One of my favorite things about a city like New York is that everyone has their version of it. There are literally thousands of restaurants, a million different ways to get to any area, hundreds of neighborhoods and micro-neighborhoods. Upon leaving the city, it felt appropriate to share my version, from a walking tour to the my favorite restaurants and places to explore. Here it is, my NYC guide:
Best walking tour (for full directions, click here)
I’m a firm believer that walking is the best way to see any city. Whenever I go anywhere new, I slide on my flip flops (my walking shoe of choice) and just go – often walking for 8 or 9 hours in a day. You get to see the little nooks and crannies that way, places you couldn’t see from a tour bus or the subway or going directly from one destination to another. This route starts you at the Highline, an elevated park built on old railroad tracks, where you can take in some of the best architecture in the city, drink from fountains that compliment you, and scope some amazing public art, including the most attractive bird feeder you’ll ever see.
Hop on at the top end, on 30th and 10th Ave, and carry on until you reach Chelsea Market, where you can sample super fancy coffee, ice cream and juice, for those more healthfully inclined. From there, meander through the Meatpacking, which, despite its abundance of high glam restaurants and clubs in the evenings, feels very villagey, with its cobblestone streets, during the day.
Turn onto Bleecker, where you can enjoy the quaint brownstones and small boutiques of the West Village, before heading east to Washington Square Park, home of lots of weed and NYU students. From there, you’ll head south to SoHo, one the fanciest areas of New York, full of luxurious loft apartments and big name designer stores. Push through the mess of people on Broadway to get to Nolita, my favorite area. Nolita (North of Little Italy) maintains a slightly funkier vibe, with local designers and small cafes and restaurants. Mulberry Street, leading south from Nolita, is the hub of Little Italy, where Italian men will yellingly implore you to try their fettucine (not a double entendre; they really want you to come eat their pasta). Turning on Canal brings you into Chinatown, where you can get some cheap acupressure for your tired feet. Finally, we head up Orchard into the the Lower East Side, where you can get delicious tea and awesome vibrators, all on one block (as things should be). I assume you’re tired by now (unless you’re my aunt, who gets confused when people use any mode of transport other than walking for distances within state lines), so let’s move on to the food portion of the day.
Some other awesome walks: Strolling down the West Side Highway, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, and of course, getting lost in Central Park (if you get hungry on your urban trek, there’s a Le Pain Quotidien right by Sheep’s Meadow, a great place to grab a picnic and lay out on the field of grass)
Things that make you say nom, and then nom again
The following is a collection of my favorite dessert spots in New York. For those of you interested in savory treats, skip this section – this focuses solely on my hard earned sugar based knowledge.
Schmackary’s - Just down the street from my old apartment (right by Times Square), you’ll find Schmackary’s, the delicious alternative to the (perhaps overdone) cupcake craze sweeping the country. I profiled Zach, the owner, awhile back (click through to see tips to creating awesome cookies at home). His cookies – including flavors like red velvet and key lime pie – are out of this world amazing, and a must include for any local or visitor.
Doughnut Plant - This is what I always say about Doughnut Plant. It’s, as they say in movies, based on a true story: there was once a man, and he didn’t think that doughnuts in the world were good enough. So he locked himself in his mom’s basement and emerged, thirteen years later, with the doughnut, perfected. He opened Doughnut Plant, and the rest, as they say is history. They are the best doughnuts you will ever have. Get a creme brulee and a tres leches. Get one of each. You won’t regret it. Tip: the Lower East Side location tends to have hour long lines, but the newer one, at the Chelsea Hotel, hasn’t really caught on yet, and you can usually be in and out in five minutes or less.
Baked by Melissa - Beloved by the fashion industry for being less than 50 calories a piece, Baked by Melissa cupcakes are the perfect nosh. They’re filled and literally bite sized – about half the size of a typical “mini” cupcake. They have flavors like cookie dough and chocolate chip pancake, as well as a flavor of the month. They have locations everywhere – seriously, within the last year, it’s become hard to walk down a street without bumping into a Baked by Melissa store. The SoHo original location tends to be the only one with long lines, so if you can go elsewhere, do.
Prefer more insulin friendly food?
Yes, please, I’d like a burger. For delicious, cheapo burgers, hit up Five Guys (the In-N-Out of the East Coast) or Marks on St. Marks, where they mix bacon into the burgers. Mind. Blown. I personally think Shake Shack is overrated, but I know some people who live and die by their burgers. For a high priced burger experience like no other, go to Minetta Tavern, where you can try their $27 burger. With prime, dry aged beef, it’s rich. You can grab a seat at the bar and split one between two people, while flirting with the perpetually French bartenders and celeb spotting (apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and the like have been spotted there).
I’m feeling a bit sexier. Head over to The Bourgeois Pig, a fondue restaurant in the East Village where the lighting is low and the meal is gooey. The fondue is delicious, but the atmosphere makes this one, with a very speak easy meets bordello type feel.
But I’m in New York! Shouldn’t I be eating bagels and pizza? Yeah, probably. Head over to Murray’s Bagels for the best bagels in New York. Warning: they don’t toast their bagels, but they schmear enough to make up for it. For pizza, my favorite is actually the $.99 pizza by my house, but I recommend you duck into any pizza joint around town – typically, if it looks crappy, it’s probably good. Strangely, I find the pizza is better in Midtown and above – the infamous Bleecker St. Pizza and John’s downtown don’t do it for me. For fancy pizza, hit up Co. in Chelsea – they use a new dough process similar to sourdough resulting in the most chewy, delectable crust you’ve ever had.
