A {big} Bite of the Big(er) Apple: What to Eat See and Do in New York

One World Trade Center

No city makes me feel alive quite like New York. The Big Apple pulses with a current of its own, and I’m addicted to the hum. Everything seems cooler, grander, and faster, and the city has worked its way into my veins. I’ve visited NYC four years running, and I hope to continue coming back just as long as I still have energy to run and catch the subway.

NYC Skyline

Over Memorial Day weekend, Ben and I spent five days in the city eat, sightseeing, visiting friends, and eating more (and more). It was his first time in the city, so we combined a mix of a few classics with sites that were new for us both. If you are planning a trip to the Big Apple any time soon, I hope this list of our activities is helpful in your trip planning.

WARNING: We travel to eat. Prepare for an onslaught of restaurant reviews.

NEW YORK CITY SIGHTS

Disclaimer: We skipped several of the most typical first time in NYC experiences, such as visiting the top of the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Circle Line Boat Tour, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, because I had already been and Ben was equally interested in other sights. If it is your first time in the Big Apple, definitely be sure that you consider adding a few of the classics, especially the Met (my fave) and Top of the Rock (cool to do once).

911 Memorial

  • 9/11 Museum and Memorial: Absolutely moving. I consider this a must during a visit to NYC. The museum is a tasteful, beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives. Tissues are placed every 10 yards for a reason.

Starry Night

  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMA): Although seeing Starry Night, a painting I’ve cherished all of my life and even drew in third-grade art class, moved me to tears (literally: see above), overall I was disappointed with this museum. I enjoyed the post-impressionist and modern paintings thoroughly (especially the good number of Picassos and a handful of Klimts), but found the rest of the museum fairly dull, and in some cases almost a stretch. I did love the Museum’s app, which allowed visitors to key in numbers throughout the museum and learn interesting facts about the corresponding works. I’d suggest reviewing the museum exhibits online to decide if it’s worth your $25 admission.
  • The Frick Collection: Classic works amassed by the great collector/business tycoon Henry Clay Frick, on display in his upper east side mansion. I enjoyed this museum because it was small enough to view in about an hour and a half without feeling overwhelmed, and it was neat to see the art in its original space.

The Immigration Museum at Ellis Island

  • The Immigration Museum at Ellis Island: Arrive EARLY top purchase your ferry ticket to visit Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum (or succumb to infuriating lines). The museum, housed in the very building that organized and processed the more than 12 million immigrants who entered through Ellis Island, offers a touching, fascinating view of those who left everything behind in hope of a better life in America. I left feeling humbled, grateful, and inspired.
  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum: If you love the Immigrant Museum, check out the Tenement Museum, which picks up where Ellis Island leaves off. After entering the country, hundreds of thousands of immigrants crammed into the lower east side, where they found employment in cramped conditions as garment workers. (Their lives and conditions coined the term “sweatshop.”) The Tenement Museum, which is set up in the most populous of all of the immigrant tenement housings, offers a look back in time at their daily lives.

Central Park

  • Central Park: Quite possibly my favorite place in New York City. Come wander, get lost, enjoy a picnic, and soak in this oasis in the heart of Manhattan.

Chelsea Market

  • Chelsea Market + The Highline: Lush, elevated boardwalk-meets-park that stretches along the west side of Manhattan. Grab lunch at the Chelsea Market (pictured above with the fabulous Phoebe, more details below), then elbow your way through the crowds and find a park bench overlooking the skyline.

Brooklyn Beach

  • Williamsburg, Brooklyn: It only took me four trips to NYC venture outside of Manhattan. We met a friend in Williamsburg Brooklyn, which has a higher density of hipsters than any city I’ve ever entered, including Portland. It’s a delight—great food, beautiful views of the city. I’ll be back.

On the 20th Century

  • Broadway: See a show if you can. We went to On the 20th Century, and while the show and music itself weren’t the most exciting, seeing Kristen Chenoweth belt it on stage was worth the admission.

NEW YORK EATS (by category)

If you base your travel destinations 99% on food, we are kindred spirits. No matter what kind of eats you love, you’ll find them in New York—it’s a hungry girl’s paradise. I spent more hours than I care to admit researching, asking friends, and perusing Yelp to pick our eating spots, and overall, we were so, so pleased. I’ve broken the meals down by category to help you narrow the options, which can be quite overwhelming. I’ve also included a category for places still on our list because, despite a heroic attempt, we just couldn’t eat it all!

Note: while some of these are very nice, special occasion meals, we are a hungry couple in our late 20s, so you won’t find any $30 foam or $100+ fixed price dinners here (though if anyone wants to treat me to Per Se, I will buy my plane ticket immediately!).

