The Locals’ Favorite Places in New York

AFAR Ambassador, Charissa Fay, knows New York City. A local for over twenty years, she describes the city as, “A place of extremes—an overload of diversity, energy, color, sights, sounds, smells, ideas, hopes and dreams.” Here are some of her recommendations to feel alive and inspired in New York City.

2245 Broadway, New York, NY 10024, USA
Every New Yorker knows Zabar’s, an Upper West Side institution. The specialty food market was founded in the 1930s by Louis and Lillian Zabar; today’s store is nearly a block long and serves 35,000 customers weekly. Bagels, lox, smoked fish, gourmet cheese, bread, global coffees, knishes, chocolate rugalach, spreads and pates, seafood salads, prepared foods—it’s a true New York historical food experience with much more personality than newer upscale gourmet shops such as Dean & Deluca or Whole Foods. Grab a bagel, lox, and coffee to go, then walk two blocks west to a bench in Riverside Park for a picnic overlooking the Hudson River.
Baxter St, New York, NY 10013, USA
Flee the crowds in central Chinatown for an authentic and inexpensive Vietnamese or Thai meal on Baxter Street, which is lined with several eateries. Here on this quiet side street, no-frill restaurants are filled with locals enjoying flavorful “pho” beef noodle soup, summer rolls, barbecued pork and other specialties. The smell of mint, basil, and jasmine rice hits your senses when you walk in the door. Not much to say about the decor, but service is quick and a huge bowl of steaming pho noodle soup averages $6 or $7. Restaurants include Nha Trang One, Thai Son and Pho Pasteur. If you are looking for “xiao long bao” or savory “soup dumplings”, try Joe’s Ginger on nearby 25 Pell Street.
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art—or, commonly, the Met—is one of the world’s great museums, alongside the Louvre, the British Museum, and a handful of others. It would be easy to devote an entire week’s visit to the museum alone, and realistically you probably won’t get far beyond a few exhibitions and galleries at one shot. The Costume Institute’s temporary shows are always popular, while others will (like the museum itself) focus on a range of regions and periods—at any one time there may be temporary exhibitions on an Italian Renaissance painter, miniatures from Mughal India, and Polynesian carvings. The Temple of Dendur, a roughly 43' x 21' x 16' temple that dates to around 15 B.C.E. and was given by the government of Egypt to the United States in 1967, is one of the museum’s most photographed (and Instagrammed) works. The 34 period rooms, including a 12th-century cloister, English parlor and a Shaker “retiring” room, are among the museum’s other highlights. On summer evenings, site-specific installations make the rooftop terrace is a favorite place for drinks. The general admission of $25 for adults, $12 for students, and $17 for seniors is a suggested one for New York residents, as well as students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Whatever you pay also includes same-day entry to The Met Cloisters.
56 Beaver Street
Delmonico’s, which sits on a distinctive triangle-shaped corner near Wall Street, opened in 1837 as the first fine dining restaurant in the U.S. It was the first establishment to have a printed menu, separate tables, and tablecloths, and it was the first restaurant that allowed women to congregate as a group. It has invented famous classics such as Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska and Lobster Newburg. Entering from the streets of the financial district, you step into a different era. This is serious old-school dining in a landmark steakhouse. Mahogany coffered walls, fancy chandeliers and roaring 20’s-era murals seem to scream for a cold martini and a rare steak. Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller - they all passed through here in their time. It’s pricey, so save this for a special occasion and find a quiet time to visit. 56 Beaver Street
1 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
New Leaf Restaurant & Bar is an upscale eatery located in NYC’s Fort Tryon Park. Perched on one of the highest points in Manhattan, the 67-acre park features pristine views over the Hudson River. New Leaf is a wonderful dining option if you are visiting the park or its crown jewel, The Cloisters, the world-famous museum devoted to medieval art and architecture. The restaurant is housed in what was formerly a food concession facility from the 1930s. A renovation in 2001 enhanced the natural beauty of the cottage’s cobblestone exterior, 18-foot high ceilings and shaded outdoor patio. The food is fresh, seasonal and modern American cuisine - a top-notch Ceasar salad, plus Maryland crab cakes, hickory bacon wrapped pork tenderloin, ricotta ravioli and more. The non-profit restaurant benefits the New York Restoration Project - all proceeds support a cleaner, greener New York City. So feel good while eating well!
