Sure, New York City is a great restaurant town. Why shouldn’t it be? It’s got people with money and expense accounts. Many city residents live in apartments with tiny kitchens, which makes ambitious cooking at home difficult. And just as important, it has a public transportation system – taxi, subway, bus, foot – that allows everyone dining out reasonable access to a variety of places, and also allows them to drink without having to drive home.
All that said, when I visit New York, what I find most impressive are the inexpensive, informal places. Porchetta (http://www.porchettanyc.com/) – which may seat eight if they’re friends – serves what its name implies: the pork sandwich and pork plate are wonderful, but it’s the crispy potatoes and burnt ends that are addictive.
Piccolo Café, which I listed on the When We Travel page at atlarrys.com, (http://www.atLarrys.com) seats perhaps 16 and serves The Works: Egg Sandwich, an egg, black truffle paste, lettuce, tomato, prosciutto and olive oil combo that is nothing short of remarkable (credit svensson). Oh, and they’ve been roasting coffee in Italy since 1938 and shipping it over in small batches for freshness.
Basque food? Txikito (http://www.txikitonyc.com/about.html) with its txitxiki sandwiches of house-made chorizo hash or pikillos, roasted sweet peppers and Basque tuna, may seat 20. One of the chef-owners, Alexandra Raij, created the menu at Piquillo in Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 at JFK, a great argument for getting to the airport extra-early.
Or Veselka (http://www.veselka.com/veselka_restaurant_menu.pdf), a 24-hour Ukrainian restaurant whose comfort food – pierogi and soups – provides more than mere comfort, as well as a window on a cross-section of New Yorkers from nearby NYU to the Village.
Last visit, I missed by 15 minutes – they close an hour early on Sunday night – what very reliable eaters say is a wonderful skirt steak sandwich at Num Pang (http://www.numpangnyc.com/menu.html). It was to go on the plane with me the next morning. Next time.
Instead, I took wonderful Macoun apples and cheese from the Union Square farmer’s market, which also boasts winemakers who encourage you to sample their wares. You can make a nice picnic for yourself at that market to eat in nearby Madison Square Park, or in your hotel.
Midtown New York street traffic is slow and slower; but there’s always the subway, or the stroll, which inevitably allows you to discover another new place on your own. There aren’t many other places in the U.S. where you can do this.