Where do I take another native NYer to impress them?
Born & Raised
Hey there. I don’t personally know the born-and-raised New Yorker you’re trying to impress, which parts of the city they’re already familiar with, or what it might take to melt their tiny, 917-area-coded heart.
“Impressive” is one of those subjective words I use all the time, and I propose we eradicate it from our vocabularies on account of being nonsense. For example, I know someone who finds shrimp cocktails endlessly impressive because she’s enamored with the union of shellfish and sundae cups - surely not everyone else feels that way, right? Yes, I admit that someone is me.
So, to answer your question, I wrote about one restaurant in every borough unlike anything else in this city, as well as one recently-opened special occasion spot where you can have a big blow-out meal if that’s your speed. These are the sorts of eating experiences that’ll work as source material for a story you tell at a party five years from now.
Aside from the fine dining option, these restaurants will cost you anywhere from $5 to $40 per person. Anyone who tells you that you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a meal to blow someone’s mind is simply lying to you, and you should tell them to please go away. In any case, native New Yorkers have enough savvy to detect this-only-feels-nice-because-it’s-expensive bullsh*t.
And if you or your eating companion have already dined all five of these restaurants, I’d suggest trying a great new spot that opened within the past year. Also, send me an email that says, “Hey Hannah I’ve been to all of these places before, what else do ya got?” and I’ll buy you a round of tequila shots. Cheers.
Any New Yorker who regularly swallows gluten in this city already has their own opinion about who makes the best bagels. That’s fine. But how many of the city’s excellent bagels are sold through a tiny window next to the above-ground 6 train? The answer is just one. Empire Bagels on Westchester Avenue in Pelham Bay makes massive, buoyant bagels with a shiny caramelized exterior and an extra fluffy inside. These things are puffier than the average New York City bagel, and we like to eat them with a slather of light scallion cream cheese for around $2.25 a pop. Empire Bagels is open from 5am to noon every day, and they only serve bagels, cream cheese, lox, coffee, juice, and a few pastries. Come early - if you show up later than 11am, they might be out of everything bagels (the superior variety, of course).
This Korean restaurant in Murray Hill, Queens specializes in sushi, which you’ll see immediately evidenced by tables covered in banchan and platters of red snapper, live eel, and dual-compartment dipping platters dedicated to soy and hot sauce. They offer an $80 sushi and sashimi dinner for two people, which includes more seafood than I’ve ever personally encountered in one meal. The first two rounds come with everything from steaming bowls of congee and eomukguk, to bibim guksu you’re going to want to eat all of despite the fact that there’s way more food coming. The headliner of the meal is a massive platter of sushi and sashimi studded with tuna, red snapper, salmon, eel nigiri, and yellowtail. You can order a la carte at Jeju Island, but I wholeheartedly suggest having a $40 per-person feast instead. PS, If you’re coming from somewhere near an LIRR stop, get yourself onto the Port Washington line and take it to Murray Hill stop. It’s quicker than the 7 train, and Jeju is located right across the street from the station.
There’s a place in Kips Bay where moderation is as extinct as woolly mammoths and Myspace. A place where you can sit in a mural-painted room under a thatched roof, and stare at a plastic frog in a wishing well until you’ve consumed as much gulab jamun and silky masala chai as you can fit in your body. It’s called Vatan, an amazing Gujarati-style prix-fixe restaurant where you pay $39 for three vegetarian courses, and unlimited refills. As is popular in Gujarat and other Northern Indian states, each course comes on a big metal thali with eight to ten different dishes in their own compartments. After you finish your thali, a server will ask if you want more of anything before the next course. It’s essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet in a room that looks like the set of a Tony-nominated play. I always get seconds of sev puri, ragda patis, and chole.
Abu’s Homestyle Bakery in Bed-Stuy is famous for their navy bean pie. If you’re new to the navy bean pie world (like I was before I knew about Abu’s), the bean pie is considered the only Black-American Muslim food in existence, and Abu’s Homestyle Bakery is one of the few places in the city that sells them. In addition to bean pie, Abu’s also sells sweet potato pie, pecan pie, or a coconut custard pie, as well as a ton of sweet merch to buy in case you can convince your fellow native New Yorker to get a shirt for you.
Lee’s Tavern is frozen in an era without cell phone reception or the team known as the New York Metropolitans. It’s a 1940s-founded sports bar on Staten Island where every table features at least one pitcher of light beer and a couple of cracker-thin crust pizza oozing onto paper plates. The pies here are some of our favorite in the Staten-Island style, with slightly charred bottoms and crust bubbles you could break with a single little tap. I always order their clam pie. Even if you were raised to think that molluscs and cheese don’t belong together, Lee’s Tavern’s clam pie is proof that food rules are mostly stupid. The mild, low-moisture cheese, fresh hunks of garlic, and briny clams work so well together that they should form an LLC.
A Fine Dining Spot Doing Something Different
If you’re looking for a restaurant that nails fine dining food without making their diners feel like they’re either in a country club or a post-apocalyptic Bezos spaceship, I’d recommend checking out Fradei in Fort Greene. It opened in 2020, and many people still don’t know this $90 tasting-menu restaurant exists yet. You won’t know what’s on the menu until the dishes arrive at your table (although the food generally skews French and Italian, with an emphasis on seasonal produce). Eating here feels as unpredictable as a surprise party or an Escape Room without the elevated heart rate and couples fighting. You might get steak tartare with togarashi or broiled cucumbers blanketed in a delicate sheet of lard, or neither of those things. For anyone trying to get someone to fall in love with them in a tiny, candlelit room in Fort Greene, Fradei will work wonders.