An Ode to NYC

A number of people have asked me what restaurants I’m going to miss the most when I move from NYC to Chicago – in other words, an “NYC rec list”.  While I’m definitely going to miss the diverse foods inspired by the melting pot and salad bowl of cultures that is so uniquely NYC, most of all I’m going to miss the people.  My favorite NYC foods and restaurants are all on my “best of” list because of the people I associate with them.   The following food/restaurant recommendations is more than just a (very long) list of places, it’s a list of memories.  I will of course be glad if someone tries some of these recs and enjoys it, but honestly I mostly selfishly created this list as a way of writing down this collection of snapshots, word-salad best-hits memory bank so that I can read through years later and conjure up images, tastes, and conversations from the past.  To everyone I shared these memories with, you know who you are! ❤  Looking forward to new memories coming up in the future!

Cafes

  • Housing Works Bookstore (Soho) – nonprofit secondhand bookstore and cafe with chill but cool vibe, one of the few good spots to read/study until relatively late (9 pm on weekdays)
  • Uncommons (Greenwich Village) – board game cafe!  shelves and shelves of options you’ve never heard of!
  • Cafe Jax (Upper East Side) – great vibe and free wifi with a selection of the best coffee, donuts, and ice cream to keep your study game strong
  • Gotham Cafe (Upper East Side) – free wifi, flat bagels (ie more cream cheese to bagel ratio), what else do you need?
  • Ground Central (Midtown East, the one on 51st, not 43rd) – the whole back area is bookshelves and couches which gives a cozy and homey vibe complete with free wifi
  • Hi-Collar (East Village) – for the true coffee connoiseur, charmingly tiny and unique Western-style Japanese cafe with sophisticated coffee options and light breakfast/lunch options like katsu sandwiches, the thickest hot cakes you’ll ever see, and mentaiko (spicy cod roe) pasta

Super Casual/Grab&Go Lunch or Dinner

  • Smorgasborg (summer only; Williamsburg on Saturdays, Prospect Park on Sundays) – huge outside food festival with tons of unique options influenced by every culture and cuisine, not really a “casual grab and go” because you’ll want to stay forever and see everything! On that note, there are tons of fun food festival pop up things around the city that usually are out and about during the city – google Broadway Bites for example
  • Cinnamon Snail (in the Pennsy near Penn Station) – 100% vegan with a large clientale that’s not thanks to flavor-packed sandwiches/wraps (any of which convertible to a quinoa salad bowl) and a huge selection of vegan baked goods for dessert
  • Taim (locations in Greenwich Village and in SoHo) – best falafel in Manhattan with three different flavors (all delicious) – also shoutout to Mamoun’s in East Village for the best value for really good falafel, just not as good as Taim’s!
  • trying to narrow down your pizza musts in the city of pizza?
    • Motorino (multiple locations including one in Brooklyn) – my favorite Neopolitan-style (very thin crust, fast cooked, individual sized) pizza, has a great lunch deal
    • Prince Street (SoHo) – for when you want something more solid than Neopolitan pizza, go for the Sicilian square (get the Spicy Spring slice here!)
    • Artichoke Pizza (multiple locations) – yes the hype is real, their signature slice is like artichoke dip on a glorious slice (like many things in life, best in the early morning after a long night out)
  • Shanghai Cafe (Chinatown) – hands down the best soup dumplings in the city! yes Joe’s Shanghai are good, but Shanghai Cafe is better
  • Om (Upper East Side) – my go-to Indian restaurant delivery in UES, the popular orders of chicken tikka and lamb curry are excellent but branch out to some of their regional specialties or dishes you haven’t tried before and surprise yourself (pleasantly)
  • Urbanspace Vanderbilt and EVERYTHING IN IT – unlike other urbanspace food court/festival projects, this one is indoors and open during all seasons, showcases some of the best NYC has to offer including my favorite donuts, Dough (more on that later)
  • Pokeworks (Midtown near Bryant Park) – way too obsessed with this place…I’ve tried many poke bowls across Manhattan and in my opinion this place has the best value, variety of options, and quality of ingredients that I’ve found yet
  • Lan Sheng (Midtown near Bryant Park) – my favorite Sichuan restaurant in the city, used to be Michelin star but got taken away probably for the no-nonsense service typical of Chinese restaurants
  • Num Pang (multiple locations) – Cambodian sandwiches reminiscent of bahn mi. most people go for the pork, but my personal favorite is the catfish
  • Halal Guys (53rd & 6th for THE Halal Guys) – lines grow fast and moves fast. can’t leave NYC without trying this iconic street food!
  • Dinosaur BBQ (Harlem) – BEST BBQ IN THE CITY DON’T ARGUE WITH TRUTH
  • Com Tam Ninh Kieu (Bronx) – best bowl of pho in the city if you’re willing to trek up to the Bronx for it, maybe if you happen to be visiting the zoo!

