How to Treat a Tourist Right Near the Empire State Building

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Sometimes you're lucky and your tourists want to do the same things you do: seek out fun, exciting food in fun, exciting places. But sometimes they want to do nothing more than than wait on line for Magnolia cupcakes, go skating in Rock Center, and visit the American Girl Place. And, of course, visit the Empire State Building.

Fair enough, it is an impressive building. But the neighborhood poses more than a few challenges to showing off the best bites the city has to offer. As a reminder from our last How to Treat a Tourist Right, there are some special criteria to keep in mind when picking places to show off to guests:

  • 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.

So here's a four-stop afternoon-into-evening walking and eating tour for you and your tourist that shows off the full range of the food and drink around the Empire State building. It includes a new hot spot, a tiny hole in the wall, and a champion of high class carnivory. In other words: the New York your guest really wants to see, but doesn't know to ask for.

The Breslin

Lamb Burger from The Breslin

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Go to The Breslin in the Ace Hotel for lunch and feast on one of the best burgers in New York (and certainly one of the best lamb dishes in the city). The dining room is less crowded at lunch, so you'll stand a much higher chance of actually hearing each other at the table. And the monster burger will give you the strength you need to put up with the crowds lining up outside the Empire State.

If you're planning to hit up the Empire State Building after lunch, go ahead and get a burger for yourself—you won't want to share, despite the mammoth size. But if you're coming from your visit or you just want to head out for more bites soon afterward, you may be best advised to share. This is a serious meal and you have a long day ahead of you. It's also the most expensive stop on this list, but totally worth the splurge.

Do take some time to catch up with your guest in the Ace Hotel lobby. The drinks aren't great, but the atmosphere sure is. And celebrity sightings happen from time to time.

Gourmet Palace

Chicken and egg

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Take some time to walk off the lamb burger and go see the sights, then head across the street from the Ace to enter a completely different world. I'm talking about Gourmet Palace, the best Indian taxi stand on 29th Street.

You're here as much for the anthropology as the food. Gourmet Palace is one of several Indian cafes that cater almost elusively to the city's Indian cab drivers looking for a quick, cheap meal between fares. They're not the best ambassador of Indian cuisine in New York, but the chicken meatball and egg curry (pictured above) and the daal will do you well as you sit down for some quality people watching. Cabbies run in and out from services at the mosque below your feet, with hurried, jocular conversations over plates of curries and kebobs. It'll take all of a minute or two after sitting down in a booth for your tourist to wonder where they really are and ask what just happened to the New York City outside the doors.

NoMad

The Library

[Photograph: Alice Gao]

After all that cultural displacement your tourist is going to need a drink, and there's no better way to keep the culture shock going than with a trip to the bar at the NoMad. Daniel Humm's new restaurant is the latest darling of the neighborhood, and with a list of 30 cocktails (to say nothing of the gorgeous lounge), it's an excellent place to grab a drink and an impressive sight for a tourist looking for a piece of glamorous New York.

Arirang

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

When it's time for dinner, and you want quality food without midtown prices, there's one answer: K-Town. Koreatown may be this part of Manhattan's greatest treasure: a dense cluster of bars, restaurants, and karaoke with a thriving nightlife and enough kimchi to feed a small army of midtown lunchers. It's impossible to choose just one spot in K-Town (hell, you could spend a day here on one block), but if you have to: consider Arirang for noodles and seafood pancakes. Sure, your tourist may want Korean barbecue, which is fine if you've eaten light all day and they're paying, but these soothing, intensely chicken-y noodles and light, slightly chewy pancakes offer a different, unexpected side of Korean eating that'll sit far better after a food-heavy day.

Bonus Stop: Pocha 32

"Nobody goes to Koreatown for the food," a Korean friend told me. "They just go to drink with friends and sing karaoke." While I don't quite agree with that first part, I'll certainly admit that the K-Town experience just isn't complete without a couple bottles of soju and some wonderful/terrible K-pop. For a divey but lovable time with your guest, try Pocha 32. Here's what our Korean food correspondent Chris Hansen has to say: "Pocha 32's food has lapsed slightly over the years, but it's worth a visit for the wonderfully divey atmosphere that features soju bottle caps hanging from netting on the ceiling and inebriated patrons slumped over in their chairs." This, friends, is exactly how you want to end your night under the glow of the tallest building in the greatest city in the world.

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