March 16, 2011
First Time To New York City—Where Do I Eat? A First-timer’s Query to New York’s Dining Experience
When visiting New York City, dining is as important as where you visit. However, New York City’s restaurant scene is ever changing. There are tens of thousands of places to eat in the city, and every week a new group opens while another shuts down. Unlike the rest of the United States, most restaurants tend to be small and locally owned. You’ll find a few chains here and there (especially when it comes to fast food), but for the most part NYC restaurants tend to be small and unique.
So for the visitor this means negotiating a minefield of unknown quantities. Of course there are many “famous” restaurants throughout the city, but they tend to be grouped in the high price ranges. This is a great city for a dining splurge, but it’s also a great place to try something unusual alongside locals in the lower price ranges.
The great thing about New York restaurants is that the competition is so fierce for your food dollar, that places that offer substandard food or that charge too much don’t remain in business long. If a restaurant has been open for more than a year, they are most likely doing something right. The old and universal advice that you should go to crowded places and avoid empty ones is especially true in New York City.
So where do we eat? The Times Square area obviously has tons of places and foot traffic from tourists, so if an eatery has a great location, it can offer poor servings since they don’t rely on repeat business. There are many goofy chain restaurants right on Broadway, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp, if you just want to grab a bite to eat and want dependability. Places with a never-ending supply of tourists have little incentive to offer great food at good prices, so they usually don’t. Bar Americain would be my recommendation. Bar Americain combines good food and drink with a relaxed atmosphere. Bobby’s Flay’s Tex-Mex brasserie, American style is a truly American urban experience. Bobby melds his Tex-Mex roots with his broad knowledge. Chef Flay combines the brashness of an Iron Chef; which he is, of course, to his range of his American style dishes inspired by regional foods.
Restaurant Row on 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues is filled with places specialize in pre and post theater dinners. Many of these restaurants offer excellent dishes, but they tend to be pricey. Virgil’s on 44th Street has the best brisket I have ever eaten. Scarottos on 47th has the best handmade meatballs, all within the theatre district.
The neighborhoods are where most locals go to eat and are where ethnic food is really happening. You might be surprised by how inexpensive dining can be in many of the popular places outside the Times Square area. The competition here will not allow restaurants to overcharge and stay around for long. So be certain and pick your favorite ethnic specialty and chow down like the locals.
The Upper West Side is residential area jammed with all kinds of restaurants in all price ranges to suit even the most budget-minded diner. Broadway is the central artery, but Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues have the most interesting restaurants. Just south of the Times Square is another residential district with restaurants serving up almost everything you could want. My favorite for favorite ethnic food is the Arepa Lady for Venezuelan fare.
A trip to the Meat Packing District of the West Village is home to super trendy restaurants, many with al fresco seating during summer. The West Village area has Hudson Street and Carmine Street, both lined with small places and on nearly every corner as well.
The East Village area has become a hot dining spot for locals. Lower rents allow chefs to experiment with unusual and exotic things get away with it. St Marks Street (8th Street) from 2nd Avenue to Avenue A is lined with interesting places that are very reasonably priced. 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues is Indian Restaurant Row, with literally one place after another down the whole block. An old joke says they all share the same kitchen, but we know that isn’t so.
Dining in The City wouldn’t be complete without a slice of pizza, which you can get within a three minute stroll from anywhere in Manhattan. Many neighborhoods have a pizza place on every corner.
Hot dogs are another must eat when in New York. The carts of Midtown sell hot dogs for around two bucks and they are well worth the price, especially for the convenience and depending on how hungry you may be.
There are Chinese restaurants in every neighborhood in Manhattan. The quality is excellent and the prices are moderate. Obviously Chinatown is loaded with restaurants – many of which depend mostly on local Chinese diners. Quality is spotty and sanitation can be lacking. Dining in Chinatown is an adventure, but not necessarily the best place to go for a great Chinese meal. . It can be an adventure, but it’s not necessarily the best place in town to go for a great Chinese meal.
Little Italy has shrunk to three blocks of Mulberry Street that are lined with nearly identical Italian restaurants. Quality tends to be good and prices can be reasonable since competition among the places is so fierce.
For the most romantic place, Balthazar is highly recommended, reservations required in advance. Balthazar reminds one of Paris. This French style restaurant is one of the most popular in The City because of the ambiance, its interiors are some of the best in the city and the food is, as well.
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