Yesterday I flew back to the UK after spending two wonderful weeks in (a very chilly) New York City. Like many people preparing to visit somewhere for the first time, I did a lot of research before setting off on my travels, and while much of my focus was on hotels and attractions, I also paid quite a bit of attention to where and what I was going to eat. At just over six months since graduating from university, the stingy student in me is very much still alive and well, and so I wanted to make sure that both my appetite and my pocket weren’t going to fall foul of any misguided restaurant choices. Whilst my trip wasn’t without its culinary let-downs, on the whole my research stood me in good stead. I ate well, relatively cheaply, and came away feeling as though I’d gotten a real taste for New York life, so I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites.
Although my first official meal in the U.S. was a pretty uninspiring late night Shake Shack, I more than made up for lost time the next day. A brisk walk through Central Park in sub zero temperatures had left me in desperate need of sustenance, and with it’s infamous slogan – ‘Raising New York’s Cholesterol Since 1929’ – Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop seemed like the right place to go. Many of New York’s culinary establishments operate a ‘no muss, no fuss’ policy and Eisenberg’s was no different. The menu is simple and uncomplicated, and yet offers an almost comprehensive catalogue of traditional New York eats. From a freshly baked bagel shmeared with lox and cream cheese and authentic salt beef reuben’s, right down to gloriously messy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on soft, thick white bread, this tiny little place on 5th avenue has everything a sandwich lover could possibly want. To drink, there’s the ‘Egg Cream’ (a city staple) and the intriguing ‘lime rickey’, as well as tea, coffee, soda and a selection of deliciously decadent milkshakes.
Next up is Lombardi’s Pizza, a restaurant located (unsurprisingly) right on the edge of Little Italy. Although Lombardi’s was high on my list of places to go, when I finally did manage to eat here after an exhausting day of exploring the city on foot, I was so hungry that I’m pretty sure I’d have eaten almost anything that was put in front of me. Standards lowered and ‘food goggles’ firmly on (like beer googles, only for food), I don’t think I was expecting too much, but my god was I in for a treat. I suppose I should really have twigged when I saw the plaque – ‘First Pizza in New York’, as well as a recent award for culinary excellence – nailed to the outside wall, but the fact that I didn’t only made the experience all the more spectacular. There’s a lot of debate about where to find ‘the best’ of everything in New York (see HIMYM season 4, episode 2), and the search for the best pizza is no exception. Although I ate my fair share of the stuff whilst I was away, I still only made it to a small number of places so in the interests of fairness I can’t definitively say whether Lombardi’s is the best in New York, but it was certainly the best pizza I’ve tasted in a long time. In line with the authentic Italian decor, the menu was simple, – just margherita’s with toppings as optional extras, or a ‘white pizza’ which came with no sauce – the pizza’s were huge and the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable.
Somewhere else on my ‘go to’ list was Magnolia Bakery, a place which first came to my attention during an episode of Sex and the City. As a self-proclaimed cupcake connoisseur and lover of all things baking related, I expected great things from Magnolia, and it’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed. The first of numerous visits took place on a particularly cold day not long before Valentines’, as I sought refuge during a ferocious snow storm. Inside, a wonderful sugary sweet scent, with undertones of good strong coffee, wafted through the air, enveloping everything in sight and making mouths water. As well as the more traditional baking paraphernalia, the walls were bedecked with cute Valentines’ trinkets, and the display in the corner was enough to make anyone swoon.
My decision making prowess leaves a lot to be desired at the best of times, and wherever cake is concerned the problem suddenly becomes a whole lot worse. Although my initial snap decision was to stick with tradition and go for a cupcake (possibly red velvet, although maybe chocolate chocolate. Or lemon. Or caramel…), it wasn’t long before my wandering, sugar-frenzied gaze landed on the selection of cheesecakes and pies. There was red velvet cheesecake, lemon cheesecake, chocolate, peanut butter and lastly original ‘New York vanilla’, and I wanted every single one. Towering above them on a metal stand laden with goodies, was an equally delicious looking pie oozing with thick, creamy peanut-buttery filling, and topped with chunks of Reece’s peanut butter cups. I was in heaven.
