Big birthday, simple tastes. [Manhattan]

It is four years since I was last in New York.

This year I have a significant birthday ( turn 50 during the trip so need cheering up ) despite your new national ‘leadership’, I am coming back for four nights. One night for every year spent away.

I have just posted about places near to my hotel in Brooklyn but am obviously also looking for Manhattan recommendations for dinner.

I have three questions in particular

  1. Where for a big birthday, quintessential New York experience without getting crucified price wise ?

I turn 50 on this trip, so need cheering up.
I like simple places. On last visit I really enjoyed Taverna Kyclades in the Village, annisa ( now gone, according to my CH sources ) and Hanjan.
I have never been to Union Square Cafe or Gramercy Tavern or 11 Madison Park. I have been to Balthazar once and absolutely loathed it - mediocre food, unfriendly service and noisy as hell.

As the ass has fallen out of sterling since then, are these places worth the $ ?
Or is there somewhere else on the up that i should try ?
Cote seems to get a lot of positive coverage but as my trip is ten days off it seems unlikely i will get a reservation there ?

  1. Where for fresh squid, cooked simply ?

  2. And finally what new trends should I be googling and visiting ? Think Shake Shack when it first opened in MS park and hadn’t gone brand global crazy…somewhere that will make me think’ only in New York, and that’s why I love it so…’

Thanks again,

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Best wishes for the birthday, mate.

I know what you mean about relative prices. I’ve been doing some research for an upcoming New England trip. Everywhere is just fecking expensive menu prices - and that’s before tax and a 15 - 20% tip. It seems eye-watering - even by way of comparision to our 2016 trip to Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans.

I agree with you on Balthazar. Much too noisy, and food not quite good enough. I also liked Hanjan, but also found it a bit noisy.

If you like Chinese, I heartily recommend Wu’s Wonton King, 165 East Broadway. A Japanese place that I really like is Kyo Ya, 94 East 7th St/First Ave, downstairs. Not cheap, but excellent. A really nice Italian place is Maialino, 2 Lexington Ave. And if you like yakitori, I recommend Torishin, 362 W 53rd St/9th Ave. Another Japanese place that specializes in izakaya is Yopparai, 151 Rivington St / Suffolk. But note that the seating at Yopparai is only suitable for 2 persons. Thsi also applies to Ichimura. For sushi in Manhattan I can recommend Neta, 61 W 8th St in the Village or Tanoshi Sushi, 1372 York Ave. Of course there is also the extremely expensive Ichimura, 69 Leonard St, or for tempura, the excellent and expensive Tempura Matsui, 222 E 39th St.

There are also a slew of inexpensive places that I like, and return to on each visit. But you are looking for something special.

By the way, Kyo Ya, Torishin, Yopparai, Ichimura, Neta, Tanoshi, Matsui will all require reservations in advance.

This is fab, thanks.
Have you heard anything about Autre Kyo ya - looks like a slightly less posh sister restaurant…?
Where are your recommended cheaper places ?!
It may be my birthday but a second mortgage is not in order :slight_smile:
Thanks again

Cheers John

Ah, New England… that takes me back to a classic CH recommendation near Bar Harbor - Just Barbs !

If you are over that way it really is a quintessential CH experience. They were utterly bemused as to why a Brit should stop off there and when I told them about CH they had clearly never heard of it and seemed surpised that anyone would get food recommendations off t’internet. How things change over ten years or so. I literally ‘bought the t shirt’ on my way out.

Where else is on your itinerary and what are your New York tips ?


Well, the only two that could entail a second mortgage are Ichimura and Tempura Matsui. Kyo Ya is expensive, but not like those two, although we haven’t been for a few years, so things may have changed. I didn’t know about Autre Kyo Ya, but it looks interesting.

There are lots of cheaper places that we like. Here are some: Great NY Noodletown, Bo Ky, Fu Zhou Cuisine, Great Shanghai Cafe, XO Kitchen/Taste, Balzem, Luke’s Lobster, Katz’s Delicatessen, Sushi on Jones, Despaña Soho. And for sandwiches Cheeky Sandwiches and Gaia Italian Cafe.

