Unique New York
This is a blog of epic proportions that I’ve been working on for a while; something of an insiders guide to New York that I’m thrilled I’ve finally got round to compiling, sharing and making a permanent cyberspace fixture.
Obviously I’m partial to Union Square and Brooklyn as those are the two locations where I spent most of my time. I cannot emphasise enough how worth it is it to go off the beaten track and spend hours just wondering around the varying neighbourhoods each encompassing a different essence of New York.
I’m still feeling incredibly lucky to have been able to call NYC home and although it’s a only a few personal recommendations, I hope that this list may help future Big Apple bound travellers make their own memories that are as wonderful as mine.
Places To Eat
- Pastafina – Upper East Side. Amazing value for money and delicious pasta. I’d recommend buying food to go then heading for a perfect Italian picnic in Central Park.
- Bridge Fresh– DUMBO. This is where I first tried my now beloved chicken/blue cheese/walnut/cranberry salad. Great deli with a huge selection of offerings conveniently located for a lunch time stop when visiting the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
- Maoz– Union Square. I just can’t even. This place is amazing. As long as you like Falafel. If you don’t like Falafel I don’t recommend it. Fill a salad box with as much as humanely possible (closing the lid is over rated) and enjoy amidst the hustle and bustle of Union Sq Park. (I’ve just discovered there’s one in Soho, London too- life complete.)
- Bread & Butter– Union Square. I bypassed the sandwiches/salads here (as great as they looked, I’ve been incredibly wary of pay by weight salad bars since 2009 when an unpleasant experience involving some evidently heavy chinese chicken and lettuce ended up costing me $20. For ONE salad. Livid.) and went straight to the Asian Cuisine section which provided me with some of my best meals in NYC. Huge portions of Teriyaki made right before your eyes that also comes with a free Miso Soup. What’s not to love?
- Bocca– Midtown. We stopped in here after the Radio City Spectacular and I was pleasantly surprised by the array of affordable food on offer. We only sampled the Pizza (above average NY style with a huge variety of toppings) and coffee but would recommend it for a quick stop/re fuel if in the area. It’s only a short walk from Times Sq too which is worth noting as it’s all too easy to get stuck in the tourist traps there.
- Chop’t– Various. A salad bar of chopped delight. This is America so salads come supersize as standard.
- The Chocolate Bar– West Village. Probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. And don’t even get me started on the brownies. Totally delicious and definitely worth a stop whilst exploring the village. It is tiny inside though so going midweek during the day is probably the best time to be in with a shot at getting a table.
- La Maison Du Macaron– Chelsea. I am partial to a macaron. I think it’s the colours; how can something that pretty and pastel not be adored? Anyway, I had a Key Lime Pie one which was perfectly formed in every way. Worth a stop in for coffee/cake if passing.
- Panera Bread– Various. They had me at soup in bread bowls. It’s a chain. But it’s wonderful.
- Republic– Union Square. It’s a bit like Wagamama…but better. I went for lunch with a friend between classes and had one of their noodle soups which though being nigh on impossible to eat at first (I hate chopsticks) was quickly devoured once a spoon had been presented. I never made it back again but I’m sure they do a good happy hour in the evenings and it would definitely make for a nice informal dinner location.
- Spice– Union Square. Basically, some of the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten. I went here after being told it was the best Thai in NYC so had it on good authority that the standard would be high. Amazing value as well considering the quality of the food and it’s even better if you manage to make the lunchtime deal. Definitely one to go to.
- Print– Hell’s Kitchen. Without a doubt the best restaurant I went to. Namely because it happened to be linked to the hotel where my family stayed when they came to visit and after months on a student budget I was never going to be one to turn down a chance to sample real food. It’s notorious amongst locals for it’s fine cuisine and ambience and even though it’s slightly further out location wise, if you combine a meal here with drinks at the Press Lounge (see bars below) it’s well worth it for a cocktail fuelled evening in a stunning setting.
- Shake Shack– Various. Typical American style food done exceptionally well. I actually only ever had the Bird Dog/Cheese Fries as it’s the only thing my fake vegetarian ways allowed for but I have it on good authority the other menu choices were also great one. Milkshakes are a must. More excitingly, a new branch opens in Covent Garden this year so my Bird Dog dream can continue across the pond. Hooray.
- Basil– Crown Heights. I doubt anyone (in their right mind) will visit Crown Heights as a tourist destination but if anyone happens to end up living there for several months, this is theonly good best restaurant in the vicinity.
- Grimaldi’s– Dumbo. Must do. Eat in/takeaway and sit under the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just pizza perfection.
- Tortaria– West Village. An amazing find considering the only reason myself and a friend first went there is because we liked the mint green exterior. Mexican food street style- fresh and authentic.
