My friend Nicholas is headed to New York for vacation, and asked me to suggest some places where he simply has to eat and drink. Places that fall into the category of "quintessential NYC, on a budget." Well, Nicholas...ask, and ye shall receive. Here are some ideas!
You all know how much I love the Frankies. (If not, all you need to know is this: it's a lot.) You can't come to New York without eating at least one Italian meal, and these guys do it right. The menu is incredible, the wine list wonderful and reasonably-priced, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner - especially good when you're on vacation and have so many opportunities for deliciousness. Go, and make sure that at least one of you orders the cavatelli with browned butter and spicy sausage. And the escarole salad.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Another one of my obvious favorites. The Momofuku empire encapsulates the most recent evolution of the New York dining scene, where casual has replaced sumptuous as the go-to model. You may sit on wooden stools, use paper napkins and bump elbows with your neighbor at Noodle Bar, but you'll also eat some of the very best seasonal dishes around.
This cafe is meant to recreate fin de siècle Vienna on the Upper East Side, and it pretty much achieves its goal. Set in a paneled drawing room in a Fifth Avenue mansion-turned-museum, it's filled with Thonet chairs and adorned with Hoffmann sconces. The savory food is good, but the sweets (especially the linzertorte) and the coffee (especially the einspanner) are the best part. Go early to avoid the nutty lunch crowd that inevitably gathers on weekends.
Two Little Red Hens
Some people will tell you that the city's best cupcakes are to be found elsewhere. Those people are, in a word, wrong. Just...wrong. The Hens make the best cupcakes - not too sweet, full of quality ingredients and bursting with flavor. All that said, their breakfast pastries (scones, muffins, sticky buns and - my favorite - cinnamon rolls) and non-cupcake sweets (date bars, fruit pie, cream pie) are my usually choices. But I do have a weakness for their mini chocolate-peanut butter cupcake, too.
And lest this become a novel of truly epic proportions, I'm going to list the rest of my recommendations a bit more briefly. In no particular order...
Head to this classic SoHo bistro for breakfast. You'll save some dough (lunch and dinner can be pricey here), enjoy delicious pastry, and spy on many a power diner.
Another great place for breakfast. You won't have to wait for a table, and you'll enjoy one of the best breakfasts in the city. After all, isn't eating breakfast out one of the great pleasures of vacation?
Best croissants in the city. For reals.
My favorite things here are the cocktails, the oysters and the brunch. Go for drinks or go early.
This place isn't new, but it was one of the flag-bearers in the local-and-seasonal-but-not-obnoxiously-self-righteous movement of the early-to-mid aughts. Fantastic cocktails and really great emphasis on seasonal veggies. The kale Caesar is to die.
My new favorite restaurant - also a great place for a drink. New Nordic cuisine with local ingredients and really cute waiters.
First of all, this will get you out of Manhattan. Second of all, it's the best Thai food in the city. Take the 7 to Woodside and make sure to order the papaya salad and the pork with chili and basil.
Really delicious cocktails in a quiet bar. Entering through the phone booth in Crif Dogs only makes it more fun. (You can order hot dogs to your bar stool or booth, too.)