- NOTE: New Yorkers are very opinionated people, probably to an unhealthy degree. Maybe I am too, so here’s my guide! This is just based on my personal experience living here in New York City. And not even NYC, specifically Manhattan. Because that’s just how it’s been man.
I felt obligated to write this because I made alot of effort to write a guide about Japan (for friends, but still), a country I don’t even live in. So I thought I should make one for my city, which turned out to be easier said than done. When you’re on vacation, you’re actively looking for things to see and do. In the city you live in though, you’re working most of the time, or drinking with friends, or vegging out with Netflix. And more often than not, you’re going to places you’re familiar with. I mean, I’ve been hitting up some of these same spots now for almost two decades.
BIG MAP OF FOODAGE AND DRUNKENESS
Foodage and Drunkeness up above has been my collection of bookmarks for years. Starting as a little booklet I made for friends who moved to the city after college, it’s since been ported to Google Maps and continuously added to. As it’s my personal map, it’s all food and liquor. I don’t really need to bookmark sites and stuff.
- To get around NYC, you’re going to need a Metro card. They come in various types such as a single-ride, pay-per ride, and unlimited cards for a 7 or 30 days. If you don’t feel like braining on a vacation, just get one of the unlimited passes.
- The contact-less OMNY system rolled out and is pretty convenient. All you need now is Apple Pay or Google Pay and you can tap to pay at most stations.
- Wifi is fairly decent in NYC. With as many Starbucks as NYC has, and those info and wifi kiosks around the city, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a free signal. That being said, we’re in the 21st century. Just have internet connectivity.
- It doesn’t matter what airport you fly into, they’ll all suck getting into the city. Ride-sharing is an option for all airports, or just a regular yellow cab (they’re flat-rate), because no one likes hassles when they land. JFK is kind of sort of connected to the subway system, but it’s still bad. You could also take the LIRR from Jamaica Station to Penn Station as an alternative. Coming from LaGuardia you’re better off cabbing. And from Newark Airport you can take the connecting train into Penn Station, but it can take a while between trains. At least it’s on a set schedule.
A few pointers for first-time visitors.
- Almost every place takes credit cards. Most people don’t even bother to carry cash, and some places don’t even take cash. Having said that, having some cash on hand can be useful. If you want to eat street food, cash works better. Though you’d be surprised how many street carts take cards now.
- Speaking of which, don’t be afraid of street food. It’s delicious.
- America, and especially NYC, is a tipping culture. It’s the way it is…don’t be a dick about it. Generally between 15-20%.
- Semi-related, feel free to split checks at restaurants. Don’t try and split it a hundred ways, but they’re usually amenable to splitting a few cards.
- If you order drinks at a bar, tip $1 a drink. If it’s happy hour, maybe make that $2.
- Don’t walk slow. Don’t stop in the middle of the street. Don’t get on the subway, then just stand in the doorway. Generally don’t inconvenience the people behind you. If you need to do anything, stand to the side. Everyone in the city needs to be somewhere, so they don’t like getting slowed down by others.
- Please take your backpacks off on the subway. Pleeeease.
- Walk on the right side of the sidewalk. When taking escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left.
- God I wish New Yorkers themselves would all follow these rules.
AROUND THE CITY ON FOOT
- I’m surprised I’m still asked which way is north or south. If the number’s going up, that’s north…or west. Streets run east/west, avenues run north/south. Tip: If you’re below Central Park, Broadway only runs south.
- In the East Village, once the avenues count down to 1st, Ave A comes next, then B, etc…otherwise known as Alphabet City.
- Once the street numbers count down, Houston is sort of “zero” street, with the streets to the south actually having names.
- On a typical Manhattan block, it takes less than a minute per block walking north or south, and about a minute and a half east or west.
- Hey, I completely forgot about Citibikes. Mainly because I don’t personally use it. But my friends like it, and it’s nice that the city has a bike share program.
Given the nature and um, “fickle-ness” of New York’s mass transit, I thought that it should get a dedicated section all to itself.
- Ah the subway. It’s convenient, but it sucks, but it’s convenient. It’s 24 hours, the stations are dirty and smelly, the oldest train stock is from the 60’s, and the trains can be at times packed and stanky. But the city still runs on the subway regardless.