Then there are the places I’m dying to try, such as Soogil or Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Life is so short, and we have only one stomach. And one wallet.

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@willowan, EMP is certainly a most worthy place to celebrate your Big 5-0. However, it is very expensive ($315/person for food only, tip included but not tax). So, if you feel that does not fit your budget, I highly recommend The Modern Dining Room (located in MoMA). Exquisite cuisine (Chef Abram Bissell who’s in charge of the kitchen was previously Exec. Sous at EMP), excellent wine list, polished service, and lovely ambiance. The cost is substantially less that EMP (also tip included). We had lunch there two weeks ago, and the meal totally blew us away.

Photo set of our lunch in The Modern D.R.

The Bar Room at The Modern, adjacent to the Dining Room, has a more casual vibe and a different but still delicious menu (same chef and kitchen).

Union Square Cafe is not nearly as upscale as EMP and The Modern D.R. The food is very good but not on their level. Overall, a more casual spot.

We had dinner at Autre Kyo Ya a few years ago. While we enjoyed the food, it wasn’t exceptional enough to get us itching to return.

If you haven’t been to Katz’s, you should include it on your dining itinerary. When you go, keep in mind that it’s all about the pastrami.

Russ & Daughters, the quintessential NY appetizing store which is take-out only, opened a cafe a couple of blocks away several years ago.

Happy Birthday!

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Thanks for this

EMP looks amazing but well out of my price range.
The photos of MDR haven’t come through on the link. Could you repost ? Also is there an implicit dress code there or can you rock up in your jeans ?

Never been to Katz and have avoided on the When Harry Met Sally basis. Plus , I feel I wouldn’t know enough not to make an ass out of myself when ordering. What does ‘it’s all about the pastrami.’ mean, for example ? That you must have it, or that you must have a particular type ? Apologies for my sheer ignorance on that score !

I like the look of R&D. If you had to choose there or Katz which one wins and what would you order ?

Thanks again for your help

I’m jumping in here … sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words
my last trip to Katz for pastrami
don’t order lean, you want it fatty/juicy, essential
also recommended to order directly and not use waitstaff, but this is not necessary IMO
Happy Birthday


This is VERY IMPORTANT. But no it’s not a complicated thing at Katz’s. The main thing that (I believe) people are saying is that there are a number of good choices at Katz’s but the quintessential NYC thing would be their pastrami, especially now that so many other destination Jewish delis have closed down. If you haven’t had the pastrami you haven’t been to Katz’s. Ignore When Harry met Sally - I hate it too and I’ve never even seen it. But I used to live next door to Katz’s in the 80’s and it still manages to hang on to being almost what it was back in the day, much more so than most of the Lower East Side, that’s for sure.


@willowan, Sorry that link to the MDR photos didn’t work. This one will.

Our Lunch at the Modern D.R.

Re: How to go about ordering at Katz’s. Years ago, when I was still participating on Chowhound, I created a self-guided Lower East Side eating tour which became extremely popular. Here’s the section about Katz’s:

For the quintessential NYC deli experiences, no place beats Katz’s, on the corner of Houston (pronounced “how-stun”) & Ludlow Sts. You’re there specifically for the pastrami sandwich. When you enter, you will be given a ticket. Instead of opting for table service, do what the “natives” do and get on line for counter service. When you reach the counter, put a $1 for each sandwich in the counterman’s tip cup – though not mandatory, it is a tradition – and order pastrami on rye. He’ll give you a piece to taste. If you like it (the best pastrami is juicy and has some fat on it), tell him o.k., and he’ll make your sandwich, give you some sour pickles, and punch your ticket. Then, continue along the counter for sides – the cole slaw is good – and drinks. Find seats at a table in the center of the room. (Tables along the wall have menus on them and are reserved for waiter service.) When you’re done, take your ticket to the cashier in front, where it’s cash only. To pay by credit card, go to the counter at the rear where the salamis are sold. Note: For the purposes of this tour, unless you have a gargantuan appetite, it would be best to share one sandwich in order to leave room for more tastings along the way.