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
The Cloisters, a museum devoted to medieval art and architecture, is a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This tranquil treasure is definitely worth a half day (or more) trip on your next visit. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters opened in 1938 and is located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Perched on a towering cliff, the museum offers commanding views over the Hudson River to New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge. The buildings include elements from medieval sites from Europe (primarily France) and renowned artwork includes the Unicorn Tapestries and the Annunciation Triptych, but the heart of the museum is the cloistered garden. This lush space consists of an interior courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. The flowering garden within invites contemplation and appreciation of a different time. The Cloisters includes a broad terrace with expansive views across the Hudson. The view is so prized that in 1901, J.P. Morgan purchased 12 miles of the New Jersey coastline to protect it from excessive quarrying and in 1933 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 additional acres of NJ to preserve The Cloisters’ view. Be sure to include time in your visit to explore beautiful Fort Tryon Park.
271 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014, USA
I have eaten a lot of pizza in my time, but Kesté is different. It’s been been firing up serious, foodie-level delicious pizza on Bleecker Street since 2009. Owner Roberto Caporuscio was born and raised outside Naples, Italy, where he studied the art of pizza making with the masters. His pizzeria has won accolades from national food critics, as well as pizza lovers. The 950-degree oven turns out perfectly-cooked pizzas—with bubbling, chewy, slightly burned crusts—in less than two minutes. The wide-ranging menu covers traditional pizzas, gluten-free options, panini (lunch only), and creative pies, including: Pistacchio e Salsiccia (pistachio pesto, sausage, pecorino romano, homemade buffalo mozzarella, basil); Pizza del Papa (butternut squash cream, red and yellow peppers, zucchini, imported smoked buffalo mozzarella); and Sorrentina (imported smoked buffalo mozzarella, sliced lemons, basil). My favorite is Salciccia e Friarielli (broccoli rabe and sausage with imported smoked mozzarella). The slight bitterness of the greens, the hearty sausage, and the smoky, creamy cheese on their trademark crust smells, looks, and tastes heavenly.
210 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011, USA
For much of its history, the western edges of Manhattan neighborhoods like the West Village and Chelsea consisted of small manufacturing buildings and warehouses that served the piers on the Hudson River. Over time, those factories were replaced with residential developments, and shipping largely moved out to Brooklyn and New Jersey. What remained, however, was an abandoned light-rail line, located above street level. After 10 years of lobbying the city, state, and federal governments, the first section of the High Line park opened in 2009. It now extends for 1.45 miles, from Gansevoort Street in the south to 34th Street at its other end. An innovative design by James Corner Field Operations uses native species to preserve some of the feeling the old rail line had when it was overgrown with weeds. It has quickly become one of New York’s most popular attractions, both with residents and visitors who stroll the length of it, as well as a model for other cities attempting to find new uses for old infrastructure.
476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018, USA
The main branch of the New York Public Library is one of the country’s grandest Beaux Arts buildings, a temple to learning on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. At the end of the 19th century, John Bigelow, who oversaw the Tilden Trust, decided that as New York was becoming a global financial capital, it required a grand public library. When the Astor and Lenox libraries faced financial difficulties, he convinced them to merge and, with the Tilden Trust, underwrite the library that now stands next to Bryant Park. The firm of Carrère and Hastings was entrusted with the design, and construction began in 1902 on the building that would be the largest marble structure built up to that time in the United States. The elegant main reading room with its soaring carved-wood ceilings is the highlight of its interiors. The library hosts temporary exhibitions related to literary and cultural topics that draw on its extensive collection of books and other printed materials. The two beloved lions in Tennessee marble—Patience and Fortitude—have stood at the entrance to the library since it opened in 1911 and were created by sculptor Edward Clark Potter.
57 Stone St, New York, NY 10004, USA
Vintry is a small, cozy bar and restaurant in lower Manhattan. It provides a welcome counterpoint to the larger gathering spaces in the Wall Street area - it has the vibe of a discreet speak-easy. Vintry specializes in artisan producers of whisky and wine - they have carefully selected an interesting group of handcrafted libations. There are 80 wines from France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. available in a “tasting” size, glass or bottle, plus hundreds of other wines by the bottle. There are also 100 whiskeys. Vintry’s specialties are cocktails from the house mixologist featuring homemade bitters and syrups. I don’t consider myself a whiskey drinker, but I absolutely loved the Gingerade, a shaken cocktail made with 13 Jameson black barrel Irish whiskey, fresh ginger extract, fresh squeezed lemon juice, fresh lime, Peychaud’s bitter, cane solution and ginger ale. It was ice cold, crisp, slightly sweet with a subtle twist of ginger and lime. DELICIOUS. This warm, dark, welcoming bar is easily the type of place where you can pass a good amount of time before realizing it. Vintry also has nicely prepared food - along the lines of veal meatballs and lamb ragu - to accompany its wine and whiskey list.
