My husband and I’s original plan for our honeymoon last year was a trip across America – starting in New York and ending up in San Diego, taking in several cities on our way across. Once we actually realised how long we would need to do this properly (and that it would cost several times more than our actual wedding) we settled on a beach honeymoon and that we would spend our first wedding anniversary in New York. So at the end of September this year we hopped on a plane to JFK Airport to begin six days of fun, fitness, fashion and of course plenty of food.
New York is one of the few places I have visited with a restaurant scene to rival London, and plenty of hidden gems from tiny juice bars to Michelin starred blowouts, and our trip took in both of these and plenty in between, so I wanted to share our New York nibbles with you, as in a city this size with quite so much choice it is almost impossible to know where to start, and as you’ll see, I also managed to hunt out some healthy options (and some not so healthy ones too, it was a holiday after all!)
Toloache, 251 W 50th St
Our entrance into New York was not smooth – it took us over two hours to get through passport control (we managed to coincide our arrival with The Pope), there were no taxis at the airport and we ended up on a tourist bus into the City hauling our massive suitcases through times Square on a Thursday evening….. yeah, that kind of annoying traveller. So my plans of getting to the hotel late afternoon, checking in and then checking out our neighbourhood with an early evening stroll to find somewhere cute and local to eat our first night dinner were kind of dashed when we finally got to our hotel room hot, hassled and hungry. There was a Mexican restaurant almost opposite our hotel and I remembered seeing it had decent reviews on Google Places, so we decided to give it a go.
Toloache was already buzzing at 7pm and we were so lucky to get a table without a reservation – half an hour after our arrival people were queuing for seats. It has a traditional Taqueria style interior – tiles and terracotta – screens downstairs showing sport and larger tables upstairs for parties (of which there were several on the night we visited). No real surprises that people were there celebrating – it has a pretty extensive margarita menu! I ordered the Ensalada de Langosta ($18) – lobster, kale, quinoa, tomatoes, radish and avocado with mustard vinaigrette – basically for me, heaven on a plate.
The flavours were fantastic (I could eat kale in a salad all day long), everything tasted so fresh – but as a main I think the portion was quite small (especially as I had been warned that US portion sizes were huge). I could easily have eaten it again! If you’re near Broadway I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this fun, lively neighbourhood restaurant – the menu is huge (ceviche, tacos, grills) and the cocktails looked pretty sizeable too!
The Standard, 848 Washington Street
The Standard is indeed a New York Standard, i.e. one of those venues that crops up time and time again when you ask seasoned travellers where they would recommend to eat in NYC. It is a modern hotel right at the start of the High Line, a former train track that has now become a beautiful elevated park above the City streets, offering amazing views and a green oasis alongside the skyscrapers. On the day we visited The Standard there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining, so we opted for breakfast in The Standard Plaza, their outdoor courtyard off the main Grill restaurant on the ground floor. I ordered the spinach and feta omelette and was served this beast of a breakfast plate:
The omelette was fluffy and delicious and stuffed full of roasted tomatoes, wilted spinach and chunks of feta and honestly would have been enough for me – the roasted garlicky potatoes were delicious but I could only manage a few…. the husband polished off the rest in no time! Sitting in the gorgeous September sunshine drinking coffee and enjoying people watching in the Meat Packing district was amazing – there’s no doubt this is a “place to be” as there were plenty of “meetings” taking place around us (you know, social media types who look like they take photographs of all their meals…. oh, wait…..) and the slow and patchy service reflected this, but the entire experience more than made up for it. I have a strong suspicion that evening drinks here would be an unbelievable people watching opportunity!
Gotham West Market, 600 11th Ave
Food courts and food markets are a big deal in New York, and if they’re all as good as Gotham West Market I can see why. Right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen is, in their words, “a day and night market dining destination” – and in my words, a large urban space comprising of many different food and drink vendors, some with their own entire restaurants, others just stalls with food to take away and enjoy on the communal tables which makes for a really social experience. We ate here on a Friday night and it was lively and full of young New Yorkers sampling craft beers and eating tacos and ramen (to name just a couple of options). Later in the evening they cranked the music up and it had the vibe of late night bar (though I believe it is only open to 11pm) – but still a great place to start your night and indeed line your stomach.
We ate in the Genuine Roadside Diner which was so much fun – decorated in exactly the style of an 80s diner complete with 80s soundtrack – we ate our dinner listening to Billy Idol and the Pet Shop Boys whilst some NYPD cops came in to buy milkshakes. This felt like a proper American experience! My husband of course had a burger which disappeared so quickly I couldn’t take a photo, we shared the sweet potato fries which were crisped to perfection but still full of flavour. I had the grilled ahi tuna quinoa salad:
Which was huge, delicious and one of the nicest pieces of tuna I think I’ve ever eaten. I actually saved it all until last as I almost couldn’t bear to eat it! i can’t remember the exact price but I think this was around $15 – inexpensive for the size of the dish and quality of the fish in it.
