From the best tom yum outside Thailand, to Champagne and oysters in a boat bar, New York has it all, as Christina Pickard discovers
Perhaps no other city on the planet induces as visceral a reaction as New York. Its grip is unrelenting. One moment you’re cursing the noise and the smells and the claustrophobia of it all, and the next moment you stumble upon a tree-lined street dotted with cosy, welcoming spots to fill your belly and you’re suddenly in love. Like America itself, New York is a city of extremes, and if you find yourself loathing it one minute, turn a corner, open a door, and revel in a food and drinks scene that has led the western world for decades.
Unless you fancy crowds, price gouging and mediocre food, it’s best to leave Times Square as soon as you can. Outside the tourist traps, however, the city is your oyster, with thrilling eateries and watering holes seemingly everywhere.
The Meatpacking District
The historic, industrial area surrounding west 14th street once helped to feed an entire city and has recently been infused with new energy thanks in large part to the enormous popularity of The High Line – an elevated park built on a disused section of the city’s railway tracks, which was completed in 2014 and runs across twenty blocks of Manhattan’s west side. One of the finest restaurants in the area, Untitled, is located on the ground floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Soaring ceilings and massive glass windows make this a spot to see and be seen while tucking into favourites like the hopelessly addictive Fried Fish Lettuce Wraps with home-made tartar sauce and pickled red onion from Michael Anthony (of Gramercy Tavern renown). Untitled’s wine list is also excellent – a manageable size with a healthy mix of icons and hard-to-find treasures.
Chelsea Market – the queen of the food halls
For more casual fare, don’t miss visiting a few of the city’s many food halls, a trend that has exploded in recent years. A few blocks from Untitled is the queen of the New York food halls, the 217-year-old Chelsea Market. Get lost in its labyrinth of brick tunnels with every kind of food on the planet, and marvel at the fact that you’re in the former home of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) where the mother of American biscuits was invented: the Oreo Cookie. Around the corner is the newer and less crowded Gansevoort Market. This industrial space is adorned with full-sized trees, Andy Warhol paintings, and fun food stalls like Big Gay Ice Cream, Gotham Poké (serving variations on Hawaiian Poké, a raw fish salad), and the new Tyme Fast Food, which offers eight different ethnic meals (Mexican, Indian, etc), each ingredient colourfully layered in take-home plastic jars.
If you’re visiting in the warmer seasons, head to the water for another experience New Yorkers are currently crazy about: the boat bar. There are few things more satisfying than taking Champagne and oysters aboard a historic wooden schooner (Grand Banks) or tucking into a Picnic Chick’Wich sandwich (pickle-brined breaded chicken with pickled watermelon rind, fresno chilis and a house sauce) at the more divey Pier 66 Maritime restaurant. Pier 66 is on board The Frying Pan, one of the few remaining lightships, rescued from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and now docked on a railroad car barge on the Hudson River.
The ever-changing Brooklyn
Trends are ever-changing in New York’s hippest borough, so those that survive to become staples of the Brooklyn landscape offer something truly special.
Spend an evening in Williamsburg among the beautiful people at Andrew Tarlow’s Reynard in The Wythe Hotel. The gorgeously-restored factory-cum-brasserie serves up creative and ultra-fresh local fish and veggie dishes smoked, seared and charred to perfection on massive grills, with a wine list chock full of interesting, off-beat labels. For unforgettable views of the Manhattan skyline, grab an expertly made cocktail upstairs at The Ides Bar, the hotel’s glass walled rooftop bar. Immerse yourself in hipster culture by sipping natural wine at the pint-sized The Four Horsemen, and fill up on authentic Italian fare paired with wines from Italy’s most talented artisan winemakers at the irresistibly romantic Have & Meyer, just around the corner.
Eat and drink like a local
To truly live like a local, head to the small leafy neighbourhoods of Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill and Gowanus, where you’ll find Rucola perched on the corner of a quiet street lined with brownstone houses. Its homey, with reclaimed wooden ceiling, marble bar, and rusty wagon wheel light fixtures, and it serves up simple, well-made northern Italian cuisine and small-batch wines.
For a creative taste of Mexico and one the area’s most thrilling cocktail lists, Leyenda, a few blocks away, offers small plates like poblano relleno filled with carrots, chayote, zucchini, turnips and goats’ cheese in a tomato coulis, along with cocktails like the Michelada Primavera (mezcal, tomatillo, peach, basil, habanero, lime, IPA, pepito salt). Sober up after all that boozing with a cup of joe, down the street at the brand new Velvette Brew, co-owned by barista extraordinaire Kirill Likov who spent six months tasting with over 50 companies before finding the perfect organic coffee beans. The result is some of the best coffee in Brooklyn.
The best tom yum soup outside Thailand
If no frills, bring-your-own-bottle, hole-in-the-wall dining is more your thing, a journey deep into New York’s most diverse borough of Queens, where more languages are spoken than anywhere else on earth, is a necessity. In Woodside you can slurp a steaming bowl of the best tom yum soup outside Thailand at the much-loved SriPraPhai; deep in the bowels of a shopping arcade in Jackson Heights you can savour to-die-for momos (Tibetan dumplings) at Lhasa Fast Food; or in Queens’ original Chinatown, Flushing, you can have liang pi (cold skin noodles) at Xi’an Famous Foods. Wherever you end up you won’t regret making the trek to indulge in some of the city’s most affordable, authentic world cuisine.