Sorry Auntie Anne, in New York City food courts are out of your league. Dedicated to non-chain, gourmet fare, their booths are being claimed by some of the city’s most celebrated chefs. And the number of these multiple-venue eateries has exploded in just the last few years. Here are my favorites. Note: All have seating and most serve alcohol along with the food.
- Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets; www.eatalyny.com; 212/229-2560; and at World Trade Center, Liberty St. at Church St., 4th floor). A wonderland for food from "The Boot".
- Gotham West Market (600 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th streets; gothamwestmarket.com; 212-582-7940). 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, and ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery.
- Smorgasburg (www.brooklynflea.com; Saturdays and Sundays only 11am–6pm; see website for locations). In the winter months, Brooklyn’scan 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 several different locales. 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).
- Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave. between 15th and 16th sts. www.chelseamarket.com). This is the best food court in Manhattan. Specialties include authentic, Tijuana-style tacos from Los Tacos no. 1, halvah (sesame candy) from New York Seed + Mill, and Israeli hummus from Dizengoff. On-site are also pop-up and regular clothing stores, a liquor store, a produce market and much more. Combine a stroll on the Highline with a nosh walk here and you'll have an excellent afternoon.
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:
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. tel. 212/995-9511. Prix-fixe: $16. Wed–Sun 3–10:45pm. Subway: 6 to Astor Place.
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. tel. 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.
Levain Bakery There’s a "cookie line camera" on Levain’s website, a testament to the rabid devotion New Yorkers have to the chocolate chip cookies baked here since 1994. Massive, fluffy, and intensely chocalatey they deserve the acclaim. Levain’s has four outlets, but the one below has the shortest lines. 351 Amsterdam Ave. (btw 76th and 77th sts). www.levainbakery.com. tel. 212/874-6080. Mon–Sat 8am–7pm; Sun 9am–7pm. Subway: 1, B, C to 79th St.
Morgensterns Arguably the city's best ice cream. Click on the link to read more.
Rice to Riches Rice pudding in every possible flavor. Read more about it be clicking the link.
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.