I’ve spent 10 weeks in New York so far, and I have only two more weeks left. Sure, I’ll always wish I had done more, or that I’d had more time here, but in a city as exciting as New York where the possibilities are endless, I expected that. What I do know is that I will visit again, and on each trip I’ll get to see something new, but for now, here’s my list of the 12 things that I have enjoyed most about New York City.
Now hold on. I know you are wary that I have started off my list with this super-touristy item, and that too, the Staten Island Ferry, but hear me out: If you’re just making a short weekend visit to the city, this is a great one to check out because it’s free. Running like a shuttle, the ferry leaves every 30 minutes from southern tip of Manhattan. On a clear day, you get a beautiful view of the city, including the landmark One World Trade Center, and even pass relatively close to the Statue of Liberty. When my mother came to visit two weekends ago, we had limited time to see the sites. This was a perfect way to see Lower Manhattan and Lady Liberty, too, without having to slog through the concrete blocks of the financial district. The added perk: since the ferry is shaded, it’s a great way to cool off and catch a breeze.
Also another touristy one, and one that I didn’t care for until about two days ago when I found myself emerging from the subway station after a dinner at Rayuela in the lower east side. I had been feeling a little bummed that my night had ended so early, but just a stroll through this thriving city center was enough to lift my spirits. Even late at night, this place is bustling, and there is something to be said about the glimmering lights and throngs of people shuffling through. Times Square is among the many sights that proves this is truly a city that never sleeps.
10. Walking along the Upper West side and Central Park West
During the first couple weekends in the city, I wanted to check out Central Park, so I took the 1 line up along Central Park West with the hope that I would stop at the American Museum of Natural History as well. Yet Central Park is so sprawling that it’s enough to spend an entire afternoon there itself. For most of the summer, it was quite hot, but I did get to enjoy a lovely picnic there one afternoon. Still, what I have enjoyed more is walking along Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue strolling past apartments, outdoor restaurants, small boutique stores, and even a flea market where I returned the following weekend to buy a bracelet that broke within two hours of purchase (it’s okay, I fixed it with tweezers and have worn it numerous times since). It was on one of these visits that I had one of the best vegetarian paninis at Italian restaurant Pappardella. I normally prefer to eat with other people when dining out, but on that particular afternoon, it was relaxing to just enjoy a meal alone and people-watch. I will miss this about New York.
9. Delivery at any hour
Where else can you order decent food, of any type of cuisine, for as low as $10 bucks, straight to your door? After a long day at work, this is just too convenient to turn down.
8. Patio Dining and Rooftop Bars
In just the first week that I was here, I found myself at The Delancey twice in one weekend. On the second night, I met with friends at the rooftop, and I liked the atmosphere very much. Since then, I’ve been to a few other rooftop bars, including the Birreria atop Eataly in the East Village, Beer Authority, which has a cool view of the New York Times building, and the Gansevoort (overrated). I prefer rooftop bars to beer gardens because they offer some great views of the city and of course, in the summer, I like the natural ventilation. For someone who has generally lived in small cities, New York’s rooftop bars are a welcome alternative to the stuffy dive bars and club scene that I’ve been accustomed to.
Additionally, I’ve eaten at some exquisite restaurants that have closed garden patios in the back. l love the courtyard feel and greenery of these restaurants. The two that I went to both had great food, too: Gastromarket and Bottino’s, both in Chelsea’s gallery district. For vegetarians, the flatbread at Gastromarket is delicious and easy to share, and the three dips with chips are plenty for a small group. I’m partial to guacamole, and theirs was amazing, plus they throw in a unique corn dip too. When I was there, the food seemed to be mainly snacks or finger foods that are easy to pair with drinks, but even these are filling and tasty enough to leave you satisfied.
At Bottino’s, where I had lunch in the first week of coming to NY, the rigatoni with roasted eggplant, peppers, tomato and basil is a dish that, to this day, I find myself daydreaming about from time to time.
