I'm a little bit of a snob when it comes to hot chocolate. This delicious warm beverage needs to live up to its name and really taste like good chocolate, not like a vaguely chocolatey, powdery liquid (cough Swiss Miss cough).
Luckily, midtown Manhattan offers more than beautiful, intricate store window displays and hordes of tourists. A plethora of chocolatiers and bakeries there offer up cups of the best hot chocolate, perfect for sipping while walking around and looking at Christmas lights or grabbing on the way to the train after a day in Manhattan.
Jacques Torres (Grand Central and Rockefeller Center)
If you can't get high-quality hot chocolate at a chocolatier, who can you trust? However, Jacques Torres sells amazing drinks made with his chocolate. The shops offer several variations on its classic hot chocolate such as peanut butter, orange, and wicked, which adds the heat of ancho chiles to the classic drink.
The classic, topped with real whipped cream, is silky and just rich enough. You can also buy hot chocolate mix at their stores so you can bring the decadence home with you.
Wafels and Dinges (Bryant Park and Columbus Circle)
I'm a huge fan of Wafels and Dinges, a NYC waffle chain with a brick-and-mortar East Village location and carts, trucks, and stands all over the city in popular parks and holiday markets. But even I don't always have room for a wafel but still need to feed my sugar addiction. They may not be known for their hot chocolate, but it is well worth ordering the rich, Belgian chocolate. It's probably the sweetest option on this list, if you're a milk chocolate fan. Plus, the hot chocolate is accompanied by a Speculoos cookie!
Grom (Columbus Circle)
Grom is a gelateria on the outskirts of Columbus Circle, a busy hub for commuters, Whole Foods shoppers, and Central Park-goers. The first few times I went here, I ordered gelato (amazing), then a couple months ago, the customer in front of me ordered hot chocolate. When I saw the employee ladle out melted chocolate from a tureen and noticed the menu had a hazelnut-chocolate flavor, my gelato order was forgotten and soon I was cradling a steaming cup of what tasted like molten Nutella topped with fresh whipped cream. I've since had the dark chocolate flavor too, which is just as delicious.
Birdbath Bakery (45th St)
I saved the best for last. City Bakery is renowned for its pretzel croissants, huge chocolate chip cookies, and its decadent hot chocolate. Huge, fluffy homemade marshmallows (which are optional, but shouldn't be) float on the rich liquid, which is the perfect balance between sweet and dark chocolate and definitely the most decadent drink on this list.
Luckily, you don't need to trek down to the Union Square flagship to pick up a cup; its sister shops (under the Birdbath Neighborhood brand) are scattered all over the city and sell the same hot chocolate.