Dinners to Remember a Lifetime

  • Babbo: It is hard to imagine a meal more exquisite or special than dinner at Mario Batali’s first restaurant. This was one of the best meals of my life, and I don’t have a single photo, because Babbo is the kind of place where you don’t pull out your cell phone—don’t miss a moment. Although they are perhaps best known for their pasta tasting menu, Ben and I opted to try a mix of dishes from each course, and I’m so happy we did. Listen to your server’s recommendations, and I demand that you get the octopus, pork chop, and Chianti ragu.
  • Fedora: A gem of a neighborhood restaurant in the West Village, recommended to me by my dear friend Phoebe. One look at the cocktail menu (which was sprinkled with old fashioneds and Wisconsin niche distilleries) and I demanded to know who at the bar was from Wisconsin. It turns out the entire ownership group met in Madison (where Ben and I lived for two years) and are darn proud of it. Every dish we tried was brilliantly flavored, well portioned, and the service and atmosphere were charming and hip at the same time. Babbo might have been the most special meal of our trip, but Fedora was our favorite.

Gato

  • Gato: Full disclosure—I picked this restaurant because I have a giant crush on Bobby Flay. This is his newest joint, a Mediterranean fusion spot in SoHo, and it was wonderful. The appetizer portions were a little on the small side, but the flavors and the cocktail menu made up for it. Just order two and thank yourself later.
  • Anejo: I met the lovely, warm-hearted, and ridiculously talented Lauren here for dinner, and the two of us escaped into a Tex-Mex paradise. From the creative tacos, to the blistered shisito peppers topped with chorizo, to the spicy margaritas, everything we tried was outstanding.

Casual Meals Not To Miss

Momfuku Noodle Bar

  • Momofuku Noodle Bar: Nothing in life I don’t think will every touch Ben’s heart quite like these pork buns. The pork ramen bowl is also bonkers good (I had no idea that a bowl of noodles could taste this exquisite), and I insist that you save room for dessert from Milk Bar bakery (see below).

Cull and Pistol

  • Chelsea Market: Hundreds of food stalls crammed under one roof. Sit at a sushi bar and order fresh-off-the-boat seafood at Cull and Pistol, grab a bahn mi from Num Pang Sandwich Shop (so, so good), and mourn the fact that you don’t have more stomach space.
  • Artichoke Bastille Pizza: With a few locations around the city, this is my go-to NYC pie. Fill up for $5 on a Sicilian-style slice that’s brimming with flavor and quality ingredients.

Sweet Chick

  • Sweet Chick: Killer fried chicken and waffles in a delightfully hipster setting in Williamsburg.

Brunching

  • ABC Kitchen: We had a lovely (somewhat pricey) brunch in this airy spot, and I’d love to return for dinner. It’s a good mix of classic brunch dishes done with precision and more creative options. I went big with fried oysters on eggs with sriracha butter. It was even more decadent, creative, and satisfying than it sounds.

Bakeries Where I Could Live

Breads

  • Breads: Come for their celebrated chocolate babka, stay for the almond croissants, chocolate ruguleh, and creamy quiches. We stayed a half a block away from this place and ended up here almost every morning for breakfast.

Dominque Ansel Bakery

  • Dominique Ansel Bakery: The home of the cronut. While I didn’t wake up at 6 a.m. and thus missed the infamous donut/croissant hybrid, I was more than content to arrive at my leisure and enjoy a few of Dominque Ansel’s (the brilliant pastry chef’s) other creations. If you do anything for yourself in New York, please order the “DKA” (Dominque’s kouign-amann). Envision the best butter you’ve ever tried in your life sprinkled with sugar, then layered between razor-thin stacks of the world’s flakiest croissant, then baked until the butter oozes and the sugar transforms into salted-caramel. Honestly, the DKA was better than the kouign-amann that I ate in France. Please don’t tell my French host father.
  • Milk Bar Bakery: I can’t say enough good things about this place. I’ve been three times, and everything, EVERYTHING is creative and wonderful and causes me to make inappropriate groaning noises. Order the soft serve of the day, a cakeball, and a cookie. It will feel excessive, but you won’t regret it.
  • Sarabeth’s: Beloved NYC bakery with spots all over the city. Nothing pretentious, everything delicious. The chocolate gob cookie almost moved me to tears. It was so simple, but so perfect.
  • The City Bakery: We came for their famous pretzel croissant, and honestly? Overhyped. Dense, salty pretzels and buttery, airy croissants are not meant to be together. The coffee cake was OK, but I thought the reviews oversold this place.

Eating on the Go

  • Whole Foods: OK, it might sound ridiculous to mention Whole Foods, but their hot breakfast bar at the Union Square location was heaven on the last morning of our trip, when all I wanted was a vegetable hash and coffee. Plenty of options that are easy to grab to-go.
  • Kobeyaki: Trapped in Midtown with no good lunch options? Hit this spot for interesting takes on sushi that are filling and flavorful. Recommended: the smoked salmon.

30 Rock

Good Spots to Grab Drink

  • Wine Bar: Perfect spot in East Village to meet a friend for a generous pour and catch up on life, which is exactly how the inspiring (and I swear super-powered) Kelli and I spent a lovely hour-and-a-half here. I only wished we’d had time for another round.
  • Carroll Place: Unpretentious spot near Washington Square where Ben and I met his college roommate for drinks. Perfect for grabbing a simple glass of wine or brew before or after dinner.

