A couple weeks ago I had the joy of visiting my family in NYC. On Sunday, my brother (Ryan) and sister-in-law (Vanessa) went on a do-it-yourself NYC food tour around Chelsea and the East Village. I would recommend every single stop on our tour, so here it is, with huge thanks to Ryan for doing the bulk of the planning.
Start Your NYC Food Tour with Coffee: Roasting Plant
In my humble opinion, every good NYC food tour should begin with a cup of coffee. It builds excitement for what’s to come and gives you something to sip on while you go over the map of upcoming snacks/meals and something to carry while you walk to the first food spot.
At Roasting Plant, every cup of coffee goes directly from the roaster to your cup. Beans are roasted in the front of the store where you can watch them transform from green to gold to dark brown in just minutes. Then, they travel through Roasting Plants special pneumatic system called the Javabot to rest for 48 hours before being ground, brewed, and served one cup at a time. When you order your coffee at Roasting Plant, the beans will whoosh directly from the Javabot to a grinder then meet hot water and drip directly into your coffee cup. This is the sort of place where you get a black coffee or an espresso to really appreciate the fresh, varied flavors of the beans.
If you’re already hungry, get an almond croissant. If you’re not or only kind of hungry, just have the coffee. There’s plenty of food to come later.
Walk to Alamo Plaza
Coffee in hand, stroll along Greenwich Avenue and then 8th Street (Greenwich becomes 8th) to begin working up an appetite for all the food to come. Stop in Washington Square Park along the way if you wish or any of the numerous shops you’ll pass by.
In Alamo Plaza, admire the square steel cube named Alamo. It looks like it might tip over at any moment, but it’s been standing there for decades so don’t worry. Locals refer to it as The Cube and it’s a popular meeting place in the area. It’s also a good place to start walking along the Mosaic Trail.
Follow the Mosaic Trail
From 8th and Broadway to Tompkins Park there are numerous lamp posts decorated with broken cups, ceramic tile, shards of mirrors, and more turned into beautiful mosaics. The creator is known simply as Mosaic Man. Check out this map of all his creations: Mosaic Map.
Food Stop: Dumpling Man
Dumpling Man is a tiny dumpling shop a few blocks before the end of the Mosaic Trail. They serve Northern Asian style dumplings, which they roll out and fill right in front of you. We sampled four kinds of dumplings on our DIY NYC food tour: soup, pork, banana, and pumpkin. Naturally my favorite were the soup dumplings (pork with chicken broth) because I’m obsessed with soup dumplings, but all of the others were fantastic, too. The banana and the pumpkin were both sweet dumplings, like dessert sweet. Two of us favored the banana and one of us favored the pumpkin, but all were good. You can try both banana and pumpkin by ordering the dessert sampler.
Obscura Antiques & Oddities
This tiny shop near the second food stop is downright bizarre. I barely know how to describe it. It’s one small room filled with more taxidermy than you’d guess could fit inside; and squeezed in between the giant peacock and the head of a buck there are mirrors, dolls, bone dice, and funerary equipment.
Food Stop: Zaragoza Mexican Deli Grocery
Zaragoza market is about the size of a large closet, but in this space they churn out delicious tacos. We all sampled the goat tacos with green salsa. Plus, Ry found some chiles he’d been looking for and hadn’t seen anywhere else. This is a quick stop and a total winner. While you could eat in, we recommend getting your tacos to go and walking a few blocks back to Tompkins Square Park.
Tompkins Square Park
There are plenty of benches in this park where you can sit to enjoy your tacos from Zaragoza. It’s big enough for a short walk among the trees and to watch the dogs run in the dog park. If you feel like you need an exercise break, there are multi-purpose courts for public use on one end of the court (and a public restroom if you need it).
Food Stop: Saxon + Parole
If you really want to be hungry for the final dinner stop (Lupa), it might be best to make this just a drink stop like we did. But the raw oysters looked amazing so you might be able to split a plate of them with your drinks and still have plenty of room for dinner. You won’t be sad either way because the cocktails at Saxon + Parole are the best part anyway. Vanessa enjoyed her Harvey Wallbanger: vodka, galliano liqueur, orange juice.
And Ry and I loved our Bloody Mary’s. Ry opted for the Bloody Caesar, which comes with a raw oyster on the top (he loved it). I had the best Bloody Mary of my entire life, it’s just the classic Bloody Mary at Saxon + Parole with garlic vodka, vegetable juice, aleppo chile salt on the rim, and pickled veggies as the garnish.
Food Stop: Lupa Osteria Romana
Lupa is one of Mario Batali’s many restaurants in NYC. This one is based on dishes from Rome and is slightly more casual than Batali’s other eateries like Babbo and Del Posto.
This is the last stop on the tour, so it’s up to you what you wish to do. If you’re full, grab a seat at the bar to sip a campari and soda, maybe with an appetizer. If you’re hungry and it’s a special occasion, eat your way through one of the tasting menus. Or, follow our lead: an appetizer to share with drinks and pasta for all.
To start, we shared the Affetatti Piccolo, a mixed plate of six cured meats: bresaola, Prosciutto di Parma Gran Riserva, coppa cotta, salumi, lingua (tongue), and testa (head cheese). All of it was delicious, but I think our favorites were the prosciutto, tongue, and head cheese (which is not cheese at all).
I couldn’t resist more “nasty bits” in my pasta, especially after I learned that the recommend wine pairing was the wine I was drinking. So I tried pajata finta, rigatoni with tomato sauce, guanciale, and sweet breads. Of course, you can easily skip that kind of thing, Vanessa’s bavette cacio e pepe was simple and delicious.
In Case You’re Still Hungry…
I can’t image that you’d need more food after this tour (we were stuffed!), but if you want to add more stops, here are a few fun places in the area: