I am not a travel writer or food blogger, but on the other hand, I’d like to remember all the places I’ve gone this summer, because I’m already having trouble keeping track.
TL;DR: Visit The Strand, Kinokuniya, and the MET. Eat everything you can.
The Strand strandbooks.com
Giant bookstore of tall shelves with probably every book you could want, along with lots of nicely curated tables with various categories to help you find something new. Honestly, I had trouble finding the books I was interested in—likely I missed them around all the others, but I couldn’t find the first book of Dune (even though the later ones were there), or The Gunslinger (but the rest of The Dark Tower was there), or Color of Magic (yet I had no trouble finding all the Discworld spinoffs and side books). They have discounts placed on several books, including recent and popular ones.
I did later find Dune—instead of keeping it on the shelf with the author’s other books, it had been placed on a special sci-fi books table. The online search function is able to vaguely locate books in the store, and tell you whether it’s on a shelf or on a table, so if you’re wondering where something is, it’s worth it to search online.
McNally Jackson Books mcnallyjackson.com
Smaller selection, but has a little café, and a self-published book section. 20% off on certain books, including popular and/or recent ones like Murakami’s Men Without Women. I liked the categorization here; segmenting literature by region of origin seemed a little arbitrary at first, but it was nice just being able to see (for instance) all the translated literature from Chinese authors in one place (though, Cixin Liu was mixed in with the rest of the sci-fi/fantasy, etc).
A Japanese bookstore chain, with a branch in NYC. Three floors, with the ground floor functioning pretty much as a typical bookstore, the upper floor holding all the anime and manga, as well as a little cafe, and the basement holding Japanese language books and magazines, along with stationery. They have lots of nice pens and pencils, such as Pilot fountain pens from the Kakuno to the Vanishing Point to expensive maki-e pens, Uni Kuru-Toga mechanical pencils (these rotate the lead when you lift the pencil, keeping the point sharp), Pilot and Sailor fountain pen inks, and Kakyuo notebooks. It’s nice just to have a stationery store to wander around, and I eventually purchased some stationery and envelopes, along with some Pilot fountain pen ink.
Book Off bookoffusa.com
Like Kinokuniya, Book Off is a Japanese bookstore chain, but deals in used books and other things—everything from manga to classical CDs to used cameras and guitars. As such, the selection is rather eccentric, especially compared to Kinokuniya. They might not have the latest manga, but they did have the Radwimps Kimi no na wa album already; on the other hand, I couldn’t find a single Kalafina CD. (Also, is it BOOKOFF, Book Off, or Book•Off?)
Also, Barnes and Noble, but that’s not interesting.
MoMath—Museum of Math momath.org
$10 student admission
This is really a museum oriented at young children, but it’s still fun to be able to play with the exhibits instead of just being able to look from afar. We spent the most time just putting together tessellations.
MoMA—Museum of Modern Art moma.org
$14 student admission
Honestly, I don’t really “get” abstract art, but they currently have an interesting exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright, and of course it’s always nice seeing famous works from artists like Picasso, Pollock, and Monet. Van Gogh’s The Starry Night was absolutely overrun by patrons, while Monet’s massive Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond was relatively ignored—the latter impressed me far more.
Xi’an Famous Foods is literally across the street, should you get hungry.
MET—Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org
Pay-what-you-want, suggested $12 student admission
An absolutely enormous museum that really needs no comment. I haven’t explored all of it, but I managed to drain my phone battery just taking photos in Arms & Armor.
MoCA—Museum of Chinese in America mocanyc.org
$5 student admission
Tiny little museum in Chinatown dedicated to the experiences of Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans here. By tiny, I mean I spent less than an hour to go through all the exhibits (which I feel they tried to pad by adding lots of audio voice-overs), and I wish they had gone more into certain things, like yellowface in American theater. Interesting if you’re in the area and want a little quiet place to get out of the sun and crowds.
Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design cooperhewitt.org
$9 student admission
This museum was…alright. It had some neat stuff on display that I can’t remember, and really, the only thing that stands out was that Google somehow got the Pixel and the Home into a display case. I’m no Apple fan, but if you’re going to show a modern smartphone, why not the iPhone? Or even the Galaxy S8 or Note Edge—they had the Microsoft mouse that turns on when you bend it, bent screens should be just as interesting.
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum intrepidmuseum.org
$31 student admission
I’m not sure how I feel about these sorts of military museums (though this one isn’t military-affiliated). On one hand, it’s cool to see all the different ships, planes, and submarines we’ve used through the years, and seeing a space shuttle in person is worth it, even if you can’t see the inside. On the other hand, it’s weird having things like a video of a plane bombing a jungle and just no commentary on it, as if that were normal…as much as they emphasize how tough it was for our American sailors, pilots, and other personnel abroad, there’s not much about what we did while abroad, exactly. At a quick glance, for instance, the Vietnam War exhibit shows headlines from when we actually started military actions, saying an American ship had been attacked—but there was nothing immediately apparent to make it clear that the actual circumstances were murky.
In any case, it’s worth seeing, though it is the priciest of the lot.
Food & Restaurants
As you can infer from your scrollbar, this has made up the majority of my explorations in NYC. It’s weird, and frankly overwhelming, to have such a density of food places nearby. Noticeably missing: New York pizza.
Takeout/Street Food/Fast Casual
Kong Kee kongkeefood.com
you tiao (油条—fried dough/cruellers), 5 sticks for $2(!)
I admit this was a nostalgia trip for me: in Fort Collins, as a kid, we’d drive down to Denver every so often to get groceries in the Asian plaza (I don’t think it quite qualified as a Chinatown). Nearby, there was a little shop that sold fresh fried 油条, which I remember as being very airy and crispy until it cooled down. In Phoenix, unfortunately, we had no such shop, and the you tiao the dim sum places sold, like the ones Mom made from a box mix, were dense and chewy. This place is in the middle: it looks like the fried, oily, crispy dough of my memories…but when I came, they had been sitting there for a bit, and weren’t quite as crispy. Also, my body can’t handle as much dough and oil anymore. Still worth it.
Vanessa’s Dumpling House vanessas.com
Dumplings and 葱油饼 (scallion pancakes), ~$4/item
Supposedly (according to Serious Eats) some of the best dumplings and scallion pancakes in the city. I can’t say anything about being the best, but these definitely were the thing for me when I was feeling a little homesick.
Sunrise Mart sunrisemart-ny.com
One of the three main grab-and-go spots near where I work (the other two being Essen and Gourmet Garage). This is my favorite, with good rice bowls of various types (oyakodon, etc.) for a good price. Also has groceries; I only went here for groceries once, but they had lots of fish fillets, types of noodles, soup stock (dashi granules), and such.
Another takeout place near the office, which is more like a cafeteria, with prepared sandwiches, salad bar, hot food bar, and made-to-order noodles and things.
Gourmet Garage gourmetgarage.com
The least favorite of the takeout places near my workplace. There’s nothing wrong with the food, it’s just that none of it appeals to me (lasanga, chicken over kale, that sort of thing). They do have sushi, which I haven’t tried, but 3” diameter rolls are kind of tempting.
Samurice (Canal Street Market) canalstreet.market
Eh. Not bad, nothing special.
Xe May Sandwich Shop xemaysandwich.com
Bánh mì sandwiches, ~$10
Not as good as City Sandwich, but still worth a visit. Cash-only.
Go! Go! Curry gogocurryamerica.com
Japanese curry, ~$10/plate
Large portions of food that is probably not in your long-term best interest. But hey, if you’re hungry and want a big serving of rice with breaded meats (and cabbage to make you feel better about it), this is the place to go.
Xi’an Famous Foods xianfoods.com
Chinese hand-pulled noodles, ~$10/dish
Long, chewy, spicy noodles in lots of oil. Really bad for you, but 100% worth it. They also have nice sweetened/flavored teas in the fridge.