I was Underwhelmed

  • Gramercy Tavern: Let the food fight begin. Gramercy Tavern is legendary, and had been on my life eating bucket list for years, which is probably why the NYC food gods are likely sending a firestorm of bad juju my direction as this post goes to press. Perhaps my expectations were too high, because the one truly bad thing I can say about it is that it didn’t blow my taste buds. It was pleasing, but nothing that I felt added to my NYC experience. Honestly, my company—the fun, lovely Joanne—was the best part! (Note: we ate on the tavern side—the fancier dining room might be a different experience).

Bar Boulud

  • Bar Boulud: Now the NYC gods definitely have me on the hit list. Daniel Bolud owns several roaringly successful NYC restaurants, including Daniel, an establishment where I dream my food fairy godmother will take me out to dinner one day. Bar Boulud is a French bistro more in our price range, so we gave it a try for lunch. While everything tasted just fine, nothing we tried was worth its price tag. Next time, I’m heading next door to Epicerie Boulud to sip wine and nibble a cheese plate.

WHEW. Yes, we really ate that much food. New York is a place where you best arrive hungry, leave full, and come back for seconds.

On the List for Next Time

New York, see you soon.

About Erin Clarke

I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, lover of bourbon, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN...

15 comments

  1. I totally travel to eat too! Definitely bookmarking this for when I go to NYC (someday). Thanks for sharing such wonderful reviews!

  2. Great write up!  I’m longing to get to NYC, hopefully this year. Heading to Milwaukee and Madison next month and can’t wait to eat through the cities. 

  3. What a fun post! My little sister lives in NYC but we always seem to do the same things whenever I go in to see her! haha creatures of habit apparently :)

  4. Hi Erin, what a nice surprise to get your post on a Sunday evening! I hope you are taking tomorrow off!  I, too, love NYC! Especially the Frick and the food! I had just read a review of Momofuku Ko in the May 18th New Yorker (if you haven’t read it, I think you will enjoy). Guess you didn’t want to get their $175.00 tasting menu! Glad they have some more down to earth prices at other locations! Interesting that they own the Milk Bar Bakery! I want to try everything at both their Noodle Bar and Bakery! I also just read about the cronuts and that they are over 1,300 calories each (but who’s counting)! The DKA you settled for sounded divine (and probably a lot less calories???)  Glad you and Ben had such a fun time. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. I was in NYC memorial weekend also…with visitors from Europe. Concur on 911 memorial as a must see (we both missed the WTC observatory by days!). I’ve been to Bar Americain for the same reason you went to Gato. Highly recommend it. My son has recommended Shake Shack. It’s on the agenda next time.

  6. Awesome Erin. I have only driven through NYC, crazy really I didnt make time to check the place out. Tis top of the list to visit, and will most def be following your fabulous foodie advise. :) 

  7. So glad you enjoyed your time in NYC!  Looks like you ate some fantastic food… I approve :)  I get so excited when blogging friends come and visit the city!   I’ve only eaten on the dining room side of GT, and it was fantastic… sorry to hear the Tavern side wasn’t as spectacular!  Good to know.  Barbuto should definitely be on your list for next time.  Jonathan Waxman is the man and his Roast Chicken is amazing.  Also make sure you get the Pasta Carbonara.  It won’t be on the menu most likely, but they can always make it (and it’s kinda life changing).  I have 3 food suggestions for your next visit that are currently some of my absolute faves: Hearth (I find myself coming back here again and again… the tasting menu is only like $75 and is a great value), Ivan Ramen (if you have a hankering for ramen, check out his Lower East Side location… the Triple Pork Triple Garlic mazemen is something special, as is his Pork Meatballs), and if you are into Ice Cream/Gelato… il laboratorio del gelato, Morgenstern’s Ice Cream, and my 100% fave, Ample Hills Creamery.  

  8. Hey girl I’m glad y’all had a blast!! I have never been to New York, but I would like to someday!! My parents have but that was in the 70’s and that is a crazy story! They left their truck and  cattle trailer on the other side of the tunnel in New Jersey . When they were ready to leave the city the taxi driver said he couldn’t take them over  there. So- they caught a ride with a stranger Oh my word can you imagine now days doing that! Well if you want to get back I guess and pray the whole time!!   

  9. yay!! what an awesome write up Erin! from now on, I’m going to send people HERE when they ask me for recs :) Barbutto is closing soon, so you must come back ASAP! so glad we could hang while you were in town!! xoxo

  10. I love NYC and love your recap post, looks like you guys had a fantastic time! I am totally thinking of going this winter sometime, I’m going to keep this post bookmarked so I don’t forget anything!

  11. you did well! Now come back so we can get you to dinner at ABC kitchen

  12. I must say you did a thorough NYC tour!! I am originally from NY and you’ve shed some light on a few sites I haven’t even seen. You just made me home sick. lol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *