Tasting Tour: Eating on the Go in NYC
Last week we went to Europe with our Tasting Tour, taking a spin of Parisian baked goods. This week, we're on more familiar territory —New York City, where Serious Eats is based. Thanks to all the lively discussion in Serious Eats New York Talk, we have a pretty good idea of what visitors to our fair city want to know. So we're going to give you our guide to eating on the go here. But first ...
Some General Info
It should probably go without saying that you'll be doing the majority of your exploring on foot and via the city's subway system. So first, we'd advise you to wear comfortable shoes. You'll likely be doing more walking than you'll imagine. Especially if you're visiting friends or family who live here; they'll be more likely to lead you by foot somewhere than to hop on the subway for only one or two stops.
Speaking of the subway, if you're not familiar with the city's train system, take a minute to study the transit map. You can get a free map at most info/fare booths along the system. If you have a smartphone, it's probably also a good idea to download a NYC transit map application.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) comprises a few different transit systems throughout the region. Most visitors to the city proper will probably use the NYC Transit system. NYC Transit includes the subway system and most of the buses you'll see on the street. Current subway and NYC Transit bus fares are $2.25 a ride. Buses do not take dollar bills, so be sure to either take plenty of quarters or, best option, purchase a MetroCard. NYC Transit fares are on a per-ride basis, no matter how far you go.
If you're staying for any length of time, it's probably worth it to purchase an Unlimited MetroCard, available in the following flavors...
- 1-Day Fun Pass ($8.25 for unlimited rides in a 24-hour period)
- 7-Day Unlimited Ride ($27)
- 14-Day Unlimited Ride ($51.40)
- 30-Day Unlimited Ride ($89)
In addition to NYC Transit, you may encounter...
- Long Island Railroad (LIRR): A mostly commuter rail line that runs from Penn Station out east through Long Island, with stops in far Queens. Fares here vary, depending on distance. May be helpful if you want to visit Flushing, Queens's Chinatown and the foodie-beloved destinations there
- Metro-North: A mostly commuter rail line that runs from Grand Central Terminal to points north of the city, with stops in Harlem. Fares here vary, depending on distance
- Staten Island Railway (SIR): Technically part of the NYC Transit system, the SIR runs along the eastern shore of Staten Island. Fares are $2.25; a MetroCard will cover it
- Staten Island Ferry: The ferry ride to and from Staten Island is free. It takes about a half hour and provides dramatic views of Lower Manhattan, Governor's Island, western Brooklyn, and the Statue of Liberty. It's definitely worth a ride, and the beer onboard is some of the cheapest you'll find in the city
Contrary to the popular stereotype, New Yorkers aren't that rude. Let's just say we're brusque. We're usually in a hurry to get somewhere or get something done. But we're generally happy to help out with directions or transit advice or a quick recommendation on nearby eats if you ask. (In fact, New Yorkers love to give subway directions; it's a bit of a joke that the best way to start an argument among New Yorkers is to ask for the best way to get somewhere — everyone has "the best" route, and they're all different.) We just don't want to make a lot of small talk in the process. So consult your maps and guidebooks first (it's always nice to become self-sufficient) and if you still need help, ask away.
It's a fact of life that something eventually happens to all the good food and drink we're directing you to here. We cannot stress this enough: Use the bathroom at any opportunity you have. Before you leave your hotel, a museum, or a restaurant — even if you don't think you have to go. Because at some point during your food explorations, you will have to go—and even though the city is slowly installing public restrooms in key tourism areas, they are still few and far between.
Starbucks or McDonald's locations can usually be counted on in a pinch but often require a purchase for restroom access. We've found Barnes & Noble locations to be guaranteed lifesavers; most have restrooms that you can use without having to buy a book.
Eating on the Subway
Don't do it. Although the 1990s and early 2000s saw a remarkable improvement in subway cleanliness, people still sneeze, cough, cut their fingernails, and do any number of unspeakably gross things on the trains. You don't want to touch subway poles and rails and then shuttle food into your mouth without washing or sanitizing. Plus, a lot of Serious Eaters think it's just plain rude to bring food on public transit.
Great Eats Near Major Attractions
Central Park and Uptown Museums
Central Park is huge, spanning 51 blocks north to south and 3 avenue blocks east to west. Sure, there are food options within the park, but the best bet is to grab something on the outskirts and bring it in for a picnic lunch. Also on the outskirts of the park are a number of the city's best museums. Here are some of our favorite food options in the environs.
