It has been a few years now since I lived in New York City, but growing up, I saw it as the center of the universe, I don't know if anyone has ever loved any thing so much, and then I lived there for three years after college and I ATE A LOT. I still get people asking me for recommendations when they visit New York so I thought it was about time to throw it all into a blog post so I can just send everyone a link.
Also my apologies if some of these places aren't cool anymore. I know the turnover can be quick.
New York I still love you! And miss you! And I'm sorry I left you for London!
SWEETS (I prioritize dessert over dinner)
Chikalicious - Get the eclair ice cream sandwich. Doused in chocolate sauce.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery - Their PUDDING. It is to die for. It is composed of cookies or cake or something of that nature layered with pudding and whipped cream and stuff. They have a variety of concoctions, but I prefer the chocolate chip deliciousness (butterscotch pudding, chocolate chip cookies, whipped cream, YES).
The Chocolate Room - I have never had a better brownie sundae. And isn't it worth experiencing the best one there is?
Peter Luger Steakhouse - Where you will find another award winning sundae. I don't even know why people go for the steak.
Levain - I like to get one chocolate chip walnut and one peanut butter chocolate, and alternate bites.
Doughnut Plant - TRES. LECHES.
Dough - More amazing (and big!) doughnuts. My favorite here is just the plain old glazed.
Dominique Ansel Bakery - Get a cronut if you can, but even if you can't, go get five DKAs. I kind of think they are better than the cronut. Also, he opened a new joint in the West Village, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, that is SO GOOD, and all of the menu items are different than the original bakery in Soho. The cinnamon spun roll, ultimate s'more, and lemon butter tart are all highlights.
Momofuku Milk Bar - Another place where basically everything is good (and everyone goes, I know). I am partial to the crack pie.
A Salt & Battery - You can get a deep fried Mars Bar here!! Need I say more?
EATS (if you want to eat real food too)
Frankie's Spuntino - Cavatelli. That is all.
Gyro stand on 53rd and 6th - There are lots of gyro stands but this is THE ONE.
The Meatball Shop - Get a meatball smash, with whatever kind of balls you want, covered in mozzarella, and PARMESAN CREAM SAUCE (this is crucial). I also like to get an extra side of parmesan cream to dip my sandwich in/drink.
Jacob's Pickles - I remember the days fondly when this place opened up across the street from my apartment, we went whenever we wanted, and it felt like we had the place all to ourselves. Now it is insane and you will wait at 8:00am on a Saturday. So I would probably avoid the weekends, but it is still worth a visit for any kind of biscuit sandwich you are into. And sometimes they have a special skillet cookie that is a true treasure that should always be on the menu (tell them, I'm trying to convince them).
Bubby's - AMAZING brunch (including a midnight brunch) and PIE. DUH.
Angelo's - Delicious Italian restaurant in Little Italy, if you want a Little Italy experience.
Parm - More Italian food (are you sensing a trend?). My favorites seem to never be on the dinner menu, the they are there: the chicken parm on a roll, and the mozzarella sticks. Get an ice cream pie for dessert and if you are lucky the special flavor will be s'mores (a layer of mallow ice cream, a layer of chocolate ice cream, a layer of graham cracker ice cream, all enveloped in marshmallow fluff, atop an oreo crust, and perfectly placed on a big pile of more cookie crumbs. Because every bite should have some).
Lucali - It appears that they don't have a website because they are too good for one? Beyonce said this place had the best pizza in New York and I'm not about to argue with her.
Nicoletta and Motorino - Two pizza places IN Manhattan that are fabulous. Both are close to Chikalicious so make sure you go there for dessert after!! Note that the prosciutto di parma (Motorino) is the best pizza I have ever had. I think. Don't tell Beyonce.
Mr. Chow - Amazing, fancy Chinese food. The ma mignon, Mr. Chow noodles, and CHICKEN SATAY will blow your mind.
Minetta Tavern - All really delicious food. My favorites are the pasta zaza, the black label burger, pommes anna, and the chocolate souffle. You'll definitely need a res. And something cute to wear so you don't feel dumb.
Le Parker Meridien Hotel - Both Norma's and Burger Joint are in this hotel, and both are worth going to. Norma's has an amazing, over-the-top brunch, and Burger Joint is exactly what it sounds like, just a really good burger joint!
La Esquina - The best place to dine is the brasserie downstairs. They are only open for dinner, they have an amazing DJ, and it looks sort of like an old Mexican dungeon. They also have a cafe around the corner where you can get a killer brunch (chilaquiles!), and a taqueria where you can quickly pop in and out for a taco or a corn on the cob.
Tacombi - Another great Mexican spot in Soho, much more casual than the brasserie at Esquina. They serve that traditional corn with the cotija cheese cut off of the cob in a cup, which makes your life easier than anywhere else.
