A Few of My Favorite Things - Lower Manhattan
When I was trying to come up with a post for New York City it was so hard to come up with a good, one-post guide. There is just too many things in this city to see, eat and drink. I think I read once that even if you tried a new restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner for your entire life you still would not hit every place in the city. So I decided instead to put together a list of some of my favorite things in different areas of the city.
For my first in this series of 'A Few of My Favorite Things' (cue The Sound of Music), I decided to stick to Lower Manhattan or pretty much south of Washington Square Park. Lately, if I visit Manhattan I like to head south out of Midtown as I find it less touristy and much better. I also find the architecture much more interesting. So here is a list of some of my favorite things in Lower Manhattan:
Rubirosa Pizza is one of my favorite pizza spots in the city (the New Haven spots are still my number one). The pizza is delicious with a nice thin, crunchy crust. Their tie-dye pizza which uses vodka sauce instead of the traditional tomato sauce is amazing and the pesto swirl on top adds such a nice flavor. Or just get the vodka pizza and add your favorite toppings. And of course they use the mini pepperoni cups on their pizza which I will take over the larger pepperoni slices any day, shout out to their supreme pizza. They also have an extensive homemade pasta list that looks incredible but since I only ever come here for pizza I have yet to try any, one day though. The place is tiny so be prepared for a wait or make a reservation.
Prince Street Pizza
Sticking to pizza, this is also a great pizza shop you should stop by. A very different style from Rubirosa, as the pizza you want to get here is their thick crust pizza. Sometimes people call this style Grandma or Detroit or as they refer to it as squares due to the pizza being baked as a rectangle and then cut into squares. Located just around the corner from Rubirosa and the amazing Little Italy/Nolita food district. I would say Prince Street Pizza is a bit more well known then Rubirosa. The plethora of celebrity photos on the wall is a pretty big indication of that, as well as the line that is usually out the door waiting to order a slice. The pizza to get here is the pepperoni square. Its got Fra Diavolo sauce instead of the traditional tomato and they also use the mini pepperoni cups that curl up and get crunchy on the edges. Village Square Pizza also does a similar pizza that I have seen compared before. Although putting the hot honey drizzle added a nice additional flavor to their slice, I found the crust better at Prince Street with it being slightly less crunchy and hard and the spicy tomato sauce having more flavor. Feel free to try both and see which one is your favorite. They do have the traditional New York style pizzas, but I would stick to trying the square slices as they are more well known for those. This is also pretty much a grab and go spot with just a little counter to eat at versus Rubirosa being a full sit-in restaurant.
Switching it up to a sweeter side, Levain Bakery for their cookies is a must. They have a few locations in the city, with the original being in the Upper West Side, but they have a location in lower Manhattan which you should definitely pay a visit. Their cookies, especially the original chocolate chip walnut cookie when fresh out of the oven, is heavenly. Although not always loved by people, I love that they have nuts in their chocolate chip cookie, it adds such a nice nutty flavor to the cookie. The chocolate peanut butter chip cookies are also drool worthy and not overly decadent with cocoa as I find chocolate cookies usually come out as. The cookies are also nice and large, about the size of the palm of your hand, as well as at least an inch thick, so they do not skimp on these cookies. Even with this large size cookie they still maintain a nice soft center and the outside not overcooked. This location is also nice because it is set up as a café with plenty of space and additional items outside of cookies. As opposed to the original location in the Upper West Side that is located in the basement of a building with room for about two people inside. Just do yourself favor when in the city and get some cookies from here.
Los Tacos No. 1
If you should stop anywhere in the city, make a trip to Los Tacos No. 1 (I mentioned this place back in my San Diego guide if you checked that out, if not go read that next). Similar to Levain Bakery this one also has a couple spots throughout the city, one of which is located in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center. If you find yourself visiting the World Trade Memorial definitely go a couple blocks up to this taco shop. The menu is simple with a few fillings for either taco, tortas or quesadillas but make sure to get the adobada with 'con todo'. But in reality can not go wrong with any of the fillings they have here. The meat is just so juicy and tender and the sauces they put on top are delicious adding great flavor to the tacos. Similar to Prince Street this is more of a grab and go or just eat quickly at the counters (when the inside is open for eating), trust me you will devour these in five seconds so wont need to worry about standing at the counter for too long.
World Trade Center
Taking a short break from food, and since I was just talking about World Trade Center, I do not think it should be any surprise to find visiting the 9/11 Memorial on this list. It really is a beautiful memorial and something I think every one should visit in the city at least once. The museum was not open last time I was in the area but everyone says it is incredible. Beyond the memorial there are several other things in the area to see as well. One is the Oculus which I would say just skip. As neat as it is looking from the outside it really is just a glorified mall and the Instagrammers clog the stairs with their photoshoots. The last major activity in this area I would say is the One World Observatory. The observatory experience starts with the elevator ride up putting on a show as it ascends (a bit dizzying for me though). You are then dropped off into a theater for a short show before they reveal the view of the city and you can explore the 360 views around. I wish I could give more of a 'why this observatory is better then another' but in all honesty the only other one I've done is the Empire State Building and I would say you can do no wrong with either, but there is really no need to do more then one of them. I would say the difference with One World is that this observatory, being on the lower tip of the island, allows better views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is also all indoors versus Empire, Top of the Rock and Edge which all have outdoor portions. The Edge being really the only observatory with a 'unique' component of having a glass floor you can walk on. The observatories in this city in my opinion are also really expensive so I kind of avoid them, they are usually around $40/person. I would rather find a rooftop bar somewhere and do that instead (future post idea???).
