New York City: Guide to the City

Someone once told me that you could try to eat at a new restaurant for every meal, every day, for 365 days out of the year, and you still wouldn’t have tried every single restaurant in New York City. This place is bustling with innovative fashion, food, art, and everything else you could imagine. I have a handful of friends that live in NYC and a couple of my traveling techie friends were visiting, so I thought I’d make a stop here to check it out! I’ve only been once prior, and that was when I was in college. Obviously, that meant no money, which means no delicious foods ūüôĀ I used this trip to change all of that!

Disclaimer ahead of time: Because NYC is always changing with new things and new info, my guide (like any of my guides, really) is by no means a complete explanation of even a small part of the Big Apple.

Was the trip worth it? For sure! NYC is definitely an experience, and while it’s not the place for me, I had a good time during my week and a half here.

All About New York City!

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Weather

New York City was SO hot, and the fact that this is nicknamed the Concrete Jungle doesn’t help. Not going to lie, I could’ve done more exploring in my 10 days here, but I sometimes stayed home and watched TV because I decided it was too hot to go outside. NYC is also very humid during the summer, which I think makes the heat that much worse.¬†I did pick up one fun thing though–becuase it was always so hot, my consumption of large amounts of ice cream was now acceptable because everyone else did it as a way to cool down. Yup, that’s why I ate ice cream. Just to cool down.

Where I stayed

I stayed at Airbnbs again for NYC since I was with other friends that were from out of town for this trip. Otherwise, I probably would’ve tried to bum it on a friend’s couch haha. Location is crucial for NYC so be very cognizant of this when you’re booking a place to stay. New York City is made up of 5 boroughs, and depending on what you want to do and how much you want to spend, you’ll have to compromise between cost, distance, and time.

For the first weekend, I stayed in an Airbnb with my sister in East Village, which was fantastic because it was close to most of the things my sister wanted to see/eat. Of course, because of its prime location, it was a little more expensive. For the rest of the 10 days, I stayed at an Airbnb with Tom and Gabe in Queens, specifically in Elmhurst. That made traveling to different locations a little longer, but it was still doable because we were really close to the subway.

Transportation

Arrival and Departure

I got to NYC via Megabus from Philadelphia, which takes about 2 hours and cost a total of $16. Quite the difference when compared to the cost of an airplane ticket (over $100!).¬†Reserved seats were available on this ride, so for an extra $1, I had a seat saved for me on this trip. Usually, Megabus is first-come-first-served for seating, but they sometimes offer reserved seating on certain trips. With reserved seating, you get better seats up front (sometimes table space if you get those slightly pricier seats) and you don’t have to arrive extra early to beat the line. For an extra $1, it’s totally worth the cost. In NYC, Megabus drops you off at¬†7th Ave and 27th St. I took a Lyft to get to my Airbnb from here, but I do believe taking the subway is just as feasible. I only took the Lyft because I was in a rush.

When I left NYC to get to Boston, I also took Megabus. Note that departure for Megabus is different from the drop-off area. To leave NYC, the pick-up location is on 34th St between 11th Ave and 12th Ave.

Getting Around the City

Unless you have a death wish, I would not bike as a tourist in NYC. The way to travel in NYC is via subway and walking! Depending on how long you’re staying in NYC, I would suggest getting the weekly pass (or monthly if you stay for¬†a few weeks).For $32, you can take an unlimited amount of rides on the subway for 7 days, opposed to $2.75 per single ride. You just need to take about 11 rides to break even. My sister¬†only stayed for 2.5 days, but it still made the most sense for her to get a 7-day pass. You can get one of these passes at Grand Central Station, downstairs in the subway.

Sights and Attractions

Weeeeell, I will list off some interesting things I saw, but I will say NYC was one of those places where things I went to were more food-related than anything. Don’t be alarmed that I only listed a few cool things to see ūüôā

9/11 Memorial and Museum

No matter whether or not you were directly affected by this, this museum makes one feel a lot of emotions, especially if you have even some memories of the tragedy. The museum is incredibly well-done and gorgeous,¬†as well as incredibly powerful. I found the¬†visuals in the museum evoked a lot of emotions, even if I had no idea who the speakers in the photos and videos were. It’s hard to properly describe in words what makes this museum so special, but I’d definitely recommend going to this museum.

