Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Best of New York (in my humble opinion)

We are now at the airport waiting for our flight home. I've already downloaded my photos and we have a few hours to kill, so I've decided to make a list of the places that we liked, for our next trip to NY. It seems very anal to write it all here, but figured that this way I can tell all my friends (and possibly some strangers) without having to look it up all the time.

When we weren't in New York's awesome museums (MOMA, Guggenheim, etc.) or shopping with the Canadian dollar worth more than the US (for the first time since 1976!) we were walking, eating and drinking. We had a rule that we wouldn't eat at the same place twice and that we'd always try something different if possible - especially all the micro brews that they have. Bartenders were generally very helpful in describing the various beers and would often let you sample it before committing to a pint. And with so many different restaurants to choose from, making a decision was usually the hardest part. That and finding something affordable in the more upscale neighbourhoods. Here is our list, by neighbourhood.


Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters - 179 E Houston St., just east of Allen. - the BEST selection of smoked salmon and any smoked fish anywhere. The store is over 100 years old and quality is amazing. Best place to get a bagel with cream cheese and lox. Yummy! My only regret is that we didn't eat here more.

Katz's Deli - 205 E Houston St, at Ludlow St. - Traditional and crazy big New York deli that's been there since 1888. The best corned beef that I've ever tasted, and I was full for 12 hours. Sandwich comes with a big plate of pickles and pickled green tomatoes. Very fresh and fun to see the photos of all the celebs who have been there.

Pink Pony - 176 Ludlow St. (between Houston & Stanton) - Large and airy place with interesting decor and a great menu. Went for breakfast one day and would have liked to try their evening menu. Delicious. They list all of their purveyors on the menu, and most of the ingredients come from the neighbourhood. Great local feel.

Sugar - corner of Houston & Essex - not in the guide book, but we thought that we'd give it a try. Dan thought that it was the WORST of New York, and I guess that compared to everything else we'd had, it was. But, it was really not that bad. I'd recommend it for a coffee and a snack if you're in the area, but not for a meal. They do have free wifi.

Little Vesleka - First Ave between Houston & First - Strictly takeout and a few outdoor bistro tables for breakfast and light meals. A mini version of the well known Ukrainian place on Second Ave. Good coffee. It is across from Sugar and we wish that we'd gone there instead. Next time for sure.

El Sombrero - 108 Stanton St. at Ludlow St. - great Mexican restaurant in a happening neighbourhood. We walked past it dozens of times but never at meal time. There just wasn't time to check it out, but we will next time for sure. Always busy.

East Village

Frank - 88 Second Ave (between 5th & 6th Sts.) - Great traditional Italian food. Tiny with great atmosphere and menu with lots of Italian favorites. I had the homemade ravioli with beets & ricotta. Delicious.

Cloister Cafe - 238 E 9th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - tranquil garden to enjoy a refreshing drink. I didn't try the food, so can't vouch for that.

Cucina di Pesce - 87 E 4th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - Great priced Italian food with an excellent value "early bird" special (before 6:30 p.m.) which is good for the Off-off Broadway theatres in the area. We went later and still enjoyed a good meal. Dan thought that it was amazing, but I rate it more in the good range.

Sidewalk Cafe - Avenue A around 6th Street - I don't remember the exact address, as we're not that keen on going back. I remembered eating there when I was in NY about a decade ago and stayed on the Lower East side with a friend of a friend. I was so pleased to find it, we had to try it. It was our first morning in Manhattan, and the place was packed. Sadly, the food wasn't as good as I had remembered. I would skip it next time.

Yaffa Cafe - 97 St. Mark's Place - Recommended by a local coffee shop employee, and I have also been there a few times on previous trips, but this 24 hour cafe did not measure up to my memories. Their menu is too varied. How can they do everything well? It is a good location and a cool decor, but I think that the quality of food has slipped. The moral of the story: only go to a 24 hour restaurant when all others are closed. The long hours have a negative impact on the quality.

NoLIta (North of Little Italy)

Cafe Colonial - 276 Elizabeth St. at Houston - Based on the fresh food concept of colonial restaurants in Brazil, bright with high ceilings and friendly staff. Delicious brunch, but the rest of the menu looked good too.

Cafe Gitane - 242 Mott St. at Prince St. - Small but tasty food with a French flair. Yummy and great atmosphere too. I've been here on three separate trips to NYC and still love it.

Cafe Habana - 229 Elizabeth St - it sounded good and looked packed whenever we passed by, but didn't have time to try it ourselves. I'll put it on the list for next time, that's for sure.

Midtown West

Hourglass Tavern - 373 W 46th St. (between 8th & 9th Aves) - In "restaurant row" near the big Broadway theatres. A good choice if you're in the neighbourhood, but I wouldn't go out of my way to try it. Great atmosphere and nice staff, good food too. They have an hourglass on the wall above each table and during busy times, they turn it so that you don't overstay your welcome during the pre-Theatre rush.

Upper West Side

Vinyl - 507 Columbus Ave (at 85th St.) - We went to meet a friend from Toronto who is working in NY. This is her new neighbourhood, and a place that she's been a few times. It has a great decor of vinyl records and recording artists. The menus are old album covers (mine was Bonnie Rait, but Dan's was some old musical starring a then unknown Tom Bosley) which was fun. We met quite early in the evening so it was full of tables with young children and even one birthday party. But it was still quite cool and the decor was fun. The food was delicious and reasonably priced too. They have two other locations: one in Hell's Kitchen and I don't remember the other.

