The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Some of My Fave Spots in NYC to Bring Out-of-towners

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!

Shack Burger
Shack Burger, you are mine.

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.

Yay, pizza!

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.

falafel pita sammich trio!
Trio of falafel sandwiches.

Taim: I don't see the point of eating falafels from any place that isn't Taim. Their falafels and pita are the best I've had in the city.

pizza bianca
Pizza bianca from Grandaisy. This photo is nearly 4 years old, but it looks something like that.

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.)

Mr. E
If you can eat this whole thing in one go, you might have a tapeworm inside you.

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).

another gelato cup
Glorious gelato cup.

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.

It is beautiful.

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].

Liang Pi Cold Noodles
Liang pi cold noodles.

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.

pork buns
Ohh yes, the buns.

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.

IMG_1521 copy

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.

muslim lamb chop

Fu Run: Head to Flushing where magical lamb ribs await!

April later emailed me to say she'll probably be staying in Williamsburg. Some of my faves there:

fried chicken, mac n cheese, biscuit
Fried chicken + biscuit + mac and cheese = JOY.

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.

country fried steak, mashed potatoes, hot slaw
Steak, battered and deep fried. Good idea.

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.

meatball sub
Meatball sub. Come to me.

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.

burger, closer
Burger = boss.

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.


sofia / September 21, 2011 7:21 AM

this is a great post! totally gonna send this link over to friends.

the fact that i have yet to eat at shopsins makes me sad/ feel like i'm missing out on a majorly important (and offensive?) NYC dining experience!

Maggie / September 21, 2011 9:05 AM

If you go to Marea, the lobster-burrata dish is a must-order. It's ridiculous. Obscenely good. And I don't even like lobster that much.

Bryan / September 21, 2011 9:50 AM

Best Pizza sounds great, but their website doesn't have an address. Where is it? (note, typing in "best pizza" onto Google Maps while looking over NYC is positively useless :) )

toddo / September 21, 2011 10:22 AM

My top pick -- Macondo on Houston Street. It's a great casual scene, and if they're a bit adventurous and have some familiarity with Latin/South American food, all the better.

April / September 21, 2011 3:31 PM

Thank you so much! I can't wait to eat our way through NYC! Shake Shack and Otto are definitely on our list, followed closely by Motorino and Momofuku! You really got the fiancee's mouth watering with that pastrami picture, though. Thanks for taking the time to write such an awesome post in answer to my questions. :)

Angie / September 21, 2011 4:52 PM

If you love the pizza at Motorino, have you had the pizza at Keste in Greenwich Village. I used to be head over heels for Motorino until I had Keste and now I think I'm just a tiny bit more in love with the latter.

roboppy / September 21, 2011 6:53 PM

Mahar: I'm glad I could introduce you to Shake Shack!

Belinda: Let me know if you end up finding a new face!

sofia: I've gone to Shopsins with friends who felt intimidated on their first visit, but it's not scary. ;) Some dishes may seem a bit pricey, but it's a unique, tiny place and the food is good, so I'm not complaining.

Maggie: Ah man, one of my friends recommended that dish to me but I got the wrong lobster dish (the crudo instead of the antipasti). Doh. I suppose I'll just have to go back... :)

Bryan: Man, website fail! Thanks to Eric for listing the address below; here's a map.

toddo: I've never been, thanks for the rec!

April: You're welcome; let me know what you end up liking the most!

Angie: I've been to Keste a few times, but ... I didn't like it nearly as much. :( I wrote a bit about it back in january.

Yvonne / September 22, 2011 4:24 AM

Gotta make a checklist out of this. Only 2 down, loads more to go!

Thanks for bringing me to Otto! :) Oh how I miss NYC...

Julie / September 22, 2011 3:19 PM

Awesome--bookmarked! I'm determined to get to NYC before I turn 40, so I may as well start bookmarking now. Good grief, I'm running out of time. =\

sophia / September 22, 2011 10:12 PM

I'm loyal to L.A., so I'll say In-N-Out is still the best...but Shake Shack comes a close second.