Yet another tip off from the guidebooks led me to Broadway’s 5 Napkin Burger. Although like Magnolia, this was part of a chain, the food was by no means mainstream. Big, juicy and full of flavour, the perfectly cooked burgers really do pack a punch, and as the name suggests, you’ll need a few napkins to see you through to the last bite. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, – you could definitely eat here alone without feeling conspicuous – the service is friendly, and if you need something to help you wash it all down, the cocktails are hand crafted and made to order.
I’d read a lot of hype about The Spotted Pig before arriving in New York, so once again my expectations were pretty high. The reputation, coupled with an uber trendy locale, meant that before chowing down on some much talked about ‘shoestring’ fries, hungry customers such as myself are often greeted with quite a lengthly wait-time (usually between 45mins and 1hr). Once inside though, the food is excellent quality, the atmosphere relaxed, and the opportunities for people watching equally good. The Spotted Pig doesn’t take reservations, so your best bet is to pop in and put your name down a couple of hours before you want to eat and then go off and explore the surrounding West Village. Alternatively, you can take up residence at one of the bars and soak up the atmosphere until a table frees up.
Anyone who’s seen the 2001 film Serendipity will probably recognise the next establishment. Serendipity 3 is just a few blocks from Bloomingdales on the bustling Upper East Side, so it’s not out of the ordinary to find people queuing out onto the street, even on weekdays. Famed for their selection of ice cream sunade’s as well as the trademark ‘Frozen Hot Chocolate’, Serendipity is ideal for those with a sweet tooth. If you’re feeling extravagant (read: insane), there’s the Guinness World Record ‘Grand Opulence Sundae’ which will leave a serious dent in your bank account at a measly $1000. For something more savoury, there’s the staple cheeseburger and the foot-long chilli dog as well as a selection of daily specials and salads.
My first visit to the Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant ended in utter disappointment. Due not to the food, or even to the service (as both were pretty much faultless), this was the result of my own lack of forward planning. Without having made a reservation, I stupidly tried to get a table for breakfast – on Valentines’ day of all days – and was unsurprisingly told that the wait time would be almost 2hrs. Cold, hungry, and unfamiliar with the Lower East Side area, I decided that rather than sticking around (the only waiting area was a snow-covered bench chained to the floor outside) I would try my luck another time. When I returned several days later, the outcome was decidedly more positive. February at Clinton Street happened to be pancake month, which meant that alongside all the usual breakfast favourites, each day there was a new special to choose from, and within no time I found myself sitting down to a delicious plate of Banana-crunch Buttermilk Pancakes with dark chocolate sauce and maple butter.
For fear of running out of room (and readerly enthusiasm), I will draw my observations to close, pausing briefly to add a few last recommendations:
Situated on the Upper West Side, a short walk from Central Park and the Museum of Natural History, Trattoria Machiavelli serves authentic Italian cuisine in a uniquely beautiful setting, designed to capture the essence of Renaissance Italy.
Another great Upper West Side eat is Spring Natural Kitchen, probably one of the few places in New York where you’ll be served vegetables with your meal instead of fries. The ingredients are always really fresh and there’s quite a few vegan /gf options too.
I only had a meatball sandwich at Frankies, so can’t comment on the rest of the menu, but it was (hands down) the best meatball sandwich I’ve ever had, and that’s why it deserves a mention. Just round the corner from The Spotted Pig, Frankie’s is another of Greenwich’s super trendy eateries, although with a considerably shorter wait time. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph, but to give you an idea, it’s the kind of place you’d go to for an olive oil tasting, or to just sit by the window looking all hipster and intellectual.
Sprinkle’s Cupcakes, the world’s first cupcake bakery, sits just over the road from Bloomingdales. As far as the cupcakes go, there isn’t really a lot to be said except that if you go your whole life without having tried one, you are most definitely missing out.
Slap bang in the centre of Times Square is Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a restaurant that pays spectacular tribute to Tom Hanks’ shrip-loving dad in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. Despite being an obvious tourist-trap, the food is really tasty, the atmosphere buzzing, and the decor a sight to behold.