Brooklyn - Park Slope

Coco Roco - 392 Fifth Ave (between 6th & 7th Sts) - Peruvian cuisine - very very good. We ordered off the daily specials menu and were extremely happy with our choices. The ceviche appetizer tray was awesome. Five different types of seafood all 'cooked' in citrus, so it is tender and delicious, like sushi. I highly recommend trying it, if you haven't already. Great service and good prices too.


Hands down, the best drinking holes are found in both the Lower East Side and the East Village. A bit more gritty and unique than other areas of Manhattan, and filled with interesting looking characters. Anything but generic. But, I guess that it depends on what you're looking for. This area is more like Toronto's Queen Street West or Parkdale, not Yorkville. I understand that Brooklyn is the place to be for that type of ambiance at even better prices, but regrettably, we only made it out there once.

Lower East Side

I don't think that you could go wrong on any place on Ludlow. There are a bunch of bars close together, and we tried a few, and liked them all. I just don't remember all the names. On weekends, it gets beyond packed with non-Manhattan-ites in their trendy outfits.

Max Fish - 178 Ludlow Street just below Houston - High ceilings, interesting decor, and local hipsters come to drink with their dogs.

Local 138 - 138 Ludlow Street, just down from Max Fish - darker, moodier place with good music and friendly service.

East Village

d.b.a - 41 First Ave (between 2nd & 3rd Sts.) - This place was below our apartment and we foolishly walked past it many times, en route to other bars. Fortunately we stopped in for a pint before going to the airport and wished that we'd gone earlier. Amazing selection of beers and bourbons, great staff and good character. It was packed most nights after 10 p.m.

Lakeside Lounge - 162 Ave B (between E 10th & 11th Sts.) - I've been here on several prior trips to NYC. Small dark place that often features bands. They have a photo booth in the bar, where I have crowded into with friends in the past. On this trip, we visited on a quiet Monday night and it just didn't have the same energy that it usually has, but I still liked it.

Beauty Bar - 231 East 14th St. (between 2nd & 3rd Aves) - An old beauty parlor with all the hair dyers and equipment now used for patrons to enjoy a cocktail. They have a manicure special: $10 which includes a free cocktail. A bit bar with a good selection of beers, but also lots of old beauty products on display. They have a big back room where I saw some stand-up comics on my last visit to NYC. This time we just enjoyed a pint in the front room, and the fact that we were two of only a handful who were not asked for ID at the door. It was Friday, so the crowd was a bit younger.

One and One - First Ave at 1st Street - Almost across the street from our apartment, it was close and had a good happy hour and great vantage for people watching on Houston. We sampled their awesome Happy Hour wings at only 10 cents per wing and washed them down with $4 pints. Yum. The pub itself was less interesting, but the location made up for that.

Midtown East

Old Town Bar and Grill - 45 E 18th St. (between Park Ave & Broadway) - Over a hundred years old, huge ceilings and huge booths, and a bar that runs the length of the place. We sat in a booth with an autographed book jacket from Frank McCourt, claiming that it is the only bar left in NY where you can talk. Good conversation levels. They serve food too.

Pete's Tavern - 129 E 18th St (at Irving Pl.) - They claim that it is New York oldest original bar. I'm not sure what the original part means, although it did look old and had lots of character. We had a beer at the bar, to fuel our walk home from the Flatiron building. It is said that O. Henry wrote his short story "The Gift of the Magi" in his regular booth here. We sat at the bar right beside this booth, and it had a "reserved" sign on it the whole time, but nobody sat there. En route to the bathroom, I saw tons of photos of various celebs eating there: Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Clinton, Johnny Depp, etc., but none were there that night.

Midtown West

Rudy's - 627 Ninth Ave (between 44th & 45th Sts.) - a dive bar with free hot dogs and cheap beer, and vintage bartenders. Reputed to be popular with the broadway performers (think cheap and close by) but the theatre was in while we were there, so instead it was full of Hell's Angels and frat boys. An interesting and potentially dangerous mix.We sat in a circular red vinyl booth that was majorly taped up with red duct tape. I wanted to take a photo but was worried about the biker guys. We had our pint and got outta there. (I had been there before and found it fun that other time.)


Fanelli - 94 Prince St at Mercer - an old bar with a great vibe and killer location. Good place for a cool refreshment on a day of shopping, or even at night. On my last trip, we enjoyed a few glasses of wine while chatting the the bartender. This time we were left on our own to soak up the ambiance.

West Village

We walked all the way over from the East Village, just for a change of pace, but found the area to be lacking in the kind of original places we had found on the east side. We went to The Blind Tiger Ale House on Hudson St., as I'd been there on my last trip to NYC two years ago, but it has been replaced by yet another Starbucks. Boo. But we soldiered on to:

White Horse Tavern - 567 Hudson St at W. 11th St. - It's claim to fame is that Dylan Thomas had his last meal there, before going to hospital with alcohol poisoning. It is decorated with lots of white horses all over. I thought it looked kinda cool, but Dan said that it seemed as authentic as a Firkin (a chain of generic pubs in Ontario). It was full of generic white people and we were sitting too close to a loud guy who was visiting from another part of the US, and thought that everybody would want to hear his take on the characters on Leave It to Beaver. One of the most expensive pints we had in New York and definitely not the best. I'd give it a pass.

Brooklyn - Park Slope

The Gate - 321 Fifth Ave at 3rd St. - Great beer selection and a BIG patio. A great place to relax after a long walk.

Brooklyn - Carrol Gardens

The Brooklyn Social Club - I didn't get to this place because I forgot to take the address with me when we went to Brooklyn, and surprisingly, we did not walk past it on our long long march. My friends tell me that it is amazing, and I do regret that we didn't get to see it.

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