Where to Eat in NYC: A Family Guide

December 23rd, 2013 · 15 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Travel

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It occurred to me a few weeks ago that every time we go on a trip — whether it’s Santa Fe, Austin, San Francisco, Paris — we tell you what we’ve done, where we’ve eaten, what our kids loved the most. And yet, in the four years we’ve been writing this blog, we’ve given you hints and peeks into Our New York, but have yet to deliver a family dining guide to the city that never fails to surprise, enrage, delight, and charm us on an hourly basis…especially during the holidays. So what follows is just that: Where to Eat in New York with the Kids. But because it’s NYC, we didn’t want to just write a few bullet points. We wanted to go big. So we enlisted the help of some of our favorite parents-about-town for their favorites spots, too. I’m glad it’s almost vacation — you’ll need a little time for this one. Happy Holidays everyone!

Our Distguished Panel: Deb Perelman, blogger, cookbook author, Smitten KitchenSam Sifton, editor, columnist, former restaurant critic New York Times; Caroline Campion, cookbook author, Devil and EggJoanna Goddard, lifestyle blogger Cup of Jo; husband-and-wife team Devin Friedman, director editorial projects GQ & Danielle Pergament, frequent contributor to Travel section of New York Times; Yolanda Edwards, deputy editor Conde Nast Traveler;  Christine Muhlke, deputy editor, Bon AppetitCarla Lalli Music, food and features editor Bon AppetitJenny Rosenstrach, blogger, DALS; Andy Ward, intern, Dinner: A Love Story

Favorite Pizza

Arturos on West Houston Street in Manhattan. Old-school coal oven pizza, dense and chewy and saucy with a crust that bears a light sheen of olive oil. There are many delicious newfangled fetishistic pizza places (Co. is great). But the pizza here is insanely good and it’s extremely laid back and it still attracts the kinds of pasty, grumpy Village characters that can’t afford to live here any more. (The awesome bartender looks like Columbo). –Devin Friedman & Danielle Pergament

Patsy’s Pizzeria BUT it has to be the original one in East Harlem on First Avenue, not one of the other ones downtown. Hands-down the best slice in NYC. Maybe go in the daytime if you’re a tourist. — Caroline Campion

Otto We celebrated Abby’s eighth birthday here (Otto? Eight? Get it?) but the truth is, I can’t think of any scenario when it wouldn’t be a good choice for families. It’s loud enough (read: huge enough) to absorb even the most maniacal toddler, and the Batali-Bastianich menu is appealing to all ages. — Jenny R

Co. Pizza (shown above) My husband always argues that NYC pizza is overrated and tastes like cardboard. But! Jim Lahey’s pizza spot in Chelsea creates airy, chewy crusts that taste like olive oil and butter and all things good and true. Our favorite pie is the Popeye, which is basically a warm spinach salad on a pizza. The communal tables are friendly and boisterous, and they have high chairs for little dudes. — Joanna Goddard

What Joanna said. — Andy Ward

Favorite Burgers, Fries, Steaks

When Phoebe was five hours old and Jenny was deep in a Percocet haze, I left the hospital and walked over J.G. Melon for some dinner. I remember that weird mixture of total euphoria and total exhaustion, of not knowing what day it was or how long ago we’d arrived at the hospital, or even knowing if any of this was real. I was also starving. It was about 7pm, and I ordered a couple of Tanqueray and tonics and savored every bit of that burger, and the old-school, tin-ceilinged atmosphere of the place, one of the great underrated burger joints in the city. Is it the best burger in New York? Who knows. It’s arguable. Have I ever had a better burger in my life? No. – Andy

If we go looking for a Miracle on 34th Street moment and take in the Macy’s windows, we end up with a cozy dinner at Keen’s (it’s just a block away!) and sit in the pub area up front. — Yolanda Edwards

A cheeseburger with everything and fries at the Burger Joint inside the lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel on West 56th. (Part of the pleasure is actually finding it…look for the curtain). — Caroline Campion

Favorite Caffeine Hit

Smith Canteen, Yes, they have Counter Culture coffee and skilled esspressonators to brew it up (plus awesome muffins and sandwiches and salads by the geniuses who also own Seersucker down the street). But it’s more about it being a neighborhood place you want to hang out. Because for me, the coffee shop is as much a refuge as it is a place to take the most important drug of the day. –  Devin Friedman

