Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a friend to New York City for her first visit. We drove from Eastern Pennsylvania to the Newport PATH station, arriving around noon. Since this would be my friend’s first visit to the big apple after 12 years in the United States, I wanted to make it memorable. That would not mean taking her directly to Times Square. New York City has (sorry, Chicago!) the best pizza in the country and the most options for French macarons of any city I’ve been to outside of France. Since my friend is in the restaurant business, I thought a food tour would be the best way to show her my favorite city in the world.
In addition to never visiting New York City, my friend had also never been in an underground train. We parked at the the Newport mall in Jersey City and took the PATH train into Manhattan. Fifteen minutes later, we exited at Christopher Street. Why start in the West Village? Well, in addition to being the first PATH stop in Manhattan, Bleecker Street also boasts one of the best Neapolitan-style pizzerias in New York City (Keste) and is home to the critically acclaimed salted caramel macaron (at Bisous Ciao). We made a left out of the PATH station and then a right onto Bleecker Street. It took less than five minutes to get to Keste, where we shared a Regina Margherita. My friend loved the fresh tomatoes.
Less than a block (make a left out of Keste) away, the next stop on our food tour was Royce Chocolate. This was special because my friend spent years working for a Japanese company and had the opportunity to visit Japan on multiple occasions. She always said that Japanese chocolates were her favorite. Between their four locations in New York and New Jersey, I’ve visited dozens of times and have a routine. If I have none at home, I get one box of Champagne Pierre Mignon and one box of Au Lait. My friend did not ask for my advice this time and she bought a white chocolate bar as well as a box of Praline Truffles. One great thing about Royce is that they individually wrap everything you buy in a small bag with an ice pack, which is supposed to keep the chocolates cool for seven hours. When it’s over 80 degrees and sunny, this really comes in handy. Some flavors sell out early, but you don’t have to worry about making Royce your last stop since they will never melt with the ice pack.
Make another left out of Royce and in less than one block, you’ll arrive at Bisous Ciao. Their salted caramel macaron is my personal favorite. If someone were to ask me what is so great about French macarons, I would take them to Bisous Ciao and have them try their salted caramel. Along with their blood orange, salted caramel made Time Out’s list of the best macarons in NYC. Since my friend is Thai, she tried the Thai Tea, along with the sour cherry. Earlier this year, the Bleecker Street location started serving pastries and drinks and now offers seating.
After three stops in the West Village, it was time to head to my favorite neighborhood in NYC for food: the East Village. The W 4 St-Washington Square subway station is right around the corner from the 200 block of Bleecker Street. From there, you can either take the F train two stops towards Brooklyn and exit at 2 Av or take it one stop towards Queens and then take the L train towards Brooklyn, exiting at 1 Av.
If you make a right out of Luzzo’s and then make the next right at East 12th Street, you will arrive at Motorino. We stopped here for a Margherita, knowing this would be our last pizza for the day. Motorino plays the best (in my opinion) music of the three places we had pizza at. It was also the first place where I had Neapolitan-style pizza in NYC. As a 30-something, there’s something special about hearing 80s pop music in a small pizzeria. Songs that I don’t have in my iTunes library and never intend to have there sound better in a small pizzeria.
After Motorino, we got back on 1st Avenue and headed one block south to Veniero’s (on East 11th Street), which is my favorite pastry shop in Manhattan. As their sign says, they’ve been in business since 1894. There’s a reference to their cannoli in the film CBGB. I’ve been here dozens of times and have never been in and out in under 10 minutes. There’s always a line, but it’s worth the wait. My favorite is the camilia, but I usually get the blood orange delight as well. My friend opted for Tiramisu and a berry tart.
We got back on 1st Avenue and headed south for three blocks and turned left onto Saint Mark’s Place (8th Street). Halfway between 1st Avenue and Avenue A is Macaron Parlour (my favorite place for macarons). Both of their locations have seating, free water and a restroom. The macarons are as large as any I’ve seen in NYC and also cost less than the ones at Bisous Ciao or La Miason du Macaron.
Although nobody would consider $15 for a box of 6 macarons to be a bargain, you can take a class to find out what goes into them, how easy it is to get the shells wrong and just how much practice it takes to get good enough that you’re not throwing out more than you are able to sell. I took a class at Macaron Parlour’s East Village location in the summer of 2014 (taught by co-owner Christina Ha), which reinforced the respect I have for the art of macaron making.
No other place that sells macarons in NYC has as much of a down to earth feel as Macaron Parlour. Even their other location on the Upper West Side has the same kind of vibe. They have some unique flavors in addition to the standard ones. My friend and I each got a box of 6. I think that the absolute must-try flavors at Macaron Parlour are giggity, s’mores and party time, all three of which use chocolate. To complete my box of 6, I got caramel fleur de sel, lemon basil and rosemary olive oil. They have some rotating flavors as well. Depending on what they are, I sometimes get a box of 12. My friend also settled for a box of 6, although she prefers the more fruity flavors.
