Saturday, January 19, 2008

Finding Good (and Affordable) Restaurants in NYC

I just read this week's PostPoints Travel Tip of the Week entitled A Bite of the Big Apple by Scott Vogel of The Washington Post. He writes about Restaurant Weeks coming up in New York City January 21-25 and January 28-February 1. For the types of restaurants that participate and the number of courses that you get, it's a good deal. Vogel sites the latest Zagat Survey which says the average price of dinner in NYC is $39.46. (Wow - I wonder if that's just the meal or if it includes a drink, tax, and tip.)

Reading that article reminded me of when I was in the Big Apple for 3 nights this past June for work. I was staying in Times Square where I knew there would definitely be no shortage of restaurants. Before I went (because I figured I wouldn't have Internet access while I was there), I turned to Upromise to find out which restaurants near the hotel would give me some money towards college savings. There were 98 Upromise restaurants within 1 mile of my hotel! So, I sorted them by distance (low to high) and printed out the information on ones that were within a half mile of the hotel. When I arrive in New York, I was prepared with a list of dining options, complete with a description, price range, location, Upromise member ratings, and Zagat review, if the restaurant had been on their survey.

The first night I decided to try the Roxy Delicatessen. Like most restaurants on Broadway in or near Times Square, it's kind of a tourist trap. It was okay, but it would have been much better if they offered smaller sandwiches (and lower prices). I really didn't need a pound (literally!) of pastrami. With a soft drink, tax, and tip, that sandwich dinner was $19.20. And to think, Upromise said that the prices at the Roxy Deli were fair compared to Manhattan standards! However, I did get 8% of that total for college savings in my Upromise account.

The next night I met a friend who now lives in Brooklyn. We ate at one of her favorite Thai restaurants in Manhattan. (Note: this wasn't on the Upromise list, but it didn't matter because I had my friend to guide me to good eats this night.) It was a place called Klong. I got a great entree and a martini (plus tax and tip) for $17.00. Mind you, this seemed to be off the beaten path, so I guess prices weren't as high as in the tourist areas.

My last night in New York, I referred back to my Upromise list. This time I decided to head a few blocks off of Broadway to a little Italian restaurant in Hell's Kitchen called Pietrasanta. It got good reviews from Upromise members and Zagat, and I was going to earn 8% for college savings. I guess I was hungry earlier than the usual crowd in NYC because I was the first one in the restaurant. (That made me a little nervous until the restaurant filled up soon after I got there.) Arriving early, I got a great seat by the window. This meal was awesome -- real Italian food! I think I just got an entree (with water to drink), and it cost $19.24. I wished I had gone there the first night instead of to Roxy's because for the same price it was a much, much better value. With a great local place like that, it made me wonder why people would eat at the Olive Garden in Times Square.

The moral of this story is when you are traveling, ask locals where they eat. You'll probably find some of the best restaurants in terms of food and price that way. If that's not an option for you, at least step out of the tourist areas to dine. Again, you'll probably get better food at a better price.

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