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Omnivore - A traveler's dining guide to New York City restaurants

Heading to New York? Give these restaurants a whirl.

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Any food lover planning a trip to New York City faces the same dilemma: How do you cram in as much amazing food as possible in just a few days? On any given day in New York there's likely to be a slew of hot pop-ups, hard-to-get-items with crazy long lines (like chef David Chang's recent shrimp stack burger at Shake Shack), and newly opened eateries dripping with hype. It's enough to make your head spin and your stomach growl.

Should you shoot for the new, trendy restaurants in town or hit up the old-school classics? Should you stay in your "neighborhood," or trek to the outer boroughs? There is no clear-cut answer. I've found even the most meticulously planned New York eating itineraries are hard-wired to go astray.

After my annual spring visit, I suggest making reservations at dinnertime (hard-to-get reservations can even be purchased last-minute) and choosing one location for lunch per day. Since it's New York, and many establishments have multiple locations, you may later find you are close to a place a little further down on your wish list that may not have made the initial cut. For me, Yelp's "nearby" feature was invaluable for this purpose. For instance, when I went to have lunch at Parm, I discovered Black Seed Bagel was a only short walk away.

No matter how you slice it, deciding where to eat in New York can be a daunting task. Great food is everywhere. I say charge up your MetroCard and just go with it. Here's where I went. (You can check out a full photo gallery of my NYC eating adventures below.)

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SWEET AND BREADY TREATS

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  • Jennifer Zyman
  • Levain Bakery storefront (clockwise from top left), Kouign-amann from Dominique Ansel, Cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar, and Lady M's crepe cake



Dominique Ansel
This bakery and lunch spot is known for creating cronut mania. However, my favorite thing to eat here is the Kouign-amann. These are like a palmier and a croissant in one pastry. Flaky and crusty with an almost candied like sugar crust. Maybe next time I will try that chocolate chip cookie formed into a cup and filled with cold milk or the magic soufflé, a newer creation. 189 Spring St. (b/t Thompson St. & Sullivan St. in South Village). 212-219-2773. www.dominiqueansel.com.

Levain Bakery
Levain's mammoth cookies are churned out of the oven all day as people from everywhere - locals and tourists - join the long (but fast-moving) line to grab one or a dozen. I consider these one of my favorite cookies in New York and maybe the world? The huge cookies are the best of both ends of the cookie spectrum: a crisp cookie exterior and gooey like uncooked cookie dough inside. They freeze well so don't be afraid to stock up for the journey home. 167 W 74th St. (b/t Columbus Ave. & Amsterdam Ave. in Upper West Side). 212-874-6080. www.levainbakery.com.

Momofuku Milk Bar
This postage-sized outpost of Momofuku Milk Bar on The Upper West Side sells its famous cookies, cereal milk, slices of pie, and other bites. Sadly, most of everything we tried was overpriced and cloying - especially the famed crack pie. I'd chock this up to overrated and classify it as a skip. 561 Columbus Ave. New York (b/t 88th St. & 87th St. in Upper West Side) and 5 other locations. 347-577-9504. www.milkbarstore.com.

Maison Kayser
Paris-based Maison Kayser continues to expand aggressively all over Manhattan, including its newish location right at Columbus Circle. My favorites here include any of the crusty breads or breakfast pastries like the brioche encrusted with opaque chunks of sugar. You can also eat a light lunch here if you are craving soup, salad, sandwich or a composed plate like spring lamb stew. 1800 Broadway (b/t Columbus Cir. & 58th St. in Midtown West) and 4 other locations. 212-245-4100. www.maisonkayserusa.com.

Black Seed Bagel
This Montreal style bagel shop has become one of the hottest bagel spots in Manhattan. Fans credit the hand-formed, wood-fired bagels with the bagel's popularity. They are smaller than average with a nice amount of chew. 170 Elizabeth St. (b/t Spring St. & Kenmare St. in Nolita). 212-730-1950. www.blackseedbagels.com

Francois Payard Patisserie
While you are on the Upper East Side, stop by Francois Payard Patisserie (across the street from J.G. Melon). While people hail the macaron at Laduree as tops, I think Payard is the best because of its superior texture. The desserts are also among my favorite in Manhattan with the salted caramel tart and passion fruit filled eclair being must orders. There's also a little seating if you'd like to stay for tea or a coffee. 1293 3rd Ave. (b/t 75th St. & 74th St. in Yorkville, Upper East Side) and 4 other locations. 212-717-5252. www.payard.com.

