What to eat in New York City that you can't find in Chicago?
March 28, 2009 7:14 PM   Subscribe

What to eat in New York City that you can't find in Chicago?

Going to be there for a few days in June. Will probably be limited to Manhattan, but willing to trek it to the other boroughs for something really special. Suggestions?
posted by AceRock to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Great kosher deli food and pizza.
posted by i love cheese at 7:38 PM on March 28, 2009

(also I think you cannot get foie gras in Chicago)
posted by mmf at 7:42 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Junior's Cheesecake is a must have. There's an outpost in Times Square, but if you can make it to the one in Brooklyn it's worth it (it's right near the DeKalb Avenue station on the BMQR or Nevins on the 2345). Bagels! Depending on who you ask, you'll get a million different answers about where the best bagel is made. I will say that as long as you are getting a bagel from a place where the bagel is made daily on premises the exact store does not matter. Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side will make you a bagel with lox, whitefish or salad for the authentic Jewish bagel experience. While you're down there, go to Yonah Schimmel's Knishes.
posted by blueskiesinside at 7:47 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Real pizza.

(Them's fightin' words, ain't they?)
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Papaya King. 86th and 3rd. Get a dog or two and your choice of fruit drink (I prefer the banana). Don't listen to anyone who says you can go to Grey's instead - they are wrong.
posted by true at 8:03 PM on March 28, 2009

Momofuku pork buns.
H&H Bagels
Get pizza at Grimaldi's (it's in Brooklyn but close)
A toasted-marshmallow milkshake from Shack below Union Square
A desert-tasting menu from Chikalicious
posted by Bookhouse at 8:04 PM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing pizza and bagels. Adding bialys (which they haven't even heard of in Chicago, for the most part), Italian ices (I'm partial to Ralph's, but I think that's only in the outer boroughs and I'm sure there are plenty of good ices places in Manhattan)... Knishes? Frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3? Ooh, pickles from Guss' Pickles or The Pickle Guys! (Hmm, I thought Guss' Pickles was on the Lower East Side, but apparently they've closed down that location.)

Hot dogs are actually the one thing I think Chicago's got on New York, but maybe that's just me.
posted by pluckemin at 9:28 PM on March 28, 2009

Pizza. Di Fara's. Brooklyn. Ride the Q to avenue J and be prepared to wait.
posted by Mngo at 9:35 PM on March 28, 2009

If money is no object, I can guarantee you won't find anything like the weird scientific experimental food of WD-50 short of Spain.

Or just get the takeout sandwich from Porchetta.

Lots more opinions and ideas in the previous questions.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:22 PM on March 28, 2009

Sammy's Romanian. Crazy good jewish food. With live Klezmer on the weekends!
posted by overhauser at 10:25 PM on March 28, 2009

I'm surprised nobody's suggested pizza yet. Considering you don't actually have it in Chicago.

posted by Aquaman at 11:23 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If money is no object, I can guarantee you won't find anything like the weird scientific experimental food of WD-50 short of Spain.

What about Alinea, Moto, L2O? Chicago has way more "molecular gastronomy" than NYC and Alinea beats the pants off of WD-50.

A toasted-marshmallow milkshake from Shack below Union Square

I think you meant to type Stand.

A desert-tasting menu from Chikalicious

The dessert tastings at Tailor and WD-50 are better, more inventive, and more interesting. Chikalicious has just been around longest and was doing the format of modern/non-traditional desserts before everybody else showed up. But, again, Chicago's scene is more diversified than NYC's, especially since Room4Dessert, Varietal, and p*ong closed.

