NoLita, New York
New York City is home. After nearly ten years of living here, it's the city I know best and the place where I've become myself. There's no way I can distill what I think and love about the entire city into one guide, so I've decided to start with the area I know best: NoLita.
The Neighborhood I Know Best
I've lived in NoLita for the last four years and it's where I will continue to call my home for a very long time. I live right across the street from the Elizabeth Street Garden, nestled between the legendary Lombardi's (if you insist on visiting, get takeout) and my favorite pizza joint in New York, Prince Street Pizza (more on this later).
What I love most about this neighborhood is that it's at the intersection of many of my favorite areas of New York: SoHo with its glitz and consumer conveniences; the East Village and Lower East Side for nightlife and gastronomical discoveries; and of course, Chinatown and Little Italy for the cultural escapes. NoLita itself is something of a quiet island in the sea of metropolitan activity surrounding its borders, offering refuge in its small boutiques, bistros, and cocktail bars. I'll note a few things I insist you do in my neighborhood and the surrounding areas I call home.
- Sel Rrose
- Prince Street Pizza
- The Ship
- Ed's Lobster Bar
- Cafe Habana
- Xi'An Famous Foods
This is my go-to cocktail destination for anyone who's coming through my neighborhood. It's at the corner of Delancey and Bowery, and with the white-tinted windows I had always mistaken it for a perpetually under-construction abandoned project until they put up the Christmas lights outside. Come early, preferably on a weekday or Sunday. I've become a regular at the bar and it's my standard haunt for after-work meetings, vacant Sunday afternoons, or just a place to work at with a whiskey in hand.
You must come for the oyster happy hour they do every day, including weekends, not only because it's affordable but because they offer a wide selection of discounted truly high-quality seafood. This is in contrast with other New York oyster offers that only serve up their one East Coast and West Coast selections. Sel Rrose offers almost a dozen varieties in their special. You also have to get a cocktail to wash it down, and you can't go wrong almost anything on their menu. I've always opted for one or two On The Bowery cocktails - a sweeter, more citrus-forward Old Fashioned. Excellent alternatives also include the also whiskey-based Le Moult, The Fountain, and probably the best Pisco Sour I've had anywhere in New York. Make sure to offset the drink and oysters with some well-prepared truffle parmesan fries and you'll have a memorable time at my home away from home. It's a can't miss.
As I mentioned earlier, skip Lombardi's and go here instead if you want pizza. If you're wondering what my favorite slice is in New York City, coming from someone who's lived here for nearly a decade, Prince Street Pizza is my answer. It's not a traditional slice in the sense that it's not the thin-crust, triangle-you-fold-in-half slice you'd expect of of other joints in the city, but this offering stands up to the heavy competition in the area. You can certainly get the standard cut they offer, but you'd be missing out on the star of the show.
What you're looking for is their pepperoni square. It's a spicy filling handful of pillowy crust, stretchy tangy cheese, and slices of pepperoni that have curled into a savory intoxicating cups of delicious grease. Whatever you do: do not try and take off that grease. Don't put a napkin to it, don't try and drain it off onto your plate, and just eat it. The grease is part of the experience, and I promise you will walk off any of the guilt just trying to get around the rest of your trip in the city.
Prince Street Pizza tastes like home to me. Before the establishment started earning its well-deserved long lines after being passed down from previous owner to his son, this was a modest neighborhood joint. I never had to wait with more than one person in front of me those first few years. One of my most salient memories of this place was during Hurricane Sandy. The power had gone out in pretty much every part of the Manhattan south of 34th street, and Prince Street was one of the only places still open for business during the blackout because they had one of the last woodfire ovens in town. I remember walking around two days after the storm, thinking that I had to trek the forty minutes uptown to get lunch. Instead, I spotted the doors open and got to walk in and grab a slice for something like a dollar, with only the overcast sky creeping in and a few tea lights to illuminate the small shop. It made me forget the fact that I had to take a sponge bath with water heated over the stove the night before. A slice from here is a reminder that something constant about home is still around.
Other Notable Mentions
Technically located in SoHo, The Ship is another one of my favorite cocktail bars not only in the neighborhood, but in New York. Tucked next to the back entrance of the Mondrian Hotel, the little black door to enter is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. Once you step inside down the long hall, the scene is dramatic: you're met with an overlook of the whole space, an enormous ship's horn hanging over everyone's head, and you'll take the staircase down towards the backlit liquor shelves to get your drink. Get a bartender's choice, noting what you usually like in a drink (a liquor, sweet or spirit-forward, an ingredient). Take someone you want to impress. They won't be disappointed.
This is right off Lafayette Street with a long, narrow bar that's great for solo walk-ins. An excellent place to sit down for a nice, casual dinner if you're craving Northeast style seafood. Go for the PEI mussel appetizer to share (a great deal), and you can't miss the lobster ravioli. The ravioli is heavy, so better to share that with a friend with a side of grilled vegetables. Just be sure to ask for bread to soak up all the sauces you'll accumulate.
Another one of my standard go-to spots for a quick meal. There's actually two parts to Cafe Habana: the sit down restaurant and the neighboring take-out attachment off the corner. You have a better shot going to the take-out portion, since it's much faster to get through and you can still get all the highlights off the menu. If it's your first time, you must get the mexican corn (also known as elote) and be sure to grab a few toothpicks. Other favorites of mine include the vegetarian avocado and white cheese sandwich and the fish tacos with some of the best rice and beans I've ever had.
This Italian bistro is just a few doors down from my apartment. With Little Italy right down the street, you can count on these guys to get really quality ingredients to make some excellent traditional fare. The spot is known for pizza, of which there are several varieties. My favorite is the arugula and speck pie, but if you're looking for something other than pizza, the chicken under a brick and the whole roasted branzino are also solid choices. However, the thing you must get at Emporio isn't an entree at all: it's the prosciutto and burrata appetizer. It's always the highlight of the meal, and all the other things on the menu are just an excuse to get this one dish. If you're there in during the daytime, make sure to ask if you can get seated in the back dining area. It's a beautiful open space with a skylight that illuminates the whole room.
Every time I come to Seamore's for lunch, it always makes me feel like I'm back home in California. This restaurant at the intersection of Nolita and Little Italy is known for serving approachable dishes using sustainable seafood, and it's a great place to take a crowd of friends for a fun and casual afternoon meal. I like to get the tuna poke to start, and one of their many fish tacos (my personal favorite is the crispy squid taco). Make sure to get here early, since it packs up quickly around peak dinner hours or weekend lunches.
One of many locations in the city, this is a regular after-work take out spot serving spicy lamb noodles. Get the spicy cumin lamb noodles and if you're feeling really hungry, one of the lamb burgers as well. My boyfriend at the time who grew up in Asia says it was the most authentic Asian food he's had in the United States during his first trip there.