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".
- City Kitchen (700 Eighth Ave at 44th st, 2nd floor; http://citykitchen.rownyc.com). 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 (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.
Great Northern Food Hall (in Grand Central Station on 42nd Street between Lexington Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave). Curated by Claus Meyer, co-founder of the renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma, the food features such Scandinavian treats as sweet and savory porridges at GrainBar and open-faced Danish sandwiches at Open Rye. The pastries are also topnotch.
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. tel. 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. 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.
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. tel. 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.