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New York City, NY City Guide with Deana Sdao

by Sabrina Smelko

NYC, NY City Guide with Deana Sdao

I find some of the best city guides are from tourist-turned-dwellers who once zealously ventured everywhere, sniffing out every street corner and hot-spot and now, as residents of the city, have a more refined and tried-and-tested list of places worth visiting again and again.

Deana Sdao grew up in a small Canadian town in Southern Ontario — actually, the same town as me, where we attended Girl Guide’s together! Since our days spent together doing team building exercises and watching 101 Dalmatians, Deana has grown up and moved to the Big Apple to finish her Masters education while interning at SNL in the production department. Being from a small Canadian town, when Deana first moved to NYC, she ventured through most every street and neighborhood before settling down and staying in NYC long after graduating. She’s lived in NYC for just under five years and works as a Marketing & Communications Specialist at an architectural firm. While it’s hard to fit everything awesomely NYC into one guide, Deana’s version is filled with plenty of awesome options! —Sabrina

NYC City Guide with Deana

It feels very weird to say this, but I have lived in NYC since August of 2011. The past few years have flown by for me. After graduating from my BA at University of Western Ontario, I came to NYC to complete my Masters in Media Studies and Media Management at The New School. A big reason why I adore this city is because every area has different qualities. One area may be “touristy,” while only a few blocks away there is a completely different vibe, different food and different people. On top of this guide, feel free to tweet at me or check out my Instagram for more recommendations!

 

Hotels

In all honesty, most of the hotels are wonderful. If you’re debating location, I would pick a hotel in Soho. Not only is it accessible to other areas in NYC, but it will provide that quintessential New York vibe. Try the Trump Hotel — located right off the Spring Street stop — or the Mercer hotel, also located in Soho.

If you are going for more of an authentic feel, my suggestion is to try Airbnb. It’s a great way to live like a New Yorker for a few days. You’ll likely get a kitchen (the most unused space in all of New York), but more importantly you will get an address that you can order seamlessly to!

Brooklyn Bridge

Do

There are thousands of things to do in NYC. If you are looking to experience something outside of the tourist genre (you know… Rockefeller, Times Square, Central Park), I have plenty of suggestions!

If it’s nice out, I suggest taking a train down to the Brooklyn Bridge stop. You can walk away from the city into Brooklyn, or you can walk from Brooklyn into the city (take the A train). Either way, you are going to have a spectacular view. You’ll be able to see Lower/Midtown Manhattan, Hoboken, Queens, Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building. On the Brooklyn side, there is a gorgeous glass carousel at the base of the bridge. If you stop for food in Brooklyn, Grimaldi’s is the perfect place to stop and have a bite.

Grimaldis

If you are willing to venture out to Queens, there is an awesome museum in Astoria, The Museum of the Moving Image. With affordable admission and rotating exhibits (last year they had a Breaking Bad exhibit), it’s a great way to experience some of New York’s television history.

The infamous High Line is something I would not miss if it is your first time visiting New York. It spans over 20 blocks, from 14th Street all the way to Midtown, and it gives you the ability to walk above the city.

If you happen to make it to New York in the summer, there is nothing better than catching a free movie in Bryant Park. Although it gets crowded, it’s great to be able to spend a night relaxing with a thousand others.

This might be on my top 10 list of things to do in the city. Held in an empty 100,000-square-foot space in Chelsea, Sleep No More is an interactive play that tells the story of Macbeth. You must buy your tickets at least a month in advance, and I suggest choosing the earliest time, that way you can spend a full three hours inside. When you enter, you are greeted by a concierge who takes you into a lounge. You are given identical white masks, and are explained that there is no talking or cellphones allowed. The play gives you the opportunity to explore while running around to follow the characters as they tell the story. If you can, try to separate from your friends and experience the play on your own.

