New York, Food York

I love New York. My first couple trips there were focused on checking off the tourist list – Times Square, Broadway show, Central Park, The Met, MOMA, Empire State Building, Grand Central Station. I even stood on the roof of the World Trade Center. But in 2002 a friend changed all that. She took me on my first “New York Food Tour,” taking me to restaurants, haunts and neighborhoods she loved when she lived there. It was nothing fancy and nothing too touristy – just a taste of how someone who lives there experiences the city. This trip set the template for my future trips to New York.

I got wistful for NY during Seahawks Super Bowl week, and a cheap airfare got me there in March. I had the equivalent of two full days and three items on the agenda – see a couple friends, take a bike tour and eat as much as I could.

Here are some of the highlights of the eating this time around. Like I said, it’s nothing fancy. I am generally eating these meals on the go and by myself, so I don’t end up at high end sit down places. What I sacrifice in fine dining I make up for in reasonable prices and some surprisingly good food.

Seoul Garden (Korea Town) – I don’t eat much Korean food, but my friends took me to this Korean BBQ place and I couldn’t have been happier even though I didn’t really know what I was eating. The only thing we didn’t devour was the apple/grape/mayo appetizer that came with our meal, but then who would eat that?

Big Gay Ice Cream (West Village) – I had seen the ice cream truck on TV, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they also have a couple brick and motars, one of which I stumbled on after my K-Town dinner. I follow the motto “there’s always room for dessert,” so I enjoyed a tasty Thick Mint ice cream sandwich. The ice cream cones look like super-charged DQ dipped cones and have names like the Salty Pimp.

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Vanessa’s Dumpling House (Lower East Side) – Another friend who used to live in NY recommended this place, and now it is a breakfast staple for me. Below is my standard order of duck pancake and fried pork dumplings – for $4. Apparently this place gets crowded with hipsters later in the day, but in the morning there are just a handful of locals in there.

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Manna’s Soul Food (Harlem) – We stopped here for lunch during a bike tour of Harlem. It was a HUGE buffet of traditional soul food plus some healthier options. To be honest, I didn’t even realize there were healthier options until I had already filled my plate with fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes, rice & beans and collard greens. I’m sure there are better spots in Harlem, but the variety was great and it was just what I needed after riding around in subfreezing temperatures for a couple hours.

Shake Shack (Madison Square Park and various locations) – Okay, so this is a mini-chain, but I really like their burgers. They are juicy and served on a potato bun. The shakes are pretty good too, but I’d rather use those calories for something else. The fries look like Ore Ida – don’t waste your time (although I have been told their cheese fries are a-mazing). Apparently there is usually a long line here, but it’s been freezing both times I’ve gone, so I haven’t had much of a wait. For what it’s worth, my favorite New York burger (so far) is Corner Bistro in the West Village. I’ve only been once and it was over 10 years ago, but a quick check of Yelp indicates it’s still good.

Levain Bakery (Upper West Side) – A very well-traveled friend recommended this place as having the “world’s best cookie.” I don’t take her advice lightly, but I was skeptical. While I haven’t eaten enough cookies around the world to be able to make this declaration, I can report that the cookie was pretty incredible. If you are familiar with Specialty’s cookies, they look like those – big mounds. But they are softer, and my first bite into my dark chocolate with peanut butter chip cookie tasted like I was eating frosting – pure bliss!

Dominique Ansel Bakery (SoHo) – I’m sure this place used to be a nice little neighborhood French bakery, but now it’s all about the Cronut. I had a knockoff version in Zurich which basically tasted like a heavy and greasy croissant, so I didn’t have super high expectations for the real thing – but I knew I needed to try it. Fortunately after waiting in line for an hour and 45 minutes in 25 degree temperatures, I was happy to discover the real thing tastes like a light and sweet croissant hand-crafted by angels. I’m not sure if the hype is worth it, but I’m glad I got one. If you’re in NY and interested in trying one, their website has a whole list of “Cronut FAQs” that will get you prepared.

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Joe’s Pizza (West Village) – This is the one stop from the original 2002 food tour that I still visit every time I’m in NY (even though technically it’s not the same place because it’s now a few doors down from where it was back then). Classic NY pizza by the slice. Enough said.

There are two other things I wanted to note about this trip – the hotel and the bike tour.

I am always on the hunt for the perfect NY hotel room. I want something nice but not super expensive that’s convenient to public transportation. This time I found the Hilton Garden Inn W 35th Street, and it could very well be my new go to hotel. It’s within 40 steps (I counted) of the Herald Square station for the orange and yellow subway lines – a small-ish station that gets you to a lot of places. The room is decent size for NY and had everything I needed. The higher floors have views of the Empire State Building for just a little bit more money.

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I’ve recently started taking bike tours when I visit a city. The highest rated one on Trip Advisor for NY is called Bike the Big Apple (http://www.bikethebigapple.com), and they were offering a tour of Central Park and Harlem on the one full day I had in the city. Even though it was below freezing for most if not all of the five hour tour, I really enjoyed it. The guide was engaging, we spent about 30 minutes sitting in on a Baptist church service and we rode through a lot of parts of the city had never seen before. I will probably check out another one of their tours next time I visit.

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Oh yeah, and I was there on St. Patrick’s Day.

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