For the first twenty two years of my life, my only real knowledge about the island of Manhattan consisted of the city at Christmas time. Every year my parents would pack up the whole family for a trip into the city to see the holiday splendor: skating underneath the tree at Rockefeller Center, carriage rides through Central Park, window shopping down 5th Avenue. To me, New York City was ten square blocks of Christmas cheer that smelled of hot pretzels and horses. It was love at first sight.
Manhattan at Christmas time is one of the most magical times to be in the city, which is part of the reason I chose to bare the cold and snow to spend a full week back home. I hadn't been back to New York since we moved to San Francisco last July, so it was long overdue. To say I was excited is a tremendous understatement. Such excitement can only be monitored and controlled with a list. Is that weird? I write lists to calm down, clear my head and focus at the task on hand. Which this December was hitting up all my favorite spots in NYC in exactly seven days. I am a wild child.
Here is my very own personal pocket guide to dining in NYC - a quick hit list of favorite institutions of all shapes, sizes, wallets and scenes. Perhaps not as 'on trend' now that I live 3,000 miles away, however this list was made with my heart for the pleasure of my tummy:
The Heat's Hottest NYC Restaurants
- Balthazar: French bistro. Great for brunch.
- Jane: Terrific brunch.
- Boqueria: Spanish tapas, fun atmosphere.
- Shorty’s .32: small, casual restaurant in Soho. Great vibe and food.
- Il Mulino: Expensive Italian.
- Raouls: French Bistro with the best steak frites.
- Torrisi Italian Specialties: Casual Italian in Soho. Great sandwiches too.
- DBGB Kitchen and Bar: Casual Daniel Boulud, burgers, sausages, great atmosphere.
- Mary's Fish Camp: My favorite lobster roll.
- Mercadito: Bite sized tacos and spicy margaritas.
- The Spotted Pig: Fun, crowded gastropub.
- The Waverly Diner: For a 4am Waverly melt: a burger patti inside a grilled cheese.
- Taim: Best falafel.
- Bleeker Street Pizza: my favorite NY slice.
- Yerba Buena: Fancy Latin fare, terrific drinks.
- Little Owl: American fare in the Friends apartment building.
- Commerce: Great bar for cocktails and roasted chicken, on a quintessential block.
- Babbo: Best pasta sampler menu. Worth the dough (pun intended).
- Minetta Tavern: Great steaks, tough reservations.
- Hundred Acres: Lovely brunch spot. Great Bloody Mary selection.
- Blue Hill: Farm fresh American fare near newly renovated Washington Sq Park
- Motorino: Amazing Neopolitan pizza. Casual, fun atmosphere. Small space.
- Frank: Homestyle Italian, no reservations. Get the ragu.
- Ippudo: Noodles, noodles and noddles.
- Gemma: Beautiful Italian restaurant, fun atmosphere in the Bowery Hotel.
- Il Buco: Quirky Mediterranean fare on Bond Street.
- Mermaid Inn: Casual seafood.
- Heche en Dumbo: Trendy Mexican.
- The Smith: French bistro, fun atmosphere.
- Momofuku Ssam Bar: Haute Asian, great experience, reservations.
- Sushi Yasuda: The freshest sushi, clean atmosphere.
- Convivio: Fancy southern Italian in Tudor City.
- Bukhara Grill: Terrific, albeit pricey Indian.
- The Breslin: Gastropub at Ace Hotel. Also a great sandwich spot in there (Sub No.7)
- Marea: Fancy seafood on Central Park South
- Scarpetta: Haute Italian, however their simplest dish is their best: tomato and basil pasta.
Lower East Side:
- Kuma Inn: Best overall Asian. Casual atmosphere, BYOB.
- Frankie's Spuntino: Homestyle, inexpensive Italian.
- Little Giant: Small, hip, great for brunch.
- Beauty and Essex: Trendy American, small plates, beautiful restaurant.
Gramcery/Flat Iron/Union Square:
- Aldea: Portuguese/American fare.
- Casa Mono: small plate fare from Mario Batali (Bar Jamon for drinks before/after).
- Tamarind: My favorite Indian spot.
- Gotham Bar and Grill: Manhattan staple, American fare.
- Gramercy Tavern: Fancy American fare. Expensive, but worth it.
- Union Square Cafe: NY staple. American fare (order the duck).
- Veritas: Known for their winelist, but terrific food too. Very expensive.
- Shack Shack: Best burger. All over the city now, but I love the one in Madison Sq Park.
- Dave’s Bagels: best bagel in town.
- Locanda Verde: Small plate Italian, haute atmosphere.
- Smith and Mills: nymag used the term hipstaurant, and accurately so. A real gem.
- Max: Meatballs, meatloaf and truffled ravioli.
- Bubby's: Comfort food at it's best.
- Landmarc: Half bottles of wine and affordable French bistro fare.
- Perry Street: Beautiful restaurant on the West Side Highway. Great views.
Upper West Side:
- Dovetail: Expensive French UWS.
- Sushi of Gari: Avant garde sushi. Very expensive.
- Celeste: Pizza/Italian.
- Nonna: Homestyle Italian.
Upper East Side:
- Cafe D'Alsace: Belgian beers and Alsatian food
- Poke: Affordable sushi, BYOB, casual.
- Peter Lugers: My favorite steak house, under the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Tanoreen: Turkish fare far off in Brooklyn.
- Hibino: Pressed sushi in Brooklyn Heights.
- Henry's End: Wild game in Brooklyn.
- Vinegar Hill House: Cozy American fare, Vinegar Hill.
While I didn't check off every food item on my list, I did squeeze in my fair share of fare in between visiting all my loved ones. And while the trip was an overall success, I didn't realize just how much of a whirlwind my vacation was until I landed in laid back, quiet, San Francisco. As hectic as the holidays always are, this year proved to have more obstacles than normal. In just seven days we had a case of the stomach flu, a shopping bag of gifts stolen, lost our friends' car in Brooklyn, broke and almost lost my Christmas gift over a penthouse balcony, a blizzard, a delayed flight home with a screaming baby and a partridge in a pear tree. But despite all the mishaps, when I walked into work Monday morning at 6am with just under three hours of sleep, and my coworkers asked me 'how my vacation was' all I could do was smile. Because even after all that, I still ♥ NYC.
We all know how prohibitively expensive it'd be to actually purchase the items from the beloved carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, so I wrote my own version, as an ode to the dear city that never sleeps and how fat it made me in just one week:
♫On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,
♪Twelve David's bagels,♪Eleven risotto balls,
♪Ten bowls of pasta,
♪Nine chicken parms,
♪Eight frozen hot chocolates,
♪Seven ramen a-swimming,
♪Six lamb shwarmas,