 

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

The classic! Who goes to New York City and¬†not visit the Statue of Liberty, right?! Obviously I don’t need to convince you to go to the Statue, but if you’ve never been, I would be careful dealing with the hustlers on the way to getting tickets for the Statue. Read more about how to avoid the¬†Statue of Liberty tour hustlers here. Basically, unless you’re in line to get tickets from Statue Cruises (the official ferry provider¬†for National Park Service) to go on the boat to get to Liberty Island, you’re in the wrong line. Don’t fall for those hustlers’ tricks! If you want to buy them ahead of time, check out the Statue Cruises site here.

I recommend Ellis Island if you’re interested in learning more about American history.¬†The United States is often called a giant melting pot, specifically New York due to its history of handling immigration. Ellis Island is chockful¬†of stories about immigrants¬†from all over the world coming to the United States in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their family. The ferry¬†to Ellis Island is included in the ticket price when your purchase the ticket for the Statue of Liberty and is on the way back, so I recommend at least checking it out for a little bit!

Times Square

Another classic! Not really anything special you should do or see, but it is nice to just walk around and see all of your usual mall stores be 10x larger here in Times Square. Big word of warning–all of those actors/characters in Times Square work for tips and can get very pushy. If you want to take a photo with them, be sure to have a couple dollars for tips or you WILL be hassled. I personally would recommend just avoiding them completely.

American Museum of Natural History

If you’re into science and natural history, I would recommend going here. There wasn’t anything particularly special to me about this museum, but I did really enjoy their collection of fossils in the Fossil Halls. The American Museum of Natural History is home to the Titanosaur, a cast of the 122-foot-long herbivorous dinosaur.¬†The Butterfly Conservatory is a pretty popular exhibit that might be fun if you’re into butterflies (for me, not so much). It’s $22 for adult admission, and I found it to be worthwhile since the Titanosaur cast was pretty neat. If you’re on a budget and had to choose between museums, this one isn’t a must-see but it is really fun.

Governors Island

This little island by lower Manhattan is only open from May to October, but if you get a chance to go, go for it! It’s only a $2 fee to get over via ferry (can come from Manhattan or from Brooklyn), or free if you come before 11:30AM on the weekend. Governors Island is also full of history and is home to the Governors Island National Monument (yay cancellation stamps!). You can walk through Castle Williams and Fort Jay to see these old military buildings, and there are cannon demonstrations every few hours. My favorite part of this island was the little sustainable farm that included farm animals like goats and chickens. I met some goat friends named Rice and Beans!

Top of the Rock

I know everyone talks about going to the Empire State Building, but I find that Top of the Rock is just as beautiful and a lot less expensive. General tickets for ESB is the close to the same price as TotR but only gets you up to the 86th floor. I’m not too keen on being up so high anyway–doesn’t do anything for me. TotR offers a beautiful 360-degree view of New York City, from the tall skyscrapers to a full view of Central Park. It’s gorgeous on a sunny day and total worth the cost to just marvel at the beautiful concrete jungle. On another note, if you’re a 30 Rock fan, it’s just really cool being in this building ūüôā

Federal Hall National Memorial/Wall Street

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of Wall Street, this national memorial is run by the National Park Service preserving an important part of American history. Here in Federal Hall, the First United States¬†Congress once met to form legislation, including the writing and ratifying of the Bill of Rights. You’ll get to learn about how¬†New York was the home to Congress and our government before Washington, D.C. and even before Philadelphia! There’s a cool engraved stone block that George Washington apparently stood on while swearing in his oath to become the first president of the young nation in 1789. If you’re into those stamp books, you can get a cancellation stamp here! Once you’re done with this NM, step outside and you’ll see a great view of the iconic New York Stock Exchange.

Tenement Museum

I found the¬†Lower East Side Tenement Museum¬†to be¬†a¬†surprisingly really great museum.¬†This doesn’t seem to be a super popular museum since I’ve never heard any friends mention this place, but it’s a great place to learn more about New York history. The Tenement Museum¬†gives guided tours into the lives of immigrants living in the overcrowded, poorly maintained apartment buildings¬†in New York. So how did I come across this place? I actually learned about this museum from my National Parks cancellation stamp book (this is one of the cancellation stamp locations), and it was a happy discovery! There are bunch of different tours you can go on; I experienced the¬†Shop Life tour which talked about immigrants and the struggles of running their family businesses. This interactive tour has the tour guide walk you through a replica of¬†a family’s saloon, look at the lives of butchers of the time, and go through how various businesses were run at the time. If you like hearing stories about people’s lives, this is a great place to get a more in-depth look at people’s lives in New York during the late 19th century into the 20th century.