377 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024, USA
If you need a sugar fix after hours in Central Park or the Museum of Natural History with the kids, try Sugar & Plumm, a sweets store and bistro on the Upper West Side. Outside, the store beckons with its sweet colors and whimsical decor. Inside, it is a high-end mash up of Willy Wonka, Candyland and Dylan’s Candy Bar. Here you will find a varied choice of desserts, all of which are guaranteed to entice kids (and adults with a sweet tooth) - homemade French macarons, cookies, cakes, all-natural chocolates, ice cream, smoothies, sundaes and sorbets all made daily. There is a sit-down bistro, but your best bet is to buy something at the takeout counter and take a leisurely walk in the neighborhood - better for your wallet and your waistline! Sugar & Plumm’s flagship store is located on Amsterdam Avenue, with a smaller store on Bleeker Street in the Village. 377 Amsterdam Avenue (at 78th Street) 257 Bleecker Street
31 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA
It is really hard to walk past a cute bakery like Ovenly without going in. Pretty decor plus shelves and glass jars filled with homemade treats just catch my curiosity everytime. Plus, there is something very comforting about biting into a scone with a just-right crust or a gooey cookie with a hint of salty and sweet. So imagine my delight when I discovered Ovenly, on a quiet, industrial street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I tried a Cheddar Mustard Scone baked with locally-made wholegrain mustard and sharp cheddar, a Chocolate Truffle Cookie enhanced with sea salt, and Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. Next time I’ll be sure to try the Apricot Thyme Scone, Black Caraway Bread, and Spicy Bacon Caramel Popcorn, which sounds so wrong it must be right. Ovenly was just named Best New Bakery by Time Out New York. Owner/bakers Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin are young Brooklynites who infuse their treats with traditions from their Eastern European backgrounds. Grab some pastries, then stroll around the other independently owned boutiques and cafes in downtown Greenpoint.
103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002, USA
These days, wandering the Lower East Side (the area between the Bowery and the East River, with Houston Street marking its northern border and Canal Street its southern one), it can feel impossible to recall that this neighborhood was once among the city’s most overcrowded, teeming with immigrants. Its streets were filled with Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks, and other Europeans newly arrived in the United States, including a significant Jewish population. Today, boutiques and bars cater to gentrifiers, much of the population is Puerto Rican or Dominican, and the few traces of that earlier era are hard to find—the facades of Yiddish theaters and synagogues that have long since closed. The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street is dedicated to assuring that period of the city’s past is not lost forever. On each floor of the restored tenement building, the lives of some of its former occupants are brought to life, from the German saloon owners on the first floor to the Jewish immigrants who occupied the top one. Docents in character and costume help to make the stories of those immigrants personal. The museum also organizes walking tours of the Lower East Side and offers talks on the district’s history.
54 Pearl Street
Want to eat where a historic event of the American Revolution took place? Try Fraunces Tavern in downtown New York City. After defeating the British, it was here that George Washington gathered his officers for a farewell speech before heading back to his family home, Mount Vernon. Built by a French merchant family in 1719, Samuel Fraunces bought the building in 1762 and opened a tavern. The museum today includes four 19th century buildings, in addition to the original 18th century house. Fraunces Tavern is now a restaurant and museum devoted to pre-Revolution and American Revolution history. It is also an official NYC Landmark. Go to experience a unique piece of history, then enjoy a hearty meal or a single malt in the tavern or one of the newer buildings (above). 54 Pearl Street
2 E 55th St, New York, NY 10022, USA
The King Cole Bar is about as legendary as any bar in New York. Located in the St. Regis Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, it has been the place to go for a cocktail since it opened in 1932—Salvador Dalí, John Lennon, and Marilyn Monroe are just a few from a long list of famous names who have dropped in for a drink. The bar sits off the St. Regis New York’s lobby and is presided over by the famous King Cole mural painted by Maxfield Parrish, with John Jacob Astor IV playing the part of the king, jesters to each side of him. Today it is still the ultimate setting to start a celebratory evening, or end one with a nightcap; it cemented its place on most lists of New York’s top bars with an extensive renovation in 2013. While the bartenders can prepare anything you might be in the mood for, you may want to order a Bloody Mary. The King Cole Bar boasts that it was the first spot where the drink (then known as a Red Snapper) was served in the United States (a claim, it should be noted, that is disputed by some other bars).
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