do the trick; consider the original Totonno's, out in Coney Island. (Or, if you'd rather save pizza for the next day, head to DiFara in Midwood; people gripe over whether it's truly the best slice in New York, but it's without question an institution. But before you go, read Adam Kuban's excellent guide; it's important to understand the rules.) Lovers of various Chinese cuisines should head to Flushing (check out all our guides) for a Saturday of food-ing your way through duck buns and noodles and much, much more. (Don't miss the $1 duck buns; just don't.) Curious about a different part of Queens? Ben's Best Kosher Deli should be on your list, and a pastrami sandwich there can be followed up with strudel at Andre's Hungarian (as long as you get there before 7pm). Want something sit-down the next day? Head out to Cortelyou Road in the morning for hummus at Mimi's Hummus or a breakfast sandwich at Farm on Adderley.
Not Leaving Midtown
We really do encourage you to leave Midtown, both for the eating opportunities and just to get a sense of what New York City is really like. But if your itinerary is planned around Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and a Broadway show, you might spend your whole trip in the 40s and 50s.
But there are still plenty of places to get your eat on. One of our favorite burgers of late is at the bar menu at The Monkey Bar, which feels like the beautifully restored New York landmark it is. Show up at the bar early, get a cocktail and burger, and luxuriate while knowing that you're not shelling out for dinner in the dining room. Or if you're looking for low-end rather than high-end? Seek out one of the Halal carts all around you (yes they're perfectly safe). The King of Falafel and Shawarma is an outer boroughs favorite with excellent falafel and stellar rotisserie meat, and now you can find him in Midtown a short walk from Rock Center.
If you're headed down to the Empire State or thereabouts, kick off your day with a gut-busting brunch at The Breslin. Later in the day, pizza: Angelo's serves more than respectable New York-style pies, if you're looking to eat that style (and the dining room is huge if you're looking to eat with a crowd). Or consider Don Antonio's, the newest joint from one of New York's Neapolitan pizza masters. Don't leave without trying a fried pizza. For dinner? We've recently liked modern Korean spot Danji; Esca, near Times Square, is our seafood go-to. (And the just-opened Nomad from Daniel Humm is phenomenal.) After a Broadway show, head to The Rum House for a swanky bar that seems both very out of place in Times Square and very much the product of it. The next morning, if you don't mind a stroll a bit north, grab breakfast (or just pastries) at Bouchon Bakery or Epicerie Boulud (take note, there's not really seating at the latter).
Five-Star Chefs, Three-Star Prices
It'd be easy to go broke trying to eat at the restaurants of New York's many esteemed chefs. But luckily, many of them own and operate restaurants that are a good deal less expensive. Mario Batali's Otto is a good deal less expensive than Babbo or even Lupa; pasta plates practically max out at $10, stellar vegetable sides are just $5, and an incredibly extensive selection of Italian wine means you've got all sorts of bottles under $40. Just save room for gelato; it's some of the best in the city.
The next morning, head to Andrew Carmellini's Locanda Verde for brunch; if you're not up for a full meal, just grab a coffee and Karen DeMasco's phenomenal pastries instead. And that night, head to the front room at Gramercy Tavern, one of the city's finest restaurants, but in a more relaxed, no-reservations setting. (Other great options: the tap room at Colicchio and Sons; Jean-Georges's ABC Kitchen, where Dan Kluger is a great chef in his own right; and Cafe Boulud on the Upper East Side.)
And if you're here on a weekday, take note of the best way to appreciate NYC's best restaurants without breaking the bank: go at lunch. Del Posto's three-course lunch special is legendary (it's now $39 rather than $29, but between the amuses and after-desserts and bread basket, it's practically a six-course meal). Jean Georges does a two-course $38 lunch special (prices have climbed a bit since the review linked was written), and excellent Italian spot Ciano does a $20 (!) three-course lunch.
Check out our whole column on lunch deals (this will give you a great idea of what to expect, though each piece is at least a year old, so make sure to double-check specifics at the restaurant website before you go).
So Hot Right Now
So, you come to the city all the time and you're looking for the restaurants of the moment? If you haven't visited a year or so and want to figure out what's hot Right Now, start reading the blogs.
If you're up for a ride out to Park Slope, hit up the Asian-American fusion-in-a-good-way Talde, the first restaurant from Top Chef contestant Dale Talde. If that's a little far, try NoMad, the new restaurant from Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm (more casual than EMP, but pretty much any restaurant would be more casual than his four-star flagship).
