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The Best Places to Eat in NYC: An Intern’s Guide to Eating Through NYC in Style

It’s summer in NYC, and even if you’re a poor, salary-lacking intern, you most certainly don’t have to be a starving one. If childhood visits or religious Sex and the City viewing has taught you anything, it’s that life is all about the food in this wild land of cupcakes, street vendors, froyo, dives, fine dining and strange but somehow trendy cuisines you didn’t even know existed . It’s a land loaded with full-fledged foodies—a place where eating is always on the mind and where (thankfully for your gut) you’re always on your feet and thereby earn yourself a few extra treats.
 

But with a Starbucks—or five—per city block and grocery stores like Dean and Deluca where even Adrian Grenier from The Devil Wears Prada complains about the prices (“Man, they charge like $5 a strawberry”), the options can be expensive and overwhelming. However, if you were brave and wise enough to refuse the classic NYU rip-off of a meal plan required for summer residents, congratulations. You’ve got the entire island at your palate, and there is a way to eat well this summer without doing too much damage to the bank –or the waistline.  So here you have it…the best of NYC: the intern edition.
 
Intern On The Go: for when you’ve got three coffee runs to make and need something fast that will last you through the day
 

SKIP: Wendy’s, McDonalds, the typical American fast food—just because they have fancy two-story storefronts  doesn’t make them any less processed and packed with calories (which, in the state of New York, are displayed on the menu so you can see how much you’re over-consuming as you order. Way to ruin a McFlurry.).
 
PICK: Pret A Manger
Work in an obscure location? Lucky for you, there are two dozen of these healthy, ultra fresh sandwich and salad havens scattered around Manhattan. They use natural, local ingredients and have a huge selection of sandwiches, salads, sushi, baguettes, fruit, smoothies and pastries. An SJP favorite, Sex and the City’sCarrie and Miranda have been known to have picnics a la Pret, and for less than $10 for a sandwich, you can too. Perk: they’ve also got free Wi-Fi in the event that your boss calls you while you’re on break.
 
Street Snacks: for when you want to scoff at tourists eating crap pretzels and pat yourself on the back for figuring how to make a meal out of a truck

 
SKIP:
The hotdog vendors. This is New York; if something cost $2.50, there’s a reason.
 
PICK: The Mexican and Greek places with long lines of people in suits during lunchtime.  If you’re prepared to wait in line, try the combo platter at Halal on 53rd and 6th, extra white sauce. Also check out New York magazine’s top 20 list of food worth eating out of a cart.
 
Salad Time: for those days when you’ve been munching on the leftover cake in the office kitchen all morning
 

SKIP: Au Bon Pain, the usual pre-packaged suspects
 
PICK: Chop’t, Maoz Vegetarian or the salad bar at Whole Foods. Note to the non-New York native: Do not be deceived. The Whole Foods in Manhattan are like any regular old Whole Foods on some very serious steroids … they are massive, magnificent and with an awesome buffet and salad bar, huge selection of made-to-order hot food and with in-store seating, they are home to about a quarter of the island’s healthiest around lunch and dinner time. Expect a line, grab a smoothie if they have an adjoined Jamba Juice and if you want to avoid a $17 salad as you load up your plate, remind yourself that they charge you by the pound and that your eyes are probably bigger than both your stomach and your paycheck.
 
Brooklyn Bites: for when you’re just itching to get off the island
 

 
SKIP: Super trendy, overpriced, hipster-filled raw vegan restaurants at which the majority of diners’ pants appear to be life threateningly tight
 
PICK: The original Junior’s Cheesecake for the classic diner experience or Brooklyn Flea (open every Saturday and Sunday) for a seriously sweet sampling of some of the city’s greatest vendors. Bring lots of friends so you can steal their food and get a taste of everything.
 
Cupcakes That Take the Cake: for times when you want to be girly and bite into a perfectly frosted heaven
 
SKIP: Crumbs
Delicious as these candy-and-cream-cheese-frosting-loaded whoppers may be, their traditional vanilla cupcake was found to have 780 calories and 36 grams of fat and that’s without the ridiculous fixings they offer, so unless (and even if) you’re sharing, easy does it. 

 

PICK: Magnolia or Buttercup Bakeshop to experience the classic NYC cupcake. It’s $2.75 well spent. The red velvet is a favorite but all the buttercream is top notch. And go get them yourself, as half of the experience is standing in line and taking in the wafting buttery scent as you watch Manhattan mommies buy five-dozen for their infants’ birthday extravaganzas. If you’re looking for a fun and portion-controlled alternative, try SoHo’s Baked By Melissa, a window front where these adorable quarter-sized baby cakes are infused with everything from peanut butter and jelly, s’mores and cookie dough to cinnamon and mint chocolate chip.
 