- The short of it is the ACE and the 123 run along the west side, BDFM and NQRW down the center, and the 456 on the east side. The L and the 7 run east/west along 14th and 42nd respectively. If you’re only going between Grand Central and Times Square, an alternative to the 7 is the S (Shuttle).
- The number line cabs have a narrow body compared to the letter lines because they used to be different subway companies.
- Various lines will wiggle to the east or west side, or taper off and head into Queens, or stop downtown or head into Brooklyn, or whatever…just look at a subway map to get an idea where they go.
- On center platforms, if you’re facing the direction of the train, the right side will be local and the left side will be express.
- Certain stations are a hot mess, so pay attention that you’re heading in the right direction (I’m looking at you Canal Street). Stations will generally say Uptown or Downtown. Outside of Manhattan though, they’ll say Manhattan-bound or Brooklyn-bound instead. If you’re in Queens, then Manhattan-bound would mean north (and west) while Brooklyn-bound south.
- Rule of thumb, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. In subway terms, this means that if the subway is packed, but you spot a relatively empty car, there’s a reason for that. Either there’s a homeless person on board with a strong odor, or if it’s summertime, the A/C might be dead and the car is a sauna.
- The buses have gotten slightly better in the last decade, thanks to dedicated bus lanes and the Select Bus Service (SBS) system. These are the buses where you have to get the ticket before boarding the bus.
- If you’re taking a bus that requires you to swipe a card, make sure your card is facing you and the little notch is in the upper-left corner.
- If you’re heading north or south, what the hell are you doing? Just take the subway.
- The buses are better for heading east and west. If you’re riding along 14th, it’s sometimes more convenient to take the M14 bus instead of the L. This is considerably less true when comparing the M42 to either the 7 or the Shuttle.
- If a taxi’s lights are on, they’re available. If they’re off, they’re occupied…or the cab driver doesn’t like you. Just kidding. Taxi prices are mid-range when compared to other cities. Not as expensive as London, but not as cheap as Hong Kong.
- They hate leaving Manhattan, and might give you a dirty look if you ask them to.
- Most people would rather use ride-sharing though. It’s a give and take. It’s often times cheaper, but not always. If you choose to pool, then yea it’ll probably be cheaper if you don’t mind the ride taking a bit longer.
All I’ll say is that when choosing where to stay, the location’s more important than anything else. It’s as much about safety as it is about convenience. Eat and drink like a local, but you don’t have to live like one. Stay in touristy areas. Midtown (heck, even Times Square), East or West Village, Tribeca, etc. Uptown can be a bit dead, and the outer boroughs are not as ideal.
The first draft of this neighborhood guide got a little too wordy. So meh…toss that right out. Second draft, here we go. This is a general intro to New York City. I really only know Manhattan as I don’t find myself in the other boroughs much. Maybe Brooklyn occasionally, but I wouldn’t say I could get around easily without staring at Google Maps the entire time. Don’t even ask me about Bronx, Queens, or Staten Island.
- Midtown | Central Manhattan that covers Times Square, Grand Central, and Rockefeller Center. Not really an area I frequent voluntarily, unless I’m heading to Port Authority, dropping by Midtown Comics, or watching a movie at the Regal E-Walk or AMC Empire. There are pockets of good food and drink. Nishida Sho-ten for ramen, Tomi Jazz for drinks, or Sakagura for foodage. But please never ever look for food in Times Square.
- Hells Kitchen | If you find yourself in Times Square, do yourself a favor and just migrate a few blocks west to find better food options, like Sushi Seki, Wondee Siam, or Le Sia (which used to be in East Village).
- NoMad/Koreatown | NoMad seems to be getting more hotels, which is fine if it means more chill places like the Ace Lobby or the Nomad Library. K-town to the north is exactly what it sounds like…great Korean everything. Go for Gam Mee Ok for ox-tail soup, Kun Jip for good food and bad service, or Turntable for Korean fried chicken.