FOOD COURTS

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Chelsea Market
One of my more memorable lunchtime experiences was a couple of hours spent at Chelsea Market. It has really grown up since I last went. Yes, there are also tons of tourists and it is crowded, but I feel it just adds even more energy to this consortium of food creatives. The renovated retail space, which was done by the same people behind Ponce City Market, feels untouched, but still transformed. Raw bricks, a weird water fixture people flock to like moths, and the neon lights. It feels timeless and timely if that makes any sense. One of my favorite things at the Market was a gingered brisket sandwich from Num Pang Sandwich Shop. I still find myself craving that crusty bun stuffed with tender brisket and pickled vegetables. It reminded me of the sandwiches at the old Pangaea on Huff Road. Chelsea has everything. There are slices of old fashioned chocolate cake at Amy's, whole cracked lobsters and oysters on the half shell at The Lobster Place, small fried doughnuts dipped in sugars of your choice at the Doughnuttery, sandwiches in the back of Bowery Kitchen Supplies, and strawberry gelato from L'Arte de Gelato.

Los Tacos No. 1 uses a real trompo (a vertical spit for roasting meat). The al pastor tacos, which are generally hard to find anywhere outside of Mexico City where al pastor is at its best, are fantastic. Leave it to my father, the taco obsessed Mexican, to find this one. And they make their own tortillas too. The flavor of the al pastor and the tortilla is spot on. Ask for it with nothing, but pineapple, onion, and cilantro. The sauces are good, but this is best enjoyed pure. There's a new ramen place across the hall from Los Tacos No. 1 that looks promising. 75 9th Ave. (b/t Avenue Of The Americas & 5th Ave. in Chelsea, Meatpacking District). 212-652-2110. www.chelseamarket.com.

The Plaza Food Hall
The basement of the famed Plaza Hotel has morphed into a culinary wonderland that feels like it could easily be plopped into Harrod's in London. Chef Todd English has a section with a sit down restaurant and a small retail component. There are plenty of sweets including renowned Paris chocolatier Maison du Chocolat, another location of Francois Payard Patisserie, and Lady M. Lady M seems to specialize in one thing: a cake made of crepes stacked and layered with whipped cream then bruleed. It comes in chocolate and green tea flavors, as well.

We were on the go for lunch that day, so I grabbed a lobster roll from Luke's Lobster. There is a Luke's Lobster on the Upper West Side too, but I was already here so why not? Shrimp rolls. Crab rolls. Lobster rolls. Enough said. A top-sliced bun is buttered, toasted, and spread with a thin layer of mayo then stuffed with tons of fresh Maine lobster meat drizzled with herbed butter. It was amazing. What's more, it held up for 15 minutes as I walked home with a couple of them bouncing around in the bag. That's one well built sandwich. 1 W 59th St. (Midtown West). 212-546-5499. www.theplazany.com/dining/foodhall.

LUNCH WORTHY*
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  • Keste Pizzeria another day for Neapolitan style pizza (clockwise from top left), pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli, Italian Combo sandwich at Parm, and a cheeseburger and with cottage fries at J.G. Melon



Keste Pizza & Vino
We went to Keste Pizzeria another day for Neapolitan style pizza as it is considered one of the best in NYC. There was an odd travel group in there getting what we figured was a New York food tour group because we kept running into them as we ducked in and out of all of the nearby West Village stores like Murray's Cheese, Faccio's and Pasticceria Rocco that sells the Italian cookies by the pound. The pizza menu here is extensive with a full page for red pies and another for white. There are also wood-fired calzones brushed with tomato sauce, which I found to be better than the excellent pizza margherita with a flavorful crisp crust and good chewy cheese. 271 Bleecker St. (b/t Jones St. & Morton St. in West Village). 212-243-1500. www.kestepizzeria.com.

Carnegie Deli
When you want a pastrami sandwich and some matzoh ball soup minus the trek to the Lower East Side to Katz's, Carnegie Deli is a good alternative. I remember coming here when I was a kid and being in awe of the place. I'm still in awe of the matzoh ball soup. I've been to a lot of Seders in my day and few matzoh balls are as creamy and comforting as this one. And they are enormous just like the sandwiches. This is the "simple" pastrami sandwich. And that is nothing. When you walk through, look at the other tables. They are some serious crazy sandwiches here. 854 7th Ave. (b/t 55th St. & 54th St. in Midtown West). 212-757-2245. www.carnegiedeli.com.

Parm
I've been on a sandwich tear here at home and it spilled over into my vacation. It's primarily an Italian sub and hero sandwich tear. After doing some research, I found the Italian combo at Parm, which is owned by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick who are also partners in star restaurants Torrisi, Carbone, and ZZ's Clam Bar, rated well among the experts at Serious Eats. The interior feels like an old school New York Italian lunch spot. Baked clams, chicken parm subs, fried cheese, and excellent service. The logical thing would be to go for the parm sandwich, but I came here with a purpose. I wanted the Italian Combo, which is a soft semolina roll packed full of thinly sliced ham, mortadella, provolone. The heaviness was lightened by the puckery pickled deli peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes. The fillings then get a healthy dose of homemade vinaigrette. It comes with nothing because you will not finish it. It is that large and that amazing. You won't look up until you can't take another bite. 248 Mulberry St. (b/t Spring St. & Prince St. in Nolita). 212-993-7189. www.parmnyc.com.