For the quintessential foods of NYC, my list would probably be:

Bagels and smoked salmon (seconding the Russ & Daughters experience, just be aware it is a takeout-only place, but they will gladly make you a bagel sandwich to go)
Egg cream (which has neither egg nor cream)
Black and white cookies (my friends tell me William Greenburg's are the best but I am not an expert)
Cheesecake (Junior's is just fine, some like Eileen's)
Halal chicken and rice (preferably the one on 53rd and 6th)
Pastrami on rye with mustard (Katz's Deli is the place to go for this)
Pickles (including quarter sours, half sours, etc.)
Recession special with papaya juice from Gray's or Papaya King (the NY hot dog is a very different beast from the Chicago hot dog,
A beer at McSorley's (light or dark, you only have 2 options, each order is 2 small mugs by default)
NY style pizza
A properly made cocktail (fresh juices, fresh garnishes, etc). from Death & Co or PDT or Pegu Club, etc. I think the NYC cocktail scene is a bit more developed than Chicago's although I really enjoyed the Violet Hour when I visited last summer.
One of Mario Batali's restaurants (Otto or Lupa for the budget minded, or dinner at Babbo)
Prix fixe lunch at one of the upscale fine dining destinations (Jean Georges is the the most bang for your buck: $28 for two courses, including amuse bouche, marshmallows cut at your table, chocolates, and macarons)

There are a few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York style (which is basically what every gas-oven powered Famous Original Ray's serves), Neapolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two (and these are mostly coal-oven places). Then to throw a wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke). If you are a solo visitor, you'll probably want just a slice unless you have a big appetite for pizza or are OK with not finishing the pie. A lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are pies only. Although they are all historically significant, the pies there are not the absolute best to be had in the city.

My favorites in Manhattan are Co. (aka Company), Una Pizza Napoletana, and Patsy's of East Harlem (117th street), but the first two are pies only. Una Pizza Napoletana is pretty expensive on the pizza scale ($21 for a pie that is on the small side) and only one for dinner. The first two are Neapolitan style. The latter is NY-Neapolitan (hybrid) style, done with a coal-oven.

My favorites outside Manhattan are Di Fara and Totonno's on Coney Island but both are a trek. Totonno's is still renovating after a fire; they hope to be open in a few weeks. If you have time to kill on a weekday, go to Di Fara for lunch, when it is much less insane than on a weekend. You can get pies or slices at Di Fara, and Dom is a trip to watch and talk to.
posted by kathryn at 11:26 PM on March 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

Hey Aquaman, I'm a former Chicagoan and a former New Yorker. Chicago really doesn't have good pizza. It's got the sad stuffed crust stuff, which is great if you like lots and lots of not very good bread and some cheese and a ton of canned tomato chunks. And then it's got the worst, absolutely the WORST, flat pizza in the world.

So yes, the first thing I thought of when I saw this question, was, "Pizza". NYC pizza is the gold standard.
posted by ursus_comiter at 3:29 AM on March 29, 2009

Please bring me back 2 dozen H & H sourdough bagels. And stop by Zabars and get me half a dozen of those mini-reuben things. And some Zabars lox. Then go to Murray's Sturgeon Shop and pick up a pound of their whitefish salad. Also I would like a hot dog and a papaya drink from either Gray's Papaya or Papaya King. Then run down to the Lower East Side and bring me a lot of half sour pickles from one of the pickle places and go into Economy Candy and call me from there and we'll talk about what to buy. You may sustain yourself during this expedition with a couple of slices from any pizza place you pass by.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:29 AM on March 29, 2009

Katz's, Katz's, Katz's. On your way out, stop by Russ & Daughter's for lox, herring, and whatever other cured/smoked fish your desire. Sorry, Zabar's, you just don't compare.
posted by mkultra at 6:20 AM on March 29, 2009

If you can spare a couple of hours I HIGHLY recommend going on a tour with Nosh Walks. You'll spend about two hours walking around a distinct ethnic neighborhood going to restaurants and shops, getting tastes, buying goodies and you'll end up at a great restaurant for lunch. The woman who runs these does them in nearly all five boroughs (I don't think there is a Staten Island one) and there are some in Manhattan.

I second:

bialys (at Kossars)
Yonah Schimmels (those knishes are amazing especially the sweet potato)
Chikilicious Desert Tasting Menu.
Patsy's in East Harlem.