That falafel place is on my NYC list now. I'm visiting this winter and I cannot wait! I'm still really pissed that the last winter I was there, I got lost in Broadway and had to eat crappy chain food.

roboppy / September 22, 2011 11:55 PM

Nic: Glad you like it! I hope I can visit Australia someday!

Yvonne: I'll help you eat when you come back!

Julie: You can stay at my apartment, so that should make it easier for you to visit! :D


Michael (S.O.F.A.T. Blog) / September 23, 2011 5:46 PM

DOH! The last time I went to NYC, I went perusing TGWAE for everything that looked delicious... bad idea, very bad idea. Why wasn't I smart enough to just ask you, "Where would you take an out-of-towner?" (like myself) Boo... note to self: ask Robyn more questions! Thumbs up to Shake Shack, and I can't wait to try Xi'an Famous Foods! We have no Xi'an cuisine in LA, whatsoever! Big fan, btw, and hope to meet (and eat with) you next time I'm in the Big Apple! Mmm... delicious apples...

Laura W / September 24, 2011 1:25 AM

aaaaahhhhhh... sighhhh.. I was just talking about MY hometown today at work. About how I missed the PIZZA, the CHINESE FOOD, KATZ'S, and NATHANS at Coney Island... I live in San Diego and food sucks here. Even the Mexican is not-so-Mexican-but-so.Cal.

My favorite cafe hands down is Cafe Orlin on E 8th St. Have you ever been there Robyn? I've been going since 1979. And they just seem to get more fantastic to me as time passes. Never been to Motorino's but looks like a must try for my next visit... WAHHHHHHH... I wanna go home..

roboppy / September 26, 2011 12:00 AM

Lizzi: You can be that out-of-towner! If you visit!

Michael: I must admit that I'm not always the most diligent responder, but sometimes..I do! feel free to ask. And we can definitely grab some food next time you're here!

Laura: I haven't been! I've probably passed it a bagillion times. Thanks for the rec! And definitely try Motorino next chance you get.

Wendy / October 1, 2011 8:19 PM

Marea...I went August 2010 and I'm still dreaming of the spaghetti with crab and sea urchin.

Christina / October 12, 2011 10:21 AM

I wish I had known about some of these when I was there! I made it to Sullivan's, but that's it. I also would have emailed you and asked to meet up, but then I felt like a creepy stalker so I didn't do it. =(

roboppy / November 2, 2011 2:24 AM

Audrey: Glad I could help! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

Louise: Thanks for reading! NYC is great in the spring, hope you can make it!

Dina / November 5, 2011 9:08 PM

Wow, Robyn, what a great post! And your photos are fantastic. I wish I'd seen it three months ago though, when a friend and I came to NYC for a week, for food and theater! Although I don't know where we could fit any more food... :)
Well, now I can start a new "must eat" list for next time. :)
By the way, we were also frustrated by the high prices of hotels in Manhattan, so decided to look on craig's list instead. We ended up subletting a room in the Lower East Side, for just $400 for the week for the 2 of us, and our hosts were a wonderful empty-nest couple, who fed us breakfast (which we occasionally had to decline because there were about 5000 restaurants we wanted to try...) and fascinating stories about life in New York. If interested, I can give you their email address.

Molly / November 10, 2011 2:30 AM

Great post Robyn! I just visited NYC in Sept, and my recommendation is to use the website "VBRO" which is a vacation rental website. My girlfriend and I stayed in a cute studio in Midtown West and it was great- and only 175 a night for the weekend. Wish I had your list when we were there- oh well, it's an excuse to go back! Keep up the great work on the blog, it's one of my must-reads.

roboppy / November 12, 2011 1:17 PM

Dina: I hope you come back sometime! And I'll hit you up for that info if I need it!

Molly: Thanks for reading! I haven't heard of that site, I'll check it out.

alice / October 11, 2012 1:35 PM

Oh, Diner. That's where we first met, wasn't it, honeybear?

I still dream of that Berkshire pork chop. DREAM. And drool.

It's not pretty in the morning.

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