A good friend of mine told me about this event two years ago, and I have been fortunate enough to attend twice. Steve Cohen’s Chamber Magic is by far the most mind blowing activity in the city. You have to book about a month in advance, and shows are only held Friday-Sunday. They take place in a suite at the top of the Waldorf Astoria and you are expected to dress in evening attire. In a small room of less than 50 people, you are given the opportunity to experience 2-3 hours of Steve Cohen’s interactive magic. I can’t give it all away, but every audience member has a chance to participate. One trick even has him pouring three different drinks out of the same teapot.

Although I would not go out of my way for this, if you happen to be in Soho my suggestion is to stop off at the New York Earth Room. Located on the second floor of a townhouse building on Wooster, you have to be buzzed to go up. The room of dirt (yes, exactly that) has been sitting there for over 30 years.

 

Shop

If you have been to NYC before, I would avoid going to 5th avenue. Although iconic, the stores are geared towards a more luxury market and offer merchandise that can be found around the world. My favorite place to shop is Broadway in Soho. Although it can get busy, I tend to start to the day off by getting a bagel at Blackseed and then strolling to the shops. There are hundreds of stores, ranging from luxury to department stores and even vintage.

Most people suggest going to the Brooklyn Flea, and my alternative would be to head to the Fort Greene Flea. Although it is deeper into Brooklyn, it is a lot more fun and less crowded than the Brooklyn Flea.

And last but not least is Williamsburg. Although the prices are not cheap, you can find amazing jewelry and clothing right off the Lorimer stop.

 

Eat

My dad is a chef, so to say that I have grown up with a vast array of tastes is an understatement. I definitely do not hesitate to try new restaurants in this city. I can truly say that you never know what you may find, so I broke it down into neighborhoods.

Brooklyn: If you manage to head across the Brooklyn bridge in the aforementioned “Do” section, I would suggest making a stop at Luke’s Lobster right underneath the bridge in Brooklyn. Suggestion: Get yourself a sandwich, chips and a drink! It won’t disappoint.

Luke's Lobster

Additionally, there is a place in Williamsburg that I love to take my foodie guests. It is called Zenkichi. This Michelin-rated restaurant looks like a warehouse from the outside. If you plan to eat here, I would make reservations two weeks in advance as it fills up. With an extensive sake menu, prepare to drink and try some incredible food. Suggestion: salmon and mochi balls.

Lower East Side: If I have friends or family visiting, I never hesitate to make a reservation (two weeks in advance) at Beauty and Essex. This speakeasy is incredible. With three floors, including a rooftop, there are a number of hidden gems. The food is served tapas style and can accommodate larger numbers if necessary. Also, if you are a woman, don’t forget to pick up your free glass of champagne in the bathroom. Suggestion: Tomato, cheese & bacon dumpling and the meatballs.

Another favorite of mine is Russ & Daughters. This deli has finally opened their very own restaurant. If you go on a weekend, plan for long waits as they don’t take reservations. But if you are going during the week, I would suggest a week night. The menu is extensive and features staples such as knishes, bagels and lox, challah and my personal favorite: potato latkes.

Russ & Daughters

Located on Clinton Street, which is home to a number of Canadians in the city, is Clinton Street Baking Co. The bakery is known for their blueberry pancakes, although I would not hesitate to try other options on the menu. If you go, expect an hour or two wait based on the time you go. My suggestion is to head there an hour or a half hour before opening and line up. It is worth it. Also, candied bacon, anyone?

Pok Pok NY is for an adventurous palate. The restaurant has two locations, one in the basement of a Lower East Side building and one in Brooklyn. My favorite dish is the Cha Ca La Vong, a Vietnamese catfish dish with sticky rice.

Koreatown: Turntable NYC | Mad For Chicken: Located on the second floor of a building in Koreatown and with zero street signage, it is very easy to pass by. Mad for Chicken has a great menu of fried chicken, rice and beer. My suggestion is to go with a group of friends and chomp away.

Chelsea: The best dining experience I have had while living in New York was at the Michelin-rated Del Posto in Chelsea. After making a reservation a month in advance, I was not disappointed. My family and I decided to go for my graduation dinner and everything was spectacular. Each dish was served in unison, the service was impeccable. Every dish also came with a delightful surprise.