Having had such a saintly main course it was time for a sweet treat, so we visited the Ample Hills Creamery stall – they are the Zagat #1 rated ice cream company in New York and i can honestly see why. Their ice cream is all made from scratch in Brooklyn (where they have a standalone shop) with flavours like Salted Caramel Crack (couldn’t love this name more!) and Peppermint Patty. I however HAD to try The Munchies:
If you feature Cookie Monster in your advertising, that will make me buy your product. Cookie himself would have approved of this amazing pretzel flavoured ice cream with all the crunchy, munchy ingredients listed above – eating our ice cream at a communal bench in the heart of the market with New Yorkers around us enjoying Friday night drinks listening to the music was definitely one of the highlights of the trip – just a great all-round experience.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner, 1650 Broadway
There are certain things I think you have to do whilst in the States, and visit a diner for breakfast has to be one of them. What could be better than waffles, pancakes, ketchup in tomato shaped bottles and bottomless coffee? How about if the wait staff sang and performed as they served you?! Welcome to Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway – diner food with a side of all the show tunes. Here’s an example of the sort of thing to expect with your eggs in the morning:
One thing is for sure, you definitely couldn’t get much more American or Broadway than this and the husband cringed his way through every minute of it! I thought it was great fun, and most of the waiters and waitresses are singers and actors waiting for their big break on the stage so they’re all insanely talented. It’s like Saturday night in front of X Factor…. like, right in front of X Factor. I had the Napa Hash ($12), another huge portion:
Scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, mixed veggies and toast – I was done after the eggs, veggies and half the potatoes! This honestly would have kept me going all day until dinner time. If you fancy some performance with your pancakes and a proper all American Diner experience you could certainly do worse than Ellen’s. If, like my husband, you find public singing awkward then Applebee’s might be a safer bet!
The Modern, 9 West 53rd Street (inside MoMA)
Our breakfast and late lunch could not have been more different on our New York Saturday. After our cheesy, crazy Broadway brekkie we headed to the Museum of Modern Art (which is one of the best galleries I’ve been to, such a great collection of artwork and so well laid out) and spent several hours viewing work by Warhol, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh to name jut a few. So after such a cultural experience it seemed only fitting to have a cultured bite to eat and The Modern fitted the bill perfectly. I had actually been recommend the restaurant by clients of mine who had raved about the food and the setting (and rightly so), but I am so glad to have had this insider tip before we went. I would never normally think to eat in a museum restaurant, but with two Michelin Stars The Modern is no ordinary museum eatery. We didn’t book and were so lucky to get a table (after a 20 minute wait in the plush bar) as it seemed most of New York’s high society were enjoying a leisurely weekend lunch here. Ladies dolled up to the nines (and a vast collection of Louis Vuitton) and gentleman suited and booted, seated in leather banquettes overlooking the courtyard filled with sculptures, this was classic New York at its finest.
We were still very full from our huge breakfast at Ellen’s Diner so we both had appetisers and desserts – I ordered the Tomatoes, Watercress, Hazelnuts with Peach Mostarda ($18) as my savoury:
And the Cookie Plate ($12) – Snickerdoodle, Half Baked Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate Macadamia and Mojito Macaroons:
The food was nothing short of beautiful in presentation and taste – delicate, perfectly matched flavours and flawless service. I definitely recommend checking out The Modern – book a table, dress up and feel part of the Manhattan elite!
Tao Uptown, 42 E 58th Street
I wanted to have a proper New York Saturday night out – dinner, drinks and maybe dancing – and Tao seemed to promise all three. I had been told it was pricey, lively and full of beautiful people, so I couldn’t wait to go. I only reserved our table a week before we left and as a result the only one they had left was at 10.30pm. Well, it was meant to be, but at 10.45pm we were still sat in the bar waiting for our buzzer to go off to be called to sit down – the place was buzzing beyond belief – full of glammed up girls and boys on the prowl and a thumping nightclub soundtrack. Oh, and front of house staff who seemingly couldn’t care less and thought we should feel grateful to be there. Lovely. After we asked if our table was clear yet we were taken to it (happy coincidence?) but from here on in things took a sharp upturn. The decor of Tao is incredible – it is a huge place, and right in the centre sits a giant Buddha statue, with oriental scrolls adorning the ceiling:
I loved the fact the restaurant was full of people who had clearly spent most of Saturday afternoon getting ready – something to me that’s missing from going out in London these days. Considering the restaurant could easily have 200 covers, the service was fantastic – we had no wait for our order to be taken and food came promptly and tasted so fresh. I had steamed vegetable dim sum to start and the Grilled Red Snapper with steamed Bok Choy and Ginger and Kaffir Lime vinaigrette as my main:
I loved this dish – a huge piece of snapper cooked perfectly, with a mountain of fresh green vegetables on top and a tangy but not overwhelming dressing. Gorgeous oriental flavours, and a very decent sized portion without being overwhelming I was pleasantly surprised with the food at Tao. I thought it might be overpriced and over-rated given that i thought people might come more for the experience (or to be seen), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We had edamame to share, a starter and main each, dessert, coffee, a bottle of water and hubby had two beers – the bill was just over $120 which we both thought was reasonable, and felt like we had eaten well. We left around 12.45am and the place felt like it was just getting started….