Here’s a Katz’s photo set.

Re: choosing between Katz’s and R&D. That’s a really tough one. If it were me, I’d go to R&D for breakfast and Katz’s for lunch. As to what to order at R&D, it depends on which smoked fish you have or haven’t had. So, for example, if you have had smoked salmon but not sturgeon, sable, or baked salmon, choose a platter containing one of those three. My favorite of those is sable.

Russ & Daughters photo set

One last thing. If you’ve never had an egg cream, the quintessential NY drink (actually contains no egg and no cream), you should definitely have one. Both Katz’s and R&D have it.


If you need some casual mexican in brooklyn “gran electrica” was quite good, in DUMBO area- it will be busy on a weekend night but if you’re dining solo that will work in your favor.

In manhattan Atla is an “all day cafe” with surprisingly comfortable seating and a modern mexican menu

Cull and Pistol inside the chelsea market has an all seafood menu, so if there is fresh squid available they would have it. Note they also offer a happy hour from 4-6 mon-fri with $1 oysters and several other dishes. Also popular so earlier is better for the happy hour menu

The front tavern room at Gramercy Tavern is excellent, very “new york” to me somehow, and significantly less expensive than the more formal dining room. No reservations, open continuously from lunch through dinner. The dining room would be a great spot for your celebratory meal.

I think russ and daughters is absolutely an “only in ny” destination, the cafe serves breakfast/lunch/dinner so hopefully you can make it at some point

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I neglected to answer your question re: dress code at the MDR. There is none, so while some men wear jackets with or without ties, others dress more casually. So no problem wearing jeans.

Just wanted to say, great photos !

Another thought- yakitori totto is great for solo dining and a great location if you are visiting the MOMA or going to the theater, not far from either and open for lunch and dinner. Reasonable prices and high quality

Thanks for the compliment!

Hey all

Thanks for your brilliant help so far.
Three further questions, if I may

  1. Where to go near the Guggenheim ? In that area I have only really ever been to Candle cafe and on last visit ( admittedly four years ago ) the ratio of power lunchers had dramatically increased. Any gems in that area that wont break the bank. Any cuisine but probably not Chinese as other half not super keen on that. Perhaps a good place for brunch if we get there for opening time one day ?
  2. Brooklyn pizza ? Seems to have gone crazy but where to go for a simply great, thin crust margerhita ?
  3. Burger - at some point this will be compulsory. My classic NY experiences were Shake Shack in Mad Sq Park ( log queues, great shakes ) before they became a city wide and then global brand and 5 napkin in Hell’s kitchen. So both about 10-12 years ago. Firts time I went it was great, on my return three to four years ago it was much busier and less enjoyable, though perhaps that was just me !Any thoughts on where to head now ?

Thanks again

I kind of really love the brisket!!!

No doubt there other things that people like at Katz’s, but it is known for the pastrami which many rank at the top of all the delis in NYC.

@willowan, Re: dining near the Guggenheim.

Our favorite restaurant in the Museum Mile area is Café Boulud, on 78th, between 5th and Madison. We’ve had many lunches and dinner there. Steller cuisine, polished service, and lovely ambiance. While it is upscale, at lunch they offer two well-priced prix-fixes. Definitely worth the 10-block walk south.

Morini Ristorante, one of Michael White’s restaurants, is located on Madison, between 85th & 86th. We’ve had delicious lunches there. White is especially known for his pastas, and at Morini, they are superb. Excellent service and pleasing ambiance. (We prefer to be seated in the upstairs dining room.)

Morini photo set

Further east, the Greek restaurant Karoli Estiatorio is on Third, corner 93rd. We had a family dinner there last June, and everything we ordered was well-prepared and delicious. Good service and attractive décor.

Karoli photo set

Re: Burgers. We’re big fans of Shake Shack and have been going to the flagship in Madison Square Park since it opened (it’s three blocks from our apartment) and have a system for avoiding the long lines. Other places with burgers that we like: Covina, Upland, Union Square Café, and Blue Smoke Flatiron.