New Yorkers take great pleasure in telling you what you don’t know—especially when it comes to experiencing the ultra-competitive food and nightlife scene, where one day’s red-hot Tex-Mex joint in town is the next day’s punching bag.
That may seem heartless, but in a city overflowing with new restaurants, tourist traps, and impostors, there’s a whole lot of noise to cut through. New York knows how to burn guileless newbs who are lured by the “authenticity” of Little Italy, or who don’t realize that one of the greatest food meccas in the country is outside of Manhattan (hint: it rhymes with memes). And, no, Smorgasborg doesn’t count as “slumming it.”
Gruff? Direct? Maybe, but it’s for your own good. So listen up as we lay the groundwork for dining in NYC like a pro.
1. Eat like the 1% with a prix fixe lunch.
Even the city’s most devoted food obsessives often concede that they’ll never get a taste of the NYC’s most lauded kitchens: Whether it’s Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, or Jean-Georges, New York’s fine-dining giants are prohibitively expensive for anyone who doesn’t want to risk eviction for 15 courses of foie gras and caviar. But there is a way to experience many of these places without breaking the bank: a lunch reservation. Le Bernardin offers a three-course prixe-fixe menu for $80—the dining room is just as beautiful and calming at midday, and Eric Ripert’s fish-whispering influence will still be felt in your main course. At Del Posto, the lunch prix-fixe is just $49, with the option to taste an extra pasta for $10 more. And when you go to Marea for a “business lunch,” you can get the two best dishes—impeccable crudo to start, and the unstoppable fusilli with bone marrow and octopus—for a non-earth-shattering $49, or do a five-course seafood tasting for $80. Throw on your finest J. Crew ensemble and live like a whale for a couple hours.—Chris Schonberger (Photo by Liz Barclay)
2. Food crawls and “bang bangs” are a way of life.
Why settle when you can have it all? This quintessentially New York brand of FOMO pervades all aspects of life in the city, whether we’re talking food, drinks, jobs, or sexual partners. Thankfully, New York’s walkability, bikeability, and amazing public transportation system makes multi-stop food outings—otherwise known as food crawls, or “bang bangs” according to Louis C.K.—incredibly fun. With proper planning, you can dive into the insane wealth of food that’s available in NYC’s five boroughs with relative ease—just follow our lead, bring a few friends along, and know that you’re burning calories traveling from one spot to the next.
- Go on a Chinese food tour of Flushing, Queens: Ride the 7 train to the last stop, then make your way to Nan Xiang for Shanghai soup dumplings, Fu Run for Muslim lamb chops, and New Flushing Bakery for New York’s finest egg custard tart.
- Plan an O.G. Brooklyn pizza crawl: First, hit up Di Fara’s in Midwood for a transcendental slice, then move onto Totonno’s for coal-oven pies, and finally, make your way to L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst for a sauce-covered Sicilian square.
- Don’t try one burger, try them all: Why not take on the classic Corner Bistro patty, the Spotted Pig’s blue cheese-covered beauty, and In-n-Out inspired double-stacker at Happiest Hour all in one outing? They’re all within walking distance of one another, and you can stop for a couple cocktails in between.”—Erin Mosbaugh
3. Quit trying to find drink “deals.”
I remember when I was young (and poor) and my friends and I would look for good drink “deals” in New York. Our first question upon sitting down in front of any bartender was always, “Got any specials?” And sure, we’d find buckets of this and pitchers of that—”specials” and “deals” that were ostensibly “cheap.” But that’s not how you should drink New York. Since even cheap drinks are kind of expensive here—owing to the high overhead—you’re better off finding the best you can get at the going rate. For instance, a cocktail averages $11-$15 here. Great, so don’t waste that loot on a shitty Manhattan on some chic rooftop lounge; instead, get a $12 hand-crafted cocktail at The Clover Club or Dead Rabbit. A beer might average $8 here. Fine, make it a wine barrel-aged wild ale or triple IPA at Fools Gold or Proletariat. Not only is it superior in taste to that “cheap” Bud Light—it’s also a lot more alcoholic too. Paradoxically, the day I quit looking for deals in New York and just started looking for the best drinks, my bar tabs went way down.—Aaron Goldfarb (Photo: Facebook/Dead Rabbit NYC)
4. Thou shalt not wait in line for Katz’s.
Look, don’t get us wrong: Katz’s is great. Go and get the pastrami if you have time to kill. But it’s also a major tourist magnet, and during peak hours, you won’t want what she’s having. Instead, head a few blocks south to Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse to relive the best bar mitzvah you never had. Here’s what you’re getting: vodka, by the ice block-encased bottle; chopped liver with schmaltz and gribenes mixed in tableside; and “Romanian tenderloin” (a.k.a., skirt steak), the namesake cut of the house. Here’s what you’re doing: jamming to the sweet sounds of Borscht Belt-style entertainer Dani Luv, making best friends with your neighbors, and dancing the hora, whether you want to or not (and after all that vodka, you will). You’ll be calling your cardiologist later, but right now, you’re in for the best party of your life.—Jamie Feldmar (Photo: Yelp/Shonnie H.)
5. Eat a steak at a strip club.
In a town full of steaks, where do we look for comfort and some semblance of belonging? Keens? The whole place smells like mutton. Peter Luger? In Brooklyn. Minetta Tavern? I hear that place is haunted! Tourists and citizens of Gotham need look no further than Robert’s Steakhouse on West 45th. Located on the second floor of the Penthouse Executive Club, Robert’s Steakhouse is the best of both worlds: It’s a restaurant that dry ages its own beef and curates its “breast” line-up. For some reason, it’s just the kind of place I could see myself blowing off some steam with late-’90s Kelsey Grammer after we drive his Viper into a ditch.