When people ask me how long commute is, I tell them an hour and ten minutes. Which is a lie. In fact, it’s an hour. But I walk ten minutes in the wrong direction every morning just to get my medium house blend from Joe the Art of Coffee. The 45 productive and hope-filled minutes between taking that first sip and reality settling back in is the highlight of my day, every day. Caffeine is my drug, and this is the perfect delivery system. — Andy

On the other hand, if you’re not a drip coffee person, there’s a tiny espresso bar in Midtown called Zibetto (just south of Central Park) that is the closest thing I’ve seen to being in Milan, right down to the marble counter (no tables) and the absurdly handsome baristas with the crisp, white waist aprons and the giant knots in their ties. — Andy

I love Culture Coffee on W. 38th, and the crazy mocha at Stumptown Coffee. The new MacDougal location is beyond stroller-friendly – Christine Muhlke

Favorite Treat or Food Bribe for Kids (i.e. ”If you can get through the Dutch Masters exhibit I promise you a ____ at _____.”)

That would be an ice cream at Van Leeuwen on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. – Sam Sifton

Port Jammers at Beurre & Sel in the Essex St. Market. Dorie Greenspan is my hero. — Christine Muhlke

The Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae at ABC Kitchen. (Union Square) — Caroline Campion

The Salted Oat Surprise cookie Milk & Cookies Bakery (West Village). Best cookie in NYC, hands down. (They also have a sweet wooden bench outside with a bucket of sidewalk chalk, which makes it a lovely little stop with kiddos.) — Joanna Goddard

The Pecan Pie Sundae at Buttermilk Channel (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn). It’s not sophisticated, it’s not called a mille-feuille or a clafoutis and doesn’t even have any silent letters in it. But it does have ice cream and pecan pie filling and whipped cream and I have never had dinner with someone who didn’t want to eat it. –Devin Friedman

Favorite Ethnic

We love to go see the tree, then walk through the Rock Center subway tunnel as far south as we can, and emerge to go have Brazilian food in Little Brazil. Our favorite is Via Brasil –there are lots of stews and things that everyone likes (including my picky Italian only eating mother-in-law), and the killer caiparinhas take the edge off the holiday crowd madness. Plus, since nobody else thinks about it, you can walk in without reservations. — Yolanda Edwards

Ippudo (East Village) for ramen. If you order a bowl with the bakudan topping, which is a housemade spicy paste, it will cure any ill: hangover, approaching head cold, winter malaise. You can also leave some broth in your bowl and ask your server for more noodles by saying “kae-dama.” Also it’s just fun when you walk in and the staff yell a greeting to you in Japanese. — Caroline Campion

Moustache (East and West Village) Our kids will eat the hell out of some hummus and falafel and fresh, warm pita. And Lahambajin pitza, chicken kebabs, and best of all, Ouzi, which is like a giant filo popover stuffed with chicken and basmati rice and raisins and almonds. Oh, and baklava and yogurt with honey and pistachios. If you enjoy a good, reasonably priced, family-friendly Middle Eastern extravaganza, there’s no place we like more. Go early, and go hungry. — Andy

It’s not Christmas until my daughters have had supper with my mother at Shun Lee in advance of or following a performance at Lincoln Center. There’s something festive about the lights and the lighted monkeys and the booths, and the kids all dressed up in their going-to-the-Nutcracker best. – Sam Sifton

If You Find Yourself…

…in Fort Greene, Brooklyn On a recent day off from work, I took my son to the new Hungry Ghost coffee spot on Fulton for a little treat (they make their own pastries and serve Stumptown, and it’s a cute space), then Greenlight Bookstore for Christmas shopping, then walked down to Ganso for Gyoza and Ramen (shown above, on Bond st, one block off the Fulton mall). It was the perfect place to end the perfect afternoon. – Carla Lalli Music

…in Midtown High: The Lounge at Le Bernardin or souffle at La Grenouille  Medium-High: Love the juices and ‘farrotto’ at Rouge Tomate. Medium: I am obsessed with Kajitsu and go at least once a week – perhaps the quietest restaurant in Manhattan. — Christine Muhlke

…on Fifth Avenue It’s not a single place, but it’s my holiday tradition to walk up 5th Avenue and see all of the windows; I love the wonderlands each store creates. The afternoon is supposed to end with fancy hot cocoa but I’m still searching for a favorite. (We used to go to The Plaza for it, which sounds glamorous, right? But it was consistently terrible and so we’re still hunting.) Until we find our hot cocoa nirvana on or off 5th Avenue, we often duck into La Maison du Chocolat  – on 49th Street, right near Rockefeller Center. Their champagne truffles are my favorite thing any other month of the year, but in December, I always get a single gold foil-wrapped marron glace (and the boys each pick their own truffle). Everything is insanely expensive and should be eaten as slowly as you can, but you try explaining that to a four year-old. – Deb Perelman