At the southwestern corner of Central Park is the Time Warner Center, with a sort of high-end food court on the third floor. Among the eateries is Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery, which offers not only cookies and pastries but great sandwiches, quiche, and salads. The ham and cheese sandwich is one of the best in the city, as is the grilled cheese. Grab some lunch fare, an assortment of cookies (try the TKO, Keller's Oreo-like creation, and the Fluffer Nutter cookie) and a sticky bun to go. It's the best picnic you could have. Bouchon Bakery: 10 Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center, New York NY 10019 (map); 212-823-9364; bouchonbakery.com
The Shake Shack (Upper West Side)
The Shake Shack serves some of our favorite burgers and frozen custard treats in the city. You could eat in the sunny atrium of the Upper West Side location, but it would be even better to take them onto the grounds of the American Museum of Natural History just across the street or into Central Park, just a couple blocks east. Shake Shack (Upper West Side): 366 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024 (77th/78th; map); shakeshacknyc.com
Sandwiched at the Whitney Museum of American Art
This special "pop-up" sandwich shop from celebrated New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer will be at the Whitney through the fall of 2010. If you're already visiting the museum, your choice of lunch is practically made for you. Or, once again, take some sandwiches to go (Sandwiched is accessible outside the admission zone) and eat them in the park. Sandwiched: Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York NY 10021 (b/n 74th and 75th; map); 212-570-3600; website
Cafe 2 at the Museum of Modern Art
Another Danny Meyer operation (what can I say, the guy knows where to put his restaurants), Cafe 2 is inside the Museum of Modern Art and is the upscale version of a museum cafeteria. Accessible only to museum patrons, it's on the second floor and offers an array of seasonal Italian food — charcuterie, pasta, panini, salads, and soups. All in a stylish mid-century modern setting. Cafe 2: Museum of Modern Art, 2nd Floor, 11 West 53rd Street (Fifth/Sixth; map)
6 Street Carts Worth Your Time and Money
One of the big stories of 2009 was the rise of fancy-pants food trucks. Low cost of entry and low overhead explained some of the reason why culinary-school-trained chefs hopped on board the trend, but part of it is that we New Yorkers love to eat food from trucks and carts. But we can list the newcomers here without giving a shout out to some of our old-school favories.
Old School: The Jamaican Dutchy
Eating from the Jamaican Dutchy is a carnal experience. There's no other way to put it. Those accustomed to a neat pile of stewed chicken nestled in a cradle of rice may be unprepared for the bony, skin-on, fresh-off-the-animal hunks of sauce-dripping flesh served here. The meats piled into every groaning Styrofoam container require fingers, and teeth, and determination. But it's worth it.
The best of the stewed meats was the salty, superfatty oxtail (small, pictured above, $10), cooked down with peppers, onions, and carrots, swimming in what could delicately be called (as on the menu) its own gravy. All the meats are served over standard-issue rice and beans, with freshly stewed cabbage and soft, sweet plantains. The Jamaican Dutchy: 51st Street at Seventh Avenue, NE Corner, New York NY 10019 (map)
New School: The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
What makes the combination of vanilla soft serve drizzled with thick dulce de leche, sprinkled with crunchy sea salt, and dipped in chocolate so good? I shouldn't even have to explain why. It's salty, sweet, creamy, and crunchy all at once, and if you're anything like me it will make you go, "Oh god, this is good," after every bite.
Big Gay Ice Cream Truck: Random locations; track it down via Twitter — @biggayicecream
Old School: Kwik Meal
I've long been a fan of Muhammed Rahman's Kwik Meal cart, in Midtown Manhattan, not too far from Times Square and Bryant Park and the main branch of the New York Public Library (you know, the one with the lions in front of it). Former Serious Eats New York editor and Midtown Lunch founder Zach Brooks takes the words from my mouth in a post he did about Kwik Meal on SENY:
Even on the surface, it is pretty easy to see why Kwik Meal has become one of the most popular street meat vendors in the city. When you order "lamb" at most carts you end up with gyro meat, cut off a standard spit. Some carts will spice the gyro meat, and fry it up on the flat top. But for the most part, it is what it is. It comes pre-spiced, and you can't really tell the difference from cart to cart.
Kwik Meal, on the other hand, uses actual lamb meat. It gets cut into small chunks, and marinated in a mixture of garlic, cumin, coriander, onions, and other spices; plus the big secret ingredient... papaya puree. What you end up with is mostly tender chunks of deliciously flavored lamb, topped with his famous creamy white sauce (made from sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, and a mixture of spices), plus a good bit of super spicy green hot sauce. Of course you pay for this privelege. Unlike gyro vendors who mostly sell a platter for $5, a lamb over rice plate at Kwik Meal will set you back $7.50. The same meat can also be ordered in a pita for $6.50.
