New York food walking tour
September 12, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

So I've always wanted to go on Calvin Trillin's walking tour of NYC hole-in-the-wall food in Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. But why should I pay $150 to get his recommendations, when I can get yours for free? Tell me the about your favorite Manhattan ethno-culinary delights! We're visiting in October.
posted by Mr. Justice to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
you can actually pretty easily figure out what is on the Trillin tour if you wanted to.

But also there are literally a billion answers to this question.

So lets start with the basics:

Are you willing to leave manhattan? will you have a car or just the subway? are there ethnic foods you won't eat? Are there things you def would like to try? For things you want to try how far are you willing to travel for a great version? Do you want sit downy places or just street food?
posted by JPD at 10:40 AM on September 12, 2014

But why should I pay $150 to get his recommendations,

Aren't you paying to also be with Trillin? Have you read Alice, Let's Eat, and the rest of the Tummy Trilogy. I think the food itself is likely a very small part of what makes the $150 worth it.
posted by OmieWise at 10:50 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

well I suspect the trillin angle is just a framing. Its notoriously hard to get a ticket for the tour.
posted by JPD at 10:52 AM on September 12, 2014

Best answer: What a great question, I'm excited to see the other responses. And yeah, I'd agree that paying for the tour is unnecessary. You can roll-your-own for cheaper, get what you like, and quit when you're sickeningly full.

As for suggestions:

A banh mi is essential. His tour seems to go to Banh Mi Saigon, which is the most popular choice, but I'd dare say Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli is better. The picture in the article makes it look like they get spring rolls here, too.

Chinese dumplings. Prosperity Dumpling is the most well-known, and are still great, though someone might have a better choice. If you go here, the pork buns and/or sesame pancake with vegetables are just as worth it.

Other Chinese stuff that I'd suggest is a noodle place (I don't have a suggestion on a place), and a bakery (I love the sponge cakes at New Kam Hing Coffee Shop, but I haven't been anywhere else to compare).

Possibly Russ & Daughters? Old-school Jewish lox place. A little pricy, extremely delicious, though I've heard the bagels can be stale at times (I don't think they make them). Ideally, what to do is buy what you want by weight, get some fresh bagels elsewhere, and construct your own sandwiches. Don't go to the cafe, I've heard it's way over priced for small portions. If you go here, the cheapest lox, the Norwegian smoked salmon, is great, and they are famous for the whitefish & baked salmon salad for a reason. The homemade cream cheeses are good, too.
posted by Skephicles at 10:57 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Skephicles for your help. You provided the kind of answer I want. So let me narrow the preferred answer just a bit, since apparently other posters did not think I was sufficiently clear.

1. It seems likely to me that there are so many good places to eat in Manhattan that presumably it shouldn't be necessary to leave Manhattan. I am not looking for the *best* food -- I'm just looking for really good food.

2. Extra points for several good places to eat or to pick up things, that serve different specialties, that are within walking distance of each other.

3. Not looking for fine dining -- just solid, exemplary, well-done food.

4. I'd be delighted to go on the tour with Trillin -- but it regularly sells out in, literally, two seconds. So that is not an option.
posted by Mr. Justice at 11:05 AM on September 12, 2014

I liked Sigiri (Sri Lankan) at 5th St. & 1st Ave.
posted by aramaic at 11:18 AM on September 12, 2014

If you're at all willing to leave Manhattan, go out to Flushing, Queens -- it's about a 30 to 40 minute ride from Grand Central out to Main Street (the very last stop). It kicks Manhattan Chinatown's ass really, really soundly. Once you're there, go to the following places:

First and foremost: Xi'an Famous Foods. These will be the best noodles you've ever had, I can pretty much guarantee. (If you're a bit faint of heart, go to Biang, the fancier version.) You can also go to Xi'an in Manhattan -- there's one on St. Mark's Place and a couple of other places. GO. I mean it. If you're looking for good food, this is the place.

Hunan Kitchen. Everything on the menu is good, but try the salt pepper eel and the stir-fried smoky pork.

Imperial Place. Order the House Special (sticky rice with crab). To die for.

The New World Mall. Go downstairs to the food court. Order anything from anywhere.
posted by holborne at 11:23 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, I should also mention: you'll want to hit Veniero's for pastries. Also to die for.
posted by holborne at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2014

You can totally do this just in Manhattan. Here are my ideas for a Chinatown/Lower East Side crawl.

In terms of hole in the wall classics, my vote for cheap and delicious dumplings is Tasty Dumpling. Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles (no relation) is also worth a stop. Xi'an is newer and a cult favorite. Tai Pan, on Canal Street, is a good Chinese bakery though a bit crowded. Golden Steamer has great pumpkin steamed buns. I also love Buddha Bodai (as I've said on the green before) for its vegetarian dim sum, and Shanghai Cafe has the best soup dumplings.

Russ and Daughters is worth checking out. They also have a cafe now but it's definitely not at hole-in-the-wall prices. Portions weren't huge but I liked being able to sit down and have a drink with my smoked salmon.

Essex Street Market is home to a bunch of nice small vendors, including Roni-Sue's Chocolates, yum, and the always bizarro Shopsin's (Calvin Trillin has written about it at length).

Serious Eats did an assessment of Little Italy's restaurants one time and basically concluded there are no great holes in the wall. I concur. Their tour of the Little Italy/Chinatown area may be of interest to you (and it includes some of the places I suggested above).
posted by ferret branca at 11:34 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a very great tool to find good stuff wherever you happen to be. The people who write it know what they're talking about.
posted by neroli at 11:53 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chinese dumplings. Prosperity Dumpling is the most well-known, and are still great, though someone might have a better choice. If you go here, the pork buns and/or sesame pancake with vegetables are just as worth it.

Prosperity is great, but for my money the best dumplings in Chinatown are at Excellent Dumpling House. Also, Taiwan Pork Chop House is great if you like pork chops (definitely go if you've never had Taiwanese-style pork chops; they are on another level).

For really excellent ethnic food, though, you're pretty much gonna have to leave Manhattan (or go waaaay up north for good Dominican food, which compared to Chinatown/lower Manhattan is actually farther away than the outer boroughs).

Do not go to Little Italy. It's Olive Garden Italian at tourist-ripoff prices. All the real Italians moved to the Bronx decades ago (my ancestors included) and took all the good food with them. If you're willing to schlep up there, though (Arthur Ave in particular), you will find Italian food unlike anything you've ever imagined.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:08 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also the best pizza in New York (and thus the US) is at Juliana's, in Dumbo. It's Brooklyn, but it's only one subway stop outside of Manhattan.

Yes, Juliana's, not Grimaldi's next door. Do not make the obvious rookie mistake of going to the one with the longer line. Patsy Grimaldi runs Juliana's, the Grimaldi pizzeria are imposters who bought the name and ran it in to the ground.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:11 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

West Village and Greenwich Village self-guided walking food tour. Starts in Washington Sq Park, goes down Bleecker St, through Chelsea Market, then up to the High Line.

East Village East 7th St self-guided walking food tour.

Lower East Side self-guided walking food tour but sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect. Note: It’s best not to take this tour on a Saturday since some of the spots are closed because of religious observance.

Bonus: Flushing, Queens self-guided walking food tour. You can take the 7 train out there, or the LIRR from Penn Station (very fast -- only 20 minutes).
posted by kathryn at 1:48 PM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

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