FroYo: for when you’re craving a sweet, not-as-unhealthy-as-ice-cream treat that half the city seems to be carrying around
 

For tart and tasty lovers wanting some fruit topping:

SKIP: Places like Lenny’s  that don’t specialize in yogurt, but vend imitation brands.
 
PICK: Pinkberry (which now has chocolate!), Red Mango, and, while you wouldn’t expect one of the city’s best department stores to have some of the best yogurt too, lo and behold, these fashionistas know their froyo: Visit 40 Carrots tucked away on the 7th floor Bloomingdale’s on the Upper East Side.

For those more partial to regular ice cream:
SKIP: Mister Softee from the trucks. It tastes pretty good, but that’s because it’s real, full fat ice cream. Save it for the suburbs. 
 

PICK:
tasti D lite –If you don’t like the featured flavors at one of these low-fat, low-cal joints, walk a few blocks to the next one and in addition to the basics, find everything from cake batter, pumpkin cheesecake and banana peanut butter to German chocolate cake, chiffon mint and chocolate caramel meringue yogurt, all for only about 100 calories per serving. If you’re more of a make-your-own sundae kind of gal (or have a guy with you who does not like this “yogurt” concept), head to 16 Handles downtown, where you can still get your tart and tangy fix but can also pick from a ton of other more ice-cream-like flavors and load your cup with heath bar, hot fudge and gummies galore if you so please.
 
Weekend Brunch: for when you’ve survived a killer week at work and have slept past breakfast but aren’t quite ready for lunch
 
SKIP: IHOP. As international as this pancake house claims to be, New Yorkers don’t do IHOP. 
 

PICK: Alice’s Tea Cup. Not only do the waitresses wear fairy wings, but this cute, cozy and oh-so-girly Alice-In-Wonderland themed hotspot also has unbelievable homemade scones, granola, eggs, crepes, salads, tea sandwiches, cakes and cupcakes (a favorite of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ kids) and, of course, tea. With three “chapters” uptown, they don’t take reservations and get pretty packed on the weekends, but you can almost always get in and the scones are well worth the wait. For something equally sweet but a little less pink, try brunch at Max Brenner’s Chocolate By The Bald Man, where you’ll have no problem starting your day off with dessert: cinnamon apple and white
chocolate truffle cream French toast, illegal chocolate chocolate chocolate pancakes, melting cinnamon chocolate chunks oatmeal and a bagel filled and pressed with a melted milk chocolate bar and topped with peanut butter are just a few of their morning menu selections. And fear not; they have several sans cocoa items as well.
 
Café/coffee date: for when you want to sip a cappuccino and actually be able to hear what your company is saying
 
SKIP: Starbucks. It’s unoriginal and loud and also where the homeless population of Manhattan goes to the bathroom.
 

PICK: Café Lalo, nestled in an adorable and unassuming Upper West Side storefront with a European feel and jazz playing throughout, it’s the place where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet up in You’ve Got Mail … intimate, famous without feeling trendy, and in addition to having a giant glass case of kick-ass desserts you will stare at throughout your entire stay, they have amazing, fresh, organic breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great date spot and open until at least 2 a.m. every day.
 

Bagel Binge: for when you need to cure a hangover, be a Jew or enjoy breakfast in true NYC carb-heavy style

SKIP: Anywhere but H&H.
 

PICK:
H&H. They ship worldwide, and that’s because nowhere else in the world can you get a real New York bagel like this. Lots of restaurants sell them, but if you want the real NYC experience, go to the flagship on 80th and Broadway and get ‘em while they’re hot, and then head next door to Zabars (where awesome free samples are aplenty) for lox and cream cheese that will likely change your life. If you want to pretend to be healthy, they’ve got whole wheat.
 
Burger Bliss: for when you’re with a boy you want to impress or you yourself are craving some meat
 

SKIP:
White Castle…it’s good for Harold and Kumar and gluttonous (drunk) guys with calories to waste and bad enough judgment to order an entire case of cheap meat patties
 


PICK: Burger Joint is among the city’s chicest hole-in-the-walls. Don’t be fooled or freaked out that you’re grossly underdressed when you walk into the posh Le Parker Meridien Hotel and weave your way past the city’s elite dining on $1,000 caviar omelets at the Meridien’s other, more advertised restaurant. Follow a little neon burger sign behind a red curtain and you’ll uncover the joint—a total dive with a menu of burgers, fries, shakes and beer. And for less than $8 a burger, you too can experience fine dining at its simplest. Added bonus: stars like Ashton Kutcher are known to stay at the hotel, and we know how he feels about his burgers. Also try Shake Shack, the ever-popular roadside burger stand with burgers, dogs, frozen custard and, duh, very good (albeit very bad for you) shakes.

