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Foodie Food Courts

Sorry Auntie Anne, in New York City, food courts are the places where celebrity chefs ply their wares, often mixing together booths that sell ingredients with full-blown, sit-down restaurants.

    That’s certainly the case at the upscale Plaza Food Hall by Todd English in the Plaza Hotel (www.theplazany.com/dining/foodhall/). In this 5,400-square-foot eating emporium, you can dine on oysters flown in from all corners of the globe, exquisite tarts, sushi, freshly grilled steaks or fish, you name it. It’s all very posh, though ultimately, a bit squashed, too, with diners sitting on stools at cramped stations around a large room.

    The famed Eataly at 200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets (www.eatalyny.com; 212/229-2560) is as much a tourist sight today as a market. Encompassing a full city block, the enterprise was founded by Mario Batali (Babbo, Del Posto) along with Joe and mother Lydia Bastianich, and it’s a true taste bud nirvana. Here you will find 12 different “eateries,” including one for vegetarians, one that concentrates on pastas, and an outdoor, top-floor Italian beer garden, Birreria, with retractable roof. Along with the eateries, you can browse various Italian foodstuffs like salami and cheese, fresh and dry pasta, coffee, and much more. And get this: Those with kitchens can use the “vegetable butcher here.” You pick out whatever veg you need, and the on-site “butcher” cuts it to your specifications.

    I’d say the new-in-2015 City Kitchen (700 Eighth Ave at 44th st, 2nd floor; http://citykitchen.rownyc.com) is the best thing to happen to the Times Square area since Hugh Jackman started regularly appearing on Broadway. It consists of six counters serving foods from some of the most celebrated eateries in NYC, though oddly, a number of them are using different names here. But if you go to The Box you can get the same type of unique Lebanese food that you will at its “mother” ilili (the duck schwarma with garlic-fig whip here is sensational); try Kuro Obi, and you’ll get the sublime ramen soups you’d get at its parent restaurant Ippudo. Also on site: fabulous Taiwanese shaved snow desserts, gourmet doughnuts, draft beer, sake, sushi, burgers and more.

    Gotham West Market  at 600 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th streets (gothamwestmarket.com; 212-582-7940) opened in the winter of 2014 and is a real boon to all of the conventioneers who have to head to the restaurant-starved neighborhood around the Javits Center. For the rest of us, it’s a bit out of the way (it’s quite far west) but is worth the trek for its unusual conglomeration of “taste experiences.” Patrons sit in the middle of the chicly industrial-looking room and can cherry-pick a meal of a Spanish tapas (at a bar run by acclaimed chef Seamus McManus of Tertulia), excellent ramen noodles from Ivan Ramen, charcuterie and cocktails from Cannibal and diner-style fare from Genuine Roadside.

    In the winter months, Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg  (www.brooklynflea.com; Saturdays and Sundays only 11am–6pm; see below for locations) can count as a food court, as it’s held indoors. Come spring, the 100 or so food vendors that make up this lollapalooza of munching take their stands outdoors to both Brooklyn Bridge Park, near Pier 5 (on Saturdays) and East River State Park, which has its opening where Kent Street and North 7th Street (on Sundays; both locations are in Brooklyn). As for what you’ll eat here, the question might better be put “what won’t you eat?” The variety of foods is staggering and the quality incredibly high. On a recent visit, my group noshed on curried hot dogs with a slaw of kimchee apples; oysters with three delightful mignonette sauces; fried eggplant with yogurt sauce; root beer–flavored macaroons; fab barbecue; and El Salvadorean pupusas (like a tortilla, with a variety of stuffings).

    Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place Dining Gallery is conveniently across from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and is a showplace for both local and international food stars like fabulous Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue, Parm, Chopt, Sprinkles and that gourmet temple Paris’ L’Atelier Joel Robuchon.

The Prime Cut: Steaks! Steaks!

Though NYC is no longer famous for its cheesecakes, or even its deli fare (with some exceptions), for red meat, it still reigns supreme. The city is brimming with top-notch steak joints, perfect for those on expense accounts, a little daunting for the rest of us. Still, if you’re in the mood for a perfectly aged rib-eye with a side of creamed spinach and crisped potatoes, one of the following places will do you right:

Peter Luger Steakhouse  is the original and still in many ways, the best, though because of its Brooklyn locale it’s not as convenient as some others listed below. But I’d argue that the commute’s worth it.

Sparks at 210 E. 46th Street near Third Avenue (www.sparkssteakhouse.com; 212/687-4855) reputedly used to be a mafia favorite. With its “ye olde steakhouse” decor, crammed into a low-ceilinged modern building, it has that cosa nostra air, part of the fun of coming here. The other part (along with the perfect hollandaise sauce and aged meats) is the wise-cracking waitstaff, with their thick outer-borough accents. They typify the type of service that used to be de rigueur in NYC, but alas, rarely exists anymore. Take a look at the wall of cigars before you head out; you can’t legally smoke them in here, but they’re apparently still big sellers.

Strip House at 15 W. 44th Street off Fifth Avenue (www.striphouse.com;  212/336-5454) and 15 E. 12th Street near University Place (212/328-0000) merges steaks with strippers, placing photos of noted ecdysiasts from the '40s and '50s on the walls in an all-red, leather and wood interior that’s sexy and fun. And the beef? It’s like buttah.

Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse has two locations in Manhattan: 219 E. 44th Street between Second and Third avenues (www.benandjackssteakhouse.com; 212/682-5678) and 255 Fifth Avenue between 28th and 29th streets (212/532-7600). Opened by two former Peter Luger staffers, they learned their trade well.

