An Insider's Guide to Eating & Drinking in NYC

You've eaten around your hotel and got drunk in a random Irish-style pub. Where now? After living in Manhattan for 13 years, here's my list of haunts (that are still open!):


Walk the Highline Park and then eat your way through Chelsea Market

Start at 34th St. between 11th and 12th Ave and walk the elevated train track park down to W. 14th St. Get out and walk up to 16th St. and 10th Ave and then eat your way inside the market to 9th Ave. entrance. There's loads of tasty treats, but Bar Suzette, a sweet and savory crepe counter is one of my favorites.

Skip the hype of Magnolia's Bakery and head to Empire Cake

112 8th Ave between W. 15th & 16th St.

After Sex in the City put Magnolia's on the map, the bakery has expanded across Manhattan from it's original location in the West Village. While I will visit the original iconic bakery from time to time, no baked good compares to the treats inside Empire Cake. If you're already at Chelsea Market, it's also only a couple blocks away. They make the most amazing blueberry scones (and they're HUGE!); however, if you don't pre-order them or get there early you'll miss them, but don't worry, their red velvet treats (and pretty much everything else there) is outstanding.

Dig in to carne asada enchiladas at La Palapa East

East Village: 77 St. Marks Pl between 1st & 2nd Ave

It's not fancy and probably a bit overpriced, but it's worth every penny. And no trip to NYC is complete for me without this tasty Mexican dish. One anniversary, I made my husband eat here for both lunch and dinner! It also doesn't hurt to wash it down with one of their fantastic frozen lime margaritas. If you go on Tuesdays they're only $5 each.

Enjoy a decadent weekend brunch

I've been going to Cafe Orlin for brunch (and many other meals) for over 15 years because it consistently has great food, fair prices ($10 to $17.50 per main), a nice atmosphere and they never rush you. Unfortunately, they don't accept reservations for brunch on the weekends, but if you get there before the hungover crowd does, you may even be able to nab a coveted table on the patio. For a more upmarket treat ($16.50 to $22 per main) you may want to try Sarabeth's (multiple locations around the City).

Sample truly legendary NYC pizza

Murray Hill: 171 Lexington Ave between 30th & 31st St

If you're a tourist to NYC, it's likely that you'll get suckered into believing Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge is the best pizza you've ever had or you'll just end up eating at some random pizza joint thinking that all NYC pizza was created equal. After eating at Grimaldi's, other legendary pizza restaurants and plenty of take-out joints, Vezzo is my favorite. Amazing pizza, great atmosphere and fairly priced (for NYC), it's always on my list of places to eat. They do not take reservations so be prepared to wait or hangout at the bar for a drink.

Bite into a proper NYC bagel

While we're carb-loading, let's talk bagels. Obviously, you can't leave NYC without eating one. Many people make the pilgrimage to Midtown to eat at Ess-a-Bagel, a traditional bagel shop that's mainly stayed the same for the last 30 years. So does it live up to all the hype? Yes, it's a great bagel--the perfect amount of chewiness. However, there are long waiting times and the last time I was in NYC, I did wait over an hour in a queue in the pelting rain to order my bagel (that photo is just the line when you get inside!). The next day I waited in line for about 5 minutes at Zaro's Bakery in Grand Central (another favorite) for a bagel that was almost as good. So in my humble opinion, it's not worth the wait at Ess-a-Bagel unless you're going for the works--lox or whitefish, etc. Another bagel option that's a bit different is Bantam Bagels. They're bagel balls filled with different types of cream cheeses and they are delicious. I knew it would be a hit after it opened and sure enough, on my last visit, Starbucks is now selling them.

Treat yourself to a nice dinner out

There's over 9,000 restaurants in NYC to choose from. Here's a few of my regulars:

Craft (Gramercy: 43 E. 19th St. between Park Ave South & 5th Ave) Everything about Craft is simple, yet exquisite and elegant in a unpretentious way. This is one of my all time favorite restaurants although it's price doesn't make it easy to dine here often. There's a reason it's ranked 22 out of over 9,000 restaurants on Trip Advisor.

Pylos (East Village: 128 E. 7th St. between 1st Ave and Ave A) The food here is just like you get in Greece and the atmosphere is lovely and warm. Make sure to get the tzatziki dip with their warm homemade flat bread and Greek salad to start–they're amazing. The restaurant is very small and popular so make sure to make a reservation in advance. It's a great date spot and you're around the corner from the speakeasy, Death & Co (see below for drinks ideas).

