Exploring NYC one lunch at a time.
June 16, 2009 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Taking my IT dev job to the librairies and coffeeshops of NYC for a couple of weeks (accompanying my wife, who's in a program at NYU). What are the best places to work, to lunch, and to explore in the relatively-immediate vicinity?

So, I can work wherever I have internet connectivity, which is good. So I've been able to come along with my wife to New York from our home in the far Midwest and live near NYU for a few weeks. Great! Now... how do I make the most of it? O hive mind, can you help point me to:

* Good, comfortable, friendly coffeeshops near NYU that don't mind laptop warriors -- places with good wireless, non-cramped tables, enough electrical outlets to go around, great and not overpriced coffee, and an atmosphere you can spend a bunch of hours in at a time without wigging out.

* Cheap, yummy, and "only in New York" places to grab lunch within a 20-minute walk or so of said coffeeshops. I don't need or want anything fancy, just things that most of the country has only pale imitations of compared to New York. Examples: banh mi in Chinatown, real New York-style pizza, deli (Katz's?), custard tarts at Chinese bakeries, real bagels, black & white cookies, etc. Especially things that can be taken out & eaten outside.

* Other neat things in the vicinity I might not think to explore and/or find on my own.

* Bonus: favorite reasonably nice (~$100/two without wine) but fairly down to earth restaurants also nearby for a night out on my wife's birthday.

Thanks, all!
posted by sesquipedalia to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
For lunch you can try Frank for excellent Italian. You will enjoy the walk from NYU. Also near NYU are Patsies for thin crust pizza and Japonica for sushi.
posted by shothotbot at 9:35 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: Think is a good bet. During the school year it's nearly always impossible to grab a spot (it's constantly full of "laptop warriors"), but it mellows out a bit in the summer.

For lunch nearby, don't miss the dosa guy.
posted by aparrish at 9:42 PM on June 16, 2009

Best answer: There's the Hummus Place - name specifies exactly what they do. Quite good. They have a few locations, including one around the corner from NYU Law School. Just down the street from their MacDougal location is the well-known Mamoun's Falafel. I haven't been there in years, but people still seem to love it.

I happen to love John's Pizza on Bleecker. It has a rare coal-fired oven (it's illegal to build new ones & most of the old ones have been destroyed), which afficionados swear by. I just think they make damn good pizza. I also like No. 28 right around the corner, which makes a very different style of "Naples" pizza (and is not the same as the classic NYC "Neapolitan" slice). If you're going to do pizza just once, go with John's, though. (And just bear in mind that the "best pizza in New York" is one of those issues people go to war over, so you're bound to get lots of differing opinions on this topic.)

Peculier Pub (also on Bleecker) has a zillion beers, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:04 PM on June 16, 2009

Oh, and just to be clear - I'm recommending all of those places as lunch spots, not as WiFi plunk-down locations.

Also, Katz's is on the Lower East Side, which is not exactly NYU territory - albeit not terribly far, either. But if you're going to make the journey down to that area, you can also check out Russ & Daughters (the lox is freakin' out of this world, though skip their bagels), Guss' Pickles, and Kossar's Bialys. Man this thread is making me hungry!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:15 PM on June 16, 2009

Yeah, Think is probably what you're looking for. There's also some coffeeshops on the streets below Washington Square (Sullivan, Thompson, etc.).

Pepe Rosso (Sullivan just below Houston) is tiny, but serves good, cheap food.
Parisi Bakery (Mott just below Spring) makes great heroes you can eat in the little park on Spring St (I always see cops and firefighters here, which for food is a good thing). Get there by 2pm though as they run out of bread.
Paul's and Cozy's have good burgers, Stoned Crow too, but they're not open until 4pm.
Ramen is really popular these days - Ippudo (for the noodles), Momofuku noodle bar (for the pork), and Ramen Setagaya (for the broth) are good bets.
There are a ton of Indian places on/around 6th St between 1st-2nd Aves. I like Brick Lane for lunch, Haveli for dinner.
Taim (Waverly/Perry) has great Middle Eastern food.
Golden Unicorn, Dim Sum Go Go, 88 Palace, and HSF are among the better dim sum spots in Chinatown (a bit of a walk or a train ride from nyu).
Seconding Katz's, Kossar's, Russ and Daughters. Would also add Donut Plant.

Chowhound can be helpful, but I find the ny boards overemphasize the expensive stuff. The nymag restaurant guide aparrish linked to for the dosa guy will give you addresses, phone numbers, and hours.

Happy hunting.
posted by minkll at 12:38 AM on June 17, 2009

Another very "New York" place if you're going to be exploring the UES: Economy Candy. NYT article featuring the store prominently.

Also (again if you're in that area) is Shopsin's, which has one of the more unusual menus you're ever likely to see (with unusually named items).
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:46 AM on June 17, 2009

Chelsea Market is a bit of a walk from NYU, but doable. The whole place has free wifi, and there's a nice tea shop near the back that is pretty comfy for camping out with your laptop. They serve a healthy salad lunch but don't mind if you bring in food from somewhere else in the market.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:00 AM on June 17, 2009

2nding the dosa guy in Washington Square Park. Get the Pondicherry Dosa, it's delicious!

Num Pang on 12th Street near University Pl. for Cambodian sandwiches.

The Union Square Farmer's Market is on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 14th and Broadway. Great place to bring your lunch and peoplewatch (or dogwatch). Also explore the nearby Strand Bookstore on 12th and Broadway.