- Hudson Yards/Chelsea/Meatpacking | I’m lumping the whole west side together. Chelsea’s fun, Meatpacking still has a couple places I like (and the Whitney Museum), Hudson Yards is awful (but people will go to see the Vessel regardless), and the Highline ties it all together. Hit up the unofficial bar of our office Porchlight (or its sister bar Cedric’s at the Shed), or check out the Sleep No More show or Gallow Green for a drink, or grab some Corona’s on the Frying Pan and/or chill along the Hudson River Park. The Mercado at Hudson Yards is admittedly nice too. Probably the only nice thing there.
- Union Square/Flatiron | Includes Madison Square Park, Gramercy Park, and Union Square. The Flatiron Building is on 23rd, within spitting distance of the original Shake Shack. Union Square has a nice farmer’s market, and all around the area are plenty of things to do. I still like taking coffee at Irving Farm, or getting bowls of noodles at TsuruTonTan, or hitting the rooftop of Eataly.
- East Village | Considerably less punk these days, but alot of good (and cheap) bars and restaurants, as well as the Strand bookstore and Forbidden Planet for comics. There’s a noticeable contingent of Japanese and Chinese fare in the area (due to various reason), but mainly because of the college kids. Check out Hi-Collar or Satsko for sake, Veselka for Ukrainian, Crif Dogs for hot dogs (and the adjacent PDT for drinks), Cafe Mogador for brunch, Minca for ramen, or Hanoi House for pho. Still a favorite area of mine.
- West Village/Greenwich Village | Great bars and restaurants, tons of brunch options (New Yorkers love their brunch), and shopping too I suppose (no clue). Washington Square Park sits in the middle of Greenwich. There are tons of places for food and drink around the area, including EN Brasserie, Buvette for brunch, Happiest Hour for punches, or Bubby’s for a coronary.
- Soho/Noho | There’s a smattering of good spots strewn around to warrant the occasional visit, specifically along Houston, Lafayette, and the new crop of eateries around Kenmare. La Esquina, Osteria Morini, Goemon Curry, or the Ramen Lab for whoever’s the guest ramen chef.
- Lower East Side | I don’t hang here as much as I did in the early 2000’s, but there’s still alot of good food and liquor. Barrio Chino, Nitecap right below it, and a whole bunch of new spots at the newly opened Essex Crossing.
- Chinatown | The area around Mott St is what people usually think of, but Chinatown continues further east past Manhattan Bridge. It can at times feel a bit anachronistic, but still has plenty of good food and some drinks. I still go for Taiwanese at Taiwan Pork Chop House, old school noodles at NY Noodletown, my dad’s old favorite spot Big Wong’s, or even cocktails at Apotheke.
- Tribeca | Still unsurprisingly the most expensive neighborhood in all of New York. That’s not to say it’s bad. There’s plenty of good food and drink, and plus there are few areas left in the city with cobblestone streets. Notables in the neighborhood include the surreal Paul’s Lounge, Brandy Library, and Locanda Verde for Italian.
- Financial District | The area is filled with two things, tourists and bankers. So it’s not really for me. But people will visit for 1 World Trade, or the WTC Memorial, or the Oculus. So while you’re there, head to Battery Park City for nice waterfront views, Brookfield Place for a decent food hall, or check out the soul-less South Street Seaport, or just nope out for Tribeca.
- Upper East/Upper West | Pff…whatever. You’ll go because of Lincoln Center, or Museum Mile, or Central Park, or shopping along Madison. Just leave the area afterwards to do anything else.
- Williamsburg | This Brooklyn neighborhood has matured alot since the 90’s. There are still alot of shops, bars, and restaurants to be found here. Oh and Peter Luger is there too.
- DUMBO | I’m cool with DUMBO to be honest. It’s waterfront, has nice views, an ice cream parlor right there on the docks, Brooklyn Bridge Park is right there, and more good memories than bad. You can grab drinks with views at 1 Hotel, or pizza from Juliana’s (the original Grimaldi’s after they sold the name), or shoot pool at my favorite watering hole in the area, Superfine.
- Bushwick | I’ll go every so often for Roberta’s Pizza, but I don’t find the area pleasant whatsoever.