 
Dinner and Drinks After Work: for when you and the intern crew want to bond over managers and margaritas
 

SKIP: Any place cool and classy enough that your boss might show up
 

PICK: Blockheads. There are seven of them around the city, and they’ve got cheap-ish, healthy-ish San-Fran-style Mexican, great $3 frozen margaritas and sangria specials and a hopping happy hour, during which you’ll likely run into many of your own (cute male?) intern kind. But easy does it on the drinks … they’re often so sugar-loaded that you might as well be eating a cupcake.
 
Star Spotting: for places you’ll definitely need a reservation, might be able to afford an appetizer and will probably see a star
 
SKIP: Times Square…the tourists won’t and celebrities sure as hell will.
 

PICK:
Trendy spots in SoHo, the West Village, Lower East Side and Tribeca. The Gossip Girls hang out at Butter on screen, but in real life, this restaurant-meets-nightclub is co-owned by Ashley Olson’s ex and if you go, be sure to check out the bathroom—home of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton’s catfight. Try splitting a sushi roll at Nobu and catch stars like Cameron Diaz, Tom Cruise, Mariah Cary and Madonna munching on some seriously awesome (and $$$) maki. More casual places like Café Habana (where a waitress claimed she got punished for rejecting Owen Wilson, a small Nuevo-Cuban diner in SoHo, is known to serve up stars young and old—everyone from Leo to Sheryl Crow and Robert de Niro.

 
Parental Destinations: for when your parents (and their credit cards) are in town

SKIP: Hooters (unless your dad is a perv who’s into wings)
 

PICK: Rosa Mexicano, where the atmosphere is swanky without being ridiculous and the made-at-your-table guacamole is memorable. Kefi and Isabella’s on the Upper West Side also provide solid tastes of the city, and the West Village, Tribeca and the meatpacking district are also loaded with gourmet hotspots. On a nice night, outdoor dining (and people watching) is the way to go.
 

The Urge to Splurge: for those times when you want to go all out and disregard calories and cost
 
SKIP: Nothing…you’re splurging. When in New York.
 

PICK: 
The banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. Banana pudding? At a famous bakery? Yes. Little known secret: they’ll always give you a free sample, knowing well that a spoonful of that crack in the form of this creamy creation simply is not enough. Buttercup Bakeshop caught on and sells it (and the chocolate version) too.

The rice pudding from Soho’s anti-diet Rice To Riches. Claiming to have given rice pudding a makeover, it’s creamy, it’s different and it’s creative. With a buffet offering more than a dozen varieties like coconut coma, promise me passion fruit and sex, drugs and rocky road, they’ve also got ten toppings (buttery graham cracker blanket, espresso crumble and toasted buttery pound cake, to name a few). And while they’re neighbors with a Pinkberry, they make no claims to be diet friendly, with signs on the door warning that skinny bitches should beware.

 

Nuts4Nuts’ sugared honey-roasted almonds. Soaked and sugared on the spot and sold straight out of the street cart, they look sketchy but taste incredible. The bags are small but dangerous nevertheless. Get them while they’re hot and they will make you go nuts.

 

 

Serendipity’s
frozen hot chocolate …overflowing, amazing—just like the movie. And they mean business—there’s a sharing fee for this monstrosity. If you’re really feeling loaded, give them 48 hours notice and $1,000 and they’ll make you the world’s most expensive dessert: a Golden Opulence Sundae made from five scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream covered in 23k edible gold leaf and the world’s rarest and most expensive chocolates, truffles and caviar.
 
For a carnivorous creature seeking an authentic NYC deli experience and a heart attack on a plate, it’s all about the corn beef (and lots of it)at the famous Carnegie Deli. While a sandwich at this Times Square landmark cost upward of $20, it doesn’t seem so overpriced once you’re handed a very large portion of a very large animal on your plate, smothered in cheese and Jewish love. The stars have all been there, tried the pastrami and autographed the wall, and somehow no one has, to date, exploded on the spot. 
 

 

Katie most enjoys friends, non-fiction, and dessert. She graduated from University of Pennsylvania and is a contributing editor at Glamour magazine.
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