For your coffee fix, pay a visit to Urban Backyard. This tiny shop in the Nolita neighborhood may be small but big in flavor. The menu is not extensive but what they have is delicious. Their pumpkin pie latte was delicious and not overly powering with sweetness or pumpkin flavor, just the right amount of subtleness. They also have all your basic coffee needs from regular and iced coffee to lattes and cappuccinos as well as selection of teas. They also have mini succulent cupcakes that looked way too nice to eat. But beyond cupcakes they have a slim picking of breakfast item. Best to just get your drinks here and food elsewhere, such as at Egg Shop. Unfortunately the space is small so seating is limited but if your lucky grab that open chair and sit and enjoy your drink.
Essex Market/Heros & Villains/Ample Hills Creamery
One of my favorite places to check out when in new places are the local food halls. Its an easy way to sample several different restaurants at once. Some of my favorites in the city are Chelsea Market and Gotham West Market, (still need to get over to Brooklyn and try the ones that have been popping up over there) but new to the scene is Essex Market. Essex Market has a nice mix of restaurants and shops serving everything from cheese, plants, spices, food goods, meats and seafood. One of the restaurants you should check out though is Heros & Villains which specializes in fried chicken sandwiches. They have several different kinds from the hot chicken sandwich to an Italian parm sandwich. You can get it either on a typical hamburger bun or on a hot dog style bun (first time seeing chicken sandwiches of this style served this way but I am here for it). They also have chicken nuggets and specialty fries to check out. There is also The Market Line at Essex Crossing in the lower level that is a whole separate and expansive food hall in itself. Be sure to also check out Ample Hills Creamery, they use to have a location at Gotham West Market that I visited frequently when working in the city. They have such unique flavors and so delicious like I was back in CT at an ice cream farmstand.
Although most of what I have posted about is food, I mean can you blame me? New York has so many good places to try and I would rather eat my way through the city then do all the touristy things. One of the other things I like to do when coming to the city is shopping since the city literally has everything. Although most people go for 5th Avenue in Midtown (especially during Christmas for the window displays, I get it), I prefer to do the shopping down in the SOHO and NOHO areas. A lot of the stores are the same you could find up on 5th Avenue but without the crowds. I also think this area is much nicer, with a very European city vibe with cobblestone streets and the buildings having much more character and less modern concrete jungle of Midtown. I also see a lot more unique stores down here mixed among the bigger name stores especially if you go down some of the smaller side streets of the area. I would definitely recommend checking out this area if you want to do a little shopping while in the city.
Seaport District/South Street Seaport
The Seaport District I feel is a very underrated and hidden gem on the island of Manhattan. Every time I am in this area I do not feel like I am in New York City. It feels more like I am in the historic neighborhoods of Boston then anything. This area also has renovated over the last few years as I remember stopping here on my 6th grade field trip to check out the South Street Seaport mall. The boring mall is gone and here now is the shiny Pier 17 filled with areas to relax while overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. There are also a handful of restaurants and bars that call this area home. There is even a rooftop to explore especially in the winter for the ice skating rink. Typically you can catch an outdoor concert here as well overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Similar to SOHO being filled with cobblestone streets, this area also is all cobblestone and brick buildings. There is not a ton of shopping here but there are a handful of small local shops scattered about along with tons of restaurants and bars to check out. I would recommend grabbing a beer somewhere and enjoy the view and/or the people watching. Especially check out Cobble & Co which has a bar right in the middle of the street to grab a drink from (several of the streets are closed to cars). Food is a bit expensive (it is the city after all) but the drink pricing was pretty reasonable compared to the food pricing and what I usually pay for drinks where I currently live.
Stone street is another hidden gem in Lower Manhattan. Or maybe not pending how you want to interpret that the entire street has a giant German beerhall vibe or a piazza in Italy feel that is usually packed shoulder to shoulder with people (during the warmer months that is and not during a pandemic). Similar to the couple streets in seaport, this one is also closed to vehicle traffic as well. This street also gives off vibes like your walking on the set of an old gangster movie from the early days of New York City. Similar to the Seaport District and SOHO, this entire street is also cobblestone and adorned on both sides by short brick buildings. Even when the restaurants are not spilling out into the street it still has a cool vibe with the ornate lamp posts lining the sidewalk and lights strung across from building to building. You also should not have a problem finding a spot to grab a pint or a plate of food as the entire street is just decked in restaurants and bars to choose from. This street is definitely a cool place to check out when visiting Lower Manhattan.
Hopefully this convinces you to pay a visit to Lower Manhattan next time you are in the city. Do you have any favorite spots you like to check out in the city? Let me know in the comments. And be on the lookout when I conquer other parts of this city.
-The Wandering Professional