New York: eating out in the Big Apple

by sarahpalferman

Don't waste precious sightseeing hours with indecision about where to slake a thirst or silence a rumbling stomach - just head straight for these top spots to eat and drink in New York

Many hours are lost on holiday in searching for a good place for a meal and arguing over which café looks best for breakfast, while the hour for that meal slips away and half the day disappears in hunger and hot tempers. Here, therefore, are some tips for a decent breakfast or lunch, an ice-cold lemonade, or a hot meal and a cold beer at the end of a long day of sight-seeing.


Indulge in a huge Belgian waffle at the Rock Centre Café (20 West 50th Street) at the Rockefeller Plaza, where you can munch beneath the giant golden Prometheus on the site of the world-famous winter ice-rink. This is a perfect way to sate an appetite after an early, pre-crowd trip to the Top of the Rock for dizzying 360° views of Manhattan.

Take a huge appetite to Norma’s in the Parker Meridien (119 West 56th Street). The surroundings are pleasant and the menu extensive but an omelette will be made with several more eggs than are strictly necessary for breaking the fast, and most dishes seem to come with potatoes! Daily smoothie specials are delicious, though – mango and kiwi on the last visit.

Gramercy, with its oddly majestic Flatiron Building (one of New York’s earliest skyscrapers), rewards exploration and you’ll feel set up for the day after bagels or waffles at 71 Irving Place in a historic brownstone. They boast of serving the ‘best cup of coffee in town’ using beans roasted at their own upstate farm.

Every visit to SoHo and the Cast Iron district should begin with breakfast at Balthazar (80 Spring Street, between Broadway and Crosby). Hot chocolates and cappuccinos come in bowls, and the pannier of breads and pastries will feed three or four hungry mouths. Alternatively, ask the waitress to pack up what you cannot eat, then take the cable-car to Roosevelt Island and munch the rest by the waterside at lunchtime, with Manhattan laid out before you.

For a truly authentic American breakfast, head to Katz’s (205 East Houston Street) in the Lower East Side. It’s a huge deli with walls adorned by photographs of the many celebrities who have visited over the years. The place has been in existence for over a century and you can eat at the very table where that scene in When Harry Met Sally was filmed.

Lunch or a snack

If you’re after a quick bite, head to the Beaux Arts magnificence of Grand Central Terminal (87 East 42nd Street). You may be beguiled by the glittering yellow-tiled Oyster Bar or choose anywhere else in the cavernous food hall for pizza, salads, pretzels or just about anything you fancy. Tables and seating are scattered throughout for resting weary bodies, architecture-admiring and people-watching.

The Sculpture Garden in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA; 11 West 53rd Street) is a restful haven for refreshment on a sunny day, while the American Wing Café in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue) stocks delicious cookies, fruit, salads and drinks. Try to time your exhaustion so that you don’t hit peak lunchtime here, as there can be a wait for seating.

If your legs will carry you after spending hours in the vast Met, head down Madison Avenue to the spotless Viand (673 Madison Avenue) for an enormous slab of carrot cake and unlimited coffee.

Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library (5th Avenue and 42nd Street; pop in to admire the carved marble and elegant reading rooms), buzzes on sunny days. Buy lunch from any of the many cafés lining the park or from the kiosks in it and grab a shady seat to relax in. Alternatively, the Southwest Porch provides comfy yellow loungers and swing-benches for snacks, such as manchego cheese with quince jelly or a cookie selection, with beers and iced juices. Take a copy of the New York Times or something from the free Open Air Library in the park and it’s all very conducive to a relaxing afternoon.

In Greenwich Village, Kingswood (121 West 10th Street) is an airy place offering reliable food and a trendy young crowd on weekday evenings. We dropped in late one sunny Sunday morning and a very smiley barman served us huge glasses of lemonade with all the trimmings.

The waterfront at the World Financial Center has plenty of attractive space for a takeaway lunch from one of the eateries housed there (the Financier Patisserie will make you up a box with hot panini and salads). If the sun’s heat has you defeated, retire to the air-conditioned glass atrium of the Winter Garden instead and munch among the palm trees there.

Late afternoon may find you flagging, particularly if you’ve been hitting the shops, so head to the oh-so-pretty Charbonnel et Walker café on the 8th floor of Saks (611 Fifth Avenue). It has a chocolate fountain and coloured bar-stools to perch on beneath the chandelier while you select scrumptious treats (brownies, cookies and chocolates) from the moving counter.


St Bart’s Café on Park Avenue (109 East 50th Street) has a lovely outdoor space for a summer dinner. You can gaze at the sleek skyscrapers with a cool beer on a muggy evening, and gather your thoughts after the disorientation of a transatlantic flight and US immigration. It’s even better if you’re staying at the grand Waldorf Astoria (301 Park Avenue) and have only to stagger across the road to bed!

For a special occasion, head to Café des Artistes in the Hotel des Artistes (1 West 67th Street) on the Upper West Side. The dining-room is charming and elegant without being stuffy, the staff is friendly and efficient and the food is fresh and delicious. It’s a great place to sit side-by-side and whisper about your fellow diners or giggle at the cavorting nymphs painted on the walls.

Shun Lee Palace (155 East 55th Street, between Lexington and 3rd Avenue) is a good but rather pricey venue for an elegant Chinese meal. We were given a table with a view of Michael Bloomberg, Sonia Sotomayor and others enjoying a celebratory meal on the eve of Sotomayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court! If you’re after authentic, cheap Chinese food with no frills, then you’d be better off in Chinatown but at the Shun Lee Palace you get more of an event, with an attractive dining-room and friendly staff (and the odd celebrity!).

Lovers of Italian food should visit Osteria del Doge (142 West 44th Street, just off Times Square). You’ll get generous portions of tasty pasta and, instead of a dessert menu, a cake-stand laden with puds so you can choose exactly what you fancy.