If you like Japanese, Morimoto in Chelsea is perfect. Most of you know Masaharu Morimoto from Iron Chef, and his restaurant is of the same caliber. With an extensive menu of fish, I would sit at the bar with a view to the kitchen, if you can!

For a little splurge, head to Doughnut Plant in Chelsea which carries flavors like Peanut Butter, Tres Leches and Coconut Cream.

Flatiorn: If you find yourself in the Flatiron area, I would head into Eataly which serves as not only a grocer, but also a number of different restaurants. Although the pizza restaurant always has a bit of a wait, it is worth it. If you don’t feel like pizza, they have fish, appetizers, pasta and meat, or you can just sit and watch them make buffalo mozzarella. Suggestion: Brick oven pizza.

East Village: Ippudo has to be my favorite ramen place in the city. The menu is fresh, extensive and filling. They recently opened a new location in Hells Kitchen, which makes it easier for those on the West side. This place is worth the wait. My recommendations are the main ramen, the pork buns (do not eat here without trying these!) and the cucumber.

Upper East: With locations on the Upper East and Upper West, Gina La Fornarina has incredible oven baked pizza and fresh pasta. Suggestion: Gnocci and pizza. Split with a friend.

Upper West: Jacob’s Pickles is the best place in the city to go for a taste of the south. Fried chicken, grits and biscuits. Suggestion: Go early for brunch and get the bacon biscuit!

Union Square: If you are lucky enough to score a reservation at ABC Kitchen, you are in for a treat. With a large menu that runs the gamut and a central location near Union Square, this restaurant is for those who want to be seen. FYI: Last time I dined, I saw Jake Gyllenhaal.

Washington Square Park/West Village: Another one of my favorite things to do in the city is to pick up a PB&J sandwich at Peanut Butter & Co, which features sandwiches like The Seinfeld or The Elvis. Suggestion: Take it to Washington Square, which is up the street.

Soho: Although my favorite bagel place was once Murray Bagels, it has now become Blackseed. The bagels are a tad smaller, but so much better. The staff comes in at 4 am to start baking a range of flavors including salt, sesame and everything. With a small menu of about 10-15 different sandwiches, they make only enough for each day, allowing them to close at 4 pm. My suggestion is to take one to go, either sit on the bench outside and eat or head to a park in Noho.

Blackseed

Drink: PDT. Also known as Please Don’t Tell, and here I am… telling. This is an awesome speakeasy hidden in the basement of a Papaya Dog in the East Village. Once you go through the phone booth, you are introduced into a world of amazing mixed drinks. If you can, make a reservation. If not, expect some sort of wait. The best part is you can put your name down with your phone number and wander.

On top of Eataly is Birreria. This open, rooftop bar gives you an incredible view of the city, and comes with a wide craft beer selection. Dogfish Head, anyone?

Located in Hells Kitchen, my absolute favorite place for craft beer is Beer Culture. With a great atmosphere, nice staff and a huge selection of craft beer from around the world, you really have the opportunity to explore. It gets packed after work, so expect to stand.

Beer Culture

If you are looking for an amazing view, head to Le Bain, which is above The Standard hotel. If you go on a weekend afternoon, you’ll be able to get in without cover and without a wait. Head to the side entrance of the hotel, where you will see a bouncer waiting. Once you head up to the top floor, you’ll see a bar with a hot tub. Go up another level, you will find some incredible views and great drinks.

Le Bain

A few years ago, Barcade opened up in Brooklyn. This bar-arcade is exactly what the name states. With a new location in Chelsea, it is now more accessible to those in Manhattan. This is not your regular Dave & Busters. Expect vintage arcade games and a fun time.

Fat Cat. Sometimes they have cover, but most of the time you can waltz right in. With board games, ping pong tables and card games, get yourself a bucket of PBR and share with your friends. You can order Seamless.

Friday & Saturday nights at Le Poisson Rouge! I can’t say it enough. Friday is 80s night and Saturday is 90s. Expect $20-$25 cover, an amazing time and a whole lot of dancing.

