A Spot on the Grid: Eating Through New York City

April 8, 2020

There is always some place you MUST eat at in New York City, as popular culture has taught us, and as every Manhattan millennial will preach. Almost 10 years since my last trip alone to New York, I was ready to put myself on its grid—appetite all fired up and at the ready. It shames me to admit it, but I had unintentionally formed a mental Instagram itinerary for the trip. This feed of photos taken in the city by friends I followed online grew exponentially in the corner of my mind, and it built resentment towards each and every single one of them. If only I could be where they were.

Behind the counter inside Katz’s Deli.

L – Lobster roll from Luke’s, served Maine-style: chilled lobster meat in butter and a swipe of mayo in a New England-style split-top toasted bun, with a sprinkle of lemon-butter sauce and house secret spices. | R – The store front of family-owned smoked fish and caviar shop Russ & Daughters on East Houston, which has been around since 1914.

The recurring New York photos were of Shake Shack burgers, Luke’s Lobster rolls, Momofuku Milk Bar soft serves (and cookies), and Katz’s Deli sandwiches, among others. The goal became to cover each of these bases to see if they were worth all the hype. And, sure, in the process maybe even piss people off with pictures of food from halfway across the world, just as others have before me.

The original ramen burger at the first Smorgasburg weekend in Brooklyn.

I did just that. (Try places, piss people off.)

Shack Stack burgers, a Shackmeister dog, and cheese fries at Shake Shack.

The Shack Stacks were insane, as expected; each bite into that stuffed portobello mushroom bled out a painfully hot stream of cheese that blanketed the glob of meat below it. On hot afternoons, Milk Bar soft serves with candied cornflake lumps became the imperative snack, while cooler days produced Levain cookies that had layers of warm chocolate nooks inside them.

Momofuku Milk Bar’s signature cereal milk soft serve in two parts: as a sundae with cornflake crunch and as a thick shake.

Inside the midtown branch of Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi, who was recently granted the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Late nights ended with gyro rice platters from Halal Guys (and the anticipation of a hangover the next day). Downtown at Russ & Daughters, I went for a Super Heebster—apparently one of 101 best sandwiches in the city according to New York magazine—and next door at Katz’s Deli, I had what she had.

Pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli.

I ate through the city like someone mourning the departure of an ex-boyfriend—excessively and, in my case, a year too late to even qualify as emotional eating. Each point on my checklist, however, proved half a victory and half a disappointment. The Instagram endemic had me living out the New York City of others combined. It’s as if I had received travel hand-me-downs, passed from one person to the other a hundred times over—each piece was intact, but at the end of the day, it still belonged to someone else. In a city notoriously unapologetic for its diversity, my days there became just too damn predictable. (For this I blame the Internet and my inability to cease worshipping it as my god.)

Lox and cream cheese in a salt bagel from Murray’s.

One evening, I met up with an old friend that lived in the city and went on a self-imposed digital detox. He brought me uptown for some chicken rice and frozen yogurt, before we crashed at his flat, where we sung and cried to Funny Girl. The next day, we walked a few blocks up. Starved, we entered a place we both were drawn to simply because the smell of fried bacon caught up to us.

A quintessential Manhattan midnight snack: dogs at Gray’s Papaya.

I had a grilled cheese sandwich and he had the BLT, before we walked away with our leftovers and realized we didn’t even catch the sandwich shop’s name. In the afternoon, we stood at the end of his street, where he pointed out the apartment where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry began writing the chronicles of a little boy from asteroid B-612.

L – Momofuku Noodle Bar’s Fried Egg Buns is a take on the classic eggs benny. | R – The beginnings of a glass of chamoyada from La Newyorkina at Williamsburg.

Diagonally across the street from it was the setting of a Beekman Place murder, which apparently earned cover line status on a fairly recent issue of Vanity Fair. We sat on a stoop where we dined on our cold sandwiches and washed them down with cherry cola. The waters of the East River sloshed behind us and before us, the street glowed from some semblance of a Manhattanhenge sunset.

Katz’s Deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is more than a hundred years old.

There are no pictures to prove it happened, but the best thing about it comes from knowing this Manhattan moment was my own.

What was your favorite New York dining experience? Tell us about your most memorable Manhattan moment with a comment below!

Michelle V. Ayuyao SEE AUTHOR Michelle V. Ayuyao

Michelle V. Ayuyao took up a course in Food Writing at the International Culinary Center in New York City before joining as Editor-in-Chief. She was previously the associate editor of Rogue magazine. Online she is @mvayuyao.

3 comments in this post SHOW

3 responses to “A Spot on the Grid: Eating Through New York City”

  1. andrew lim says:

    My own Manhattan moment is sitting/eating in that small park fronting the Flatiron building on Fifth, with all the things I love about NYC nearby: Eataly, Gramercy Tavern, Madison Square Park, Shake Shack, NY Public Library, etc. With the wind blowing, seeing all those from the fashion district, eating food from Eataly…. wow.

  2. Carlos Deles Navarro says:

    Not Papaya King? =(

  3. Ashley Penabella says:

    ‘Gray’s Papaya’ is my personal fav over ‘Papaya King’ with a big plus that most of the people who work there are Filipinos. ‘Katz’s Deli’ of “When Harry Met Sally” fame is a NY institution when it comes to sandwiches. ‘Luke’s Lobster’ is good place for lobster rolls but I like the ones in ‘Lobster Place’ at Chelsea market way better and one must never forget to try their scallop or new england clam chowders or their wonderful selection of sashimis and sushis. As for Shake Shack it will always be a must visit when one is craving for burgers in NY. Haven’t tried Momofuku yet but will try to visit it late this year.

    My most memorable NY moment is still eating at ‘Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn, NY. They really know their steaks at that establishment and the dining experience is made more unforgettable by the ambiance and the people dining inside.

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