Falafel sandwiches and platters, ~$10/dish
Again, considered the best falafel sandwich in NYC by Serious Eats. It’s pretty affordable (not as cheap as a street cart, but those look quite sketchy), and quite satisfying.
Fried dumplings, $1.25/5
I mean, look at that price. Sure, they’re not top quality, but that price.
Calexico Cart SoHo calexico.net
Platters, burritos, and quesadillas, ~$10
Chipotle-like Tex-Mex food, though without the process of choosing everything that goes into your meal, in food cart form. Good food, affordable, bit of a line.
Chelsea Thai (Chelsea Market) chelseamarket.com
Rice and noodle dishes, ~$10
Takeout Thai food—great for the price.
Halal Guys thehalalguys.com
Falafel on rice, ~$10
Solid food, large quantities. They gave me BBQ sauce instead of their spicy “red” sauce (think I didn’t speak up loudly enough), which was okay.
Update: red sauce was had, can confirm it’s as good as everyone says.
Oatmeal (no way!), ~$10
I was kind of excited for this place, but the matcha oatmeal bowl I got didn’t sit right with me. There’s something about oatmeal that sounds good to me in theory, but in practice, it becomes a heavy sugary mush. Maybe I should look for a place dedicated to congee next. (I mean, there’s a cookie dough place, and a cream cheese place opening soon enough.)
Taiwanese steamed buns, ~$5 for 2
Too trendy and hip—the cashier could barely hear my order over the music being blasted, and orders came out slowly even though you could see them assembling it out of bins, as there was only one employee working on this. If you get takeout, like I did, the topping on the buns will probably all fall off by the time you get home, and the taro fries were overly salty and extremely dry. The buns themselves were good, and much cheaper than at (say) Momofuku Ssäm bar (not the same quality, of course), so this would be okay if you wanted a bunch of buns for cheap, but I personally just don’t want to step foot inside again.
Thompson’s Finest Deli
VERTS Mediterranean Grill eatverts.com
Mediterranean counter-serve, ~$10 for a bowl or wrap
I remember this place from Austin quite fondly, and I still like it here in NYC. It’s relatively cheap, it’s fast, and it’s good. The turkey/mushroom meatballs are not worth it, though; stick to actual meat or falafel.
City Sandwich citysandwichnyc.com
Portugese-inspired sandwiches, ~$10
Okay, this place gets sandwiches right, and now I’m not going to be satisfied again. This Portugese eatery boasts about their healthy options and bread rolls, but here’s what I really cared about—the bread is toasted, but 1) not so hard that it tears up the roof of your mouth eating it and 2) not so thick that you can’t even take a bite out of it. Oh, and they don’t pile on so many different random ingredients that the sandwich falls apart as you eat it. Imagine, a sandwhich that can actually be eaten without bib, knife, and fork.
Pi Bakerie pibakerie.com
Greek bakery, ~$5/item
Decent stop for lunch when you want something different than Essen or Sunrise. Individual items are quite small, so get a mix of things.
by CHLOE eatbychloe.com
Trendy salads, ~$15
Trendy salads. Yeah. (Also, trendy burgers.) Very very crowded around lunch.
Boba & Dessert
Sundaes and Cones sundaescones.com
Ice cream, ~$5/1 scoop
Lots of interesting flavors here. Sesame is good, and the wasabi was interesting (and not as terrible as I would have expected)—it’s unidentifiably sweet at first, with a slight afterburn. I still need to try the ginger. They will let you sample flavors before ordering, but I just commit to whatever random flavor seems unusual (otherwise, what’s the point?). Oddly enough, it always smells like cleaning supplies as you walk in—at least you know it’s sanitary?
Update 2017/08/11: the ginger ice cream is…okay. It doesn’t have much of a noticeable ginger flavor, and is a bit too sweet. Meanwhile, I feel like the lavender flavor just does not work in ice cream, though I enjoyed it in boba tea.
