Guest Post: The “Best” Food in New York: Eating Along the Gray Line

Murray’s Cheese Shop

We’re often asked, “Where can I find the best…?”  Every New Yorker has a differing opinion on food, but frankly, some opinions are better than others.  That’s why we asked Arielle Mark of the excellent NYC Food Days blog for her opinion.  She’ has lived–and eaten–in New York City for years, so if anyone knows the top picks, it’s probably her.  Without further ado, here is an exclusive guest post from Arielle Mark:

“Where can I find the best…?” can be a very tough question indeed!

From pizza and hot dogs to award-winning wines and celebrity chefs, New York City has got everything a food-loving visitor could desire.  The Big Apple is a big star when it comes to fine dining, and has a rich history of food innovation, from a pioneer of molecular gastronomy to the birthplace of Animal Crackers.  But the sheer number of restaurants in Manhattan alone–and more pop up every day!–can be overwhelming for tourists with time constraints, visitors on a budget, or anyone who wants to taste the best New York has to offer.

If you ask a million New Yorkers–or eight million, for that matter–their opinion on “the best,” and you’ll get eight million different answers.  Everyone has their favorite spots for brunch, or a secret bakery tucked away that bakes the tastiest pastries they’ve ever had.  Even recommendations can be overwhelming!  But fear not, and worry even less: you may not hit every James Beard Award-winning bistro, or the most celebrated dive bars in town, but you can enjoy a meal at some of the most unique and interesting restaurants in New York–all within a few blocks of every Gray Line New York bus tour route!

The Gray Line Bus routes have been designed to show you the best attractions in Downtown Manhattan, Uptown, and Brooklyn, with frequent stops to let you visit each attraction and see the city at your own pace.  So not only can you hop off the busses at any time to take in the Manhattan sights, but the tastes as well!  Some of the most notable restaurants in Manhattan are only a few blocks from the Gray Line hop-on, hop-off points along their bus routes, so while you’re scoping out Central Park or snapping pictures of the skyline, heat out and chow down on some of the best and most interesting foods of New York!

Eileen’s mini strawberry cheesecake
via lunchstudio.com

Both the Downtown and Uptown lines start on West 48th Street and 7th Avenue, right in the heart of Times Square.  There are so many eateries to choose from in this area, it can make your head spin!  Forego the cloying chain restaurants and try a relatively newcomer that gives the feel of the quintessential old New York dining experience.  Carmine’s on West 44th Street caters to the pre-theater crowd looking for quality Italian-American fare and sumptuous Times Square decor.   The plates here are expensive but massive: perfect for a large group of people ordering a few dishes and sharing among the table.  One of their specialties is the shrimp scampi, buttery and rich, and served over angel hair or linguine, Carmine’s will definitely leave you satisfied.

The Downtown line heads towards the Empire State Building, and in the shadow of the city’s second-tallest building, you should head towards AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar, the perfect nighttime blend of two of the tastiest guilty pleasures in the city.  Apart from having an extensive international wine list and fine chocolates from the famous Jacques Torres, AYZA has an impressive full dinner menu, special offer nights like couples’ night on Sundays and ladies’ night on Thursdays, and live jazz music every Monday.  They have nearly everything you need to indulge on wine, chocolate, and song while on your trip, all within walking distance of many Midtown sights and attractions.  A perfect stop for a nightcap after a nighttime trip to the top of the Observation Deck!

Hop off the Downtown line a few stops south of 34th Street and find yourself in the heart of Greenwich Village, near the iconic Washington Square Park and the New York University Campus.  Spend an extravagant evening at the world famous Babbo, owned and operated by famed celebrity chef Mario Batali.  Here, new, modern life is woven into traditional Italian dishes, like goat cheese tortellini, beef cheek ravioli, and chocolate hazelnut cake.  But for a quick bite you can have on the go (and won’t put a hole in your wallet!), New Yorkers head to the Village’s cheesy jewel, Murray’s Cheese Shop, an old-style gourmet cheese shop that’s been a staple in the community since the 1940s.  They offer over one hundred varieties of cheese, many of which have been aged in-house, and will let you sample any order to make sure that’s the perfect cheese for you.  And they’ll take any cheese you please and make it into a pressed-to-order panini, called a Murray’s Melt, which you can enjoy on the go while you shop your way through the West Village boutiques.

The next stop along the Gray Line’s hop-on, hop-off tour takes you to SoHo, full of charming shops, trendy restaurants, and plenty of character.  It’s also home to one of New York’s favorite food traditions.  Everyone knows

via chinatownicecreamfactory.com

that New York City is famous for its cheesecakes, a cream cheese base making the cake rich and dense, yet still fluffy on the fork.  The debate over who makes the best cheesecake in New York, however, has a history as long as the cheesecake itself.  Try one of the best in contention at Eileen’s Special Cheesecakes, just around the corner from the Spring Street and Broadway stop.  Eileen Avezzano has been making her mother’s recipe cheesecakes at this location for over thirty years, and has carved out a niche for itself as some of the best cheesecake in all the boroughs.  There are a lot of varieties on hand, including mocha, caramel pecan, and pumpkin, but Eileen’s plain cheesecakes are her best sellers–and are anything but plain. Simple cakes topped with fresh fruit really shine when your expertise is stellar and your ingredients are top-notch, and that’s what Eileen’s always provides.