Eataly, 200 5th Avenue
Eataly was another place that had come recommended several times so seemed the perfect spot for a Sunday lunch. It can best be described as a giant Italian food hall with products to buy, deli counter after deli counter of freshly cooked treats from all over Italy, and three restaurants – meat, seafood and vegetarian. As I don’t eat meat and my husband has a seafood allergy (we are dream dinner party guests…!) we settled on the vegetarian restaurant, Le Verdure within the store. Again, we easily got a table at 1pm, but by 1.30pm there was a queue to sit down. We shared the special salad to start:
Mustard greens, walnuts, plums, sea salt and fresh olive oil – a beautiful mix of bitter and sweet and a combination I probably wouldn’t have put together myself but that worked brilliantly. I had the polenta main, Wild Hive Polenta with Bean Ragu, Broccoli Rabe and Parmigiano Reggiano:
This felt like Italian comfort food at it’s finest – hot, hearty and topped with slightly melting cheese. I stuck with my water but the husband enjoyed two glasses of Italian red with his lunch – you could easily while away a few hours in Eataly taking a culinary tour with fantastic pizza, pasta, meat, seafood, coffee, wine, gelato and everything in between.
Chobani Cafe, 152 Prince Street SoHo
Like any good fitness foodie, greek yogurt forms a pretty staple part of my diet (high protein, low fat, great macros) so to find a whole cafe devoted to it? Hell yes! Again, a great recommendation from a client – tiny and tucked away in the heart of SoHo amongst the boutiques and bars, we were lucky to score a seat in this concept cafe, but am so glad we did. The menu comprises of both sweet and savoury yogurt dishes – yes, you probably had the same reaction as my husband to the term “savoury yogurt dishes” but with combinations like Spinach and Garlic Dip or Red Pepper Harissa and Feta I’m pretty sure you could be swayed. Still feeling full of Italian delights from Eataly we both opted for a half cup – one fresh fruit and granola (topped with raspberries, oat granola and clover honey) and one seasonal special of Pumpkin and Cranberry (topped with pumpkin puree, dried cranberries and graham crackers) and both bowls were completely licked clean. Sitting in the window bench watching the cool kids of SoHo on a Sunday afternoon I could easily have spent a few hours here people watching and working my way through the menu. A perfect pit stop!
Gramercy Tavern, 42 E 20th Street
Gramercy Tavern was perfection before we had even arrived at the restaurant. We wanted to eat in the dining room which served only a set menu at $92 for three courses, or a seasonal tasting menu for $120 (wine pairing $75) which is reservation only (the Tavern itself is no reservation and therefore more casual) but it was showing online as fully booked. I emailed the restaurant to explain we were in New York for a few days for our wedding anniversary and within 24 hours they had emailed back with a table at 9pm. I booked it but explained that we would ideally like a table earlier, and the day before they called as soon as they had had a cancellation at 8.30pm. They had made a note it was our anniversary and we were greeted with a complimentary glass of prosecco each to celebrate and warm wishes from our waitress.
The food itself was incredible and with all the lovely touches you would expect from a restaurant of this calibre – amuse bouche, palate cleansers and even a freshly baked muffin to take home for breakfast the next morning:
I started with the corn and grain salad (with tomatoes and pecorino):
Followed by the smoked arctic char (yes, I didn’t know what char was either but turns out it’s a pretty close cousin of salmon, only with a more delicate flavour) which was borderline sashimi texture and melted like butter in my mouth – just a beautifully cooked piece of fish:
I love inventive cooking and unusual combinations (especially ones I never would have imagined on my own), but popcorn on top of smoked fish is not one I’ll be trying again in a hurry. I had forgotten what it was and the crunch when biting into a mouthful of delicate, melting fish was a bit of a shock! Not unpleasant but in my eyes not necessary either.