Tai Pan Bakery (Chinatown)
Asian baked goods, ~$1.50/item
I did not grow up with many of these foods, even the Asian ones that are so disproportionately represented on this list. Living in Colorado, we had to drive to Denver to find an Asian grocery store; a lot of the foods I remember from childhood were my mom’s best impressions of things like beef stew and Mexican (well, Tex-Mex) food, and simple stir-frys using readily available ingredients. Moving to Arizona, we did have some pan-Asian grocers reasonably close by, but finding certain things, like longyan, was still difficult.
And so, walking around in a Chinese bakery is still a strange experience to me. I don’t recognize anything they’re selling, and while I’d love to stop and peruse all the goods for sale, the crowds are always surging forward. I figured anything here is worth having, and so I tried a green tea honey bread, which turned out great—just sweet enough that I could taste the tea, but not too noticeably sweeter than even plain white bread. (Maybe that says more about American bread than the bakery’s.) I believe this was actually kasutera. Hopefully I’ll have the time to try out more.
Japanese bakery, ~$2/item
Okay baked goods. That’s all.
Cafe Zaiya zaiyany.com
Japanese bakery, ~$2/item
Better than Pan-Ya. Also just around the corner.
Grom Gelato grom.it
Long line (though, we showed up right at their busy time during a hot day), but it moves quickly. The gelato itself was very good, and I didn’t mind the small portions.
The Boba Guys bobaguys.com
Boba tea, ~$5
This is supposedly a renowned place, at least on the West Coast, from what I understand. They offer lots of choices of interesting teas (e.g. chai) and different milks (almond), and I think this has the best boba so far (chewy, but not overly chewy; not all stuck together, so it goes through the straw easily).
Also: Chatime, Kung Fu Tea, Coco. Gong Cha is supposedly very good, and something I want to try.
Gong Cha gongchausa.com
Boba tea, ~$5
Probably my favorite boba tea place in NYC. Like The Boba Guys, the pearls are a little smaller than usual, not as sticky, and not so chewy: they won’t get stuck in your straw or tire your jaw out. They’re a little cheaper as well, at least for a basic drink.
Spot Dessert Bar spotdessertbar.com
Dessert tapas, ~$10/item
I’d say this is much more about presentation than substance. Not that the desserts were bad, but it was hard to figure out how to split each item, and things tended to fall apart as soon as you touched them.
Momofuku Milk Bar milkbarstore.com
Shakes, cookies, and pie; ~$8/shake
Good coffee shake, nothing special to me, though I didn’t try any of the more unusual flavors.
Tim Ho Wan timhowanusa.com
Get the “sticky rice in lotus leaf” here. It’s pricier than the other menu items, but it’s a meal all by itself, with a large mass of sticky, steaming rice, chicken, pork, sausage, and mushroom that’ll have you picking every last grain of rice off the leaf. And get the other menu items while you’re at it. Geting in involves a wait that is definitely worthwhile.
小笼包 (xiaolongbao/soup dumplings), $8
Soup dumplings are steamed dumplings with broth inside—tricky to eat, but absolutely worth it. You have to be careful to not puncture them while picking them up, and you can’t just pop them into your mouth whole (well, unless you like burning yourself). Instead, set it on your spoon, bite a small hole, and start sucking the broth out. At $6 or $8 for 8 dumplings (depending on whether you want pork or crab meat filling), this is a pretty cheap, satisfying meal.
Sushi; “sushi for 3” for ~$80
Now, this was only my second time having sushi (I wouldn’t really count RPCC sushi), and trying the eel sashimi was a revelation. It’s nice and fatty and exactly the kind of thing I want on top of rice.
Lucky Strike luckystrikeny.com
I had a very juicy burger (now I understand why people say that) served with an English muffin instead of a bun—I feel this held up better than your typical bun as I ate.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar ssambar.momofuku.com
Asian fusion, ~$30-40/entree
Amazing pork buns, though they cost $6 each (~2.5x the price at Baohaus), and perfect ribs.
