For many travelers, anticipating the next meal can often be the highlight of a trip. Over the next few weeks, Courtney Crowder will guide you through a three-day culinary journey through the great foodie cities of the world.
In a city like New York, where there are at least 14,600 restaurants, finding the perfect meal(s) can be a daunting task.
So check out this handy guide for some standout establishments that are well-worth your dining dollars, from affordable dives to five-star splurges from the island of Manhattan to the outer boroughs of New York City:
Starting on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, don’t miss Les Enfants Terribles. The cuisine is a fusion of three cultures—African, French and American. The interior has a warm atmosphere with an earthy décor. Exposed brick walls, worn wooden doors, and unobtrusive African music set the tone of an upscale Saharan café. But, be forewarned: The wait staff can be scatterbrained, but don’t be afraid to be a little aggressive. The food features lots of meat, but keeps most dishes light and fresh. Try the mango and shrimp salad or the steak frites dripping with au jus sauce made with Ivory Coast spices. Most lunch entrees are around $15. 37 Canal Street; www.lesenfantsterriblesnyc.com
If you’re in the mood for Mexican, head to Mexicana Mama. Though chips and salsa are de rigueur in any Mexican joint, here the chips are seasoned with sea salt and served in a brown paper bag. The chunky salsa is fresh and homemade. The menu may seem limited, but anything you choose will be tasty and relatively cheap. Check out the Queso Flameado, which is Chihuahua cheese melted over chorizo and served with corn tortillas and guacamole. Not only is it a relatively obscure dish, but it’s smothered in cheese (so you know it will be fabulous!). The margaritas are strong, but at $12 for an undersized glass, don’t offer a lot of liquid bang for your buck. 47 E. 12th Street; (212) 924-4119
If Mexican isn’t your thing, try The Mermaid Inn, with locations in the East Village and Upper West Side. This seafood restaurant is the third property from Danny Abrams but even with its accolades is still unpretentious. The décor is nautical with a modern twist: The dining room is sleek with black furniture and a hardwood floor; the framed harbor maps, charts, and sea-themed prints that line the interior are reminiscent of a New England oyster bar. The best items on the menu are the simple ones, so go with the raw bar or the grilled mahi-mahi. But if you’re feeling adventurous, let the chef do his thing. How about the catch of the day topped with grapefruit and cherry cabernet? 96 Second Avenue and 568 Amsterdam Avenue; www.themermaidnyc.com
Breakfast at Bubby’s is a tradition among New Yorkers with its huge portions and affordable prices (about $15 a plate). Watch out, because they get you on the drinks, coffee goes for $3 a mug and orange juice in a small glass is $5.
Bite into the delectably sweet home-baked French toast or sautéed banana walnut waffles. If you’re into savory breakfasts, this really isn’t the place, but give it a shot—you may leave Bubby’s a changed person. 120 Hudson Street; www.bubbys.com
Burn off breakfast with a walk through Little Italy until you’re ready for lunch. Do not be swayed by the dizzying number of Italian restaurants lining the streets; instead, head straight to Lombardi’s. The establishment claims to be the first pizzeria in America, opening its doors in 1905. The pizza is coal-fired and has a smoky, ultra-thin crust (Chicago-style fans need not apply.) If you’re a meat-lover, go for the meatball pizza, which is a far superior to the traditional pepperoni. 32 Spring Street; www.firstpizza.com
When in New York, it can be well worth it to splurge on at least one meal. Restaurant Daniel, part of the Chef Daniel Boulud family, offers fine French dining and features locally grown produce. At this Midtown East restaurant, a pre-fixe dinner costs about $100 per person … not including alcohol. (Tack on another $60 or so for wine pairing.) Definitely order a foie gras appetizer and the veal entrée, however they may be prepared that night. Any of the desserts will do, but you won’t regret stepping out of your comfort zone with something like the Raspberry Vacherin with Fromage Blanc. 60 East 65th Street; www.danielnyc.com
Another option is Calle Ocho, a local Cuban favorite on the Upper West Side. Don’t go expecting great conversation, as it will be drowned out by loud samba music. Latin-inspired drinks include homemade sangria, mojitos and caipirinhas, or you can go truly tropical with an array of daiquiris. A bowl of cool-yet-spicy ceviche is a must, with the classic paella to follow. End your buena noche with a cocos—a coconut sorbet in a chocolate shell. 446 Columbus Avenue; www.calleochonyc.com
… And Beyond
This is New York, so chances are you’ll be craving a bite after your Broadway show or late-night shopping. The Spotted Pig in the West Village is located on a fairly quiet street, but is filled with locals snacking on towers of shoestring fries (get a whole bottle of ketchup) or slices of spiced ginger cake. 314 West 11th Street; www.thespottedpig.com
Feeling flush? Fuel up for your last day at Norma’s, located inside Le Parker Meridian hotel. Norma’s only serves breakfast and this is no greasy diner. Elegant plates feature items like blueberry pancakes with Devonshire cream and foie gras brioche French toast. And, if you’ve a spare $1,000, order the world’s most expensive omelet, made with eggs, a lobster, and a whole lot of caviar! 118 West 57th Street; www.parkermeridien.com/eat1.php
A trip to New York can’t be all about Manhattan. Take the train to Queens and for a glimpse of beautiful architecture and quaint vintage shops. Check out Sripraphai recently rated the number one Thai restaurant in New York by Zagat and, surprisingly, it’s still cheap. Inside, there are two levels of dining and a garden. Just remember that here, spicy really means spicy! 64 39th Avenue; (718) 899-9599
After a light lunch, dinner is time to really go for broke. Babbo, located in trendy Greenwich Village, is owned by Chef Mario Batali and is known for its A-list clientele and down-home Italian cuisine. A pasta dish with seafood is a must, but don’t forget the sides. The sides are uniquely done with simple ingredients and taste just as good as the entrees, order them all for the table and share. 110 Waverly Place; www.babbonyc.com
If you’d prefer some laid-back soul food, head up to Harlem for Amy Ruth’s. Your meal begins with free cornbread, which is best enjoyed when dipped in the house’s real honey. Don’t be afraid to ask for more! The fried chicken has a uniquely peppery flavor in its coating and is perfectly paired with lots of Tabasco. No fear if you’re a vegetarian—side dishes abound and Amy Ruth’s is known for browned waffles garnished with thick syrup. 113 W 116th Street; www.amyruthsharlem.com
… And One for Good Measure
Got room for more? Of course! Chikalicious offers a pre-fixe menu that takes you through three sweet dessert courses ending with petite fours. The place gets crowded, but sip on your dessert wine while you wait for your table. For $12, you will be very satisfied. 203 East 10th Street; www.chikalicious.com
Stuffed and happy, your three-day culinary journey is complete—but this is New York, which means that you’ve barely scratched the surface. Take a few weeks to drop those extra pounds and then come back for seconds!
By Courtney Crowder for PeterGreenberg.com.
Now that you’re hungry for New York City, bite into our Off the Brochure (sm) Travel Guide to New York City.
Please, friends don’t let friends fly into LaGuardia. (we jest!) Don’t miss America’s Best Alternate Airports for New York City’s top air travel options.
And don’t miss more foodie adventures in our Culinary Travels section.