There is just nothing that compares to New York City: the busy sidewalks that feel like they could lead you to any one of a million new discoveries, the soaring buildings that scrape the sky, the green expanse of Central Park where you can get lost while still surrounded by millions of people. This is the greatest city on earth – it’s okay to believe the hype. For once, the PR might match the promise.
It’s also the food hub of the country. With all of the restaurants, markets, food stalls, street food, food trucks, Zabars, Dean & DeLuca and Eataply – there are never enough meals in the day to properly taste more than a fraction of the great eats in the city. Which is why, when you go, you’re going to need to strategize. I like to get in one fine-dining destination reservation, a scheduled brunch and plenty of time to discover whatever the city sees fit to bring you – because the delight is in the discovery.
First, pull out the big guns. Getting a reservation at some of the hot tickets in NYC can require a full-time lobbyist position. Call in everybody you know who might know anybody. I remember sitting captive in a car as a friend desperately called a Mario Batali restaurant over and over and over again at the specific time the reservation line was open. It took 45 minutes, but he did snag a dinner reservation at 5:00 exactly three months to the date. Personally, I don’t possess that kind of tenacity, plus, I hate making phone calls. If I can’t text or email, I’m not calling. Instead, I plot to eat at off times. Momofuku restaurants from James Beard Award winning chef and celebrity David Chang can have lines around the block at meal times. You can call for a reservation and for a considerable price, and a required number of guests, you can have the full Bo Ssam dinner. For much less time and money commitment, I waltzed into Momofuku Ssam at 2 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and was treated to exquisite noodles before walking across the street to the equally lauded Milk Bar for some green apple and cheddar cheese soft serve. (It was a good thing the hotel was 17 blocks away and I could waddle some of those calories away).
There are also all kinds of gorgeous farmers markets to discover. There are now 54 markets in every part of the city, offering all sorts of green goods, some from traditional farms, others from urban lots grown nearby. It’s a great opportunity to get in with the locals and discover new seasonal flavors.
It’s not just the market and stalls that will catch your hungry eye– keep on the lookout for one of my favorite ways to ea–, food trucks! Find a few on Twitter or just happen upon a couple. Exotic spice scents beckon from a block away. Dine al fresco on some of the best ice cream known to man at the Big Gay Ice Cream truck. It’s not just a clever name – an adorable soft serve flourish is adorned with spicy nuts you will want all up in your face.
Sometimes, you just happen upon an impromptu dining opportunity. One Saturday I walked into a Soho street fair. Surrounded by fantastic shopping and suddenly there were arepas the size of my head – a perfect accessory to a new Uniqlo shirt. Enormous, fluffy corn cakes griddle crispy, and stuffed with gooey cheese. There were also elotes, tamales, and a giant tray of crispy pork belly next to stalls of handmade leather goods, blown glass jewelry and funky paintings, all afford-ably priced.
Breakfast is another meal that’s best not to enter into too hungry. Waits at the world famous Clinton Street Bakery keep hipsters milling about for over an hour, but those pancakes worth it. Grab an apple before leaving the hotel and gird your gut for great breakfast. Or, if you’re daunted by the wait, there are plenty of adorable little bakeries. Grab a pan au chocolate from Patisserie Claude in the West Village and wander over to Washington Square Park for a picnic.
Because no party is complete without a goody bag, make some room for treats to bring home. Lose yourself inside Eataly, the massive Italian market. There is nothing a food lover won’t find inside these walls. First, start with a cup of coffee – arguably the best of the city (where Starbucks seem to be giving Duane Reed a run for their one-on-every-block money.) Cured meats, raw meat, fresh fish, fresh bread, tins of Italian candies, boxes of cookies, fresh pastry, fresh pasta, dried pasta, cookbooks, cookware, spoons, dishes, works of art, truffles – it’s enough to make a whirling food-driven dervish of you. Walk softly and bring big bags.
There’s no better way to finish off the weekend than with a stiff drink. There are plenty of craft cocktail makers, but the one spot that currently holds the nation’s attention is Pouring Ribbons. There’s no sign on the street, so you’ll want to know where you’re going. The doorman is your tip that you’ve found the right block. Wait your turn to be led upstairs to a stool and a massive menu. Drinks are organized from easy to challenging on the palate. The more adventurous will be rewarded will chartreuse mixed with cumin into a startlingly herby, sweet, toasted spice concoction. Although, no drink is pedestrian, this is not a bad spot to order the original, proper Manhattan. Watching these bartenders move is its own kind of theater. They whip through the drink orders, creating complex concoctions with astounding speed.
No matter how long the stay – months aren’t enough to discover all the great delights this city has available for feeding you.