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Comments

  • I’ve always wanted to visit NYC. I have this dream of just flying in, taking a cab into the city, going straight to Central Park and taking a nap on a gingham checked blanket, and flying out right as the sun sets. Probably not realistic, but a girl can dream.

  • Love that there’s a Queens mention! It would be great to do a Queens, NY guide – the food options could be a list in itself.

  • I grew up in New York and recently moved out West. I miss it so, so much! Some add-ons I would suggest: Gregory’s for coffee (it’s a chain but a great, local one!), skip the summer movie in Bryant Park and go to the one under the Brooklyn Bridge instead, City Bakery for hot chocolate, STORY for shopping, Mermaid Oyster Bar or Inn for dinner (take advantage of their happy hour), and Rockwood Music Hall for entertainment (great music mostly around the clock)! In my new experience of staying in hotels in New York, I haven’t had too much success. The best and most affordable is probably Marcel in Gramercy. I love the Airbnb recommendation. This one is above the most interesting gallery space in Brooklyn and home to a bunch of artists…the rates support the art space. There’s also a great bar downstairs. https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/252361

  • This has nothing to do with the post but I don’t know how else to contact D*S. In the last few months, something has changed with your daily emails and the pictures come through on Gmail in all different sizes. A lot of times, I have to use the dreaded side scroll just to read the articles. PLEASE bring back the old format so that the pictures don’t take up my entire screen. It was much more enjoyable to read.

    • hi kat

      we haven’t changed our emails because we don’t send daily emails- that’s a third party service like feedburner, bloglovin, etc.

      if you tell me which one you’re using i can email them to request they look into any bugs, but we don’t manage or maintain that feed so we can’t control much about it :(

      we do however send out a once a week email from our own team with content summaries, giveaways and extras. you can sign up on the homepage :)

      grace

  • Great guide Deana! I find expats often give the best guides because of their unique perspective as a local/tourist. I can’t wait to visit NYC again and experience all those hidden gems you mentioned.

  • Nice post…..awesome city NYC….This is great!! I’ve used loads, I also found a little gem called The Moth! They host weekly events around the city. If you go on their website. I’m new to the city and met lots of people there. Had a very fun night!!

  • I’m pretty sure PDT is actually through Crif Dogs and not a Papaya Dog unless it’s changed since I lived there. Crif Dogs has awesome hot dogs (which is saying a lot since I hate hot dogs).

  • Great round-up of spots –– I would recommend many of these myself. So much to do in our city! It sounds like you’ve made yourself right here at home in NYC…you’re hanging like a local!

  • Nice list though I think many of these are still touristy, overcrowded options. There’s a ton of great places you can go that don’t require 2 weeks plus reservations in advanced…

    • Yeah, I kind of agree with this. Eataly and ABC Kitchen are great, but there are a ton of places in between that are just as good, if not better, and not as crowded. 15 East, Gramercy Tavern, Maialino. Just check EaterNY. Also, PDT was a thing in 2012 or 2013. It’s really not what the locals do. I frankly didn’t even know it was open anymore. Go to Angel’s Share or Cienfuegos instead. Also, definitely do NOT stay at The Trump Hotel. Good lord. Do something classic, like The Carlyle on the UES, or stay at The Standard.

  • My name is Stefano and I am an Italian man. I love some of Deana’s recommendations. Especially Grimaldi’s, que bella pizza! Fantastic guide. NYC is #1!

  • DiFara’s pizza…worth the trip to get the best pies in NY.

    Definitely think you guys should do an Astoria (or queens) guide…I live there and think it has better options than BK and Manhattan most of the time.

    • kat

      i’ll drop them a line and see if we can get them to check it out. they’re a huge company with terrible response time, so we always encourage people to try bloglovin instead- they’re a much better customer response company.

      grace

  • I love this round-up of places to go and I’m so glad you mentioned Russ and Daughters on this post. It sells some of the most delicious bagels in the city! I also really love Barney Greengrass, especially it’s retro 1950s interior which remains as it was back then.

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