American food; ~$20/entree
Had a solid sandwich and salad combo for lunch. Would definitely go again given the time.
Update: I didn’t have the time.
Tacos and other Mexican food; ~$15/entree
Brazen Fox thebrazenfox.com
American food; ~$20/entree
Wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really my thing.
Hundred Acres hundredacresnyc.com
Mediterranean food; ~$20/entree
Nothing really special here—it was good, but doesn’t really stand out in my mind. I had a pita with chicken, which felt awkward, as I didn’t want to roll it up and start biting into it (it was a nicer restaurant, after all), but eating it with a knife and fork felt off.
David Burke Kitchen
American food, I didn’t have to pay, thankfully
It’s good? But it doesn’t stand out. This place has some weight or reputation, judging by the way everyone talks about it, but without that, I probably wouldn’t even have commented here at all. Then again, I might just not have the proper context to appreciate the food or whatever.
Order however much steak you want, eat it while standing up. Oh, and they can appararently only cook it rare (which is fine), if you’re someone who can’t stomach of less-cooked meat. (They offer more doneness, but in practice, even after someone in our group sent theirs back, they just overcooked a part of the steak and left the rest rare or medium-rareish).
Cupping Room Cafe cuppingroomcafe.com
American food, $15
Katz’s Delicatessen katzsdelicatessen.com
Chopped liver is great. Bit of a weird ordering system involving a ticket and tasting the meat or something first, which makes me kinda hesitant to return, because I’d rather just order something at a counter and go (I trust that your chopped liver tastes like…liver).
Caracas Arepa Bar caracasarepabar.com
A tiny place selling Venezuelan arepas, which are a type of corn flour cake. They’re stuffed with meat and vegetables, with their hot sauce on top.
The Dutch thedutchnyc.com
DutchAmerican food, $30
This place is seriously unhealthy, but it’s amazing. Their fried chicken was crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside; the pieces were rather random (they use what they have, so it’s not like you always get wings and legs), but meaty. Also, the side of honey-slathered biscuits might as well have been dessert. (Actually, they’d be a great dessert. They’re not even too sweet.)
BCD Tofu House bcdtofu.com
Korean food, $30
I haven’t been to many Korean restaurants, but this makes me want to return. You get the full complement of side dishes (kimchi, tofu, etc), along with a whole fried fish (yellow croaker, I think)—you have to be a bit careful here, if you want to eat the entire thing, because at the base of its head is two hard bones that you do not want to bite down on. (And there’s the spine, of course.) But all of the rest is edible. Then you’re on to the entree, which is a bowl of tofu soup along with (for me) another whole fried fish (larger this time).
Pershing Square pershingsquare.com
American diner, $15
An apparently highly-regarded diner across from Grand Central Station, with great pancakes.
Osteria Laguna osterialagunanyc.com
Italian food, $25
An Italian place. Not much to say here; it’s good, but I don’t feel strongly about Italian cuisine.
Mile End mileenddeli.com
Poutine. In particular, “specialty” poutine, I guess you’d call it (e.g. General Tso-topped poutine). Also, some other things that you might expect from a delicatessen.
Just order regular poutine; General Tso on top of fries isn’t all that good, and definitely doesn’t sound as good as gravy and cheese curds on fries.
Westville Hudson westvillenyc.com
American food, $15
They get their sandwiches wrong. Also, the side salad was kinda mushy.
Mediterranean food, $15
For dinner, I had a portion of rice with a generous portion of brisket. It’s not particularly special, but it’s a solid choice.
Blue Ribbon Sushi blueribbonrestaurants.com
The food here was really good, but in the context of why I was there (a business lunch) I was a bit too nervous to notice.
Barn Joo barnjoo.com
Korean barbeque and restaurant, ~$20/entree
Unlike BCD Tofu House, Barn Joo doesn’t give the usual Korean side dishes, only kimchi; it’s a very upscale place, but wasn’t really what we were looking for.