Vol de Nuit is a great Belgian beer bar, a good place to meet up after work for beer, mussels and fries. It's a bit hidden on 4th Street and 6th Ave, right next to the diner.

The Tea Spot on MacDougal and 3rd Street. No coffee, but laptop warriors everywhere and a great tea selection. It can get very crowded and stuffy.

Dessert: Beard Papa's for Japanese cream puffs. Broadway and Astor Place.

Get okonomiyaki at Otafuku. 9th street between 2nd and 3rd Ave. No seating. It's a tiny place. Go to nearby Decibel for sake at night. There's also a restaurant somewhere on that same block that serves wasabi ice cream.

Crosby Connection on Bleeker and Mott. Great sandwiches. I haven't been since they've moved to their new location. They used to be a hole in the wall.
posted by hooray at 4:43 AM on June 17, 2009

As far as places to actually work go, if your wife is taking classes at NYU she should be eligible to access NYU's excellent, secure, campus-wide WiFi. Importantly, as far as I know she should be allowed to set up at least two computers to access said WiFi, meaning your laptop could also be able to access it. I know that on most days, you can easily pick up NYU's signal almost everywhere in Washington Square Park (excepting the Northwest corner), so weather permitting that gives you another option for a place to work.
posted by saladin at 4:59 AM on June 17, 2009

Coffee shops near NYU --- I like Cafe Dante and/or Cafe Reggio on MacDougal. I don't know about either of them for WiFi, but they're both old-school Italian joints. Good cappuccino and pastries, service a bit slow, but good people watching.
posted by Diablevert at 5:42 AM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: Try V Bar. It's below 3rd on Thompson or Sullivan (I forget which). Strong wifi, plugs, good coffee, nice snacks, and nice ambiance. Cafe Dante is great but does not allow laptops.
posted by prefpara at 5:45 AM on June 17, 2009

Midtown Lunch has never done me wrong. Although its not exactly your area, you may still find some relevant recommendations. I particularly would suggest checking out some of the street carts that New York is famous for, such as the dumpling cart, halal carts in the 53rd and 6th area, biriyani cart, and many many more.
posted by KilgoreTrout at 7:04 AM on June 17, 2009

Anthropoid's list is great! Seconding Aroma, Think, etc. Note that a *lot* of places with free wireless, though, do not provide outlets because camping out means less foot traffic which means they aren't making enough money to stay in business (see also the now defunct Cafe Ari, soon to close Mercury Dime, etc.) I've heard reports that Housing Works' wifi is "not great," and from my personal experience, I can tell you that the Think Coffee wifi is flaky. And the staff there don't care if you can't connect. Even a simple request to reboot the router might be met with a shrug.

The most reliable in my persona experience are Roasting Plant (WV location is much bigger than the LES one), Aroma (bring headphones as they play terrible music!), and Soy Luck Club (minimum purchase required, some friends actually founded a consulting business and used that as their office for a few months.)

Shopsin's is awesome as long as you're prepared to be abused, cursed at by Zach and/or his father. Just enjoy the show and smile. (And for the love of God, don't be a picky eater or allergic to anything.)

Here is an awesome self-guided tour of classic foods of NYC.

My guide to the best brunch in NYC.

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, it is more like a chocolate milk soda)
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, during the daytime look for one on the SOUTHEAST corner, at night go to the SOUTHWEST one, and make sure they are using yellow bags and round containers)
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, Mayahuel, Tailor, PDT, Flatiron Lounge, or Pegu Club, etc.
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)
One of the four Momofuku restaurants: 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.

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.

For your wife's birthday, I recommend the 5 course $50 chef's tasting at Degustation (no web site unfortunately). It's open kitchen, counter seating, where you watch the chef's cook. It's very, very good for the price. Book in advance. They only take reservations over the phone, not on OpenTable.com. There is a menu on menupages.com but it's a bit out of the date as the chefs there like to cook seasonally, and the menu gets tweaked daily.

See also:
NYC Virgin

Now in NYC on Newyorkology.com.

Unique culinary experiences in NYC available on short notice
posted by kathryn at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2009

If you can get on to NYU's wifi, you can go hang out in Bobst the cool library there. It's supposedly for NYU folks only, but if you tell them you're going to the labor library (link goes to my blog, labor library is awesome in its own right) or the govdocs library, you can get right in.

As far as places to work, it's NOT near you, but NYPLs Science Industry and Business Library is a few miles away and is made for people doing serious work. There are carrels with power and ethernet and super comfy chairs and you can stay there all day. Where you are at NYU you'll be about equidistant from four NYPL neighborhood libraries, all of which will have wifi (I think?) but none of which I could point to as the place to go hang out and work. The Jefferson Market branch is one of them, it's a building with a fascinating history. It also has a completely lovely garden outside, but it's usually a pretty busy place to hang out, though if you want to sit outside in a flower garden in a busy Manhattan neighborhood, I'd suggest a stop by.

I know nothing about food in the area, but I have been to most of those local libraries, hope this is helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on June 17, 2009

Seconding the Science Industry and Business Library. It's like a gigantic silent carpeted living room.
posted by lolichka at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2009

If your wife will be at NYU, see if the Bobst Lib will give/sell you a temp pass.

If you like Indian food, you'll love the dosa cart.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2009

Best answer: Here's a Google Map with a bunch of my recommendations.
posted by nicwolff at 11:11 PM on June 17, 2009

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