Note: You can’t take pictures during the tour, so I unfortunately have no photos to show you!

Eateries

Momosan Ramen & Sake

Chef Masaharu Morimoto is my all-time favorite Iron Chef, so whenever he has a restaurant that I can afford to go to, I try to do so! This restaurant was only a few months old when decided to check it out with friends. We went during lunch, just about 30 minutes after opening, so we didn’t have any trouble finding a seat. That may be different now that the restaurant may be more¬†established. Each of us got the lunch set, as it gives you the most bang-for-your-buck variety. My sister, Tom, and Gabe all got the tonkotsu ramen, and I got the tantan ramen. We all got the zuke don for our small donburi, and everyone else (except moi) got a kakuni bao.¬†Word of warning: the tonkotsu ramen is delicious but it is SUPER rich. The broth is pretty thick and full of fatty goodness, so if you’re on a diet or just can’t handle fatty foods well, I would avoid that flavor choice. My tantan ramen, in comparison, was much lighter and cleaner on the palate while still be very flavorful. Personally, I would recommend the lunch set, but the kakuni bao is skippable.

Momofuku Ssam Bar

My second Momofuku! We went here for Sunday brunch, and this is when I realized that no matter where we go, if baos are available on the menu, my sister will order them. We got pork belly baos to share, and I ordered the shrimp and grits dish–shrimp in XO sauce, fried kale, poached egg, and Charleston-style grits. Very tasty interpretation of Charleston-style shrimp and grits! And because Sunday brunch often comes with booze, we order Micheladas and bloody Marys. I recommend the Micheladas over the bloody Marys since our group didn’t care too much for¬†the Bloody Marys.

Juliana’s Pizza

I’m sure you’ve heard of the famed Grimaldi’s in NYC, claimed by many to be the best pizza they’ve ever had. Juliana’s, located right next door, is Grimaldi’s famed archrival. My sister was determined to have some of this pizza, so we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge one night and got some for dinner. We got the No. 3, a no-sauce pizza with¬†mozzarella, sausage, broccoli rabe, and garlic, as well as the No. 4, which has tomato, mozzarella, arugula and prosciutto. Out of the two, I’d recommend the No. 3, which was rich, salty, but balanced with the broccoli rabe and garlic. The wait for this place did take some time, but I’d say it’s worth the experience! Granted, I was also starving, but I’d like to think my thoughts about this place had to do more with genuine enjoyment instead of purely hunger.

Baohaus

I actually had no desire to go here but my sister insisted, so we went and I got something. Since I was still full, I ended up getting the vegetarian bao since I felt pork belly or anything else would be too heavy. The Uncle Jesse Bao (fried tofu, Haus seasoning salt, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, cilantro, and Haus sauce) turned out to be surprisingly delicious! Nice crispy tofu and flavorful sauces and toppings. My friends enjoyed their baos as well, so it seems like most of the things here are pretty good. My personal recommendation would be for that vegetarian bao.

 

Dutch Fred’s

Great drinks here! They have a lot of interesting twists on traditional cocktails, and the bartenders are really personable. Great place to have a drink and just relax!

Ippudo Westside

One of the 5 billion ramen places in NYC, but¬†memorable! I got the¬†Karaka Men ramen‚ÄĒtonkotsu broth, Ippudo‚Äôs blend of hot spices, pork chashu, sesame kikurage, onions, minced pork, scallions, and a soft boiled egg. I rather enjoyed the hot spices blend, and the tonkotsu broth was rich but not too heavy (in contrast to Morimoto’s Momosan). ¬†We also got baos to share, but they weren’t that special so I’d suggest skipping that and going straight for the ramen.

White Bear

Famed by many Yelpers are haven for spicy dumplings, I went here to with my sister to give their menu a taste test. We ended up ordering just the¬†wontons in hot chili oil since they ran out of something else I wanted to try. It‚Äôs 12 wontons per order, and¬†while not mind blowing, White Bear is¬†inexpensive, filling, and pretty good. Decent place for dumplings and wontons if that’s your kind of thing.

Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine

WOOOOWHEE! I’ve never had probably laksa until I visited this restaurant (I’ve only had instant ramen laksa!), and a bowl here definitely raised my laksa standards. My friend Tom had been in NYC a little longer, and he had found this place and had gone a few times so he brought Gabe and me here one evening. All of us ordered the Singaporean laksa, since that’s the one dish that everyone likes to get here. Rich, creamy broth served with chewy noodles and various toppings–so good! This is one place that I’d probably go out of my way to come back to if I find myself in NYC.