…Bryant Park (shown in opening photo, way up top) We hit the rink if it’s winter and the carousel if it’s summer, then cross Sixth Avenue to check out the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya. Phoebe loves it for the manga, Abby loves it for the cool little one-of-a-kind notebooks and Japanese toys on the lower level. Then we head a few blocks south for some bibimbap and scallion pancakes at the bustling Cho Dang Gol and call it a day.  –Jenny

…in Grand Central Terminal Yes, the station is a neighborhood unto itself. You can find any number of classic kid crowdpleasers on the Lower Level food court — Two Boots Pizza, Juniors, and now a new Shake Shack — but you must do everything in your power to convince your children to sit at the Oyster Bar‘s snakey counter so you can people-watch as you gorge on chowders and homemade biscuits. (Don’t be shy about asking for another biscuit and definitely ask for the special sandwich menu.) My dad and I have been sharing lunches at this counter (served by the same waitresses) for two decades now, but the beauty of the place is that anyone can pick up on the sentimental, old-school vibe on his or her first visit. When you’re done with lunch, walk up to the main floor, ogle the architectural miracle that is Grand Central, then head to the food court (on the east side of the building) and purchase some marzipan acorns at Li-Lac. –Jenny

…in the East Village Start at Artichoke Basille Pizzeria on East 14th street for a slice of their signature pizza, which tastes like the richest artichole-dip you’ve ever had on a pizza crust; then work your way downtown to Milk Bar for cereal milk soft serve/compost cookies/crack pie; then hop over to the south side of Houston and end at Freeman’s for a cocktail. –Caroline Campion

…in Williamsburg We left Brooklyn just before Brooklyn became Brooklyn, if you know what I mean. There was one non-red-sauce Italian place on Smith Street and the only reason to go to Williamsburg was for Peter Lugar’s Steakhouse. When we go to Williamsburg now, we always start with migas and burritos at Taco Chulo. You can always get a table — unlike most places in the neighborhood — it’s totally kid-friendly, and it provides a good launching point for heading down Grand Street to Bedford Ave for some shopping and wandering. -Jenny

Date Night, Or Best Place to Remind You What Life Was Like Before Kids

Roberta’s (Bushwick, Brooklyn) The people-watching reminds me that I was never that young to begin with. – Christine Muhlke

Schillers Liquor Bar (Lower East Side, shown above) This bustling French-American spot feels like it’s in the center of the universe. Always packed with model-types and their musician boyfriends, the restaurant serves tipsy crowds satisfying dishes like fish & chips and the perfect burger. It’s the kind of place you want to arrive at 10pm, have dinner and too many cocktails, and stumble home late after kissing on the corner. – Joanna Goddard

Balthazar (in Soho) for a glass of champagne at 4:30 or 5 p.m. on a Saturday, because no parent ever gets to go out for a late-afternoon drink. — Deb Perelman

The Bohemian Hall Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens–you sit outdoors in large fenced in square with picnic tables and eat hearty Czech food like potato pancakes, kielbasa, pickles, and sauerkraut, with tons of good beer on tap. Sometime’s there’s a soccer game on a projector screen, sometimes people play cards, or you can just drink and make merry.  – Caroline Campion

Jenny and I were having a drink a week or so ago at the Gramercy Tavern bar. An afternoon drink, too. (Lest you think we are the types who sneak out for afternoon drinks at Gramercy Tavern, we will dispel the myth: This was the first time, in fifteen years of marriage, that we’ve done this.) We sat there, talking: Is there a better food-related room in New York City? Is there a room with more perfect lighting in New York City? Is there a room with warmer vibes in New York City?  It could have been the (18 dollar) glass of Rioja talking, but we got all warm and fuzzy and before we knew it, we were saying things like, isn’t this place amazing, the way it has held up so well over the years, wouldn’t our parents love it if we brought them here, why don’t we do this more, we really should come here and do this once a week. We won’t, of course, but the good news is, it’ll still be here, and still be great, fifteen years from now. —  Andy

