I don’t know what’s harder- having to leave New York City, or having to hunt down amazing restaurants in a food desert. The Twinks and I found ourselves searching for a dinner spot after spending the day de-hoarding their rooms (don’t ask). Signs that read “CLOSED” are what the we faced on Saturday evening, instead. This was eight-o’clock in the evening. So, when I describe my current city as a food desert, I’m being kind. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some restaurants that are hidden gems here, but they are few and far between…and they close at 8PM too. If I can’t manage to visit NYC for the weekend, at least I still have the memories.
I’m bringing you Part 2 of my two-part post of Places You Must Visit on your next trip to NYC. You can refresh your memory of my earlier picks here. In a very particular order, here are my top picks:
#9: Breakroom 83 Baxter St., New York, NY 10013 (Chinatown)
That’s a pork belly sandwich with pickled onions, an over easy egg, and Breakroom’s house sauce.
Let that marinate for a moment.
Good? Okay, moving on.
Breakroom is a dive located in Chinatown. The walk through Chinatown is worth a visit to NYC on its own, but when you couple it with burger joints like this, you get something akin to nirvana. Squeezing (no, I’m not exaggerating) past the bodies that line the aisle to the register isn’t for the claustrophobic. In true dive style, Breakroom is a no-frills, straight to the point eating establishment. The young guy taking my order was polite and efficient.
The food was more than I expected for a gritty hole-in-the-wall (I mean that in a good way). You can see the perfection that I experienced, but the Twins’ meals were just as notable. Twink A, never to deviate from tradition, had his hands full (literally) with The Classic: a patty, lettuce, pickle and tomato. I tried to convince him to up the ante and try their signature burger which included confit crispy pork belly, fried onion halves, runny egg, and jalapeños; but he wouldn’t deviate. Twink B went rogue with her Tempura Fish Sandwich. Her mammoth filet of tempura battered catfish had cheese, Breakroom’s house slaw and pickled onions. We added an order of fries to go with our meal, as well as a house-made passion fruit lemonade for me, and H2O for the babes.
In total, our break at Breakroom cost us just under $40. Not bad for dinner in the city. Our next visit will definitely include a bite (or more) of that signature burger, though.
#8: Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles 1 Doyers St., New York, NY 10013 (Chinatown)
Now, when I say that Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles is a hole-in-the-wall, I mean that in the most affectionate way. Even the name evokes a “We ain’t got time for that” attitude towards formalities. They’re all, “Get in, eat your noodles, pay, and get to gettin’.”
Finding THPN is a feat in itself. Our driver had to circumnavigate Chinatown’s notoriously narrow, congested backstreets; only to have to contend with a double-parked Postal Worker. We finally arrived and tuck-and-rolled out of the car to find ourselves in a restaurant the size of most people’s living room. Getting to our table only took 5 steps (no lie). Thankfully, they had space available or else the wait would’ve been on a very cramped Chinatown sidewalk.
Nevertheless, we tucked into the menu and ordered chicken fried rice. NO!!! No, we didn’t do that because that’s dumb. You don’t visit a place called Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles to get rice! You get noodles. The roast duck hand pulled noodles, specifically. We added the steamed pork and chive dumplings to round out our meal. Both dishes were delicious, hot, and came out of that teeny-tiny kitchen in a flash. The waitress was friendly in spite of the language barrier, and, when I attempted to pay with a credit card, relayed that they only take cash politely. Luckily, for those with a noodle hankering, there’s an ATM right around the corner.
All totaled, our tasty lunch at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles cost us $21.50. Not bad for a meal to feed three with drinks included. Be sure you and your GPS are friends, or better yet take the train, hit up the ATM and try it out.
#7 Chinatown Ice Cream Factory 65 Bayard St., New York, NY 10013 (Chinatown)
I’m sure that by now, you’ve discovered we spent a lot of our time eating around Chinatown. Not only was that because of the abundance of food joints in the area, but also because it was within close proximity to our hotel. This was my first, and hopefully last, visit to NYC without my husband. Navigating the streets of the City with two kids who grew up on military bases isn’t my idea of relaxing. When the Soldier is with us we tag team and divert sidelong glances that drive either Twink into the path of a MTA bus. Without Hector, I was riding sola; staying close to home-base was a must. But, we didn’t suffer for it- clearly.
