New York City. Center of the universe. The city that never sleeps and offers every exotic dish you’ve ever dreamed of, every language you’ve never heard, and houses (expensively) three times Chicago’s population. I love New York, and was excited to visit last weekend for three days of eating and walking as much as possible, the two goals for the long weekend hopefully offsetting each other. Chicago always seems like a big city until you arrive in New York, where the streets are teeming with people at all hours, even in non-touristy areas. Times Square glows like daylight even at 4am, something we can’t compete with in the Windy City. As my travel partner and I had both been York many times, we decided to skip most attractions and spend our days eating, exploring neighborhoods, and sleeping in. If you’ve done the tourist’s version of New York (which of course you should do if you haven’t–most things are touristy for good reason), and are looking for some long weekend ideas, here’s our itinerary.
We arrived at 10pm on Friday and were exhausted from the week, so we grabbed some pizza at NY Pizza Suprema and collapsed into bed at the The Westin. (I know I said we were staying away from touristy things, so you’re probably wondering why we stayed near Times Square – while it’s not always my first choice, I had just stayed in Brooklyn for New Year’s Eve so wanted to stay in Manhattan this time, the location is incredibly accessible, and we both happen to really love Westins. Hooray for gym clothes on arrival saving you room in your carry on!) We flew Spirit and shared a bag to avoid fees, which I recommend. (For more of my tips on surviving budget airlines check out my post on the Crafty Coin).
We started with a light breakfast at Cafe Henrie in Chinatown. I was starry eyed over the pastel pink and blue tables, while Jimmy was wide eyed over the price of my almond milk, chia, and banana smoothie ($9) and the fact that coffee refills are not free. It is a bit overpriced, but the banana bread and egg sandwich were delicious, and I liked the emphasis on healthy ingredients.
Next up was hot and sour soup and dumplings at C&L Dumpling House. Much cheaper, and though we were getting full we finished all eight. For our long trek across the Brooklyn Bridge we stopped at the bakery next door for a gooey mango sweet.
After crossing the bridge – and how wonderful that we had such a sunny day! – we rested with coffee at Toby’s Estate. This place has been written about too many times, so all I’ll say is the coffee is as good as everyone proclaims and the whole place is as Instagramworthy as your Instagram feed has shown.
Fueled up, we wandered around much of Brooklyn, eventually ending up at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. This stuff is the real deal, though I imagine the experience is better in the summer months when you can enjoy sitting outside and gazing at the Statue of Liberty. Either way, the real lime flavor and crumbly crust were worth the walk.Returning to our hotel, we napped, hit the gym, and headed back out for dinner. Haandi has some awesome and cheap Pakistani food. Apparently it’s a popular taxi driver hangout, which reminded me of an amazing place in Chicago recommended to us once by a taxi driver. Stay tuned for a post about it soon! If you’re looking for something atmospheric, this isn’t the place to go, but if you’re looking for flavorful, authentic food, it’s great. Next (like we needed a second dinner) we ate at an Afghan restaurant that had the atmosphere covered, but the food was lacking. We’re harsh Afghan food critics, as Jimmy’s mom is one of the best cooks in the entire world (not an exaggeration), so I’m not even sure why we tried to eat at Afghan Kabob House. We were craving bulani, but it was too crunchy and the kabuli pulau (a rice dish) was dry. A better Afghan restaurant is Ariana Afghan Kebab, which I’ve been to on a previous trip.
After dinner we wandered around Times Square having our tourist moment, then stocked up on beer from Duane Reade and watched Casino Royale on TV. We were going to go out later, but fell asleep mid fight scene around midnight because…food coma.
There’s something exciting about a Sunday when you know you don’t have to work the next day. There’s not as much of a rush to brunch, have fun, then get to bed early for the week ahead. You can sleep in, knowing that you have until the wee hours to complete your to-do list. Ours included more eating. After sleeping in we headed to Chelsea Market for a late breakfast. I love this market! I go every time I visit New York because there are so many great restaurants and shops, and things are always changing. We had egg sandwiches and yogurt at Chelsea Creamline, pastries at Sarabeth’s, and spent too long browsing in Posman’s Books.