Nicer Sit-Down Lunch/Dinner (many of these are still pretty casual and/or affordable)

  • Mancora (East Village) – my first taste of Peruvian food, now one of my favorite cuisines. definitely try the lomo/pollo saltado here!
  • Pio Pio (multiple locations) – more popular semi-chain Peruvian restaurant, known for their green “crack sauce” that comes with their kitchen, their Hell’s Kitchen location is a great place to bring friends from out of town for a dining experience that feels fine-dining-esque but is actually surprisingly affordable
  • Momofuku Ssam (East Village) – my favorite of the Momofuku empire (they are all pretty good though), they have some more affordable pricing for lunch including a drool-worthy duck rice bowl
  • Soccarat (Chelsea or Midtown East) – my favorite paella, great for celebrating with a group (came here for my birthday)
  • Darbar Grill (Midtown East) – for when you want Indian with a nicer vibe than Om but still pretty affordable, because naan is life
  • Hide-Chan (Midtown East) – everyone has their personal favorite ramen place in NYC, and they’re all solid, but I like how at Hide-Chan the bowl is customizable to your taste by noodle shape and firmness!
  • Beyoglu (Upper East Side) – best Greek food, good prices, hoppin vibe even on a weekday night! the octopus appetizer melts in your mouth
  • Pasha (Upper West Side) – very very delicious Turkish food, solid portions
  • Uva (Upper East Side) – best Italian I’ve had in the city, the ricotta gnocchi is one of the best bites I’ve ever had in all of NYC
  • Up Thai (Upper East Side) – favorite Thai food in the city, go out on a limb and try more than your standard Pad Thai or Pad See ew (which is still pretty fantastic too) like the Claypot Fried Rice
  • sushi for every occasion
    • Sushi Para (Upper East Side) – best AYCE sushi deal if you like AYCE, as it includes a bunch of special rolls and non-sushi appetizers (mm takoyaki) as AYCE options
    • Wajima (Upper East Side) – very affordable high quality traditional-style Japanese sushi and dishes (so don’t expect special rolls slathered in sauce)
    • Ootoya (multiple locations, only been to Times Sq) – Japanese chain that turns home-style meals and sushi into a fine dining experience
    • The Loop (East Village) – my favorite sushi place of all time, not traditional style but immensely creative selection of specialty rolls
  • Sik Gaek (Woodside or Flushing) – if the still moving octopus tentacle appetizer doesn’t impress/intimidate you, the seafood hotpot (come in a group!) will literally make your mouth drop
  • Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant (Flushing) – skip the pricey long line tourist traps in Chinatown and go to Flushing for all your soul-satisfying dimsum needs
  • 99 Favors (Chinatown) – best hotpot in Manhattan (many stellar options in Flushing and Sunset Park of course) and super amazing deal for value
  • looking for brunch?
    • Forager’s Table (Chelsea) – great New American brunch place with amazing orange ricotta pancakes
    • Yuca Bar (Alphabet City) – great option for last minute brunch plans since there’s usually no wait, creative spins on brunch dishes like gooey soft arepas eggs benedict and fluffy tender pancakes with dulce de leche butter syrup
    • Cafe Mogador (East Village) – best Moroccan restaurant in the city hands down, known for a great brunch but I like to go for lunch or dinner for their tagine
  • recs for restaurant week?
    • Asia de Cuba (Noho) – delicious, creative Asian/Latin fusion with a lively atmosphere
    • Nobu/Nobu Next Door (TriBeCa) – fancy sushi/Japanese, their signature miso black cod is like butter in fish form
    • Almayass (Flatiron) – delicious Lebanese fine dining that convinced me of the virtues of savory yogurt, you will want to try everything but definitely get the manti!
    • Fogo de Chao (Hell’s Kitchen) – yes it’s a national chain but it’s the best national chain EVER because what better deal for Restaurant Week can you have than all you can eat top notch quality Brazilian steakhouse goodness?