I would add:

The best damn falafel I've ever had in my life is made by a very cranky Israeli at Cafe Azuri. Truly, be warned, you may never be able to eat falafel anywhere else again, it's that good. Closed on Shabbes!
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for really interesting flavors.
Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.
Sylvia's for Soul Food is pretty good.
Sardi's for the atmosphere.
Cafe Edison at the Edison Hotel in Times Square also for the atmosphere - it's a big theatre haunt.
Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village a truly tiny hole in the wall that makes the most amazing Venezuelan Sandwiches - little corn cakes split and stuffed with all sorts of yummy fillings.

And my favorite rec is L'Ecole - The French Culinary Institute. One of the best deals in town for classic french food made by future celebrity chefs. Call ahead to reserve the prix-fixe and ask for a tour of the kitchen.
posted by brookeb at 7:41 AM on March 29, 2009

Go to Momofuku. Get some pork buns. Stop in the Milk Bar. Grab some Cereal Milk soft serve and YOU MUST get the Banana Cookies. These are treats that will haunt you for the rest of your days.
posted by GilloD at 8:07 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

A toasted-marshmallow milkshake from Shack below Union Square

I think you meant to type Stand.

Indeed I did. I stand corrected.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2009

ursus_comiter- you didn't go to the right places. Or aren't enjoying the foods for what they are, and instead are comparing them to what they don't even try to be. You don't have to like our styles, but you can't say it isn't good. If you're looking for floppy, foldable pizza with thick, bubbly edges and skinny centers, Chicago is not the place for it. That's NYC, and a delicious variety of pizza.

To answer the main question:

Pizza is indeed one of the more unique things that NYC does differently than most other places. There was a place down by Wall street (a bit north, maybe on 12th?) that my sister brought us to that I found to be delightful- coal fired, charred in spots, floppy in spots, fresh mozarella, etc. I can't remember the name. Started with a D I think.

Other things that I have enjoyed in NYC, though my experiences are limited: Second Avenue Deli. It may have closed. The food wasn't spectacular, it may be a tourist trap, I don't know. But the atmosphere was, to me, quinessential. Little, ancient Jewish grandma types (think 4 foot 8, 72 years old, with a foot of jet black hair helmet). Almost like the Soup Nazi in efficiency. We ordered, ate and the instant our allotted time was over, the lady was lurking at the table to shuffle us off. The furniture was 40 years old, the floor and walls were right out of the 40s. Terribly enjoyable.

Street food- again, probably not so much for the culinary delights, but for the atmosphere. Nothing more NYC than eating some crazy meat in a flatbread thing, drinking a can of Orange Crush, next to piles of garbage. (I'm not criticizing- there is some wisdom in NYCs garbage routine- it makes a lot of sense to have it out in the open and removed every day, instead of keeping it hidden in smelly alleys and back rooms for a week like other cities do it.)

Chicago pizza defense: Chicago pizza comes in three forms. Thin, deep dish and fake/bad.

First, the fake- crust is thin, bready, and has no substance whatsoever. Thin, sweet sauce, awful cheese. Bad. Anything you get from the nationwide chains, and a significant portion of the "family" chains. If it has cornmeal on the bottom, it's fake.

Chicago thin crust is cannot be compared to NYC style, because it's just a different thing. One of the hallmarks of this style is that it is meant to be consistent throughout. The crust is meant to be the exact same thickness throughout. There are machines designed to do exactly this. A ball of dough is fed in, and a sheet comes out the other end. This is done a couple of times. Once done, it's cut into a precise circle with a dough cutter. This is key. When cooked, it ends up in a form that I can't compare to anything else- the edges are crunchy and have layers of air pockets. Too large to be bubbles. Probably closest to a really good pita. There are no tiny bubbles like bread. Its maybe like a chewey, yeasty pie crust. The sauce is varied, but generally does not intend to have tomato chunks. Rich, thick, clean tomato flavor. Almost like a thin tomato paste, in a good way. Any toppings are above the sauce, but below the cheese. This is another hallmark of the style. The cheese is on top, and nothing goes on top of that. The pizza is prepared on a peel, with semolina flour used to make it slide around. To be cooked perfectly, the cheese should go all meltey and the peaks of the bubbles should get golden brown, while the main body of the cheese is a melty, gooey mess. It will be standard, aged mozarella. Not fresh. When its done, it will be sliced into squares.

