It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the possibilities when it comes to eating out in NYC: so many restaurants, so little time. From the starry galaxy of high-end restaurants to pizza joints, diners, taquerías, noodle bars and everything in between, the food scene in the Big Apple sets international trends. But where to start?
For me, it always begins with some serious restaurant research (the best kind of research in my opinion). I trawl the internet. I ask friends and family for their advice. I pore over recent issues of my favourite magazines. This time, I even went old-school and picked up a few printed guide books. I created a master file in my phone of hundreds of restaurants – something of a problem when you only have eight days and one stomach.
Next, I decided on a strategy. The first step was to make a few dinner bookings before we left using Open Table, the fantastic online reservation tool that just about every restaurant in New York uses these days. We decided not to go to any of the fanciest places, which require bookings months in advance. Mostly, we wanted to be spontaneous wherever possible, as this was the thing we were most looking forward to about travelling without kids.
You’ll notice that most of the restaurants are downtown, particularly around the Chelsea/Nolita/East Village area, because we were staying there and spent much of our time in the shops and galleries that pack these precincts. I’m pleased to say that we didn’t have a bad meal. I managed to make a few food pilgrimages to places I had heard a lot about – Prune, Eataly – as well as discover a few new trendy places (Rosie’s, Tacombi, Public) as we explored our neighbourhood.
Brunch in NYC
On the border between Chinatown and Nolita, this tiny cafe makes good on its promise to offer, “good food by good dudes”. Pull up a stool at the communal table and listen to the Aussie accents chat behind the counter as you munch on corn fritters or an acai bowl (an excellent jet leg cure). The coffee alone makes it worth a trip.
164 Mott St, NYC
Another Aussie cafe in Nolita, Ruby’s has a Bills-like vibe and an excellent range of burgers names after iconic Australian beaches. We adopted Ruby’s as our local for breakfast and spent a few mornings perched here, flat white and newspaper in hand. Don’t miss the breakfast bowl and the chia muesli.
219 Mulberry St, NYC
An upscale mod-American restaurant in the heart of Nolita, Michelin-starred Public is deservingly popular for its weekend brunch. Expect classics with a twist – kimchi waffles with roasted pork shoulder, anyone? We met friends from home here and enjoyed a delicious breakfast (quinoa pancakes, tea-smoked salmon with eggs benedict) while admiring the quirky design flourishes, including a whole wall of soap in the bathroom. Bookings accepted.
210 Elizabeth St, NYC
This legendary East Village restaurant has made chef Gabrielle Hamilton a household name in foodie circles. Famous for its inventive flavour combinations and adventurous offerings, Prune has a cult following so you need to make a dinner booking, or arrive early to queue for brunch. The breakfast menu offers a mix of comfort food – scrambled eggs, Dutch pancakes – and surprises like sausages and oysters, and spaghetti carbonara (the perfect hangover cure, I imagine).
54 East 1st St, NYC
Lunch in NYC
Tenth Avenue Cookshop
Located about halfway down the ever-popular Highline between 19th and 20th streets, Cookshop is the perfect place for a produce-driven, mod-American lunch and some seriously good people watching. I recommend the burgers and salads.
156 10th Avenue, NYC
I can never visit New York without making a pilgrimage to Zabar’s, the legendary deli on the Upper West Side. It’s become a tradition for my husband and I to come here and stock up on cheeses, meats, bread, and salad for a Central Park picnic. Perhaps the best bit is watching the old-time staff interact with Italian nonnas and Jewish bubbes, sharing recipes and strong opinions about the best type of pastrami.
2245 Broadway (at 80th Street), NYC
The word is out about this atmospheric traditional Viennese cafe. It popped up in many of the lists I found of top places to try in NYC and the queues we experienced on a weekday are testament to this. Attached to the Neue Gallerie (home to Klimt’s stunning Adele Bloch-Bauer I), Cafe Sabarsky is the ideal spot for a post-Guggenheim lunch or a fortifying coffee and torte.
1048 5th Ave, NYC
This perennially popular West Village gastro-pub is famous for its sky-high cheeseburger with shoe-string fries (they sell 75,000 of these every year!). But it’s also worth a visit for refined Italian dishes such as delicate ricotta gnudi, and straciatella with wild mushrooms.
314 West 11th St, NYC
If you’ve made it to the southern end of the Highline, don’t miss the new Renzo Piano-designed Whitney Museum of American Art and its restaurant, Untitled, for the ultimate food and culture combo. It’s only been open for a few months, but Untitled is clearly a neighbourhood hotspot filled with trendy types chowing down on Danny Meyer’s colourful farm-to-table dishes. The rooftop Studio Cafe is also great for a more casual meal with a view.
99 Gansevoort St, NYC
200 5th Ave, NYC
Located in a cavernous, moodily lit warehouse in the heart of the Meatpacking District, Spice Market is celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s “timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality” (a direct quote from their website). Yep, this place tries hard and while its ultra-hip status may have worn off, the same cannot be said about the quality of the food. We loved our 10-course tasting menu with matching wines, which covered off on many Asian classics: dumplings, sashimi, samosas, stir-fries, steamed fish, and short ribs. Wear an elasticised waist.
403 West 13th St, NYC
Join the crowds who line up to taste the famous buns and ramen at David Chang’s original East Village outpost. I recommend the ginger scallion noodles. No bookings (unless you’re part of a group of four to eight ordering the fried chicken meal).
171 1st Ave, NYC
A relative newcomer to the trendy East Village dining scene, Rosie’s is a colourful, lively Mexican restaurant featuring something I’ve never seen before – a traditional Mexican comal (flat plate) at its centre that is used for making dishes including masa-based snacks, or antojitos. We loved the food and atmosphere here, and the service was hands-down the best I’ve received anywhere in the world. In an alternate life, I’d move to the East Village and make Rosie’s my local.
29 East 2nd St, NYC
We were lucky enough to be on the same street as this fun, relaxed taco joint in Nolita. Every day we’d walk past it, peer in past the garage roller door and look at the fairy-lights and the cute VW bus in the middle of the restaurant, and say: “We should come back here”. Finally, on our last night, we did. I can happily report that the margaritas and tacos were excellent, and the vibe relaxed and fun. Don’t miss the toasted corn with lime & chipotle mayo.
267 Elizabeth St, NYC
Make like the Obamas and enjoy dinner at swanky Estela, a mod-American restaurant in Soho. The Uruguay-born owner and chef Ignacio Mattos has worked at Chez Panisse and Il Buco, which gives you a sense of the big, clean flavours to expect with more than an Italian influence or two.
47 East Houston St, NYC
Midtown suffers from a dearth of good mid-range restaurants, which makes finding a pre-theatre meal a challenge. However, Daniel Boulud’s bistro breaks the trend with an excellent three-course meal for only $48 per person. The menu is ever changing – French classics abound – and you can be in and out by 6.30pm.
55 West 44th St, NYC