Some travelers are content with a few good meals when they visit a new city. For the food-obsessed among us, however, a few good meals simply isn’t enough. Instead, every bite needs to be top-notch, and food-lovers want to sample as much of a location’s varied cuisine as humanly possible. If you’re looking to make every moment and mouthful count, look no further than this three-day food-focused tour of New York City — an itinerary calibrated to survey Manhattan while not completely destroying you. Fat pants are not optional.
Saturday: Lower East Side, Chinatown, Nolita
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — but when you’re looking to pack in as much as possible, pre-breakfast is the way to go. Start out on the Lower East Side with a visit to Kossar’s Bialys. The bialy (of Polish descent) is an all-but-forgotten cousin of the bagel, though flatter and hole-less, and Kossar’s is an institution, having served the carb-bombs since 1936. Pick up a few and continue just a few doors down to Doughnut Plant. While you’ll find shops all over the city doing designer doughnuts these days, Doughnut Plant was the pioneer — and its creative version like carrot cake and tres leches are as delicious as ever.
Now that you’ve had a few morning snacks, it’s time for a real breakfast. A short stroll north through the Lower East Side will bring you to Russ & Daughters, one of the city’s leading names in “appetizing” — that is, Jewish-style smoked fish. Its lox and nova are beyond compare. While its storefront has a century of history, the Russ & Daughters cafe opened in May 2014, and it’s the ideal place for bagels with whatever fish you want layered on top.
The Lower East Side is the sort of neighborhood that rewards exploration. Take a break from nibbling and wander, stopping along the way at Economy Candy — any kid’s fantasy, an candy emporium with every sort of gummy or chocolate you could imagine (many of which you may not have seen since you were a kid — ABBA ZABA bars anyone?), and at eminently reasonable prices, too.
Lunchtime? Chinatown is just next door. A walk through its streets will take you past endless dim sum spots and dumpling shops and roast meat purveyors — feel free to follow your nose. But two particular standouts you should definitely hit: Prosperity Dumpling, where the fried pork-and-chive dumplings are the best in the neighborhood, and Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, where the noodles are, well, hand-pulled and incredibly good whether you get them dry or served in broth.
It’s easy to kill a few hours immersed in the sights and sounds of Chinatown, so wander at your leisure. Just north is Little Italy, much of which feels more theme park than genuine NYC experience, but there are a few spots which are still exceptional. Stop in to DiPalo Selects — one of the best Italian meat and cheese shops this side of the Atlantic — even if it’s just to take a peek. And if you need a pick-me-up or a souvenir, the charming upscale bodega Nolita Mart across Mott Street makes excellent coffee, and has a great selection of made-in-NYC products to browse, too.
Still hungry? You better be because this is a food tour, and you should always leave room for dessert, no matter the hour. Cheesecake is another of those New York bucket list foods, and if you’re so inclined, it’s worth a walk over to Eileen’s Special Cheesecake. And even if you can’t stomach another bite you should pick up a mini-cheesecake up for a late-night snack or the plane ride home.
Up in NoLita, you’ve got a few excellent cocktail bars to choose from — Mother’s Ruin and The Daily are popular with locals and industry folks alike for their imaginative cocktails and friendly ‘tenders. Then drink until you’re good and hungry before heading to Katz’s. It may be popular with the visitor set, it may be famous primarily for that one eyebrow-raising movie scene, but make no mistake — its pastrami and corned beef are some of the best you’ll ever behold. Stand at the counter while the man behind it hand-slices your pastrami, and offers you a taste. Katz’s will look expensive at first glance, but those $18 sandwiches are easily enough to feed two — and after the eating day you’ve had, splitting might not be a bad idea.
Sunday: Soho, West Village, Chelsea, Gramercy
First stop: Dominique Ansel, home of the Cronut. Don’t roll your eyes — Ansel is about as talented a baker as they come. If you want to wake up early and stand in line for a Cronut, we’re not going to stop you. But the saner among you may wish to go a bit later in the morning, walk right in, and order whatever pastry looks the most appealing. (We recommend the DKA, short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a kind of caramelized croissant in particular.)
Sunday in New York means brunch, and since you’re starting in SoHo, there’s nowhere better than The Dutch. (The restaurant also takes reservations, which is a huge plus.) It’s one of the classier ways to start your day, with light streaming in through the huge windows, a lively local crowd, and incredible dishes like soft-scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and trout roe. Brunchtime drinkers among you: It’s illegal to serve alcohol before noon on Sunday in NYC, so plan accordingly.