Our final stop in the East Village was Wafels & Dinges at Avenue B & East 2nd Street. I normally get a wafel with Nutella and spekuloos, but this time I replaced the Nutella with dulce de leche. My friend chose a wafel with ice cream, but seemed unsure of which flavor ice cream. I insisted she try the spekuloos flavor. We shared our two choices and I enjoyed both. She did as well. They sell their spekuloos spread by the jar and since I had none left at home, I got a jar to go.
We picked up the F train at 2 av and took it up to 23 st to try more macarons. La Maison du Macaron is conveniently located on West 23rd street near the F, M & Path lines. Their flavors change more frequently than either Bisous Ciao or Macaron Parlour. Like Macaron Parlour, they have a little café, (including a restroom) as well as some other pastries, including marzipan. I prefer to buy the Bergen marzipan that Veniero’s sells.
From La Maison du Macaron, you can walk 13 blocks north up either 6th or 7th Ave to Macaron Café (also between 6th & 7th Avenues). Although they have three locations in the greater midtown area and one in Tribecca, we chose the one on West 36th Street because it was the closest. Macaron Café has the most impressive array of flavors. What makes them unique is their seasonal options. Depending on the time of year, you can get pumpkin cinnamon, gingerbread or 4th of July. When I visit one of their locations, I get flavors I am unlikely to find elsewhere like chestnut, orange blossom, tahini sesame and crème brulee. Their coconut and Nutella macarons made the Time Out 2015 list of best macarons in NYC.
My friend is Thai and so far, I had only taken her to Belgian, French and Italian restaurants and cafes. Her only request for the day was to see Chinatown. I find Manhattan’s Chinatown to be too crowded, so after leaving Macaron Cafe, we walked to the 5 Av stop on the 7 train and boarded the train to Queens. This allowed her to take both an underground and elevated train. We exited the 7 train at 103 St-Corona Plaza and walked east to 108th Street and then 12 short blocks south to The Lemon Ice King of Corona. It’s not the most conveniently located place, but the variety of flavors and quality more than make up for it. They don’t mix flavors, so my friend and I tried a total of 5 different small cups at $1.50 each.
Our next destination was Flushing (my favorite of the 3 largest Chinatowns in NYC). From The Lemon Ice King of Corona, you can walk east to 111th Street and then head north to the 111 st stop on the 7 train. This will put you only two stops away from the Flushing Main St station. Knowing the area, I decided to show my friend a trick. The Q58 bus stops right outside The Lemon Ice King of Corona. It’s about a 20 minute ride to Main Street in Flushing and I wanted her to experience a city bus as well. We were also tired from all of the walking. The Q58 bus takes I-495 (Long Island Expressway) through Flushing Meadows Corona Park and then along College Point Blvd. The subway lines do not run along these roads.
After arriving at the corner of 41st Road and Main Street in Flushing, my friend commented on how it looked like Bangkok. I spent a week in Bangkok back in 2013 and have visited other Thai cities since then. Her observation made sense to me. The only obvious difference would be Chinese and Korean characters in place of the Thai script. Although there are plenty of restaurants in Flushing, we chose to eat in the food court on the bottom floor of the New World Mall. I know to some, the idea of eating dinner in a mall food court may not seem like the best culinary experience in the best foodie city in America, but at the end of the tour, we both agreed that our side trip to Queens may have been the highlight of the day. One of my best dining memories in Asia was eating at the hawker stalls in Singapore. This was very similar in terms of the food options. It took around five minutes to find a seat. We settled on Tea Twitter, which also has a stand at the Queens International Night Market. We had both eaten way too much to fit a full meal, so I got the salt & pepper chicken, she got the basil chicken and we shared. This cost us a total of just over $10. We almost finished our two plates and then took the short walk back to the train station.
Since my friend had the chance to ride the subway both underground (in Manhattan) and elevated (in Queens), I decided it would be nice for her to ride a nicer (regional) train. We took the Long Island Railroad back to Penn Station. The trains run between Flushing and Penn Station every 30 minutes on weekends and take less than 20 minutes. The train cars are nicer and there are only two stops between the two. We had a few minutes to wait on the platform, which gave me the chance to take some nice photos. Once inside the train, we were talking so much about what a great day it was, that before we knew it, we were at Penn Station. Taking this route back to Manhattan allowed my friend to see two NYC icons that she would not have seen otherwise: Penn Station and the Empire State Building (lit up at night). After taking a few more pictures, we boarded the (very crowded) PATH train back to Newport.
In total, we visited 3 pizzerias, 5 cafes (4 for macarons, 1 for Belgian wafels), an Italian Ice stand and an Asian food court. That’s more than 10 places where at least one of us ate something. The funny thing was that we ate small portions at each place and neither of us felt sick, stuffed or whatever you may call it. We felt satisfied with both the sights we saw and the food we ate.