- Flushing | The last stop in Queens along the 7 train is where you want to go for a more modern cross-section of Asian fare. If Chinatown feels a bit anachronistic, Flushing feels like a neighborhood you’d hit in Seoul, Shanghai, or Taipei. I couldn’t give suggestions though, as I don’t go frequently enough.
FOOD AND DRINKS TRACKER
And now, a guide on where to find the foods you want.
- Pizza | They say the worst pizza in NYC is probably still better than most pizza anywhere else. It’s weirdly true. You can hit up the aforementioned Roberta’s in Bushwick or Juliana’s in DUMBO, or there’s John’s of Bleeker, Joe’s near the West 4th station, or Lucali if you can tolerate the wait.
- Italian | I have my picks, but I’ll admit that I haven’t been to as many Italian restaurants as I could have. That being said, I do like Morini, their big brother Marea for their bone marrow pasta, and Via Carota.
- Steakhouse | There are the obvious picks like Peter Luger and Smith & Wollensky, but I personally prefer Keens Steakhouse and Wolfgang’s (Park Ave location).
- BBQ | I’m still fond of one of the relatively older spots, Hill Country (Texas-style). Mighty Quinn’s and Dinosaur BBQ (who’ve been around longer than everyone else) do solid BBQ as well. If you’re in Brooklyn, people will direct you to Fette Sau, Hometown, or Pig Beach. I’m definitely a fan of Pig Beach’s outdoor space.
- Fried Chicken | Mmmm…fried chicken. My personal favorite is still Bobwhite in Alphabet City, while nearby neighbor Root & Bone is also damn tasty. Peaches a bit further out in Bed/Stuy is amazing too.
- Sushi | Anthony Bourdain said that the best sushi outside of Japan is arguably in New York. I wouldn’t disagree, but you’re going to pay up the nose. (Relatively) affordable picks are Tomita at Cagen, Sushi Seki, Tatsu, and Kura. If you want to destroy your wallet, there’s Sushi Noz, Noda, Uchu, or the infamous Masa.
- Japanese | The cuisine I eat the most frequently in NYC is unsurprisingly Japanese. My personal picks are
Yopparai(oh noes, I think they closed), their casual sister restaurant Azasu, Goemon Curry, the kissaten Davelle, udon at Raku, hearty bowls of noodles at TsuruTonTan, upscale EN Brasserie, DokoDemo for Kansai street food, and I’ll even throw in old school Oh! Taisho for yakitori.
- Ramen | I’ve had to cut down on ramen lately since it doesn’t quite sit well with me these days. But I’ll still eat it occasionally. We’re gonna skip Ippudo and Ichiran, because one is a bit overrated and the other is a bitch to get to (edit: there’s an Ichiran in Times Square now? Hmm…) Shops I like include local boy Ivan Ramen, my old-school favorite Minca, the Black Kakuni at underrated Nishida Sho-ten, the Uni Mazemen at Jun-men, and a bowl of Yuzu Ramen at Nakamura.
- Chinese | Surprise, I don’t know shit about Chinese! I don’t eat it that often…sorry. No wait, Hao is good (lol if you speak Mandarin). I’ve been there a couple times.
- Desserts | Cronuts! Just kidding…they are delicious though, no doubt. Other notables though include the matcha mille cake from Lady M, afternoon tea and desserts at Cha-An, cheesecake from Eileen’s, ice cream from Sundaes & Cones or Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, the super-delicious concoctions at Spot Dessert, and bubble tea from The Alley.
- Misc | And now, for everything else – El Quinto Pino for tapas, Pinch for soup dumplings, Lan Zhou for both hand-pulled noodles and their delicious dumplings (you can buy them frozen too), Taiwan Pork Chop House for old-school Taiwanese or Ho Foods for a modern take on beef noodle, Noreetuh for Hawaiian, Madame Vo or Hanoi House for pho, and finally…awesome diner staples at the no-frills La Bonbonniere.
- Liquor | I’ll try and list a variety of spots. Satsko or Decibel for sake, Raine’s Law Room, Porchlight, or Little Branch for cocktails, Angel’s Share because I’ll never give it up, Public Record for audio, Copper Still or Scratcher’s for a beer, and Other Room or Anotheroom for privacy.