- Favela Cubana– West Village. An interesting Brazilian/Cuban fusion which has an array of offerings in a cute setting (if you get a seat outside on the terrace.) Super friendly staff and the owner gave the table I was with free shots of a choice concoction of spirits.
- Meson Sevilla– Hell’s Kitchen. I love tapas and found Meson Sevilla to serve a good selection of classics as well as some more original options. There are a huge selection of restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen so it’s a good area to end up if in need of inspiration for dinner options.
- A.O.C Bistro– Park Slope. Lovely French restuarant in the beautiful Park Slope district of Brooklyn. There are so many place to choose from in this area but the food we had here was delightful- I’d definitely recommend the French Onion Soup and Mussels.
- Serendipity– Midtown. 3 words- frozen. hot. chocolate.
Places To Drink
- 230 5th– Gramercy/Flatiron (Rooftop) Beautiful setting. Expensive drinks. Definitely worth it for the view though- breathtaking.
- The Press Lounge– Hell’s Kitchen (Rooftop) I preferred the cocktails here to 230 5th and the view is stunning.
- Latitude Bar– Hell’s Kitchen. Great happy hour in a central location.
- Belmont Lounge– Union Square. I’m only partial to this bar as it was (literally) right next door to Strasberg but alas, it’s a really quirky lounge bar that serves good drinks and plays great music.
- B Bar– East Village. Loved it here. Late(ish) night drinks and dancing a plenty.
- Son’s Of Essex– Lower East Side. This feels more like a hidden pub and it’s quite infamous on the NY scene. I liked the fact you can actually have a conversation in here without being drowned out by noise. Does that make me sound old? Probably.
- Barramundi– Lower East Side. Epic sangria. Quite small inside but gets very lively later on. We only went there in preparation for the below but really enjoyed the fun atmosphere.
- 2nd Floor On Clinton– Lower East Side (Speakeasy) This place is socoolicoulddie. It’s nicely tucked away behind the back of Barramundi and you have to press a buzzer in order to get in. Definitely recommend- if for no other reason than the feeling of having some “secret” knowledge.
- Duck Duck Bar– Williamsburg. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Cheap drinks, non pretentious atmopshere (i.e, hipster so it’s pretty rough round the edges) and there are Ducks everywhere.
- The Whiskey Brooklyn– Williamsburg. Was this my favourite bar? Maybe. We had the best night here and the DJ was on fire. Tune after tune. There’s an arcade room as well as a huge central bar and booths round the edge. Truly living the American dream.
- Brooklyn Bowl– Williamsburg. A bowling alley. A bar. And a huge dance floor. Yes Brooklyn.
- Union Hall– Park Slope. An endearing cross between a lounge bar, a library and a sports centre. Well not so much the latter, but they do have Bocce courts ( I had to google it too.) Anyway, I loved it here. Totally cosy and charming.
- Last Exit– Cobble Hill. Quintessential, friendly dive bar which even served “champagne.” Keepin’ it classy.
Places To See
Tourist highlights- Top Of The Rock, Statue Of Liberty (but the free way by taking the Staten Island Ferry) , Empire State Building, Times Square at night, Museum Mile, The Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, The Highline, Brooklyn Heights, Broadway (try getting tickets at the TKTS booth on the day of the show for discount), Prospect Park, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Seasonal favourites- Halloween Dog Parade in Tompkins Sq Park, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Ice Skating in Central Park, Bryant Park Holiday Market, Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Places To Walk
- Financial District-Brooklyn Bridge Park (Via Statue of Liberty, Century 21, Shake Shack, The Brooklyn Bridge & Grimaldi’s.)
- Along the Brooklyn Bridge Park (visiting the picturesque Brooklyn Heights en route)
- The Highline (good whilst exploring the West Village)
- From Union Square- West Village (via NYU, Washington Sq Park, The “Friends” building and The Chocolate Bar.)
- Battery Park to SoHo along the Hudson.
Places To Shop
I found 34th Street to have the best selection of American high street shops as well as homing Macy’s for all departmental store needs. 5th Avenue is also great for a selection of places from about 13th Street upwards; I’d recommend getting the subway to Union Sq, exploring there then walking up past the Flatiron building/Madison Sq Park. Century 21 is good for a bargain if you have the time/patience and thrift stores are well worth looking out for- vintage actually equals affordable in the US! SoHo (which stands for South of Houston street, fact fans) is also great for lots of shops in easy walking distance and offers a slightly edgier feel than the more commercialised midtown Manhattan.
Places To Watch The World Go By
- Union Square Park/Farmers market
- Central Park
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
- Times Sq TKTS seats