Hope you enjoy and report back on your trip!
- Bianca is my FAVORITE restaurant in the city. (SADDEST UPDATE EVER – As of Fall 2015, Bianca has closed. Dang NYC rent!!!) It’s a tiny mom-pop, authentic Italian restaurant. No reservations, but if you go on the early side (~6 p.m. the wait shouldn’t be too long). Cash only. This place has the lasagna I compare all lasagna to. I describe it like going to my Italian friend’s grandmother’s kitchen and sitting amongst 30 loud cousins. Favorite dishes are gnocco fritto with cheese (appetizer, $9); lasagna, pasta with sausage and pasta with seafood ($10-$12 each); tiramisu ($6). 5 Bleecker St (near corner of Bowery St; East Village area)
- The original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (23rd Street). A famous chef owns this outdoor “shack” so the quality of the food is fantastic. Great burgers, cheese fries, black & white milkshakes, and frozen custard (check out the daily custard of the day). Burgers are $3-$7. The line is usually insane on a nice day. http://www.shakeshack.com/. There are other locations in the city though, and lines move quickly.
- Eataly – Italian food market partly owned by Mario Batali that is across the street from Madison Square Park. It’s fun just to walk through here, but there are about five restaurants in here too. They also have an awesome rooftop bar Bierreria (it’s covered and heated, so it’s open year round) and they serve house-brewed cask ales. Information on making reservations for the rooftop bar, and probably the other restaurants is on the website. They also offer cooking classes.
- Sushi You – tiny, unassuming place in Midtown. Chef Miku makes AMAZING sushi. You’ll likely be sitting surrounded by Japanese business men. Try the omakase (chef’s choice menu, $50). 246 E 51st Street (bottom floor)
Drinks and smaller eats
- Raines Law Room – my favorite bar/lounge in the city. It’s a speakeasy and premise is that you’re in an old English townhome. The “kitchen” is the bar. Great cocktails – gin, bourbon, scotch, etc. They even use different types of ice cubes for different liquors. It’s a small place and they only let in a certain number of people at a time to ensure the place is not too crowded. Every table has a little bell pull that alerts the waitress you need something. Otherwise, you are not bothered. Go early to avoid a long wait. When you arrive, you ring the doorbell, someone will crack the door open and ask you the size of your party and then let you know if there is room/how long the wait is. I don’t think there’s a dress code, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone there in sneakers or t-shirts. 48 West 17th St.
- Milk & Honey – another speakeasy that just moved from the Lower East Side to Flatiron (across from Madison Square Park). No printed menus. The server asks your drink/liquor preferences then suggests a cocktail. Friends and I spent a night there and had an array of about 10 different cocktails – all were awesome! 30 East 23rd Street (almost across from Shake Shack).
- Frying Pan – perfect for casual drinks on the water during the summer. It’s a docked boat and barge on the Hudson. No reservations and no table service. Just go up to the bar to order drinks and food. Come early and grab a table. Since there’s no table service groups of friends can stay as long as they want. It’s on 26th Street, so just keep walking west until you hit the Hudson!
- Upstate – casual bar in East Village that has local beers and serves fresh seafood (here is blog post about it). My friend’s friend owns it. Again, it’s a tiny place. Well known for its 5-7pm happy hour – $12 for a craft beer plus 6 oysters. 95 First Ave (near 6th St)
- Doughnut Planet in Lower East Side (also has Chelsea location) for non-traditional donuts
- Levain Bakery – pick up the “world’s best” (and biggest?) chocolate chip cookie (on 74th Street Upper West Side); a cookie is almost $4 each, but they’re so big that 2-3 people can share a cookie; Levain Bakery beat Bobby Flay in the “chocolate chip cookie throwdown”
- You must walk the High Line Park. Built on a historic, freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s west side. It runs from about 30th Street to 14th Street. There’s art (make sure you check out nearby buildings and courtyards), greenery, food and great views. You can also finish by walking through Chelsea Market (where Food Network headquarters is), which is around 14th Street.
- I love walking through the Union Square Greenmarket and buying a cup of hot/cold apple cider while tasting the various fruits and cheeses. Though it is a much less food sampling culture at this farmers market than those in places like San Francisco.
- Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre – it’s the best improv comedy place in the city (and better than standup comedy), but it’s a total dive and in an old basement. Most chairs feel like they’re broken! Young crowd – mostly 20s-30s. This theatre is co-owned by former SNL-ers Horatio Sanz and Amy Poehler and it’s where many SNL, Colbert Report and Daily Show writers/actors get their start (sometimes folks from 30 Rock also stop by); shows cost $10; I’ve seen some of the funniest shows at this theatre; best show (and the one mostly likely to have famous people stop by) is the Sunday night one; Saturday and Friday nights are also usually great – 9 p.m. shows; you can buy/reserve tickets in advance instead of taking a chance waiting in line