Quality Meats  at 57 W. 58th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues (www.qualitymeatsnyc.com; 212/371-7777) is set in a stunning, bi-level space designed by the famous team of AvroKO. The quality of the food matches the quality of the design. It has some nontraditional steakhouse menu items such as pan-roasted lamb T-bones with figs and mint, and a flatiron steak with blackberries.

Prime and Beyond at 90 E. 10th Street near Third Avenue (http://primeandbeyond.com; 212/505-0033) is proving that scallion salad is just as tasty a condiment on steaks as A-1. This Korean-helmed steakhouse is very proud of their aging facilities (meats are aged an unusually long 7 to 9 weeks for intense flavor); ask, and they’ll take you on a tour while your food cooks.

Fabulous Desserts

Dessert is given a place of honor on the NY restaurant scene, with venues ranging from beloved bakeries to all-dessert restaurants. Here are some of the best:

Big Gay Ice Cream Vanilla is the basis of most of the treats here, but that’s the only “vanilla” thing about this ice cream shop, which serves up outrageously decadent treats like “Salty Pimp” (ice cream with dulce de leche, sea salt, and chocolate dip), and “Mexican Affo’Gay”To” (with spicy hot chocolate, cayenne pepper, shaved chocolate, and ice cream). At 21 Grove St. (at Seventh Ave. S.). http://biggayicecream.com. No phone. Sun–Wed noon–10pm; Thurs–Sat noon–midnight. Subway: 1 to Christopher St.

Brigadeiro Bakery To my knowledge this is the first bakery in the U.S.A. for brigadeiros the beloved Brazilian candy that’s made of condensed sweetened milk studded, at least here, with everything from chocolate sprinkles to pistachios to passion fruit. Pleasingly gooey and not too sweet, they’re quite addictive. At 156 Sullivan St., right off Houston. www.brigadeirobakery.com. 917/740-5772. Daily 10am—7pm. Subway: C, E to Spring or 1 to Houston.

Chikalicious A dessert-only restaurant, it’s owned by a diminutive pastry chef named Chika Tillman (hence the name) who presides from behind the central counter in this glossy, all-white restaurant (think: the “Milk Bar” in the movie A Clockwork Orange). All customers get a three-course tasting menu for $16. And what desserts they are! Ms. Tillman, who has baked at some of the top restaurants in the city, has a rich imagination when it comes to food, and though the pairings she makes seem weird—molten chocolate tart with red peppercorn ice-cream and red wine sauce is one—they’re right on. If you’re not up for a sit down “dessert meal,” head across the street to Chika’s fab takeout place. At 203 E. 10th St., right off Second Ave. www.chikalicious.com. 212/995-9511. Prix-fixe: $16. Wed–Sun 3–10:45pm. Subway: 6 to Astor Place.

Insomnia Cookies Large, soft, cookies, in 12 flavors (including snickerdoodle and chocolate chunk) and heated to just the right temperature are sold here, along with nonalcoholic drinks. And as you might have guessed, the joint stays open late. At 405 Amsterdam Ave. (btw. 79th and 80th sts.). www.insomniacookies.com. [tel] 212/343-9922. Daily 11am–3am. Subway: 1, 2, or 3 to 86th St. Other locations on Upper East Side and the Village.

Lady M Cake Boutique The specialty here is the crepe cakes, particularly the green tea cakes, which are so well balanced they win over even those who don’t usually like sweets. There’s a small, usually crowded seating area, or you can get your slices to go and have a picnic in Central Park.At 41 E. 78th St. (near Madison Ave.). www.ladym.com. 212/452-2222. Mon-Fri 10am–7pm, Sat 11am-7pm, Sun.11am-6pm Subway: 6 to 77th St. There’s a second boutique, without seating area, at 36 W. 40th St. (btw. Fifth and Sixth aves.). Also at 36 W. 40th St.

Morgensterns Nicholas Morgenstern, the surprisingly slim gentleman behind this ice cream parlor/sensation, was a pastry chef at a number of big-name restaurants before he found his chilly calling. Between baking sessions he experimented with different technique for crafting ice cream—eliminating eggs, using an old fashioned French machine that employed paddles rather than spinners, adding more salt and less sugar. The result is mind-bendingly good. Favorite flavors: salt and pepper pine nut, pistachio green tea, and Vietnamese coffee.
At 2 Rivington St. (near Bowery). www.morgensternsnyc.com. 212/209-7684. Sun–Thurs 8am–11pm; Fri–Sat 8am–midnight. Subway: 6 to Spring, F to Second Ave.

Rice to Riches A delightful one-trick pony, it serves only rice pudding. This isn’t the rice pudding your mom made, however; it’s tarted up with all sorts of exotic flavorings and unfortunately cutesy names such as “Sex, drugs and rocky road” and “Surrender to Mango.” I have yet to discover a flavor that wasn’t ambrosial. At 37 Spring St. (btw. Mott and Mulberry sts.). www.ricetoriches.com. [tel] 212/274-0008. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–1am. Subway: N, R to Prince St.

Sprinkles Craving sweets at 2am? Head to the cupcake ATM that fronts this den of delights (during biz hours it has cookies and ice cream treats of all sorts). At 780 Lexington Ave. (between 60th and 61st sts). www.sprinkles.com. 212/207-8375. Mon–Sat 9am–9pm; Sun 10am–8pm. Subway: 4, 5, 6, N, R to 59th St.

Venieros A beloved Italian bakery, Venieros has been in business since 1894, with an attached cafe for those who’d like an aperitivo or café with their cannoli. Though the cannolis are legendary, I’m a particular fan of their pignoli cookies which are, in a word, scrumptious. At 342 E. 11th St. (at First Ave.). www.venierospasty.com. [tel] 212/674-7070. Sun–Thurs 8am–midnight; Fri–Sat 8am–1am. Subway: N, R to Prince St.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.