Beef-man Adam Perry Lang established the joint as a premier restaurant in the city before moving on, and these days Robert’s is still a solid destination. Do yourself a favor and go for their dry-aged prime beef options. When it comes to steak it’s always to each his own, but may I suggest the OCD-pleasing choice of a strip steak in a strip club? Bone-in, of course.—Corey Cova (Photo: Yelp/Joe M.)
6. Queens is the best food borough; don’t fight it.
As Manhattan gradually embraces its fate as a gated community for the rich and boring, the case for eating in Queens has never been stronger. What, you’ve never slurped stellar Tibetan noodle soup in the back of a cell-phone store, dug into Thai-fried grasshoppers while belting out karaoke, or met up with people from three boroughs at midnight for a taste of arepas cooked on the street? You could knock that out in ten blocks in just one Queens neighborhood.
The American dream is dead, except in this most diverse and dynamic of boroughs, where more than 200 language groups have settled into tightly packed, criss-crossed neighborhoods; built robust, evolving communities all anew; and are all cooking something delicious. A meal in Queens isn’t just about eating the city’s best Greek, Chinese, or Thai cuisine—it’s an opportunity to sneak through the back door into another culture’s clubhouse, make friends, and learn a thing or two about the people behind the plates. And if someone tells you Queens is too far away or weird to visit for a meal, well, you know who you never need to go to restaurants with again.—Max Falkowitz (Photos: Joe Distefano)
7. Know how to get the most out of your bodega.
The neighborhood corner store, or bodega, is the lifeblood of New York City. Action Bronson’s burly cousin, Big Body Bes, waxes poetic on what makes them so vital. Although bodegas operate as a sort of deli counter-and-supermarket in one, resist buying your groceries there if you don’t need them immediately; they jack the price up, and it hurts when a jar of Hellman’s costs $6. What you should be doing at your bodega: petting the bodega cat; chatting up the hard-working people running the place; grabbing rolling papers and/or a loosie at 3am when you’re hammed; and copping an epic bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich at any time of day. There are a few bodegas with particularly noteworthy sandwiches, but the best bodega is always the one that’s closest. Other noteworthy bodega hacks: never fuck with potato salad that’s been sitting in mayonnaise for days; don’t let the sandwich-maker finesse the meat; and, finally, know that you can get a $1 can of tuna, $0.50 roll, and $0.50 slice of cheese, then ask the guy who runs shit to make you a $2 tuna melt.—Erin Mosbaugh (Photo: thenutgallery.blogspot.com)
8. Eating at the bar is the best way to beat the reservation hustle.
There’s a reason every New York food writer has penned at least one breathless personal essay about the joys of solo dining. In a city where eating with four people means not being able to hear two of them and the wait for even mediocre restaurants can easily span the length of a college basketball game, the bar is your salvation. You can try it with two people—I recently waited no more than 15 minutes for two bars seats at Gramercy Tavern at prime time on a Friday night—but this is a solo mission in its purest form. Just a few of the many benefits: You get served quicker; there’s no awkwardness of interacting with servers or getting asked if you’re waiting for someone; the people-watching potential is superior; and you can usually chat up the bartenders (and maybe even score a couple gratis pours) if you’re in the mood. Even at the joints with the toughest tables (Babbo, Minetta Tavern), bar seating is usually first-come, first-served—pull up a stool and blow the $50 you saved on Resy by downing a few extra cocktails.—Chris Schonberger (Photo: gramercytavern.com)
9. Thou shalt not covet truffle oil (and restaurants that serve it).
Remember that time in 2013 when Jay Z rhymed that it was truffle season? For too many of the people who heard it, it’s never not truffle season, because these are the mouth-breathing, taste-lacking, hashtag-obsessed masses who have created the demand for truffle oil—an over-used product that masks the flavor of anything halfway decent. Every time you order something with truffle oil on it, you’re voting for another chef with good ideas and/or technique to chuck it in the garbage, or even worse, slather it with these dumb ingredients beloved by mid-level bankers instead. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to order anything molested by truffle oil, ever. And yet: They do. And in doing so, represent the desire to be satisfied in the easiest, dumbest, worst manner. Consumed en masse by vaguely European arms dealers and the bottle-service–loving mooks who surround them at Vegas pool parties and Manhattan rooftop bars, truffle oil represents the celebration of status over quality. Truffle oil is a cop-out, an outdated symbol of luxury that no one respects. Don’t fall for this faux luxury b.s. Trust nobody who orders it, much less cooks with it. After all, it was also Jay who once rhymed: You can go to school, but you can’t buy class.—Foster Kamer (Photo: louisiana.kitchenculture.com)
10. Don’t believe (all) the hype.
New York media loves to play favorites, and understandably so—there are a select group of truly special places that are easy to rally behind. But inevitably there’s a lot of circle jerking that transpires amongst writers, especially with restaurants that are lauded for their “interesting story” and excused for their “better than it needs to be” food. Don’t buy into it completely: Just because your neighborhood restaurant doesn’t show up on the food illuminati’s Instagram feed, doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of an experience. There is life beyond this week’s Power Rankings! Know that the words ‘fast-casual concept’ and ‘chef-driven’ don’t guarantee a life-altering meal. There are countless spots that are just as accomplished ( i.e. Txikito) but don’t have the zeitgeist behind their sails.—Justin Bolois (Photo: airbnb.com)