Some other worthy noshes: Noodle Bar, for the best roti and noodles you’ve ever had (and the food I miss most at the moment), individual nachos (as in, one chip piled with its own cheese, beans and salsa for maximum toppingness) at Mexican Radio in Nolita, fresh made pasta at Lil Frankie’s.
Zack and I are foodies – we treat any occasion as reason to dine decadently and, living in New York, we had quite the selection at our fingertips. The following two restaurants are the best of the best, literally once in a lifetime experiences.
Eleven Madison Park - Eleven Madison takes a New York experience and elevates it. This is the kind of restaurant where they greet you by name when you walk in, and you look around wide eyed and think, “why, yes, I am Liz, but how the hell did you know that?” The restaurant prides itself on its New York touches – your meal begins with a savory black and white cookie and ends with a sweet one; they’ll come by before dessert and make a table-side Egg Cream. Typically, you need to make reservations far in advance, but you can usually snag spots week-of if you’re willing to eat late or early. A tip: call in advance and ask if you can have the private kitchen tour. Every meal, they select a few diners to bring back to the kitchen, where they’ll make you a speciality cocktail (ours included liquid nitrogen frozen gin and pop rocks, seen above) and point out all of the service stations, where world famous chefs are making amazing food. It’s the kind of thing that elevates Eleven Madison from meal to experience.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns - Farm to table at it’s finest, this restaurant is about 30 minutes by train from the city. Before you eat, you can walk around the working farm (most of what you’ll eat will come directly from there), or have a cocktail by the fire. Once you sit down, you won’t see a menu. Rather, the waiter will ask what you’re dining preferences are, at which point you can feel free to rattle off anything you’re allergic to, or simply love or hate (they were tolerant of my eating habits, which range from picky to just weird). Then you sit back and feast as the chef creates a one of a kind meal, just for you. The food is insanely fresh – a course might just be some greens in a light dressing, but they’re the best greens you’ve ever had (so good, in fact, that you’ll wonder if they’re greens at all) and the dressing complements it just so. They also have interesting preparation techniques – we got to see the charred bones one of our courses was cooked over, for instant. The beet burger (one of the amuse bouches, so everyone will get one) is insane. I came in not liking beets and left with that as my #1 favorite food. A tip: For a slightly less decadent but still amazing experience, there’s also a Blue Hill in Greenwich Village. For about half as much money, you can eat most of the food (the beet burger is still a part of the meal), but have slightly less of the full farm to table experience.
Let’s go exploring!
An incomplete list of places to get lost in New York.
On a bike! Rent a bike (I like this place for their normal looking bikes without huge, I’m-renting-this-bike! signage and reasonable prices) and ride around. NYC is shockingly bikeable – you can bike over the Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, all down the West Side Highway, and many of the streets have dedicated bike lanes. Check out Google Maps’ bike feature to see which ones, and whiz all over.
In a park! Central Park is only the beginning – there’s also the quaint spindly tables of Madison Square Park, the sprawling Battery Park in the south most point of the city, Union Square, Bryant Park, with ice skating in the winter and free outdoor movies in the summer, Thompson Square, Washington Square…Whether you curl up with a book, bring some cards and look for friends, or take a 40 in a paper bag, you’ll be in good company.
In an Italian orgy! Of food, that is. Without making any more porn jokes, Eataly is a food lover’s fantasy come to life. You can wander through this behemoth size store for hours, getting lost in the separate coffee bar, vegetable wonderland, fresh pasta emporium, patisserie and more.
At a farmer’s market! They’re all over the city, but the Union Square one is the biggest and most famous. Go not for the food (although it’s there in copious amounts) but the atmosphere, as you stroll around Union Square and smell hot apple cider, hear bands playing, see street performers hula hooping or sand painting.
At a museum! Some of my favorites: The fairy tale castle like Cloisters, the Met (where they have a rooftop exhibition all summer), the New Museum, which can always be counted on for weird, innovative exhibits.
In Brooklyn! Go hipster spotting in Williamsburg (take the L to Bedford and walk south for optimal hipsterness), or wander around the warehouses and cooler than cool shops and brunch spots in DUMBO. Or head over to Prospect Park for the beautiful botanical gardens.
Bits and bobs
While you can wait in line for hours for the Empire State Building, if you’re not into that, head to the Top of the Rock where there’s no line and you get an arguably better view (you can actually see the Empire State Building).
Wear layers, always. In the summer, it’s hot as hell outside and freezing in stores and on the subway. In the winter, it’s freezing outside and hot as hell inside.
Going up and down town is easy. Going cross town is hard, with only a few places the subways cross over. Plan accordingly.
Contrary to popular wisdom, New Yorkers are super friendly people. They also value efficiency. So don’t walk slow in front of them, don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk trying to figure out where you’re going (just move to the side!), don’t sit down in the middle of the street and rock back and forth in a fetal position. If you’re courteous and don’t inhibit their day, you’ll find that New Yorkers are some of the most open, lovely, interesting people you can find anywhere.
Ah, NYC. I’m gonna miss you!
What are your favorite places in NYC? Do you tend to eat your way through cities as much as I clearly do? :)