7. Food. Period.
By now you’ve noticed a common theme running through this list: food. It’s hard to talk about New York City without raving about the countless dining options. There hasn’t been a single place yet where I’ve had food that wasn’t good.
For Indian cuisine, since I’ve been living in Queens, I’ve checked out Jackson Heights for a fast-food type experience, but I’ve also had some sumptuous dine-in fare in the city too. In Murray “Curry” Hill in midtown, Chote Nawab has the best malai kofta I’ve had anywhere, hands down. I went there twice, and the first time, the food was tasty but on the blander side, so on my second visit I asked for them to make it spicy— and they didn’t kid around. Great food, great service, and cozy ambience. For something slightly more upscale, there’s Devi restaurant near Union Square. It offers a more elegant experience (that is, when the waiter isn’t trying to pull your leg by joking that the soy tikka you had was actually chicken) and a unique menu. Initially, my eyes shot to the gobi manchurian, but they had so many other more interesting dishes that I went for the vegetarian malai tikka with eggplant chutney instead. The eggplant chutney is really what makes this dish, and reminded me of the eggplant curry my mom makes. The tikka was good too, but something about the texture was a little off-putting for a vegetarian. The place wasn’t bad, but the waiter’s split-second prank was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth.
For Italian food, I’ve had some delicious pizza at Vezzo’s Thin Crust Pizza, pretty close to Chote Nawab. I am neither a fan of thin crust, nor broccoli on pizza, but I was pleasantly surprised that for once, the broccoli was perfectly tender, and the crust was just right, baked to a golden crisp.
In that same area there’s also Trattoria Belvedere, where you can get authentic Italian grub. My favorite: the arrabiata pasta, which isn’t on the menu, so just ask for it and the chef will make it. That’s the other thing I like about this place: Their service is great. Both times that I went, the owner threw in a free bruschetta as a starter. Not a bad deal when you’re someone who loves Italian food.
Good food stretches beyond Manhattan’s borders. Here in Queens, I’ve been impressed with the Thai menu at SriPraPhai. I’m a big fan of green curry, and it’s always been hard for me to find Thai restaurants that make coconut milk-based curries without fish oil or shrimp sauce. Thankfully, I’ve learned to make Thai curry on my own, but SriPraPhai has an entire vegetarian menu that gives of us curry lovers a break. They too, will burn your tongue off if you ask to make it spicy, but it’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t have wanted to try their fiery Penang curry any other way.
I swear that’s the last time I mention food in this post if I can help it.
6. Meeting new people
Here, it’s not so much that you have the opportunity to meet new people, but it’s the type of people you meet: Cosmopolitan, in every sense of the word. And all of them are driven.
It’s easy to pick up on how passionate they are about their jobs, the level of expertise they have in their fields, and how well-read and well-traveled they are.
Last weekend, I met a group of people who were absolute strangers to me, but I felt like I’d known them awhile because they were so easy-going, friendly, engaging and vivacious. It made for an interesting night.
I’m kind of cheating with this one a bit, because I haven’t been to a Broadway show this summer, but I have been to one.
When I came to visit a friend in NY in October 2005, it was after the movie for Phantom of the Opera released earlier that year. For the one short weekend that I was visiting, I insisted that if there was one thing I had to do in NYC, it was to go see Phantom.
Somehow, we managed to snag front-row tickets for about $50. I don’t even remember having to wait in line at the TKTS booth, which I have had no patience to do this summer. In retrospect, I’m not even sure how we got those tickets.
It was phenomenal.
I’ve seen numerous live performances in my life, from the Chinese acrobatic show in Beijing to the Austrian opera in Vienna. All have been astounding, but to me, Broadway has been the most special. The absolute spectacle and showcase of talent that is a Broadway show can only be understood by seeing it first-hand. It’s a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
4. Getting away from the city
This one sounds kind of weird, but I think it’s important. Ironically, for all that New York has to offer, it has served as a release to step away from the city on some weekends, which I’ve had the opportunity to do on a few occasions.