Any sort of window shopping can be done in the West Village, and food is no exception. Poke your head into Murray’s Cheese and marvel at the variety; duck into The Meadow with artisanal chocolates and salts (yes, really). Along the way, stop for bizarrely and wonderfully adorned soft serve ice cream at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop — a true only-in-New-York moment. And wait, we haven’t had pizza yet? Get a slice at the legendary Joe’s Pizza on Carmine; eat it standing up at the counter outside, and you’ll learn what a true New York slice should be.
Further north on the west side, Chelsea Market houses a huge array of food shops and restaurants — browse (or nibble) to your heart’s content. Grab a fancy cocktail at the The Tippler downstairs if you need to relax. Or, for a pick-me-up, head up to the High Line where several food and drink options exist, including the perfectionist Blue Bottle Coffee. The elevated park, which stretches from the Meatpacking District to 30th Street gives a unique perspective on the city, as it meanders 1.45 miles above the streets and among buildings. Do your best to work up an appetite for dinner — you’re going to need it.
Gramercy Tavern is a modern New York classic, and delivers in every imaginable way: The beautiful space, polished service, chef Michael Anthony’s skill in the kitchen. Dinner in the back dining room is quite formal (and priced accordingly), and reservations are a must. But the front room is considerably less expensive, accepts walk-ins only, and delivers just as memorable an experience.
Monday: West Chelsea, Flatiron, Union Square, East Village
It’s tempting to think that every corner in NYC has a fabulous by-the-slice pizzeria, though that’s not the case. So too with bagels. You can get one anywhere, but truly excellent specimens are hard to come by. Start your morning at Murray’s Bagels where they never toast bagels because they’re served still warm from the oven. A simple cream cheese spread is all they need, although an egg sandwich on a bagel is never a bad idea either.
From there, walk north to West 23rd, where you’ll find Eataly — which, in itself, would take three days to eat through. The Italian food superstore houses a bakery and a pizzeria, meat and cheese counters, gelato and espresso, a rotisserie and a wine bar, along with several full-scale restaurants. It can be a bit of a madhouse, but for any fan of Italian food, it’s a must-visit.
Right across the street is Madison Square Park, home to the original Shake Shack, the burger joint that’s now spread across the city, the country and the world. But there’s a particular charm to the flagship. Hit it early, perhaps before noon (you’ll be having another lunch later) and you’ll avoid the lines; you can’t go wrong with a classic Shack Burger and frozen custard.
A few blocks south, Union Square Greenmarket is the city’s best farmers market, taking over several sides of the park and hosting farmers, cheesemakers, and all other manner of food vendors from across the region. Take a look, taste a few things, chat with farmers, scope the place out and get a sense of from where much of NYC’s food comes.
And now for one of New York’s best-kept secrets: A number of high-end restaurants (and we’re talking 4-star, tasting-menu high-end) offer lunches that are far, far cheaper than a similar meal at night would be. Del Posto, Mario Batali’s fanciest Italian establishment, is a great example. A three-course lunch is just $39 (dinner, meanwhile is $179 for eight courses). But with an array of amuses to start, a phenomenal bread service with butter and whipped lard, and little desserts that follow your main dessert, you’re basically getting six courses. Don’t be surprised if your lunch here lasts into the early evening.
Hop the L train over to the East Village, and if you’re in need of caffeine, swing by Ninth Street Espresso. Or go straight to the cocktails. New York bartenders are consistently innovative, introducing new drinks and techniques all the time, but no one quite pushes the boundaries like Booker + Dax, the most technologically advanced bar you’ll ever see; it’s where blowtorches and liquid nitrogen work alongside the cocktail shakers. There’s no standing room — everyone’s required to have a seat — so settle in and enjoy your drinks, along with the entertainment of watching them made.
After the long weekend (and long lunch) you’ve had, you could be forgiven for skipping dinner. But press on you must. Luckily, Momofuku Ssam Bar is right next door, and it shows off David Chang’s particular style of innovative Asian-inspired fare. With always-changing small plates, it’s a smart spot for however large or small a meal you’d like to end your trip with (just don’t miss those heavenly pork buns, a Chang signature).
Check out 10 fun and filling food tours in New York City for more ideas on eating your way through New York City.