While I was in culinary school, I managed an ice cream store that was known for its unique and, quite frankly, odd flavors. People were keen to sample, but after going to school all day and pulling a 4 hour work shift, I loaaaaaaatttthhhhhhed it when people would ask to sample every. single. flavor. Vanilla tastes like vanilla, Bro. Stop it. But, guess who I was at the CICF? A repeat sampler offender. Didn’t even care, either. It was karma.
They were out of durian. Bummer, cause I wanted to see if it really tastes like rotting cheese in a pig’s carcass. The pandan ice cream was a favorite of ours, as were the black sesame, don tot (egg custard), almond cookie, zen butter (peanut butter and sesame seeds), and ube (purple yam). The male Twink ordered a cup of lychee, girl Twink ordered the don tot, and I (since I’m paying) ordered a scoop of pandan and a scoop of green tea. At CICF, the “exotic flavors” are vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and the like. It’s like opposite world for non-Asians.
Three cups of ice cream will set you back $18. Worth it, in my opinion.
Must Do: Stroll down the streets of the East Village
Not a food spot, but since it’s on the way to our next joint, take a minute to amble down one of the East Village’s side streets. Another up and coming locale, the East Village used to be known for its hippies and Beatniks. North of Houston (pronounced HOW-ston) and South of 14th St., this little enclave is packed full of cutesie boutiques and hidden gems.
Among my favorite places to visit is Tailor’s Atelier . Proprietor and tailor, Nigel Ramsey, and his adorable wife Annmarie direct the orchestra that is this clothier’s den. I have literally sat in their shop and watched the craftsmen (and woman) work their magic. Seeing a skill that, in my opinion, is undervalued and slowly dying, executed with such precision and elegance is hypnotizing.
While most won’t visit NYC to watch tailor’s work, and Nigel probably would kick you out for loitering when you start weirding out the employees; do stop by if you need alterations done. These amazing craftspeople can create works of art with wedding dresses, suits, and even outwear.
#6: Superiority Burger 430 E. 9th St. New York, NY 10009 (East Village)
After working up an appetite walking around the East Village, stop into Superiority Burger and find out what makes them…well…superior. Full disclosure: when Nigel suggested that we go, “Eat a veggie burger,” I reminded him that I’m a decent Puerto Rican woman. My black beans should be stewed and over rice. I was incredulous that a veggie burger qualified as a lunch one would pay to eat. Not only did I eat, and enjoy a veggie burger that visit; I also ate crow.
Their signature burger is a vegetarian slider of nuts, grains and legumes (I’m assuming) packed with flavor and hint of spice. This burger is topped with muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle. I wasn’t mad at this faux-burger. Instead of fries I enjoyed a cool and creamy cucumber salad mix and their cheesy crunchy potatoes (topped with ketchup and green onions). The sides are seasonal, the deliciousness isn’t.
The joint is small. Like, order your food and sit outside, small. But, no matter; in this case, size doesn’t matter. Lunch at SB will cost about $22 and, if you’re anything like me, your ego.
#5: Dough Doughnuts Flatiron 14 W. 19th St., New York, NY 10011 (Flatiron)
I love me some donuts. I have, recently, just started accepting cake donuts as a legitimate breakfast item. At Dough, they have my number when it comes to uniquely flavored, pillowy soft donuts. The fact that I walked out of there a little poorer and stuffed like a tick is proof positive.
I like to take the odd paring and make it a “thing”. Dough likes to create odd couples, too, because quite a few of their donut flavors were worthy of my respect. Dough ices their deep fried, overgrown yeast donuts in an uncommon melange of flavors. I sacrificed my curves for your sake (you’re welcome, I love you too); sampling as many of the stand-outs as possible.