Kwik Meal: SW Corner of 45th Street and Sixth Avenue, New York City NY 10036 (map)
New School: Calexico Carne Asada
And here's Zach again on the 2008 Vendy Award–winning Calexico Carne Asada cart:
It is pretty hard to find good Mexican food in New York City, and even harder to find a great burrito. After living in L.A. for a few years, I can't say Calexico is the burrito savior I've been looking for, but it's no Chipotle either. The burritos are massive, and can be stuffed with pollo asado (chicken) and pork but they are known for their carne asada--and with good reason. The chargrilled skirt steak is surprisingly tender, and has a really good lime flavor from the marinade. Mixed with cheese, rice and a good amount of black beans, and then topped with pico de gallo and an avocado sauce, the burrito is more than satisfying. At $8 it's a little pricey for cart food, but you're getting much better steak than you would expect from a taco/burrito cart, and the thing is downright huge.
Old School: Eggs Travaganza for Power Breakfast from a Cart
Street carts aren't just for lunch. If you find yourself up and out of your hotel early and are looking for a killer breakfast, you could do far worse than the Eggs Travaganza cart in Midtown.
Maribel and Arturo Macedo's chorizo, egg, and cheese on a roll ($3) deserves a place in the pantheon of New York breakfast sandwiches. The chorizo gets a nice crust from the grill, the egg can be over easy if ordered, and who knew American cheese and chorizo were a marriage made in breakfast sandwich heaven? Eggs Travaganza: NE Corner of 52nd Street and Park Avenue, New York NY 10022 (map); 917-657-0987
New School: Schnitzel & Things
Serious Eats's Erin Zimmer, who has become our in-house expert on all things street food, has this to say about Schnitzel & Things:
The misshapen, deep-fried cutlet is indeed big (it needs to be folded over to fit into the take-away container) but thin, and with a squeeze of the lemon wedge, it has a nice citrusy kick. First-timers should really go for the schnitz, though the bratwurst is also great. Get it as a sandwich on ciabatta ($7) or a platter with two sides ($9). Oh, and there are sides. In fact, S&T coowner Oleg Voss added the "... and Things" part to the name so vegetarians wouldn't get scared. Make a platter of any four schnitzel-less sides ($8): roasted beets and feta salad (a favorite), Austrian potato salad (you won't miss the mayo with that nice Viennese vinegary kick), braised sauerkraut, cuke salad, and green lentil salad with carrot bits.
Schnitzel & Things: Like most arriviste food trucks, you have to tune in to Twitter to find this one — @schnitzeltruck
Sandwiches are the ultimate on-the-go food, and, lucky for you, the editor of Serious Eats New York, Carey Jones, has been spearheading a project called A Sandwich a Day. Here are some of our favorite Manhattan sandwiches from that series ...
- Union Square, Num Pang: The Coconut Tiger Shrimp (pictured) »
- Penn Station/Madison Square Garden, Salumeria Biellese: The Monday Roast Beef Special »
- East Village, Momofuku Ssam Bar: BBQ Rib Sandwich »
- Clinton, Cassellula: Pig's Ass Sandwich »
- Chelsea, Milanes: Roast Chicken Sandwich »
- Meatpacking District, Dickson's Farmstand Meats: An awesome, awesome ham and cheese sandwich »
Be sure to poke around more on Serious Eats New York for more sandwiches and more food than you'll be able to handle — no matter how long your trip here lasts.
Along with bagels and hot dogs, almost no other food is as closely associated with New York City as pizza. While a number of serious sit-down pizzerias have opened in the last decade, we're specifically focusing on "on the go" eats here, so we'll give you some of our favorite by-the-slice joints near areas visitors might be likely to find themselves. Of course, you do know that we have an entire blog, Slice, devoted to pizza, don't you?
Penn Station/Madison Square Garden, NY Pizza Suprema
If you find yourself headed to Madison Square Garden for a Knicks or Rangers game or a concert and you have 15 minutes or less to get something to eat, Pizza Suprema is the answer to your prayers. A mere two blocks from a Garden entrance, it looks like a generic pizzeria. Don't be fooled. The regular slices have a crisp crust, a fine if overly sweet sauce and a little too much cheese. Have one regular slice and one slice of the marinara pie--a Sicilian slice coated with marinara sauce containing flecks of fresh onion, then sprinkled with just enough Romano cheese to give the whole thing a pleasant tang. The Sicilian crust is thick but surprisingly light, with enough oil to keep it moist. If you're still hungry (and I don't think you will be) get a Roman slice, basically a stuffed slice with a crisp crust filed with sausage, pepperoni, ham, and cheese. After your stop here, you can go to the Garden totally sated, armed with the knowledge that you won't have to spring for the absurdly expensive hot dogs. NY Pizza Suprema: 413 Eighth Avenue, New York NY 10001 (31st Street; map); 212-594-8939
Grand Central Terminal, Previti Pizza
Slice's founder and editor, Adam Kuban, turned us all on to Previti Pizza near Grand Central. Here's what he had to say about the place:
The Margherita slice is well considered and tasty. (And at $2.50 is priced on the lower end for non-dollar Midtown plain slices.) Thin, crisp, fairly well balanced (perhaps a bit heavy on cheese, but for a Midtown lunch, who cares--it'll fill you up). Previti's chef, Anthony Fiorentino, uses Italian-import San Marzano tomatoes and a blend of cheeses -- low-moisture fresh mozzarella, fior di latte, and a blend of aged mozzarella (Grände whole milk mozzarella and skim mozzarella). The cheese mixture shows how much attention to detail Mr. Fiorentino has put in to the slices here. It not only gives the slice a depth of flavor you normally wouldn't get in a Midtown pizza, it's built with the slice-and-go crowd in mind.
