April recently left a comment on one of my posts with a question that I figure a bunch of people might have:
If you had to recommend 5-10 "must try" restaurants, regardless of budget, in NYC, what would they be and why?
When people ask me something like this, I usually respond, "What's the price range? What neighborhood? What cuisine?" to help narrow it down. But there are a handful of places I tend to bring people who are visiting from out of town, no matter the price/neighborhood/cuisine.
I wouldn't label the places below as "must try"—they're more like "a bunch places I like enough to want to go multiple times," mostly moderately priced since that's what I can afford. This isn't a definitive guide to my favorite spots in New York City (that post will take me roughly forever), but I hope it helps!
Shake Shack: They make my favorite burger in the city. If you're craving a fat, juicy burger topped with bacon and caramelized onion on a brioche bun, this isn't the place, but if you're looking for a fast food-style burger—a thin, single-serving burger with simple toppings (some combination of lettuce, tomato, special sauce, onion, or cheese) on a basic bun—it's the best I've had. A single Shackburger is just the right size to make me feel satiated, which is a relief considering I have a tendency to eat meals that leave me feeling like a whale in a wetsuit. On that note, I also love their Shack Stack, which is gigantic and dripping in cheesy fried 'shroom-n-meat juice goodness.
Motorino: I unfortunately don't have a recommendation for the best old school New York pizzeria (I should research that ... with my mouth), but my favorite pizzeria is Motorino for their Neapolitan-style pizza. The clam pie is one of my faves, but their simple Margherita is great too.
Sullivan Street Bakery / Grandaisy Bakery: Er, not a restaurant, but their pizza bianca—chewy flatbread seasoned with rosemary, salt, and olive oil—is one of my most favorite foods ever. (Sullivan Street Bakery and Grandaisy have nearly identical menus due to Grandaisy being run by a former partner of Sullivan Street Bakery.)
Shopsins: It's an experience. A rather pleasant, stomach-sploding one, unless you catch Kenny cursing out a random person. Read up on Shopsins lore, check out the menu that never ends, and go on a weekday morning (Wednesday to Friday) instead of the weekend if you don't want to wait forever (you probably won't wait at all on a weekday). I wouldn't say every dish is a home run, but their sliders and burgers are especially good, along with the sandwiches, and the doughnuts, and the milkshakes, and the duck confit I got on my last visit (a dish that was big enough for two meals).
Otto: The main reason I go to Otto is for gelato, but I like their pasta too (not the pizza so much), along with the vegetable and seafood sides. I wouldn't say the non-dessert options are a "must eat," but most of the dishes are so reasonably priced for how good they are that I have no problem making my way through a plate of pasta to get to dessert. Don't miss out on their famous olive oil gelato. I always get olive oil, along with a sorbet (damn good sorbets made with seasonable fruit) and something else.
While I'm talking about gelato, my favorite gelato-only shop is L'Arte del Gelato. I always get a small cup of their pistachio (when they have it, which is most of the time) plus something else.
And while I'm talking about pasta, if you want a reeeaaally good pasta, Marea is rightfully famous for theirs, most specifically the red wine braised octopus and bone marrow fusilli. You just have to be up for spending $91 on their prix fixe, or $31 for a small serving of pasta, which I'm generally not. Kåre and I went for the prix fixe dinner to celebrate my birthday, and while all the dishes were good, the pasta is what would pull me back; it was some of the best pasta I've ever eaten. I still think about it ... [stares longingly at photo ... weeps].
Xi'an Famous Foods: Their liang pi noodles is one of the best noodle dishes I've ever eaten—and it happens to be vegan-friendly, if that appeals to ya. Just don't eat too many of Xi'an's dishes at the same time; many of them use the same sauce, which makes them all taste the same after a while.
Although I haven't been to Momofuku Ssam Bar in ages, I do really like it. I'd probably only go with friends who are visiting from out of town because it's a bit pricy for a regular night out. If you can wrangle a group of people together, the reservation-only pork shoulder (bo ssam) dinner is awesome, as are the pork buns. For another reservation-only group meal, the fried chicken at Noodle Bar is also worth trying.
Katz's Deli: I've only eaten here three times, but I'm mentioning it because it's a touristy spot that is genuinely delicious. Expensive, but worth it for glorious meat stacks. Their pastrami is famous for good reason.
April later emailed me to say she'll probably be staying in Williamsburg. Some of my faves there:
Pies-N-Thighs: Not ever having been to the south for proper southern fried chicken, I can't tell you how this compares to "the real thing," but I do love it. When get a hankering for fried chicken and biscuits, Pies-N-Thighs is my top choice. I skip the pies though; the savory stuff seems better.
The Brooklyn Star: This is one of those places I kept meaning on writing about but haven't yet. Stick it in the pile with the rest of the neglected blog posts. :C I ate there three times in a two week period, if that's any indication of how much I like it. Southern-style stuff that's better than homey, but still homey. Does that make sense? They've got more on the biscuit front, along with chicken-fried steak, fried sweetbreads, jalapeño cornbread, macaroni and cheese with bacon—you get the picture.
[Oh noes my photos are still on my camera. Boo.]
Smorgasburg: This is what New York City needs more of: spacious lots full of small food stalls. Except ideally it'd be a permanent thing, not a Saturday-only food food fair at the western edge of Williamsburg. Still, it's better than nothing, and a hell of an improvement since when I lived in Williamsburg in 2008.
Best Pizza: You can get great slices here (white pie FTW), but the last two times I went (out of the ... three times I've been), I got sandwiches. The chicken parm and meatball sub are awesome, made with great crisp-crusted, chewy bread and balanced fillings.
Diner: Despite that my last visit resulted in stomach bloat and bitter salad hell, I'd still recommend Diner. Their burger is awesome, and their other dishes tend to be very good, carefully made stuff that's not boring nor too fussy.
Although April already told me that she'll be staying in Brooklyn for part of her trip, she had asked me earlier if I thought it was worth it to stay in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. So, if anyone else is wondering, the original question:
I've been told to just suck it up and spend the money to stay in Manhattan but the hotel prices are around $300 per night, minimum. I've seen some decent places in Brooklyn for much less. Do you think the money saved would be worth it after we factor in hassle and transportation costs? Is it a serious difficulty to find good transportation (at all hours) from Brooklyn to Manhattan and vice versa?
Considering I've lived in Brooklyn for a few years, I'd say it's worth staying in Brooklyn if you can save a good deal of money. Shouldn't be much of a hassle if it's near a convenient enough subway stop (it may get iffier on the weekends though, when the MTA messes around with a ton of subway lines, to put it mildly), and transportation shouldn't cost more unless you plan on taking cabs a lot (I rarely take cabs; when you have an unlimited Metrocard and the subways run 24 hours a day, it seems like a waste). I don't have much advice to give about cabs since I rarely take them, but from my experience, it shouldn't be hard to find a cab in Manhattan to take you back to Brooklyn; if you want to take a cab in Brooklyn, you may have to call a car service.