Lemon-poppy, Nutella, and Dulce de Leche were the top individual favorites. The three of us agreed that Passion Fruit and Blood Orange flavors tied for second, only because I’m greedy (like you didn’t know) and I liked both equally. Dough has rotating flavors that include Gin and Tonic, Chocolate Earl Grey, and Yuzu Curd. They weren’t available during our visit or your girl would’ve been rolled out of there like that fat kid in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The damage to my wallet was $33 including my coffee and milks for the Twinks. The damage to my diet? Who diets??!?!
#4 Vanessa’s Dumpling House 118A Eldridge St. New York, NY 10002 (Chinatown)
Vanessa’s is one of those spots that provides immersion therapy for those of us who suffer from agoraphobia. Had it not been for the Twinkies telling me, “We’re hungry and this was your idea!” I may have turned and high-tailed it to McDonald’s (that’s a total lie). Vanessa’s is not the smallest place that we visited; however, the crowds that flood it make it seem quite cramped. I got over it as soon as I ordered.
Along with crowds, comes the ever exciting jostle for a place to sit. Now, I try to be a low-maintenance chick, but I don’t eat whilst standing. A quick glance revealed that one table had the potential of offering seats to our party so I perched next to the twitching evacuees. As soon as they indicated they were on the move, I pounced like a ravenous lioness onto the chair. I may, or may not (who knows if CPS is reading this), have grabbed the Twinks and forced them onto their chairs, as well.
Now that the glory of obtaining a place in the world…er, at Vanessa’s…was ours, we sat down to enjoy our lunch of dumplings. As with the noodle house, when you visit a dumpling house, you should try the dumplings. At Vanessa’s, however, the sesame pancake sandwiches are gaining as much popularity as the pouches of yumminess. We dove into our dumplings of boiled shrimp in spicy sauce, chive and pork, and basil and chicken. Our peking duck sesame pancake sandwich was a hit with all of us, but our fish ball noodle soup was lacking in flavor.
The best part of the dining experience at Vanessa’s- besides the fact that I muscled primo seating for us- was the bill: $22 for the lot. Win.
Celebrate at: Rainhas Churrascaria 108-01 Northern Blvd. Corona, NY 11368 (Queens)
You’ll probably remember my account of the morning of the Twins birthday. I was holed up in the bathroom bawling my eyes out because they had turned another year older. I ended up getting myself together and we had a fantastic day, followed by an even more entertaining evening.
July 1st is a popular birthday in our family. Not only do we celebrate the Twinks, but also my Aunt and Uncle. Our very LARGE family gathered together at Rainha’s to celebrate three of the four. Considering the fact that our servers didn’t even bat an eye at my family of 25, I would venture to say that Rainha’s is perfect for large crowds.
Buffet style sides and entrees round out the meatfest. One Twink felt that the dessert cart left something to be desired, however. Rainha’s is your typical Brazilian steakhouse. Green card on the table means, “Stuff me until I humiliate myself;” orange side of the card confesses, “I am ashamed of what I have done.” Besides the memorable grilled pineapple and the plethora of all manner of meats, the highlight of the night was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Twinks and my Aunt. Dad joined us from his undisclosed location via messenger and sang along with us.
The only regret? Forgetting to get a picture with the birthday Twinks and having to resort to me using a selfie-stick to get a halfway decent picture.
#3 Les Enfants de Boheme 177 Henry St. New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)
Les Enfants de Boheme will always have a place in my heart because of the server who said (and I quote), “It’s God’s punishment to me for being ratchet.” He had injured himself somehow at the pass (the final stage of plating in a commercial kitchen, just before it reaches the customer); when I inquired as to whether or not he was okay, that was his reply. I ’bout choked on my sparkling water.
Sassy waiters aside, LEB in the LES was a quaint setting in which to celebrate our final evening in NYC. Our whirlwind culinary/birthday celebration was coming to a close, and we wanted hearty, rich French food to put a bow on our visit. LEB has a rotating menu of seasonal favorites. The exec chef’s name is Hector Diaz, what more do I need as a sign?