The Dutch from Andrew Carmellini has been open for nearly a year, but it's still where you should be for brunch, particularly if "soft-scrambled eggs with trout roe" sound good to you. (They are.) If you get hungry closer to 5 PM, fish sauce-coated wings from Pok Pok Wing should be your snack of choice. (Or head out to Brooklyn for Pok Pok NY, Andy Ricker's brand-new sitdown Thai spot.) Grab a drink at Booker + Dax before dinner: Empellon Cocina, the second restaurant from Alex Stupak, perhaps?
(Note: This article is published on April 30th, 2012. This particular section will be totally out of date by May 30th, we promise you.)
Only In New York
J. G. Melon may only date back to 1972, but looks like it's been there a lot longer; head there for a drink and a hefty burger. Then wake up on Saturday and prepare to meet Kenny Shopsin. Shopsin's, on the Lower East Side, is an eatery where pancakes come in 25 different permutations, obscenities fly across the room, and if Kenny doesn't like you, he'll kick your ass out. But that's part of the fun. That night, why not explore a cuisine you've never tried before—like the Druse Israeli food at Gazala Place, or the Sri Lankan food at Sigiri? Or explore your nascent love for animal parts with lamb face salad from Xi'an Famous Foods, or all manner of crazy beef cuts from Takashi. Spend the night out, and celebrate your ability to eat in this city at any time by trying out the late night menu at The Dutch. And while you've had sandwiches, you've never had anything like the bizarre creations at No. 7 Sub; or the Cambodian-style banh mi at Num Pang.
Classic Spirit, Modern Style
Italian-American, Jewish-American, Chinese-American; all of these culinary traditions have a proud place in New York history. And luckily, chefs have recently taken it upon themselves to dramatically improve all three.
Start with dinner at Redfarm, Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng's take on dumplings and fried rice. (Just be prepared to wait, as this West Village spot crowds up.) The next day, stuff yourself with a chicken Parm sandwich from Parm, the sandwich shop from the guys behind Torrisi Italian Specialties; dinner can be at Kutscher's, breathing new life into Jewish fare, or Mile End, which does much the same.
It's sad but true that plenty of New York restaurants will raise an eyebrow if you bring in the kids. But plenty won't! Consider spacious, friendly Coppelia downtown (Latin fare) or Kefi uptown (Greek) for great food that's inexpensive for a sit-down spot and has enough simpler options that there will be something for picky eaters. The next morning, take the kids to Doughnut Plant (if you're willing to sacrifice the notion of a balanced breakfast) for all sorts of flavors they'll stare at wide-eyed. PB-loving kids will love Peanut Butter and Company for lunch, where they can get their favorite sandwich in a dozen ways. Other good options include Shake Shack for burgers or Bark for hot dogs, if you're out in Park Slope.
If you need a snack uptown, the gigantic chocolate chip cookies at Levain should do the trick (take note: these are big enough to share). Kefi's a logical choice nearby for dinner, but if you find yourself downtown, consider Mario Batali's Otto, where parents will appreciate the sophistication and kids will love the huge plates of pasta. (Try to make a reservation as waits can be long, which might not be good with tired kids.)
Just Good Food
All of the above said, where would I take people coming to visit the city who just wanted, well, good food?
I'd take them to Kin Shop, first of all, Harold Dieterle's phenomenal Thai restaurant because I've never had a bite there I didn't love. Then drinks somewhere in the West Village or a little farther south (my favorite watering holes these days are Ward III and Whitehall—and if you're at Whitehall, you should be eating, too—but ahh, so many places, so little time) and perhaps a late-night bite at Buvette, because I'm always up for wine and cheese. The next day, an early morning kouign-amann at Dominique Ansel, because anyone who likes butter and sugar should have one; but that's just a leadup to brunch at Locanda Verde, where I will order eggs and peer-pressure my friend into sharing a pastry plate. Dinner could be Fedora in the West Village, in my opinion one of the best barely talked about spots restaurant in the city right now; or Empellon Cocina; or perhaps Motorino for pizza, because there are few things in the world I like more than a brussels sprout pie. In the morning, Union Square Cafe or perhaps the Spotted Pig for more brunching; and that evening, a few glasses of wine at Terroir, because there's not much I love more than a Sunday happy hour.
Where Would You Recommend?
Of course, there are thousands and thousands of restaurants in New York, and everyone will have different favorite spots to show off.
Where would you recommend a NYC visitor eat? Let us know in the comments.
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Cheap Eats, etc....
Ed Levine's Upper West Side »
Carey Jones's Park Slope and Prospect Heights »
Erin Zimmer's Boerum/Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens »
Michael Lomonaco's Upper East Side »
Marc Forgione's Tribeca »
Chris Santos's Lower East Side »
Eric Ripert's Midtown West »
Tom Colicchio's West Village »
Adam Kuban's and Max Falkowitz's Astoria »