Xi’an Famous Foods

The famous Xi’an Famous Foods! This is one out of 2 places we went to because Gabe¬†has a fanboy crush on Anthony Bourdain. We decided to buy a handful of things to share: the spicy cumin lamb burger, a lamb skewer (our group was¬†obsessed with skewers), and a plate of spicy and sour lamb dumplings.¬†The burger and the dumplings were really good, but the skewer was skippable. If you have to get one thing here, go for the spicy cumin lamb burger!

Levain Bakery

I initially went here definitely just to say that I’ve gone to the famed Levain Bakery. The cookies here are super simple, decadent, and delectable. I did find that they were a little bit sweet for me, but I did try to eat two cookies in one sitting, so that might’ve been the issue ūüėČ While they have all different flavors, I would recommend sticking to the classic chocolate chip.

The Halal Guys

These guys are open late, so this is the perfect late night snack/meal in NYC! If you’ve never been here, get the Combo¬†(chicken and beef gyro) with rice and cover it in white sauce and put some of the red sauce the side. I repeat, ON THE SIDE. That spicy red sauce is SUPER hot, so be careful about how much you put on! Personally I don’t like the chicken, so I just get the beef, but most people like getting both. There’s a number of locations in NYC but make sure you get the real deal! There are a bunch of imposters trying to capitalized off of The Halal Guys’ popularity, and the copycats just aren’t the same!

188 Bakery Cuchifritos

This is the second Anthony Bourdain-recommended place we went to because Gabe loves Anthony Bourdain. Cuchifritos offers up authentic Puerto Rican food out in the Bronx, and while it took us many subway rides to get here, I would say it was worth it! The monfongo here is pretty delicious, and the chicharrones de cerdo is SO good–moist, tender pork with crispy skin. I got the¬†chicharrones de pollo y tostones for my main meal and took bites off everyone else’s plate, and nothing tasted remotely terrible. You can’t really go wrong here, I think, but highly recommend the chicharrones de cerdo.

Russ & Daughters

This place makes the BEST latkes I’ve ever had, and that’s only the beginning of it. Their smoked salmon is absolutely delicious, and that together with a pair of fried eggs and latkes? Such a good breakfast. I highly recommend either the Lower Sunny Side plate or their smoked salmon on a bagel (The Classic). If you’re feeling fancier than just water, grab their cucumber soda! Drinking it really makes it feel like your biting into a cucumber, but in soda form…? ¬†Just get it, I promise you’ll like it!

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Sesame pancake sandwich with roasted duckGreat dumplings here, but the thing I liked the most here was the Sesame Pancake Sandwich with Peking Duck. I grew up eating sesame pancakes, so having this used a sandwich was nostalgic but also new and interesting to me since I’ve always eaten it plain. The sesame pancake is a little sweet, so it’s a nice contrast to the saltiness of the meat put in for the sandwich and the added cucumber gives a nice textural element. The dumplings here are good, but there are dumplings basically everywhere in NYC and these weren’t anything spectacular. Good but if you’re going to get one thing, get the sesame pancake sandwich (or just the sesame pancake plain if you just want a snack!).

Chinese Food Cart

I still think of this food cart months after leaving NYC. I’m not 100% sure the Yelp link is the proper location, but pretty sure.¬†This food cart was probably my favorite thing to eat in NYC because I love street food! The mouthwatering smells reel you starting from a block away, and all of the skewers are made to order. Around $1.25 per skewers, it’s a fun, inexpensive snack that’s great to have when you’re still feeling a little hungry after dinner.

JoJu

If you’re in Elmherst, this is a pretty delicious place to get a banh mi sandwich. They’re definitely into the food craze of putting fried eggs on everything, but I liked their #9 – the Joju (Vietnamese ham, head cheese, BBQ pork meatball, and pat√™) without the egg. Good toasty baguette and quality ingredients in make up the pretty tasty sandwich!

Ess-a-Bagel

Considered one of the best NY bagels in the city, and I wouldn’t disagree! I got an everything bagel with salmon schmear on my last morning in NYC and was pleased with my choice. Good chewy bagel and cream cheese filled with a good amount of smoked salmon. If you want to get your authentic NY bagel, get it here!