Insider’s Dining Guide to New York: 2021

The Grand Central Oyster Bar

by Matthew Crawley and Martin A. Feldman

Start your day bright and early at the unassuming Cafe Pizarro, in the heart of Manhattan’s bustling Midtown. Husband-and-wife team Diablo and Bruja Muerte Anunciada have been serving up coffee drinks brewed the old-fashioned way since 1974, using an ancient Inca technique to clean and prep their beans just so. Penn Station, Mezzanine Level, Comfort Station 4, Stalls 7 and 8. Insider Tip: If Dee and Bru are non-responsive, go to Stall 1, where the friendly Frankie “Candy Man” Roosevelt is usually eager to help out, and is a good source of information about other nearby attractions.

For a more substantial breakfast, head over to Pier 13 3/4, where fresh-caught Hudson River fish, a local variant of bass that has adapted over the last two centuries to thrive in mercury-rich environments, is lovingly grilled over an open flame in a Department of Sanitation-provided metal camp stove. Regulars prefer to wash it down with a generous swig from the communal “Irish Rose” whiskey bottle, but feel free to bring your own nip bottles (Uncle Vanya vodka works well with this) or your favorite 40-ouncer of malt liquor, but be prepared to share! Pier 13 3/4, just beyond the Gotham Wreckage & Tow Lot.

Busy New Yorkers on the go like to nip into small, independently owned corner groceries called “bodegas” for quick, grab ’n go breakfast sandwiches. At Sunshine Happiness Market & Spa (222-06 Flushing Avenue, Flushing, Queens) you can get a 20-minute full-body massage while one of the friendly hostesses prepares your pork buns. No time? Duck into La Joya del Barrio (678 East 102nd St.) where pre-made fried eggs are served on cranberry-chocolate chip-poppyseed-sea salt bagels with a generous helping of warm mayonnaise, in less time than it takes to ask “¿Donde está el baño?” Insider Tip: They don’t have one, so use the alley on the north side of the building, like everyone else. At Little Edie’s (445 Lexington Avenue) the American cheese blocks are lightly dusted with fur from resident bodega cats Smoofy, Whiskers, Lillibet, Framke Janssen, Bob, and three to four dozen others, depending on the season, and served on thin slices of seeded white bread and topped with a salmon- and flaked-fish fancy classic spread. Another good option is Top o’ the Mornin’ (45 Pat Moynihan Way, off West 45th St., downstairs) where no food is served before 4 pm but the Guinness taps start to flow at 4 am, and have since 1933. Local legend has it that Senator Robert F. Kennedy fathered no fewer than three children through three of the barmaids but, tragically, none of them resulted in live births. In Senator Kennedy’s memory patrons are encouraged to leave a dollar or two in the Ethel Kennedy Fund for Unwanted Children collection box to the left of the middle urinal in the men’s room.

If you want to feel like a real New Yorker head to a food cart for lunch. Insider Tip: If you don’t see one look for pigeons in flight: they love to roost on the pretzels! Go with the classic hot dog. Old school Big Apple hot dogs are actually made from dogs, that’s how they got their name, and are traditionally left outside in a vat of water for at least two days. They move around a lot, depending on the conditions of the proprietors’ parole, but you can often find Nicky “The Greek” Greekokonokonis near Trump Tower (725 Fifth Avenue). Nick is somewhat famous locally because by pledging a bond for $22,000 back in 1991 he helped Donald Trump stave off his third bankruptcy, but of course there were many more to follow.

Halal carts are another good option. These serve food suitable to the dietary laws of practicing Muslims. As an obvious non-Muslim out-of-towner you’ll be served the white sauce as a dressing. This is a generous squeeze from a crusty plastic bottle repurposed from a Bob’s Big Boy that went bankrupt in 1973. To make your own (non-halal) version bring eight cups Miracle Whip to room temperature and stir in eight cups sugar. Serve immediately.

Art lovers will want to head straight to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, 11 W. 53rd St.) and consider lunching at Uncle Joe’s, a gulag-themed third floor spot that celebrates all things collectivized. Popular options include a savory appetizer made of wallpaper paste and charred and finely diced rattus norvegicus, followed by Chernobyl Cooling Tank Eels Prepared Three Ways. Toast yourself with a glass of their “Internal Contradictions,” a dry wine made from thistle and sumac.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, leave Manhattan behind and take a Gouge™ ferry to Williamsburg ($38.25 one way; free with proof of City Hall employment; $50 Subway™ gift card upon presentation of proof of De Blasio For President campaign contribution). At Mammary Mia! (552 S. 1st St.) proprietor Kaylayne Macintosh-Guantanamera and their partner, ! Guantanamera-Macintosh (both prefer neutral pronouns) whip up frothy hot and cold libations using locally sourced human breast milk with your choice of base (only kale for now but they hope to add turnip and ginger root to the lineup.) Explore farther and in East Williamsburg (don’t let a real estate broker or a condo-dweller hear you call it Bushwick!) Misty Malarky Ying Yang (1313 Grand St.) serves up a variety of baked goods (think brownies, bars, cupcakes) using acorns harvested in a sustainable way that have dropped naturally from the oak trees in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The ones from near the dog runs are especially prized.

