by Sarah Spigelman for Vagobond.com
New York is full of fantastic restaurants – not just fancy-pants tasting menu affairs, but also down and dirty hot dog stands, pop up restaurants, and everything in between. The thing is, people know to go to Katz’s for pastrami. They know about PDT for craft cocktails, and if one more person says “gee, have you ever been to Norma’s for breakfast?,” the universe may implode.
There are unexpected places that you can get great meals in the city, from an amazing burger inside a department store (see the pic), to authentic Mission Mexican food up on the rather frigid Upper East Side, to insanely good ramen right on the other side of …Port Authority? Read up on this list of places that you won’t see on Eater’s Hot List any time soon.
Best Department Store Lunch –David Burke in Bloomingdale’s. The food isn’t cheap here, but it is delicious and the portions are humongous. For two people, order one serving of the Juicy Burkey and prepare to be stuffed. This monster burger is two patties, each stuffed with ribbons of tangy cheddar cheese and savory grilled onions. The meat is loosely packed and cooked until rosy but not dripping…an ideal medium rare. The accompanying duck fat fries are crispy outside and fluffy inside, with just enough meaty essence to compete with the burger.
Best UWS Spot that Should Be in the West Village – Vai. Vai in no way feels like it is on the UWS, a neighborhood famous for parents teaching their kids about mergers and acquisitions before they can poop on the toilet. This tiny restaurant is dark, sleek, and romantic, with a large bar and candles illuminating the dark room. The menu is varied, taking influences from Italy, Spain, and France. The crudo is as fresh as that at Dave Pasternack’s esteemed Esca, and the beef duo with short rib and flet mignon is rich, buttery, and multifaceted. Don’t miss the coffee service, which comes with 4 different types of sugars. And, don’t wear a sweatshirt – the crowd here dresses to impress.
Best Hotel Restaurant – Koi. Hotel restaurants are notoriously hideous – overpriced banquet halls serving up iceberg salad with overcooked prime rib for a small fortune. Koi in the Bryant Park Hotel is stupidly expensive, but it has food that is unparalleled in the city. The signature spicy tuna on crispy rice is a triumph, and worth every penny – fresh, fiery tuna atop crispy, salty, butter-soy-sauced rice cakes. The crowd of beautiful people is as delicious to watch as the food is to eat.
Best Cheap Eats on the UES – Dos Toros. This mini-chain of Californian-Mexican restaurants offers sensational burritos at under $10 a pop – a bargain in the neighborhood of the $28 Ceaser Salad. Get the works, with fresh guacamole, juicy carnitas, and a hit of their own fiery habanero hjot sauce. If you aren’t stuffed yet, grab an ice cold beer and some chpis to go, too.
Best Trip to Japan – Tabata. Don’t bother with Ippudom, Totto Ramen, or any of the insanely crowded ramen restaurants to get your n oodle fix. Head to the southwest side of Port Authority for delicious ramen in a less than desireable neighborhood. The ramen here is all chicken-broth based, so it is considerably lighter than most other places, that offer pork based ramen. Go for the “Hellishly Spicy” Geki Kara ramen for a soup that is hot and garlicky, layered with fresh scallions, slices of juicy pork, and a soft boiled egg. Get there early to ensure that you get a seat in the tiny restaurant.
Best Ice Cream – Eddie’s Sweet Shop. Don’t even mention Serendipity in the same breath as this ancient Forest Hills ice cream parlor. Everything here is homemade, from the rich ice cream to the gooey hot chocolate sauce to the pillowy, almost custardy whipped cream. The décor is straight out of a Gibson Girl lithograph, and on a Saturday afternoon you are likely to see families, grandparents, and teenagers on a first date all here at the same time. Ice cream is the great equalizer.
Sarah Spigelman is a New York based food writer, recipe developer, and blogger. She writes for Bites at The Today Show, Whisked Foodie, and Northeast Flavor, among other publications. She loves luxurious hotels, inexpensive clothing, and “Mad Men.” Whenever she is not searching for the spiciest kimchi in NYC, she can be found at her website.