The other side of Canal Street houses Chinatown, full of colorful souvenir shops, exotic food markets, and authentic Asian cuisine.  Yet one of the biggest culinary draws to this neighborhood happens to be ice cream!   Head to the famous Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street. The friendly, pudgy dragon gobbling up ice cream has always been a staple in my view of Chinatown, and it never really felt like summer until I waited in their long line for one of their specialty flavors. Even though there’s a Haagen-Dazs right down the street, locals and tourists alike flock to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, the tiny little ice cream joint that makes homemade ice cream in unique, Asian-inspired flavors, like lychee, taro, and red bean.

Much farther south on the island of Manhattan lies Battery Park City and the Financial District, a unique neighborhood where the monumental skyscrapers of today meet the historic colonial structures of yesterday.  Here you will find a restaurant with one of the oldest pedigrees in the entire country!  Delmonico’s started as a restaurant on William Street way back in 1827, and has the distinction of being the first American restaurant to offer a definitive menu, and a separate wine list.  It’s also credited with originating such classic dishes as Lobster Newburg, Eggs Benedict, and the most flamboyant (pun intended!) of desserts, the Baked Alaska.  The restaurant’s changed hands quite a few times since the nineteenth century, but the current Delmonico’s has kept the original atmosphere and the dining menu as close to authentic as you can get.  Reserve a dinner here and you’ll feel transported to the glamour of nineteenth century fine living.

via lukeslobster.com

The Downtown line loops back northward towards the Lower East Side, bringing you through a revitalized neighborhood full of vintage shops, trendy music venues, and–of course!–some of the newest and most interesting restaurants around.  A local favorite is the unusual and beloved Shopsin’s, a diner owned and operated by the eccentric Kenny Shopsin, and is known for its extensive menu full of innovative comfort foods, including a “heavenly” Ten Condiment Sandwich and Shopsin’s takes on Nutella milkshakes and Orange Julius.  Word to the wise, however: the tiny diner is strict about its serving rules, and doesn’t seat parties larger than four people.  If you’ve got a big group walking through the Lower East Side, the Economy Candy Market has something for everyone, young and old!  This old-style candy store is literally packed to the rafters with chocolates, candies, and other confections from all ages of candy. From the now-illegal candy cigarettes of the 50s to retro favorites from the 70s and all modern forms of candy, this place has everything you could ever want. I’ve found it to be the perfect place for a gift for that finicky family member everyone has who has everything and you never know what to get them for a present. It’s a thoughtful, inexpensive, and delicious way of hitting a gift right on the nose.

Finally, the Downtown line takes you to the colorful East Village, alive with culture, art, music, and fantastic restaurants for any traveler’s budget.  Anyone looking for a luxurious, decadent dinner in the area–and has the wallet size to match–has to try Momofuku Ko, one of the jewels in super-chef David Chang’s New York Momofuku crown.  Here you’ll find dishes that make the delicious and extraordinary out of comforting, familiar flavors, like deep fried short ribs, Spanish mackerel sashimi, and even Animal Crackers-flavored ice cream!  A two-hour long tasting menu can run over $100 per person, however, so be sure to have your checkbook ready!  For a substantially more economical epicurean treat, Luke’s Lobster offers some of the best lobster and crab rolls in the entire city.  Just like their popular food truck that can be found all around town, their brick-and-mortar shop serves up sandwiches perfect for summer, the blend of mayonnaise, celery, and spices really highlighting the freshness of the seafood.  And if sweet treats in the East Village are what you crave, Butter Lane has you covered.  One of the premier cupcake bakeries in the city, Butter Lane’s cupcake flavor combinations of cake and frosting are made to order, so the possibilities are endless (and delicious any way you mix them).  One of the favorite flavor combinations here is banana-flavored cake batter with peanut butter frosting and mini-marshmallow toppings–aptly known as the Elvis.  You can even order a “shot” of their frosting flavors in case you haven’t gotten enough on your cupcake!

New York City is, beyond a doubt, one of the most celebrated cities in the world for food and dining, from old classics and cheap eats to exquisite eateries and brand-new cuisines.  But no matter where you stop on Gray Line’s hop-on, hop-off bus tours, you’re certain to find scrumptious snacks, delectable dishes, and utterly divine desserts.  Happy eating!

For more NYC foodie wisdom from Arielle, follow her Tweets @NYCFoodHolidays and subscribe to her daily NYC Food Days blog!

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