Isle of Capri (Upper East Side: 1028 3rd Ave. between E. 60th & 61st St.) My family is obsessed with this restaurant and we're on a first name basis. It's home-cooked Italian food and the place has been run by the same family since 1955! The second you sit down, they're plying you with free appetizers (bruschetta, olives, chunks of parmesan, etc) and it's family style so make sure you share. I always get the chicken parmigiana with penne alla vodka. After dinner the kind wait staff ply you with free cookies and shots of limoncello. It gets busy even on weekday evenings so make sure to call for a reservation. Just a heads up that it's very popular with the older folks and I'm often the only younger person in there. It's definitely a place to eat great food not be "seen."

Tao (Midtown: 42 E. 58th st between Park & Madison Ave) I know it's a chain, but the food is consistently good and the interior is stunning! Where else will you see a 16 foot- high Buddha sitting in a reflecting pool in a restaurant?!

Stanton Social (Lower East Side: 99 Stanton St between Ludlow & Orchard St). This place has always been a trendy "seen and be seen" hot spot. It's gorgeously decorated and dimly lit maze of rooms makes this a great place to transition from dinner to drinks and on to a bigger night out. The food never disappoints.

Rosa Mexicano (Gramercy: 9 E. 18th St between Park & 5th Ave) Festive atmosphere and upscale Mexican food always makes this restaurant a solid option. Please note that the menu and vibe of the uptown restaurant is completely different. I've already made that mistake once...

One If By Land, Two If By Sea (West Village: 17 Barrow St. between 7th Ave South & W. 4th St) This incredibly romantic candlelit restaurant is inside a historic, land-marked carriage house built in 1767. The food is great, but expensive so this is definitely somewhere to celebrate a special occasion (not a regular haunt!). It will always hold a special place in my heart because it's where my husband took me for dinner after he proposed.


Sip a "speakeasy"cocktail

Ahhh...the allure of sipping a secret cocktail. Well, they're not really that secret thanks to social media, but that doesn't mean you can't have a fun time! Check out these hip spots, but try to make a reservation ahead of time to avoid disappointment:

Little Branch (West Village: 20 7th Ave at Leroy St.) Yes, it's the unmarked door on the corner with graffiti all over the walls and be ready for some fabulous (and loud) live jazz!

Raines Law Room (Flatiron: 48 W. 17th St between 5th & 6th Ave) A plush spot with lovely (but expensive!) cocktails.

Employees Only (West Village: 510 Hudson St between W.10th & Christopher St.) A solid prohibition-style spot.

PDT (Please Don't Tell) (East Village: 113 St. Marks Pl between 1st Ave & Ave A) Walk into Grif Dogs (hot dog stand) and go through the telephone booth to get into the bar. Be prepared, it's tiny inside!

Death & Co. (East Village: 433 E. 6th St. between 1st Ave & Ave A) A small candlelit spot in the East Village and they'll even text to you to let you know your table's ready. If it's particularly crowded, you may want to put your name in on your way to dinner if you're eating in the area.

The Backroom (Lower East Side: 102 Norfolk St between Rivington St & Delancy St) For private parties you may even be able to book the back room of The Backroom accessed through a bookcase and a has a globe that opens into a minibar.

AND Dance

You could wait in line at a trendy club in the Meatpacking District or Lower East Side and then feel as if you were robbed after seeing the bill for bottle service OR you can eat dinner at Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse and dance the night away with reckless abandon. I'm going to be honest with you...I don't love the food and there's a reason they have a bowl of Alka-Seltzer tablets on offer when you walk in. However, they do sell you a more reasonably priced (relatively speaking) bottle of vodka encased in ice for the table and then once you've had a few shots, you're going to fall in love with Dani Luv, a zany comedian and keyboardist who will serenade you with some old tunes you're going to sing and dance along to like you've never done before. It's likely there may also be some Jewish dancing tossed in. Always a fun, but WEIRD night and amazingly one of those spots that can be enjoyed across generations.

If you're not willing to suffer indigestion in exchange for a great night out, then eat at a more reasonable restaurant and head to Libation (my husband's bar of choice) or Pianos (my default spot in my 20s) for a fun night out with less pretension than most of the neighboring bars. You will still have to wait in line and possibly pay a cover, but you won't wait for hours, have sticker shock from drink prices and will probably also catch some live music. The last time I was at Libation, there was an electric violinist walking up and down the bar playing along to the dance music.

#citybreaks #NorthAmerica #budgettravel #luxurytravel

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