While here, I’ve connected with an R&B/jazz producer who records out of a studio in New Jersey. He sends me a sample of a song, I listen to it on repeat for a couple days, and then on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I take a bus from the Port Authority to Montclair, about 30 minutes away, and we spend roughly two to three hours recording the song for him to use as a demo to pitch to other artists and record companies.
This has been one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend afternoon: singing. What a stress reliever.
I’ve also had the chance to spend quality time with family. Last weekend, I visited relatives on my mom’s side. More specifically, it was my mom’s cousin’s granddaughter’s first birthday, so it was an opportunity to hang out with some of my second cousins, whom I haven’t seen in ages. The birthday party was in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County, so I left from Grand Central Station around 11 and took a one-hour train ride there.
It was an escape to spend a Saturday afternoon in the hilly suburbs, and it was great to catch up after so long. Above all, the birthday girl was adorable, and the way her face lit up at the sight of Elmo reminded me of my niece.
3. The Empire State Building
On my first day of work, when we were given a full building tour and shown The Associated Press terrace on the 16th floor, I was caught off guard when I saw the Empire State Building directly in front me, in plain view.
That couldn’t be the Empire State Building, I thought. That would be too easy.
And it is, which is why it’s so amazing.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself just coming out of a subway station, or on your way to work, catching a spectacular view of the Empire State Building. Some nights while you’re out with friends at one of those aforementioned rooftop bars, you’ll see this tower lit up in colors, depending on what day it is. When the Supreme Court DOMA decision was announced, the Empire State Building was illuminated in a splash of colors. On the Fourth of July, it shone bright with red and blue. Regardless of the direction from which you are looking at the city, this iconic tower just dominates the skyline.
No matter how many times you see it, you still find yourself pulling out your phone to grab just one more snapshot. It’s breathtaking. Every. Single. Time.
This is my absolute favorite place in New York City. The American Natural History Museum and Museum of Modern Art were also top-notch (more about them in subsequent posts), but still don’t compare to The Met. Even on a budget, you can’t miss out on this one because the Met let’s you pay whatever you can afford, though it lists a recommended ticket price.
On my first visit, I spent more than six hours here, and it STILL wasn’t enough to see everything. My personal favorites were the Greek and Roman sculptures, Asian art, and European paintings, which is still too general of a categorization because there are so many time periods and styles in different rooms and galleries.
During my first visit, I was lucky to catch a special display of The Boxer at Rest, a sculpture which had been found on the Quirinal Hill of Rome in 1885. The tired boxer, breathing through his mouth, is seen wearing only boxing gloves, his body beaten up from the previous match, but his tense muscles indicate that he’s ready for the next round.
This sculpture was one of the first I saw at the museum, and because I was so fascinated by the realistic expression on the boxer’s face, I spent most of the next six hours studying how emotions had been rendered in artwork across cultures. As a dancer and singer myself, I thought: How hard it is just to convey emotions in the performing arts with my own face; how much harder it must be to paint them on to canvas or to sculpt them.
Bottom line: Don’t miss The Met. It’s a must-see.
1. Reconnecting with Familiar Faces
I’ve now walked around New York City by myself enough to know that while it’s nice to be left to your thoughts exploring the city on your own, it’s still much better having people to do all these fun things with you.
What I have loved most about this city is that I have reconnected with so many friends in just the 10 weeks that I’ve been here, and had more people come visit me than I have had living anywhere else in the world.
It started with rooming with my old college roommate, who has been a such a sweetheart by giving me a place to stay this summer, and for welcoming me into her group of friends. Since then, I’ve also met up with childhood friends, high school buddies, former dance teammates and past coworkers.
So of all the fun things I’ve done here in the Big Apple, it’s the moments I’ve shared with these good friends that I will cherish the most.