I probably shouldn't even mention Shake Shack, but I will say that the chicken shack is WHERE. IT'S. AT. Can we get that guy in London now!?
Sweetgreen - If you have any desire to eat something healthy along with all of this other stuff, these guys have such good salads. I love the harvest bowl and the kale caesar. I would recommend a salad place if it wasn't really yummy. Promise.
THINGS TO DO (of course including where to eat before or after)
My happy place in New York is Lincoln Center. I LOVE the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Ballet more than anything in the city (but don't push me on choosing them over Levain). I cannot recommend any of these groups highly enough; they are world-class organizations with classic, interesting, and fresh repertoires. Each of them is constantly performing favorites of old, but also new and innovative works, and that square where they all perform is a magical and beautiful little spot (the Metropolitan Opera House is truly the prettiest of them all) that I cannot get enough of. It is definitely the place I miss most in New York. My favorite eats near Lincoln Center: Lincoln (high-end, delicious Italian food, and you can't find a location more convenient before a Lincoln Center event!) and The Smith (hot potato chips with blue cheese fondue, need I say more?).
For those not partial to classical music, go see a musical on Broadway. Obviously. And check out www.broadwayforbrokepeople.com, because there will be a deal on every single show, except Lion King. There is never a deal on Lion King. Eating around Times Square can be HARD. The food is typically gross and overpriced. But let me tell you about a gem: Trattoria Trecolori. This is Italian food done right, at the right price, in the right amount of time. Everything I have tried there has been great. And if you are looking for something quicker and even cheaper, go to Schnipper's, they have yummy burgers, sandwiches, milkshakes, and mac and cheese (I am a huge sucker for mac and cheese).
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (from the Brooklyn side, so you can see Manhattan) is so fun, full of great views, and the food around the base of the bridge is great. Go first to Grimaldi's for pizza, then walk down to the water, where you will find the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. I still haven't found ice cream as good in Manhattan, and I am guessing I won't. There are benches down by the water, so if there is a line at Grimaldi's, grab a pie to go, and go eat it down there. Then burn all of that off with a walk across the bridge.
Manhattan is full of fantastic museums. The MoMA is my favorite, and there you will find Van Gogh's Starry Night and Matisse's The Dance, among a lot of other things you know and love and have seen in pictures before. There is also an outdoor sculpture garden that is a lovely sanctuary inside of the crazy city. Just down the block from the MoMA is a gyro stand on the southwest corner of 53rd and 6th. RUN, DON'T WALK!!!! The best chicken and rice concoctions I (or anyone else) have had!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is an obvious stop. They have everything there. I think that even New Yorkers have a hard time conquering the entire place. Don't miss the Temple of Dendur. It is in the best room of the entire place, with one huge wall entirely made of windows. It looks out into Central Park and is just lovely. Also on the Upper East Side are The Frick Collection and The Guggenheim, other favorites, which are much smaller, more manageable, and quite special. The Neue Galerie has Klimt's Woman in Gold, which I tried to see last time I was there. Learn from my mistake and don't go on a Tuesday (it's closed). Not on the UES but also closed on Tuesdays is the new Whitney Museum. It's full of contemporary art, right on the High Line, and next to a Bubby's and The Standard Grill, where you can order a huge bowl of chocolate mousse and cake and whipped cream that you eat with a spatula. It's a joy.
If you want to go to the top of a tall building (and if you have never done it before, you do), go to Rockefeller Center! I know the Empire State Building sounds like where you want to go, but if you go to Rock Center, then you get to actually SEE the Empire State Building. And on the north side, you have a fabulous view of Central Park. I don't have much to say about the food around Rock Center, it is all mostly chains. But I will say that there is a Mrs. Fields in the subway station. And I wouldn't hold it against anyone if they went there and got a cookie cake.
The best places to shop are Madison Avenue (can't afford it), 5th Avenue (obvi), and Broadway in Soho. Henri Bendel (on 5th) is SUCH a fun store. It has a boutiquey feel, but is a large department store, filled with fun and unique items. From there, go up a few blocks to Bergdorfs. Tiffany is right there as well (but hard to get to--thanks Trump), as is FAO Schwarz, and The Plaza Hotel! Todd English, in the basement of The Plaza, is GREAT. They offer just about every kind of cuisine, but I have found their pastas to be my favorite. And every one that I have tried is good. And if you are at all interested in going to Bloomie's, go to the one in Soho. It is much more enjoyable.
Spend some quality time in Central Park. I love that place, and how different it feels from the city that surrounds it. The Conservatory Garden is especially pretty, and in my experience, not too crowded. The Mall typically is quite busy (I still don't know how we got our engagement photo), but you will still want to go see it. If the weather is nice, rent a bike and ride around it!
PHEW. Are you even still reading!? Did I miss anything? Seriously, please tell me if you have any recommendations that I can't miss next time I go back!