And just before our beautiful petits fours and breakfast muffin were brought to us we were also presented with the most perfect Anniversary cake – coconut angel food cake – which was boxed up beautifully for us to take home (and tasted incredible the next day!):
I cannot fault anything at the Gramercy Tavern (well maybe the slightly odd popcorn garnish but that’s really picking holes in an otherwise flawless experience) – they looked after us from the very first email I sent them to being given back our coats at the end of the night and the food was inventive, delicate and delicious, and every special touch was perfectly executed. $92 for three courses extremely well spent and highly recommended.
Bread and Honey, 941 8th Avenue
So when you’ve had a full day of foodie indulgence (is there any other way to spend a first wedding anniversary?!) the best things to do is get back on the wagon, so on Monday morning we got up and walked to Central Park to run a 5k loop in an attempt to burn off some of our Italian lunch, Chobani yogurt and Gramercy gourmet fare. We wanted to pick up a simple takeaway breakfast to eat back at our hotel and refuel after our run, so Bread and Honey fitted the bill perfectly. Billed as a food bar and urban market it is a cross between a gourmet supermarket and mini food court and I later found out is open 24 hours. We opted for a fresh fruit platter (which we were able to pick ourselves from an extensive buffet), I had a tomato, jalapeño and cheese omelette and the husband opted for a traditional NY bagel with cream cheese. This would be a perfect place to stop and pick up a picnic spread for Central Park (which is about ten minutes walk away) or exactly as we did – a breakfast or brunch on the go (it would also be heaven at 2am after a night on the tiles…..)
PRINT, 653 11th Avenue
Dinner on the last night of a great holiday is, I always find, a pretty sad affair regardless of wherever it is. So being brutally honest, we picked Print as it was walkable from our hotel and we needed some time that night to pack up our hotel room, so it was nice to be pleasantly surprised at how busy it was, and how good the food was. We didn’t think we’d need a reservation for a Tuesday evening in Hell’s Kitchen but how wrong we were – we ended up on the communal table, which would never be my preference for dining, but all the cosy looking booths and romantic tables were full with diners enjoying their “farm to table fare”. I had the crab salad to start:
And the salmon for my main:
Both dishes were lovely (but not spectacular) but I probably wasn’t in a mindset to be wowed. My husband had the steak for his main – quite frankly one of the biggest pieces of meat I’ve ever seen on a plate and he couldn’t finish it! If you’re in the area this is a good, solid choice, but I can’t say I would recommend travelling to Hell’s Kitchen especially (and if you did I would recommend the Gotham West Market over Print).
Other places that deserve a special mention….
Dig Inn, various but we visited the 40 W 55th Street branch
We had brunch here on our final day, but it’s more of a lunch (or even light dinner) place – Dig Inn promises ” farm-fresh ingredients and top-notch cooking to your lunch break for about 10 bucks” and completely delivered on this – you select a protein, a grain base and whatever sides you wish and take it away (or eat in as we did) in a box. I had the roasted salmon, ancient grain mix, sautéed kale and roasted sweet potatoes (washed down with a cold pressed green juice) and loved every bite – probably my favourite food on the go experience in New York – not to mention so fresh and ridiculously healthy. Perfect fit food pit stop!
The Little Beet, various but we visited 135 W 50th Street
Very similar concept to Dig Inn – they aim to “serve real food deliciously” and totally deliver on this concept. You can go for soup or salad and sides, or just sides – I went for a mexican salad base with grilled tofu and was served a huge bowl of fresh black beans, guacamole, lettuce and two sizzling slabs of perfectly seasoned tofu. If you’re looking for somewhere healthy to refuel after a serious shop on 5th Avenue then this is perfectly situated and highly recommended.
Starbucks, literally everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. I think you’d struggle to find a street without one….
Yes okay, so this seems like a cop out – but given that most days of our trip were around 25 degrees and sunny, to me it was perfect iced green tea weather. Seriously UK Starbucks, when are we getting iced green tea in the UK? My hydration of choice for the entire trip!
Oh, and one last side note – there is nowhere decent to eat at JFK airport. Not even close! So if you’ve got a lunchtime or evening flight don’t presume you can get lunch or dinner at the airport – do yourself a favour and grab some delicious, fresh and healthy food from Dig Inn or Little Beet – you will be glad you did!
New York, like London, is an ever changing city so I’ve no doubt great new restaurants, bars and cafes open constantly, but this is what and where we ate on our trip and I hope you’ve found it useful. As with any big city, there are an awful lot of mediocre (and probably just as many awful) places to eat so if you’re planning a trip any time soon do a little research on your neighbourhood and have at least some back up options, and whilst researching if you do come across restaurants you like the look of then book – good and popular places get booked up fast – any night of the week.
Actually no, there really is one final note to this blog post. Whilst I may have spent a lot of time seeking out cold pressed juice, iced green tea and kale salads, my other half was determined to have, in his eyes, the ultimate New York food…. a street hot dog. Did he? Have a look for yourself…..