Get under New York’s skin with a free Big Apple Greeter tour. I went to 15 places where you can eat like a local in New York in one 15,000 step day.
No problem if you are lucky enough to meet a Big Apple Greeter of the Year, Ellen Gasnick. My request to eat New York as a local was no problem to Ellen who drew on her association with the James Beard Foundation, her life-long experience of New York, and love of food to craft a tour of her favourite dining spots.
Ellen has led over 540 people on 200 greets around the boroughs, and her smile never wavered over the four hours that we wandered her city.
Big Apple Greeters is a free service that visitors can book online. A greeter tour is like a friend showing you around their city, sharing their life experiences.
Here’re the 15 top food places that Ellen showed me. Many offer free tastes but all are low-cost outlets where your tourist dollar will stretch a little further.
1. Find the best value dumplings in Chinatown at Fried Dumpling, 106 Mosco Street, right next door to the Church of the Transfiguration in 29 Mott Street. You can buy five fried dumplings for $1. Although the sign says they to pork buns, it’s best not to ask as the response is rarely favourable. If you have cooking facilities, look for bags of frozen dumplings to go.
2. Pop into 69 Chinese Restaurant at 69 Bayard Street, to see the walls papered with signed $1 notes. Try Chinese comfort food classics such as Beef Cho Fun and Minced Beef with Peas and Raw Egg. The average order is under $10.
3. It’s easy to find Jing Fong Restaurant, 20 Elizabeth St, by people queueing on the street outside. This large Cantonese restaurant seating 800 people draws crowds on weekends for dim sum rolled out on carts.
4. Deluxe Food Market is a narrow supermarket selling Chinese groceries, baked goods, sticky rice and Asian-style sandwiches. 79 Elizabeth St Wind your way through the crowds to find tasty marinated meats and seafood that are convenient to prepare and perfect for dinner. You can also find prepared dishes with everything from char siu (roast pork) to stir-fried noodles.
5. Look for the sign on Canal Street corner, fire hydrants painted in red, white and green and you’ll know you are in Little Italy where the street vendors sell almond biscotti and fig cookies, roasted chickpeas and honey roasted peanuts by the bag or pound.
6. A Lobster Tail, crisp puff pastry filled with cream at Ferrara Bakery and Café at 195 Grand St, along with a cannoli is a must try.
7. Five generations of an Italian family share their favourite Italian products at Di Palco’s Fine Foods, 200 Grand St. Browse their artisanal cheeses, cured meats, pasta, sauce and pantry items.
8. Established in 1920, Piemonte Ravioli, 190 Grand St, Co makes ravioli, tortellini and other take-out pasta, all made fresh pasta daily the old school way.
9. La Esquina Corner Deli at 114 Kenmare St, is a casual corner taqueria h
ding a dimly lit subterranean brasserie serving upmarket Mexican fare.
10. Dean & Deluca, 560 Broadway, has been providing the world’s best epicurean treats for more than 35 years. It’s a wonder just to walk through the doors but head to the back where you are sure to find samples or just try the sushi bar.
11. The Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery has been at 137 E Houston St since 1910 and even has a Wikipedia listing. What’s a knish? It’s a traditional potato and kasha (buckwheat groats) Jewish comfort-food classic that looks sort of like a dumpling.
12. Russ & Daughters, 179 E Houston St, is very crowded but push your way through to the back, and you’ll see a marvellous selection of New York’s finest deli items. This family-owned shop offers high-end smoked fish, caviar and New York-style foods and dates from 1914. It’s a New York institution.
13. Katz’s Deli is where Where Harry met Sally in 1989. People queue up outside the door, and there’s a ticket system to get inside. Take a ticket and it doesn’t matter if you don’t buy anything, although you will be sorely tempted. Line up in front of the cutters to order your sandwiches. It’s not cheap, a Reuben on rye $20.25 with pastrami $1 extra, but is overflowing with thickly cut meat and a meal for two. The deli, at 204 E Houston St, was established in 1888, just two years after the Statue of Liberty was erected.
14. Filled with old-time American favourites, Economy Candy stocks all types of candy, nuts and dried fruit from floor-to-ceiling. Look out for the American Presidents chocolate where you can eat George Washington and JFK and chocolate versions of the Statue of Liberty. It’s been at 108 Rivington St since 1937.
15. Essex Street Market is an indoor market with rows of vendors specialising in meat, fish, cheese, produce and speciality foods at 120 Essex St. Look out for Shopsins General Store which has a menu that would rival a short novel and an owner that takes his customer handling tips from Sinfield’s famous soup nazi.