Ask the Critic: What Are Some Alternatives to NYC Tourist Traps?
Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!
Where Do I Take a Friend Set on Touristy Restaurants?
Dear Critic— I have a friend coming to visit me and she has a picture in mind of the "cool New York" places to eat...on her list are things like Magnolia Bakery, cronuts, Saturday brunch, and a bunch of other things I'm kinda skeptical of. Usually I just take visitors to my favorite neighborhood spots, but I can tell that's not what she wants. Do you have suggestions for any unique, "New York"-y places that'll be a fun experience and still let us eat well?
Once upon a time, I understood why tourists stood in line at Magnolia. Not because I think they have the best cupcakes in the city; not because I think it's a particularly smart use of time. But because, seven-odd years ago, fancy cupcakes weren't yet A Thing across the country; and if you wanted fancy cupcakes, well, New York was in fact the place to get them. Today, though, when every American city from Peoria to Walla Walla has its own cupcakery*—why waste your limited hours in New York?
*They do, I checked.
You know what every city doesn't have? Big Gay Ice Cream, in the East and West Villages, with fabulous soft-serve in inventive sundaes and cones like the Salty Pimp: vanilla, sea salt, dulce de leche, and a chocolate dip. Snap a selfie in front of the unicorn mural and Instagram it for your friends back home.
Or why not Shopsins? I used to think I wrote about Shopsins too much, but every time I visit, come to my senses: These is a diner tucked into the Essex Street Market where the famously profane proprietor holds court, with a menu that looks like this (PDF), with a few dozen pancake options and an entire sub-menu of "slutty cakes" and mac & cheese pancakes, and mac & cheese pancakes used as the "bread" of sandwiches, and 15 variations on the theme of "Blisters on my Sisters," a spicy tortilla-rice-beans-eggs creation that Kenny Shopsin invented in the first place, and a breakfast dish with leeks in a potato shell called the "Leeky Boat," all somehow emerging from a kitchen hardly big enough to turn around in—how is this real? Why don't we write about this every day? Why don't I eat here every day? (Well, because I'd end up looking like Mr. Shopsin, which no offense, sir, I'd rather avoid.) Shopsins couldn't exist anywhere other than New York, and those, I feel, are the sorts of places to take the visitors.
But if, even after a Salty Pimp and a plate of mac & cheese pancakes, your friend does want cupcakes? Go to Two Little Red Hens on the Upper East Side, if you're up in Museum-land. Perhaps Amy's Bread for their classic American flavors, or Dessert Club Chikalicious, for elegant cupcakes neatly frosted—and if you're not in a cupcake mood? That's what their eclairs and Bun Chika Bun Buns are for.
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