Girl Twink chose the Tartine du Jour. On this particular evening, it happened to be topped with salmon. Boy Twink opted for something heartier in the Boeuf Carottes Façon Grandmère (loosely translated, “Grandmama’s roast beef”), which was extremely rich and decadent. I went with the French classic- Coq au Vin. A savory plate of comfort food, indeed.
I loved the understated bohemian vibe of LEB. They put out French food in a very unpretentious manner, and I couldn’t help but yearn for a date night here with my better half. I could imagine us sipping on a glass of vintage and nibbling the charcuterie. Alas, on this trip it was not meant to be, but that’s the beauty of this list! I’ll save that wish for our next visit.
Dinner at Les Enfants Boheme for three with waters will run you, on average, $61.00. LEB accepts cash only, there’s an ATM in the dining area, though.
#2 Taiyaki NYC 119 Baxter St. New York, NY 10013 (Chinatown/Little Italy)
Now, technically, Taiyaki is the #1 food spot on my list of recommendations, just not #1 on this list. But, that shouldn’t take away the perfect genius that is Taiyaki NYC. This kitschy little ice cream shop sits in the middle of the divide between Little Italy and Chinatown. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I believe NYC is the only city where you can wander from Naples to Shanghai in a matter of steps.
Taiyaki is the lovechild of three guys who look young enough to be my kids. When you walk in, Taiyaki greets you with friendly faces, like Josephine, who help you decide which curiously flavored soft serve ice cream to put in your waffle fish’s gaping mouth. Sounds exquisite, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is exquisite.
Taiyaki offers treats like Straight Outta Japan, a matcha-black sesame swirl with mochi and, of course, poky sticks. All nestled inside a fish waffle that has a dollop of red bean paste in the tail. The waffles are made in-house, and they’re still warm when you bite into it. Male Twink reeled in a ‘You’re Berry Lovely’- vanilla custard filling, strawberry, rainbow sprinkles and strawberry sauce. Female Child opted to get lit; ‘It’s Choco-Lit’, that is. Her fish was crammed with chocolate custard filling, chocolate powder, wafer and a chocolate drizzle.
We piled on to the lone bench to enjoy our ice cream in the A/C. As they had started to melt, we needed to eat quick. This is definitely a repeat visit spot. At $21 for three quality, unique cones; I would say it’s a bargain.
#1: 9/11 Memorial and Museum 180 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10007 (Lower Manhattan)
I know most wouldn’t expect to read about a Memorial on a “Must Visit” list, especially one written by a food blogger. I had to include this one as the most important because of the visceral reaction I had when I visited. We were newlyweds when the skyline of NYC changed forever. I remember frantically calling my relatives to make sure everyone was still alive; I was pissed- enraged, rather. When I took kids to see this memorial for the first time, I didn’t realize it, but I was still wrestling with those emotions.
The memorial is a great honor to thousands of men, women and children (living and in utero). It’s also a reminder that we should never forget that the ground on which it stands is hallowed. I took my twins to see the magnitude of what was lost, as well as to understand the amount of lives that were claimed on that fateful day. I, for one, couldn’t control the tears. After trying to fight the urge to cry, I let them fall freely, knowing they weren’t in vain. There was so much sorrow there.
Seeing the lack of recognition for what the memorial is caused us to bristle. It is, in essence, a cemetery. A burial ground if you will. People laughing loudly and taking jovial selfies made me nauseous. I hope everyone who ever visits NYC will take time to see this consecrated place, and visit the museum to get an even greater understanding of its significance. But, please, do so with the respect that you would want someone to give if your loved one’s last breath was taken there.
Tickets are free for family members of 9/11 victims, $24 for adults and $17 for children. Veteran’s tickets cost $18.
Sadly enough, ending this post makes me feel like I’m leaving NYC once again. I hope I’ve piqued your interest in seeing NYC through your stomach. Pin this post to take with you on your next trip to the Big Apple, and eat to your heart’s (or wallet’s) content!