How To Go To New York City & Not Eat Like A Tourist

It’s been estimated that there are 24,000 restaurants in New York City, and that’s not including the other four boroughs – that’s just in Manhattan alone! A good bunch of them are privately-owned, non-chain establishments. So if there’s one thing that I just don’t understand, it’s when people come to New York City as tourists and eat the same food as they would at home.

“We couldn’t find anyplace good to eat so we went to the Olive Garden on 47th between 7th and Broadway. I love their salad and breadsticks!”

“We were thinking of going to TGI Friday’s but ate at the Applebee’s – it was right across the street from the theater.”

“We wanted to eat pizza while we were in NYC, so we went to Pizza Hut.”

Now, I can can see if people have kids in tow and the only thing they’ll eat are Chicken McNuggets. Or maybe they want to go to a touristy place if it’s a “name” that they may never get to go to anywhere else, like the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood or Junior’s (even I sometimes eat at Junior’s LOL! Oh, their matzoh ball soup and cheesecake!). But did you know you can walk about 2 blocks away from Times Square and eat at the same places New Yorkers eat? And the food might not only taste better, but it may even be a little bit cheaper precisely because they’re not in the heart of Times Square (and paying Times Square rent) and they’re not catering to tourists?

In fact, there’s a whole block of restaurants just like that, and it’s a simple name to remember…

Restaurant Row

 

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Located on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, establishments on Restaurant Row have been serving hungry patrons since 1906 (that’s only three years after New Yorkers rode their first subway car).

There are about 3 dozen restaurants on Restaurant Row at any given time. Granted, the names of them change over the years because restaurants come and go, although there are some that have been there for a long, long time. The oldest, Barbetta, has been there since the very beginning and it’s in its 114th year. Oh, and it’s stayed in the family all this time, too – it’s still run by the original owner’s daughter (in fact, it’s the oldest restaurant in New York City still owned by its founding family).

The other restaurants on Restaurant Row run the gamut from American to Japanese to Italian to Creole to Latin to steakhouse to bars and everything in between. Click here to learn more about Restaurant Row.

But what if you can’t find anywhere on Restaurant Row? Well, there’s a bunch of other places to try. But know now that if you want the good stuff, you may have to venture further out that Times Square 😉

  • Are you looking for historic places to eat? This article has some of the oldest restaurants and eateries in the five boroughs of NYC. Of the ones on the list, I’ve eaten at Katz’s Delicatessen, Lombardi’s, Grand Central Oyster Bar and Nathan’s Famous and would recommend any of them in a second. Oh, and if all goes to plan, we’re eating at Peter Luger’s in April 😉
  • What about pizza? If you want pizza in the Times Square area, a lot of people are going to tell you to go to John’s Pizza. John’s is fine, but it caters to tourists and you can do better ;-). If you want my opinion, go to Angelo’s Coal Oven Pizzeria or Lombardi’s (which is in the list of “old” restaurants above). Otherwise, the most important things I can tell you are the places to avoid:
    (A) any name you’re familiar with. Pizza Hut. Domino’s. Sbarro’s. Papa John’s. Those are not NY pizza. Those are corporate-owned chains and are as far from NY pizza as you can get.
    (B) Any pizza place that has the name “Ray” in it. Ray’s Pizza. Ray’s Original Pizza. Famous Ray’s Pizza. World-Famous Original Ray’s Pizza. There are literally dozens of variations of the name. Some are interconnected, some are knock offs. Most are overpriced and the ones in the Times Square area survive by sell overpriced not fresh slices of pizza to tourists who don’t know any better.
  • Bagels – honestly, any bagel store is going to be good. As long as bagels is the main thing of what they sell, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. If I had to pick a place, I really like Ess-A-Bagel.
  • Are you looking for a real NY Deli? You HAVE to go to Katz’s. Established in 1888, it’s as good as it gets. And yeah, it’s touristy. But you can thank the “deli scene” of “When Harry Met Sally” for that. Either way, it’s still REALLY good deli.

Bon appetite!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

13 thoughts on “How To Go To New York City & Not Eat Like A Tourist”

  1. If you want to know how — and, more importantly, how not — to eat an authentic New York pizza, just take a look at this hilarious video from Jon Stewart when he still hosted The Daily Show in 2011:

    http://www.cc.com/video-clips/0ect4f/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-me-lover-s-pizza-with-crazy-broad

    “that’s only three years after New Yorkers rode their first subway car”. No. Two years, not three.

    Best place for bagels and bialys:

    https://thegate.boardingarea.com/got-bialy-fix-um-bialy-ask/

    I enjoy Katz’s Delicatessen, as it is one of my favorites; but your readers who keep Kosher should know that although that delicatessen is indeed authentic, it is not Kosher.

    As for Peter Luger’s, bring plenty of cash, as the restaurant does not accept credit cards. I personally was not impressed with my experience there; but certainly try out the experience for yourself.

    Finally, the beverage of choice should be real New York City tap water. Do I miss that elixir…

    I was born and raised in New York; so I know a little something about eating there…

    1. Thanks Brian – those are really good additions…I just couldn’t add everything or the post would be a mile long. So I limited it to the foods I’ve seen visitors to NY mention most often.

      BTW, I’m from NY too. Brooklyn (Canarsie) until I was 10 and then Staten Island (Bulls Head) until I was 35. We live in FL now but still come up 2-3 times a year. 😉

      1. No WAY! Really?!?!? How cool!

        I lived on E. 92nd St., between Schenk and Skidmore (across from Canarsie Park). Went to P.S. 272 until the middle of 4th grade.

        You? And where are you now?

  2. Do not go to restaurant row. It is also a tourist trap. Go south, go north, go east or go west. Just the hell out of the Times Square area.

    Actually on second thought just stay in Times Square so us New Yorkers do not have to deal with you. New Yorkers avoid Times Square like the plague. 🙂

    1. I’ll hope that our readers don’t notice your second paragraph, so maybe us NYers can fix that rep of being rude (I get the humor. Tourists generally will not) 😉

      I’ll agree that Restaurant Row could be considered more touristy than some little hole in the wall place in Harlem or Alphabet City. But it’s still less touristy than 42nd and Bway. But if you’ve got some nice, non-chain places in the city that have a variety of restaurants within a few blocks, please share!

  3. I know the feeling. I had some friends join me in Hawaii for a celebration, and the first thing they did was eat at California Pizza Kitchen. Just made me cringe. In NY, I love Katz’s, John’s in the Village, Doughnut Plant and (recently) fell in love with Rubirosa’s pizza. Ess-a-Bagel or H&H are at the top of my bagel list. Some other local favorites are not favored by me, but I love to get things in NYC that are best there, like deli, pizza, hot dogs and (some) Chinese. Also, the cheesecake at Junior’s is the best, now that Carnegie Deli is no more.

    1. My #1 favorite pizza place in NYC is actually the one I grew up with, on Staten Island. But it’s truly a little hole-in-the-wall place that no tourist would make the trek to. But to me, it’s the epitome of what good pizza is.

      I get a slice every 5 years or so when I go back to the old neighborhood for a visit 🙂

  4. Although there are a few good places on Restaurant Row (such as Barbetta, Joe Allen’s & Orso’s (and you may see some Broadway stars there too)), head to Ninth Avenue. Lots of reasonable places to eat (although not necessarily the finest cuisine in New York) but usually decent.

  5. Great suggestions both in the post and the comments.

    The best place in New York for bagels is Montreal.

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