J.G. Melon
A visit to Upper East Side mainstay J.G. Melon served up backyard style cheeseburgers and thick-cut handmade cottage fries. The burger is as good as your mom would make, but the old-school vibe of the place, which has allegedly changed little since it opened 1972, ups the cool factor if you want a taste of old New York. (1291 3rd Ave b/t 74th St. & 75th St. in Yorkville, Upper East Side). 212 744-0585. Cash only.

Ippudo
Ramen is always top of mind when you are in New York because there is so much good soup here. I can't visit the city without going to Ippudo on West 51st Street as it's my favorite. From the joyful shouting welcoming you when you arrive to the preciseness of the tonkotsu ramen broth, the spirals of pork belly, the slippery straight white noodles, and the pickled odds and ends. I adore everything about this ramen place and it's kid-friendly too. 321 W 51st St. (b/t 9th Ave. & 8th Ave. in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown West, Theater District) and one other location. 212-974-2500. www.ippudony.com.

Totto Ramen
Totto is practically across the street from Ippudo and the waits can be equally as long unless you get there right when they open for lunch. Here, there are two types of broth: chicken or pork (broth and meat). If you order the spicy ramen you get a dish of chili in oil to mix into your broth. This is more of a smoky burn, not the more tangy spice heats you find in spicy ramen broths. It is good and I prefer the more crinkly style of noodle here, but, given the choice, Ippudo's cooking has a certain elegance Totto lacks. 366 W 52nd St. (b/t 9th Ave. & 8th Ave. in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown West, Theater District). 212-582-0052. www.tottoramen.com.

DINNERTIME

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Morandi
The noise level inside of this West Village Italian restaurant is horrific if you'd like to actually hear your dining companions, but the food is worth it and you can always sit outside although there is little in terms of scenery. Morandi focuses on seasonality and exercises a deft hand with salads and pastas. Some favorites include a sweet spring snap pea salad, a homemade pasta with lamb sausage and pea shoot, fried artichoke hearts, spaghetti with sardines and tomato, and a sinful cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and cracked black pepper). Desserts are also not to be missed. 211 Waverly Place (b/t Charles St. & 10th St. in West Village). 212-627-7575. www.morandiny.com.

Carbone
Carbone is where one goes when they want to feel a little like the Sopranos. Big tables of families who are lucky enough to snag a reservation at this Major Food Group joint revel in well-made New York style Italian dishes. Standouts include the baked clams (with lardo, yum), rigatoni with vodka sauce, any of the veal dishes, and the pasta with uni. Service feels a bit rushed and, on this visit (my second), I found it a little less magical as a result. We haven't broken up...yet. 181 Thompson St. (b/t Houston St. & Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village), 212-254-3000. www.carbonenewyork.com.

Takashi
My favorite meal of the trip, possibly the year, was at Takashi. This is a yakitori style Japanese restaurant with Korean influences that specializes in offal meats and more unusual ingredients like natto (fermented soybeans). There are many different small plates worth getting. A favorite was this uni served on top of raw beef and a beef tendon casserole. The meat list is extensive and awesomely weird. Like 3 types of stomach weird. Let the excellent servers guide you and make a reservation because this place is very popular right now. 456 Hudson St. (b/t Morton St & Barrow St. in West Village). 212-414-2929. www.takashinyc.com.

Bar Boulud
On a more lazy night, we went to nearby to Bar Boulud at Lincoln Center. Since opening, this charcuterie centric Lyonnaise restaurant has mantained its staying power. Look for boudin, rabbit, escargot, cod made to look like chunks of crabmeat over a farrotto, and more. The wines are also excellent here. If you can't get in (reservations are normally easy to get), go next door to the Epicerie Boulud for oysters and a glass of champagne. 1900 Broadway at 64th St. (Upper West Side). 212-595-0303. www.danielnyc.com/barboulud.html.

Kura
This newcomer sushi restaurant run by a young guy and an older chef out of Japan. The sushi omakase (there are three levels) is nothing short of fantastic. The rice is creamy, impeccable and the fish very fresh. While it may be a shock to food safety folks, the chef keeps the fish at room temperature covered by a chilled towel during service. It really makes a difference in the flavor of each cut. They also have a cooked omakase with three levels as well. 130 St Mark's Place (b/t Avenue A & 1st Ave. in East Village, Alphabet City). 212-228-1010.