Few cities on earth have a dining scene to rival New York’s. Pre-pandemic it is estimated that there were 1,477,000 restaurants in the city but those have dwindled to a mere 400 or so. Here are the best bets for dinner and late-night drinks.

Not far from the tourist magnet Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Avenue) is Alexander VI (6 E. 22nd St.), a beloved red-sauce mainstay. The Spaghetti Carbonara à la Lucrezia is a rich pasta dish made with raw egg yolks in an herb mix. Next door is Mongol Horde (8 E. 22nd St.) featuring the cuisine of Tibet. Meat from free-range camels is aged naturally for a minimum of three months while in transit to the US and prepared on a tabletop grill to your specifications. A short walk west of these will bring you to the historic Hotel Chelsea (222 W. 23rd St.) Its ground floor restaurant, Spungen, pays homage to punk’s 70s heyday and serves childhood comfort food like “Two-Day-Old Tuna Casserole” (served slightly warmed or chilled) and “Microwaved English Muffin Pizza with USDA Surplus Cheese Product and Dollar General™ Ketchup.” Seafood lovers will want to head a few blocks north to Doku (911 W. 32nd St.) where patrons crowd the Build-Your-Own pufferfish sushi station, although if you time it right you’ll have plenty of elbow room.

The Big Apple is famously The City That Never Sleeps (except when Governor Cuomo tells us to by imposing curfews, because pandemic viruses attentively watch the clocks waiting for 9 pm, 10 pm, midnight, whatever Cuomo makes up, to strike). End your evening at Sati (313 Lexington Avenue), a world-fusion lounge. It’s popular with older employees at the nearby United Nations headquarters who are facing mandatory retirement and possible repatriation to their home countries to face accusations of complicity in war crimes. That’s Happy Hour though, and later in the evening the crowd skews younger although there’s still a mellow vibe. The Litivinenko is three shots of potato-based vodka infused with a splash of polonium and garnished with last year’s cabbage. The Indira is a non-alcoholic bubble tea made with water bottled from the River Ganges. Both are unforgettable.

May all your travels delight you, no matter where the road may lead!



  1. charred and finely diced rattus norvegicus

    …that part reminds me of a bit in a discworld novel of terry pratchett’s…the menu in a dwarven cafe lists something like rat: 4p rat w/ ketchup: 7p…a character asks why the ketchup costs nearly as much as the rat & the answer is…have you ever tried eating rat without ketchup?

  2. Nice job.  I wish I had this several years back when we went to NYC since I am not sure I will ever go back.  It was great as a family vacation to show the kids & my youngest is such a theater buff getting to take in Kinky Boots was a highlight for her.  I did enjoy some good Korean food, a unique pizza w/ brussel sprouts, a good lobster roll and the best was Katz Deli.  Although, my wife lost her ticket so they weren’t going to let her out (you pay as you leave which is fucking stupid!)  Luckily we found it.  Also, some Guidos were talking smack about the tourists and almost made me lose my temper.  NYC not for me.

  3. You could send this to the NY Times Style Section and see if they pick up the sarcasm. Now that Choire Sicha is gone, I don’t know that they will.
    “What could be more quintessentially New York than a saltine cracker? Is there anywhere else in the world where they have elevated them to the same iconic status? Look next to any bowl of soup in New York, and there they are, reaching a peak appreciated nowhere else…”

    • @blue dogcollar This mention makes me nostalgic. Did you by any chance read a blog back around the same time Choire Sicha was EIC at Gawker called The Minor Fall, The Major Lift? The saltine bit is very reminiscent of whoever that writer was.

  4. I’m going to forward this to my sister who lives in the East Village – she always says she’ll eat hot dogs when they’re made of real dogs – she’s joking of course – but on that note have  you ever eaten at Smith & Mills in Tribeca? They don’t serve hot dogs – but it’s my favorite place in Manhattan. 

  5. Since new Yorkers are classically in a hurry I’ll give two word answers to solve all you problems. Listed from brunch to dessert:
    Maison Pickle.  
    Pizza suprema. 
    Jacobs Pickles.
    Levain bakery. 

Leave a Reply