With an hour to kill, we stopped for drinks at a Mexican restaurant, then at Merilu Pizza Al Metro for slices of margarita pizza that transported me back to Rome. The crust was perfect, and they use the best mozzarella and tomatoes.
Finally, it was time for the main event of the day–watching John Oliver’s pre-taping rehearsal. Jimmy and I are both huge fans, and my friend Jennifer is close friends with one of his writers, so we were able to get a tour of the studio and watch the rehearsal. As it was only us and some staff we felt weird taking photos and were kicking ourselves afterward. We did get one of us at his desk though!
Giddy, we walked back to our hotel for a rest before dinner at Osteria Morini. The restaurant focuses on food from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, also known as the region with some of the country’s best food–think parmigiano, prosciutto, and bolognese sauce to name a few. We had tortellini in brodo to start, then shared a squid ink pasta with seppia & shrimp ragù and crispy brussels leaves, and a tagliatelle with ragu and parmigiano. Was it the best Italian meal I’ve ever had? Of course that’s reserved for Italy itself, but it was one of the better meals I’ve had in the US.We drank dessert at The Strand, overlooking the Empire State Building.
Monday morning my friend Evan was in town catching a train, so we met for a quick coffee and catchup at Stumptown Coffee Roasters in the Ace Hotel. Evan was just back from travels around Colombia, Panama, and Oregon, but heading off to Rome where he lives and we first met. Though we only had a few minutes to talk, it was so nice seeing him and hearing about his adventures the past few months. One of my favorite things about travel, and one reason I feel so lucky to have lived in various places over the last six years, is meeting people like Evan and the rest of my friends in Jordan and Rome, who can brighten a morning with just a few words and who make time and space seem like non-issues when running into them around the world. I think this is the natural state of expats. Distilling conversations into short time frames isn’t uncommon, and you’re so used to people coming and going it becomes natural to pick up as though no time as passed, even if you didn’t know each other well to begin with.
Anyway, returning from coffee, Jimmy and I ate bagels and stored our bags with the hotel, then embarked on a few hours of meandering around Central Park. It really is an amazing thing to be sitting in the middle of the city, and I wish we had something similar in Chicago. I know we have many smaller parks, but the amount of green space isn’t the same.
Because we were nearby, we stopped at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but didn’t stay long. (Did you know you can stop in anytime you want and pay whatever you feel like donating? If you’ve already seen most of the museum and you just want to check out a specific area or see something new, pay $5 or whatever you wish. On this visit, we looked at the Islamic Art section and then needed to get lunch–yes, I know we had been eating nonstop for days, but we were somehow starving).
On the way to lunch I spotted my dream house. A beautiful brownstone near the museum that it turns out is selling for $12.5 MILLION dollars. Please keep reading my blog so I can afford it! (Kidding–unless I become Chiara Ferragni overnight, that’s not happening on a blogger’s salary).
We ate somewhere more modest, P.J. Clarke’s, where we devoured burgers (turkey burger for me), fries, and some of the best chili I’ve ever had.
Finally, after stopping for ice cream, we retrieved our bag and made our way to the airport. It was a wonderful long weekend and I will always be happy to return to New York, but flying into Chicago at night, the skyline glittering over Lake Michigan, we were both happy to be home in the city (with just as good food and possibly more beautiful architecture), we’ve come to call home over the last year. Taking the blue line from O’Hare we got off at the Damen stop for one last bit of gluttony at Flash Taco, and marveled at the empty streets at 11pm. New York is exciting and full of possibility, but there’s something to be said for the sense of calm and Midwestern friendliness Chicago offers. Still, there are many places on my NYC list yet to cross off, so I’ll be returning at some point this summer. If you have any recommendations please send them my way!
Trip soundtrack: Waves and Sorry (on the plane through shared headphones and in the hotel room where I created my own dance party – when even Jimmy is coming around to Justin Bieber you know he’s getting good).
Favorite meal: For me, Osteria Morini, though we both loved the breakfast at Chelsea Market.
Best NYC experience: Seeing John Oliver rehearse.
Mode of transportation: Walking!! And public transport. I was so proud that we only used Uber once. Saving $$$.