Greenwich Village, Joe's Pizza
Ask a New Yorker for a good slice in the Village, and you'll probably get Joe's Pizza as a recommendation. The slices there are thinner than most, crisp and yet chewy at the same time, and aren't overloaded with sauce and cheese. The place is busy, so there's a lot of turnover on pizzas; you're almost guaranteed a fresh slice. Joe's Pizza: 7 Carmine Street (near Sixth Ave; map)
For more formal sit-down pizza options and more NYC pizza info than you can shake a breadstick at, visit Slice.
For the More Adventurous ...
We fully understand that when many folks come to visit our great city, they may only have the time and inclination to stay on the island of Manhattan. We get it. But what we really love is when guests tell us that they're not afraid to do some far-flung eating. These recs are for you ...
The 7 Train Is Your Ticket to the Foods of the World
Remember all that transit stuff I primed you with? Here's where it comes into play. I want you to get on the no. 7 train and eat your way across the borough of Queens. The 7 train has often been called the most diverse train line in city; it passes through a panoply of ethnic neighborhoods that come pretty close to being a U.N. Fortunately, Serious Eats has a guide in the form of Sara Markel-Gonzalez of the blog Under the 7, who routinely files best-of roundups from stops along the 7's route for Serious Eats New York. Here are our favorites:
- Best Chaat in Jackson Heights »
- Best Gordita in Queens »
- Best Alfajores in Queens »
- Best Pandebono in Queens »
- Best Baklava in Astoria »
Flushing: A Foodie Mecca at the end of the 7
If you spend any time reading NYC-based food blogs or around NYC food-lovers, you'll eventually hear about Flushing, the Queens neighborhood at the end of the 7 train line. It's one of the many Chinatowns in NYC, but there are also other cuisines to be had there besides Chinese. Of course there's dim sum ...
Spicy & Tasty
And here's our "Sugar Rush" correspondent Kathy YL Chan on dessert at Flushing must-visit Spicy & Tasty:
I am the Asian dessert that Spicy & Tasty accurately (if unappealingly) calls a "sesame bean paste rice ball": black sesame paste stuffed in soft mochi, and served in a soup of fermented rice. The hot liquid sesame, thick and creamy, slowly drips out as you bite away the mochi. Immensely satisfying. But the particular version pictured here was new to me. Eggs! Egg whites, specifically. Swirled into the dessert soup in the same manner as hot and sour soup, among the grains of fermented rice. I associate egg whites with savory soups, never sweet ones, but this dessert grew on me. The restaurant service may have been surly, but I'd go back for this alone.
Spicy & Tasty: 3907 Prince Street, Flushing NY 11354 (map); 718-359-1601
Brooklyn: The Red Hook Soccer Field Vendors
If you visit New York in the summer months and want to feel like an insider, there's almost no better way than visiting the soccer fields in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. The Latino community in the area has been playing on these fields for nearly 40 years, and this collection of pan-Latin vendors has been right along there with them.
It's only been within the recent decade that folks from outside the local Latino community have discovered the vendors there. Now each spring is loaded with anticipation among the NYC-based food blogs and their readers, eagerly awaiting the first day of the Red Hook vendor season.
Our man Adam Kuban put together a nice little guide to the Red Hook vendor scene right here, but I'll tell you that you should not miss the pupusas, the huaraches, the elote (grilled corn on the cob with butter, mayo, cheese, and lemon juice) or the great agua frescas.
How to Get to the Red Hook Vendors
Vendors set up at the Red Hook Recreational Area, near the corner of Bay and Clinton streets.
By Subway: Closest station is the F/G at Smith & 9th Street Station. It's roughly a nine-block walk (map).
By Bus: The B61 bus in Brooklyn will take you to "Ikea Station," just a few blocks away. Head away from the water down Halleck Street; follow Halleck, taking a left as it turns into Columbia Street; make a right on Bay, and walk until you get to Clinton (map).