El Quinto Pino (Chelsea) It’s a tiny Spanish wine bar with tiny plates of food. You can only sit at the bar (restaurants can often make me feel trapped, because I am not entirely comfortable with myself — I definitely have to start meditating or something) because there are very few tables. The food is delicious and often fried and salty. (Patatas Bravas anyone?) It’s an awesome place to sit with your wife and feel like you’re on a spontaneous 20-something date rather than a regimented babysitter-booked romance appointment. You can stop for a glass of wine and a snack and stay all night if you want. — Devin Friedman

Cafe Cluny (West Village) We had our very first date at this charming restaurant on a cobblestone street. We shared scallops and hanger steak with fries, and secretly wondered if it was going well. Six years later, we’ve gone back for every wedding anniversary and most birthdays. It’s warm, welcoming, delicious and just perfect. My favorite restaurant in NYC. (BTW, here are Joanna’s Top 10.) — Joanna Goddard

Balaboosta (Nolita/Mulberry Street) Full disclosure: Andy and I have not actually been on a date here, yet. But I’ve gone with my friend Lia, and the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about how much Andy would love it. Creative Mediterranean — healthy but indulgent — in the most charming room on the most charming New York City block. – Jenny R

Lafayette (Noho) As discussed many millions of times on this blog, most recently here. –Jenny R

We went to Cafe Boulud on the Upper East Side for our tenth anniversary. We took my parents there for their fiftieth anniversary. For us, there is no more elegant — elegant, but not stuffy, never stuffy — room in New York, no place that feels more celebratory or special or secure in the belief that you are getting your money’s worth. And the food is pretty good, too. If I went there and ate only the bread and butter, I’d be happy. — Andy

Photo credits: City Limits (Bryant Park), Serious Eats (Pizza), Yelp/Serious Eats (J.G. Melon); Joanna Goddard (Schillers); Matt Duckor (Beurre & Sel)
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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jamie // Dec 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    my love for this blog just grew now that Otto was mentioned. You forgot to metion the gelato! I hope you got some. olive oil is a must!

  • 2 Erin // Dec 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    What an excellent recap. You must know, however, that there is only one spot your readers want to visit for a meal — your house!

  • 3 rona // Dec 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    This is going to be so useful in the next year or so when I’m back and forth to the city to visit friends. I love all your suggestions but would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to mention City Bakery for hot (and cold) chocolate. Go!! My kids love it there!

  • 4 Andrea // Dec 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Headed to NYC in just three sleeps, first visit ever. Impeccable timing!

  • 5 erinn johnson // Dec 23, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Great list. We have hit a few of them, both with and without kids.

    One that was a hit with our kids was Pies and Thighs.

  • 6 Tina // Dec 23, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I ate up every bit of this post! From Upstate, I will keep this in my back pocket-or bookmark each spot on Yelp. Might I add, the arrangement of the guide is killer. Thank you! P.s. My family will open several gifts purchased solely on your guides. Merry Christmas!

  • 7 Chelsea // Dec 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    We just moved to the city and are overwhelmed with all the food choices around us. Thank you for narrowing it down for us.

  • 8 Sarah // Dec 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Well this makes me desperately want to go back to NYC again, thanks for sharing!!

  • 9 A Life From Scratch // Dec 25, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Love. Now – to get to NY…..

  • 10 Sasha // Dec 26, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I don’t have kids but this is a great post! Co. is one of my fave pizza spots too. That mushroom+walnut concoction is to-die-for.

  • 11 Sonya Terjanian // Dec 26, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you for this!!! Another good one for date night — Aureole on a Sunday night, in the bar. Cote de boeuf for two and all-you-can-drink Bordeaux for $49. Seriously amazing.

  • 12 Debbie // Dec 26, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Andy’s an intern at DALS? Love that! Thanks for the suggestions.

  • 13 Emily T // Dec 27, 2013 at 9:02 am

    If you are in the East Village: Veselka! It is warm and funky and delicious.

  • 14 Murphy // Dec 27, 2013 at 10:40 am

    I discovered Kinokuniya in 1997 at age 13 and fell in LOVE. I live in Central CT, when I go to the city on Metro North that book store is my one *MUST GO*. Everything else is debateable.

  • 15 Emily W // Dec 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Buerre & Sel in the Essex Market has closed but I would say the Essex Market itself is perfect for families from bagels, udon, Greek treats, kale & potato tacos, soups and cheese to coffee, grocery, Swedish specialties and ice cream, everyone is sure to be pleased.

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