Italian restaurant, $20
Again, good, but I have nothing really to say.
Japanese curry, $15
While also a counter-serve curry place, Curry-Ya is quite different from Go! Go! above. Instead of just draping a bunch of sauce over rice and topping it with fried protein, Curry-Ya has a pot of curry, along with a seprate plate of plain rice and anything else (I had a croquette). The curry is also more substantial—the “classic” curry I ordered had beef and potatoes in it, and felt kind of like a stew. Unfortunately, I only found this place at the very end of summer, but I think it’s a nice compromise between when you want something quick, yet don’t want just takeout.
Dumpling Man Albongidas dumplingman.com
Dumplings (!), $10
A dumpling house with more unusual fillings, including “mystery” vegetarian and meat dumplings that turned out quite well, and banana dumplings that were far sweeter than I expected. A good place when you want to change it up from Vanessa’s.
Brick Lane Curry House bricklanecurryhouse.com
Indian food, ~$20/entree
The biryani here was good, but not as spicy or as generous as the restaurant I remember from Lowell, MA. Not quite a disappointment, just a bit of a letdown.
Ramen Misoya misoyanyc.com
Ramen Takumi ramentakuminyc.com
Mei Jin Ramen meijinramen.net
Honestly, I can’t say one of these stood out particularly for their food, but the first three listed were better than the other two (or at the very least, I can’t remember eating at those places, despite what Google/my bank statement claims). Ippudo has lots of great appetizers. Ramen Misoya was interesting because everything was miso-based, with different types of miso (heavier or lighter, etc.). Totto sticks out because while the restaurant does not accept credit cards, there’s a “Totto Ramen” next door which does…?
Upon reflection, I liked Ramen Misoya the most. It’s not as busy as Ippudo, and it’s close to the dorm, unlike Totto, with lots of different choices.
Standard, solid barbecue place where you grill meat yourself given plates of raw meat. No complaints here, though I am not really familiar with this type of place—this was the first time that I’ve been to such a restaurant.
99 Favor Taste favortaste.com
All-you-can-eat barbecue, ~$30/person
Unlike most BBQ places, 99 Favor Taste has the waiters cook the meat for you. Since they’re rather overworked, this means it can take quite a while for your all-you-can-eat meat to be cooked. On the other hand, they provided a complimentary bowl of quite nice ice cream for our party member who had a birthday. If you want maximum value and can wait for it, this might be a good place, but if you’d rather not spend several hours eating, I’d go for the hot pot.
All-you-can-eat hot pot, ~$20/person
Now this is definitely worth it. The fish balls filled with meat (or whatever) are particularly good.
Union Square Greenmarket (farmer’s market) grownyc.org
Not as expensive as you might think for a farmer’s market in the middle of Manhattan—there are deals to be found. For instance, while the peaches might not have been their absolute cheapest at $3 a pound, they were ripe, very large, and sweet, unlike the other peaches I bought from nearby groceries. Also, my introduction to Honeycrisp apples.
New York Mart (Chinatown supermarket) newyorkmart.com
Unbelievably crowded, but a lot of fun. I had trouble finding things just because it was hard to navigate (somewhere in this city I will find persimmons), but it’s your standard Chinese/pan-Asian supermarket. They did have bins of dried and preserved things that I haven’t seen in the stores in Arizona. Just down the street, I finally found fresh longyan (龙眼), a lychee-like fruit that we haven’t been able to buy fresh (or even dried) for several years.
While shopping here, a kind older lady took pity on me as I was looking at the jellyfish and warned me that it was too cheap to be real jellyfish—thankfully, my Chinese still functioned decently that I could understand and talk to her.
Muji (Japanese home goods store) muji.us
Muji actually has notebooks that work well with fountain pens! They carry a “bleed-resistant” pack of B5 notebooks, $3 for 5 (30 pages each), that have well-coated paper. Other than that, a standard home goods store, with clothing, bedding, kitchenware, and other such things.