Only one day?! Are you sure you can’t stay a whole week? If you can’t, I think the best course of action is to embark on a snacking tour that keeps you in Manhattan, mostly below Fourteenth Street, capped off by a light-ish dinner. And then come back soon to cover other swaths of the city.
For breakfast, head to the original location of Russ & Daughters, for a bagel sandwich. If you want to expand your horizons, get the Super Heebster—whitefish and baked-salmon salad with horseradish-dill cream cheese and wasabi flying-fish roe. If you’re feeling traditional, go for good ol’ cream cheese and Gaspe Nova smoked salmon. On an everything bagel, of course! Eat it on the street.
For later in the morning—call it Phase II of breakfast—mosey on over to Chinatown. Try a roasted pork bun, just a dollar apiece and baked fresh throughout the day, plus a cup of insanely milky tea, at Mei Li Wah. For another dim-sum-style bite on the go, order cheung fun, or a Cantonese rice roll, from the window at Sun Hing Lung, where they’re made to order. If you’re in need of caffeine and a place to sit, head to Kopitiam, and get a Malaysian-style hand-pulled white coffee. I’m tempted to tell you to squeeze in a stop at Ice & Vice, my favorite ice-cream parlor in the city, where wild-sounding flavors—like “Figgin’ Toasted,” featuring bits of toasted baguette and fig-and-goat-milk jam—are always surprisingly delicious. I’m especially partial to “Milk Money,” made with a toasted-milk base, sea salt, and chocolate ganache.
You can eat that while you walk through SoHo, working up an appetite for lunch. Start at Joe’s Pizza, in the West Village, for a perfect New York slice. Next up: Chelsea Market, for grilled steak or carnitas tacos at the aptly named Los Tacos No. 1, which will disabuse you of the notion that you can’t get good ones in New York. If you haven’t had ice cream yet, now’s your moment: halvah soft serve at Seed & Mill, and get some halvah, too.
For dinner, I have made my loyalties known. Go early or late to Via Carota, to beat the crowds, and if the weather allows, get a table on the sidewalk. Order an aperitivo to soothe the stomach, and then make a meal of vegetables to round out the day: the green salad, the Brussels sprouts, the carrots with yogurt and pistachio. If you’re still hungry: cacio e pepe. If you’re still hungry, the svizzerina.
Photograph by Jeremy Liebman for the New Yorker
My in-laws are vegetarians, and whenever they come visit New York they’re always in the mood for Tibetan food. (They seem to like that it has some elements in common with other Asian foods they’re familiar with—dumplings, soups, stews—but is just a little different.) I’d like to try something different on their next visit. Are there other cuisines or restaurants you can point us toward?
My first thought is that your in-laws should take advantage of the new wave of New York restaurants that specialize in vegetarian food delicious enough to convert a carnivore. Perhaps the most popular of these, for good reason, is abcV, the sister to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, which offers vegetarian and vegan dishes that draw on flavors from across the globe. A few weeks ago, I had a perfect mango-and-tomato salad—sort of a spin on a caprese, drizzled in olive oil and strewn with jalapeños and mint—and regretted ordering only one bowl of the excellent mushroom-walnut bolognese. For something more affordable, and more on-the-go casual, there’s Superiority Burger, which is known for its veggie burger but also has a number of other sandwiches—including one featuring griddled yuba, the delightfully textured skin that forms when you heat soy milk to make tofu—and unusual salads, such as the tahini-ranch romaine.
In terms of exploring other world cuisines that are vegetarian-friendly, I’d steer you to Chelsea Market, where there are two equally wonderful counters that serve Middle Eastern food. Go to Dizengoff for superlative hummus, twice-cooked eggplant, and Yemenite pickles, and go to Miznon for the world's best pita sandwiches, many of which do not contain meat, and whole roasted baby cauliflower. You might also try MáLà Project, a charming, comfortable Chinese restaurant with one location in the East Village and a recently opened outpost a few blocks north of Bryant Park. They specialize in Sichuanese “dry pot,” which is similar to hot pot in that you choose all of the ingredients in your meal yourself but, instead of arriving raw, to be cooked at the table in a pot of broth, your selections come out of the kitchen stir-fried together in a complex, delicious mixture of garlic and Sichuan seasonings, tuned to your preferred level of spice. There are dozens of vegetables on the ingredient list, everything from bok choy and Chinese cabbage to taro, sweet potato, and five kinds of mushrooms, plus multiple varieties of noodles, tofu, and rice cakes. A vegetarian hot pot for four people will set you back only about fifty dollars, and there are plenty of vegetarian appetizers, too, including top-notch scallion pancakes.
Photograph by Eric Helgas for The New Yorker
Where should I go for a birthday dinner where I’ll want to order the whole dessert menu?
This is an excellent question, especially given that not all great restaurants make great dessert. One that most certainly does is Enrique Olvera’s Cosme. I dream, in particular, of the savory-sweet corn-husk meringue, a signature that’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened. It looks and tastes like it’s from another planet, the stiff, palest-purple meringue cracking open like a dinosaur egg to reveal a generous dollop of luscious corn mousse. Other options—under the purview of Italivi Reboreda, a young pastry chef born, like Olvera, in Mexico City—change regularly, but they are always some of the most inventive, unusual, and delicious to be found in New York. Currently on offer: a guava tart served with aged cheese; nixtamalized apple with cinnamon and smoked-milk ice cream; prickly-pear sorbet.
If you’re a traditionalist and it’s cake you’re after, you can do no better than Meme’s Diner, in Prospect Heights. The co-owners, Bill Clark and Libby Willis, met working at the excellent Brooklyn bakery Ovenly, and Clark, who runs the kitchen, bakes one kind of incredibly moist, flavorful, seasonal layer cake (plus a pie or a cobbler) each week, displayed on a glass cake stand on the counter. Recent examples: Black Forest cake with cherries, sweet-corn cake with blackberry and salted buttercream, Vietnamese iced-coffee cake. With advance warning, you can even order a whole one.
But the restaurant that I think currently holds dessert supremacy is Una Pizza Napoletana. There are only a few options, and it would indeed be a mistake not to order all of them—they may even be better than the exactingly made pizza. The fantastic tiramisu (featuring lemon sponge cake instead of the traditional ladyfingers, soaked in espresso, aged rum, and Cynar) will win over anyone who considers the dessert a red-sauce-joint cliché. The panna cotta, topped with juicy seasonal fruit and olive oil, is as beautiful as it it richly delicious. And Fabian von Hauske Valtierra’s vanilla ice cream, which tastes intensely of milk and cream with a thrilling jolt of salt, completely redefines the safest classic.
One final idea: skip dinner and go straight to dessert. The Chocolate Room, which has two locations in Brooklyn, is the rare sweets-only restaurant that manages to be completely uncheesy, and it offers full table service for enjoying its intensely satisfying confections, including a platonically decadent three-layer chocolate cake, a rich chocolate pudding, and an elegant banana split made with the restaurant’s own ice cream and fresh or brandied cherries—plus drink pairings. I had one of my own happiest birthday celebrations there, surrounded by chocolate and friends.
A previous version of the birthday-dessert advice, published in our food newsletter, incorrectly stated that Libby Willis bakes the cakes at Meme’s Diner.
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