Sweets and Baked Goods 

  • Dominque Ansel Bakery (SoHo) – genius creator of the Cronut and cookie shot, as well as a variety of other delicious goods like the DKA (which I actually think is even better than the Cronut!)
  • Rice to Riches (SoHo) – charmingly kitchy rice pudding that can be a bit pricey but is very rich indeed so not bad if you come with a friend or group to split
  • Cha-An (East Village) – charming tea and dessert cafe with Japanese-inspired flavors like their heavenly black sesame creme brulee
  • Veniero’s (East Village) – Italian bakery with the best cheesecake in NYC!
  • you’re a fan of cupcakes?
    • Sweet Revenge (TriBeCa) – a cute date spot that pairs cupcakes with wines and beers! disclaimer I’m not a huge cupcake person but my favorite cupcakes ever are Baked & Wired in DC.  Sweet Revenge is the closest I’ve found in style (denser, rich cake, balanced not-too-much frosting ratio) but falls down in that the place is tiny so has a limited selection of cupcakes (4 signature available every day, 2 rotating specialty flavors that can get pretty creative)
    • Two Little Red Hens (Upper East Side) – Baked by Melissa made mini cupcakes a fad, but Two Little Red Hens is far superior! their other baked goods (mmmm pie) are also pretty good
  • Magnolia Bakery (multiple vendors/locations) – skip the famous cupcakes in my opinion, go for the amazing banana pudding! they also have breakfast scones and muffins that are divine
  • Dough (multiple vendors/locations, I usually go to Urbanspace Vanderbilt) – I don’t actually particularly like donuts but I have tried many many donuts in the city so that I could definitively say that Dough is my absolute favorite! their hibiscus flavor is tart and unique and delicious, but more than that I am in just complete awe of the perfect pastry artistry that is each donut, so perfectly proofed just on the edge of almost becoming overproofed so that they are supremely huge yet light and fully, and you can tell that they are perfectly fried meaning just the right temperature and timing so that they are removed right when they’re perfectly cooked through so that the oil doesn’t have the chance to absorb very much in, and the result – light, fluffy, not too greasy, BEST DONUT EVER!
    • some honorable mentions – the frying technique isn’t quite as perfection as Dough, but Doughnut Plant has a huge selection of crazy creative flavors, Pies and Thighs feels too heavy for my liking but is also just frankly delicious (they also have great pies as the name might imply, in addition to savory Southern food for a whole meal), Cinnamon Snail gets points for everything being vegan but as might be expected unfortunately their yeast donuts are always a bit dry – but wow that gluten free cake donut was surprisingly good!
  • Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (Harlem) – just get their carrot cake, with nuts and raisins of course (if you don’t like them, fine, there is an option without). featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network!
  • Levain (Upper West Side) – these are my brother’s favorite cookies in the world and perfect for sharing because they are HUGE. but I won’t judge or tell if you eat one or more by yourself
  • Grace Street (Koreatown near Herald Sq) – shaved snow and you can customize your own flavors and toppings!  good selection of pastries and coffee here too
  • saving the best for last of course – ICE CREAM!
    • Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (Chinatown) – the black sesame ice cream is absolute bliss, your heart will melt faster than your ice cream
    • Sundaes & Cones (East Village) – perfect dessert stop after dinner in East Village, got tons of creative flavors including many Asian flavors like taro, sesame, green tea, lychee…
    • Ample Hills Creamery (multiple locations in multiple boroughs) – obsessed with their “salted caramel crack” flavor, it is legitimately addicting
    • Emack & Bolios (Upper West Side or Upper East Side) – Cape Cod transplant with the best, wackiest flavors of any ice cream store in NYC to go with the wackiest cones (rolled in oreos, fruity pebbles, you name it)! my go-to flavors are “deep purple cow” (raspberry with chocolate and white chocolate chips) and “salted caramel chocolate covered pretzel” (it is as good as it sounds)
    • The Good Batch (multiple locations, including a stand at Smorgasborg) – yes you can’t go wrong with a ice cream cookie sandwich, but I never knew you could go so right

Drinks

  • some places mentioned before but gonna shout out again for their drinks selection
    • Mancora – $6 drinks & tapas during happy hour, so if you’ve never had a pisco sour, get one NOW!
    • Sweet Revenge – $10 cupcake + drink deal during happy hour, cupcake and drink pairing suggestions during all hours
    • Yuca Bar – happy hour and specials for various days of the week, check their website
  • margaritas? (don’t forget Mancora and Yuca Bar as mentioned above)
    • Blockheads (multiple locations) – I come here waaaay too often, but cheap frozen margaritas can’t be beat, except maybe by their amazing steak nachos grande
    • Maya (Upper East Side) – generous times for happy hour and reverse happy hour times for when you want to feel classier than Blockheads
  • beer?
    • Pony Bar (Upper East Side) – awesome craft beer selection, cool crowd
    • The Pullman Kitchen (Midtown East) – smaller (but still great) craft beer selection than Pony Bar and also great vibe
    • Shoolbred’s (East Village) – BOGO happy hour deal! small beer selection but decent one
  • Rathbone’s (Upper East Side) – chill casual pub with some of the best happy hour/nightly special deals I’ve found on the UES, go check their website for all the deals!
  • Piano’s (Lower East Side) – happy hours. dark and stormy.
  • Amelie (Greenwich Village) – favorite wine bar in the city not just because of their great selection but also because of the amazing kindness and friendliness of the service.  if you’re a wine noob like me, try some of their suggested wine flights for little tastes of a variety!
  • The Winslow (East Village) – gin fan? here’s a whole place dedicated to gin and gin-based cocktails
  • Bar Seki (Times Sq) – the bar area upstairs of the restaurant Sushi Seki, this is where I had the best cocktails I’ve ever had in NYC, and the best I’ve ever had in all my life. Asian-inspired flavors for cocktails, like the must-try matcha one!

BONUS

Kalustyan’s (Kip’s Bay) – if looking for a hard-to-find spice or ethnic ingredient, 99% chance they have it! my favorite store in all of New York, I could spend hours here just browsing…but I’m also a total weirdo

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