Deep dish is just an entirely different animal from anything else. Almost like a casserole. The "bread" isn't meant to be bread. It's almost more like the consistency of a biscuit. It should be slightly salty, buttery and yeasty. It is prepared the opposite of the flat style, dough, then cheese, then toppings, then sauce. Possibly with some fresh mozarella on top for atmosphere.
posted by gjc at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

There was a place down by Wall street (a bit north, maybe on 12th?) that my sister brought us to that I found to be delightful- coal fired, charred in spots, floppy in spots, fresh mozarella, etc. I can't remember the name. Started with a D I think.

Oh,yeah - good luck finding that place. That's kind of like running into someone from New York and saying 'Oh, do you know Danny? He's got brown hair and glasses, and he's also from New York.'
posted by Caviar at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2009

Good seafood. Good sushi. Good calamari- like at Union Sq. Cafe.
posted by Zambrano at 9:11 AM on March 29, 2009

The famed Second Ave Deli has just reopened on (go figure) 33rd st west of 3rd ave.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:17 AM on March 29, 2009

You can get Bialys in Chicago at Chicago Bagel Authority on Armitage. They are quite tasty too...
posted by shrimpsmalls at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2009

Moroccan food! Go to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and have yummy Moroccan food. If there is Moroccan food in Chicago, I've never found it.

Also, I've never eaten a knish in New York since Mrs. Stahl's closed. Schimmel, schmimmel.

And I love Russ and Daughters but I think Barney Greengrass is the best.

Do not eat hot dogs in New York if you are a Chicagoan--you will be disappointed. People will tell you that Gray's Papaya has the best hot dogs in the world, but that is only because they have never eaten at Weiner's Circle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2009

Nth-ing Unna Pizza Napoletana, Katz's, falafel and Momofuku.

Go to Momofuku. Get some pork buns. Stop in the Milk Bar.

You can actually order the pork buns at Milk Bar. Done and done.

Not sure your budget, but you can't get Per Se in Chicago.
posted by hsawtelle at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2009

Go to Momofuku. Get some pork buns. Stop in the Milk Bar. Grab some Cereal Milk soft serve and YOU MUST get the Banana Cookies. These are treats that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

You need to be more specific. Clarification: there are four Momofuku restaurants: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar, and Momofuku Ko. Only the first three have the vaunted steamed pork buns.

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar is takeout/counter-service only and is probably your best bet if you only want the steamed buns. Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar are mainly sit down restaurants but offer affordable pre-fix menus. Just don't order the ramen at Noodle Bar; counterintuitive, I know, but it's not that great. A ssam is "a Korean wrap" (lettuce or tortilla) but there are no longer Ssams at Ssam Bar. Don't ask; long story. Momofuku Ko is also a sit down restaurant but has only 12 seats, a single tasting menu (no a la carte options), and takes reservations only online 6 days in advance at 10am.

If you don't have the budget to pay someone to take you on a food tour, try out this self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour.
posted by kathryn at 11:01 AM on March 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

The deli stuff at Manny's in Chicago is similar to Katz's...
posted by melodykramer at 12:09 PM on March 29, 2009

Listen to Kathryn.

I live in New York and used to live in Chicago and I am amazed at how much brilliant advice she has packed into her answers.
posted by billtron at 8:52 AM on March 30, 2009

I moved to Chicago a little over a year ago, and we quickly learned that you just can't find real pizza (i.e., New York style) there. My wife and I are currently visiting our families in upstate NY, and we're ecstatic just to be eating real pizza again, even at a random pizzeria in a rural-ish town. Chicago has a great variety of food, but it's a frustrating monoculture when it comes to their pizza. :p

So, yeah: unlike Chicago, you can get real pizza just about anywhere in New York state (not just NYC).
posted by korpios at 10:47 AM on April 1, 2009

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