As a native New Yorker, a central selling point of Yale was that a cheap Metro North ticket ($31 round-trip) and two hours to catch up on some reading were all that would separate me from the city that I had called home for my entire life. It was long enough to make sure that my parents wouldn’t just “pop up” on any given afternoon, but not so long that I couldn’t pop down on a weekend when I was feeling homesick…or just sick of dining hall food.
One of the best unforeseen upsides of this proximity has been the countless opportunities to show NYC to new friends from other parts of the country. This usually involves some personal landmarks (my high school), some unmissable sights (even though I never want to actually go there, everyone should see Times Square at night at least once), a lot of walking and a lot of food. While I can’t put every one of my regular haunts into a single foodie’s-dream day trip guide, I’ve fit a bunch into this West-Village centric walking tour.
First, some tips: You will be walking–a lot. This is the New York way. That means you should be wearing comfy shoes. For me, that means 2-inch heeled boots, but I imagine that isn’t the case for most people. It also means that you should wear sunscreen and pack light–if at all. The great thing about a day trip is that basically all you need is your ticket and your phone GPS for when you inevitably get lost in Greenwich village (it can get pretty confusing, West 4th and West 10th streets intersect at one point for goodness sake; but I promise, getting lost is half the fun).
Alright, let’s get started. For organizational purposes, let’s assume we are starting our day in the early-ish morning on a Saturday.
When you arrive in Grand Central, don’t rush to get on the subway. Grand Central Terminal is a beautiful building designed in the Beaux-Arts style in 191, and is now full of fancy old restaurants and cute shops. When you are done taking it all in, grab a cafe au lait at Financier and head to the 4,5,6 train downtown. Any of these trains will get you to Union Square in a matter of minutes.
In Union Square, the first thing to do is to walk around the Greenmarket (more information here). You can get yourself a local apple from one of the farm stands or a local apple cider donut if that is more your style. There will be lots of places to grab a drink, whether it’s hot cider in the winter or lemonade in the spring and lots of samples of goat cheese and pesto to spread on artisanal crackers. If you are a locavore, this will be your foodie haven and a highlight of this trip.
Once you’ve had your fill of fresh produce and maple candy, head northwest a couple of blocks to City Bakery. Depending on how hungry you get at breakfast time, order a pretzel croissant or one of their amazing paninis. Whatever you get, you have to try their famous hot chocolate. Luckily, if you aren’t in the mood to pay the hefty $5 price tag for a small or if you can’t down a whole cup of thick, rich, chocolatey goodness, the drink now comes in a shot-glass size. For hours and the exact location check out their website. Like a true New Yorker, take your breakfast on the run and eat it while walking around the neighborhood. If you want to do some shopping while in the city, this is a great place to get it done–there will be the same selection as Soho, but half the tourists (no offense).
Walk west on 16th street, and you’ll come upon Chelsea Market, a downtown Mecca for foodies on a budget. I am a big fan of indoor gallerias, and there are many nooks and crannies full of hipster fusion restaurants (Korean tacos, barbecue banh-mi…you can find a full list of the restaurants on their website) to explore. One must-eat is anything from The Doughnuttery, which makes freshly fried mini doughnuts tossed in gourmet sugar mixes. These doughnuts are perfectly sized for a snack, come in tons of flavors to share with friends and melt in your mouth in the most deliciously sinful way. If you are really looking to indulge, spend the extra buck on their dulce de leche sauce–I would actually drink the stuff if that was at all socially acceptable.
Grab your doughnuts to-go, head right down the block to the stairwell that leads up to the Highline and have an impromptu picnic in one of the most beautiful spots in the city. The Highline is a park designed on an old railway track elevated above a long stretch of the west side. Walking up and down the Highline, you can enjoy views of the river and city streets. Plus, you will find carts of ice cream sandwiches, popsicles and Blue Bottle Coffee. If you exit at 30th street, you will find a small congregation of food trucks under the overpass, but I recommend exiting at 12th street so you can head south and east into Greenwich Village.
After exploring Greenwich Village, you’ll have walked quite a bit, and will probably be ready for lunch. The biggest bang for your buck is going to be an artichoke slice from Artichoke Pizza (it’s best to go to the less busy location on MacDougal Street). $5 gets you a giant slice that is both delicious and Instagram-worthy. The margartia and crab varieties are great as well, but the famous flavor is the namesake for a reason, with a solid half-inch of artichoke dip held onto a thick New York-style crust by a layer of melted cheese.
For dessert, you will have a couple of choices. Molly’s Cupcakes has epic stuffed cupcakes like Cookie Dough, Cake Batter and Creme Brûlée. The flavors are actually insane: most are like a dessert stuffed in a dessert, with another dessert on top.
If you’re a coffee addict like me, though, you’ll want an afternoon cup. In that case, get yourself to Stumptown Coffee Roasters on 8th Street. Not only is Stumptown my favorite brew, but the café offers a selection of treats from different bakeries that are harder to get to. So make sure to enjoy your joe with a Momofuku Milkbar dulce de leche cake truffle or a Megpies NYC‘s Blackberry Magpie (basically a homemade pop tart, which has a flaky butter crust and real-fruit filling).
Alright, this is the moment that separates the foodie-mice from the foodie-men: can you handle more food? Because there’s a really great place nearby. I know it isn’t really a mealtime yet in our hypothetical journey…but you have to try the chicken tenders from Sticky’s Fingers Joint. They have incredible flavor combinations like buffalo balsamic maple and salted caramel pretzel. It will put our normal chicken tenders day to shame (or give you some really cool dining hall inspiration).
Once you are beyond full, head to Washington Square Park. It’s nearby and gives you a chance to walk off some of that food baby while appreciating the breadth of people that New York has to offer–NYU students, street performers, young families and the like.
If you are ready to head back, walk east to get on the 6 train at Bleecker Street. If you have a little more time, take a stroll around St. Mark’s Place on the east side to do some thrift shopping and stake out some of the places you’ll check out on your next trip to the city, like Veselka and Empire Biscuit. Then get on the 6 at Astor Place back up to Grand Central.
Once you’re back at Grand Central, grab some Shake Shack before you board the train. Yes, you can get it in New Haven, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. You may not be hungry at the time, but who knows how you’ll feel in the next two hours, after which you will be back in New Haven just in time to get ready for Soads.
P.S. The important thing to remember while having a foodie day trip is not all of the restaurant names here, it is that you must keep your eyes, mind and stomach open. Even as I was doing my “research” for this article, I stumbled upon a ton of places that I hadn’t seen before. Gansevoort Market, Empire Cake, a stand called Meatball Obsession and a restaurant/bakery/chocolatier called Sugar and Plumm just to name a few. Happy fooding!