Some people equate tourist-trap restaurants with overrated restaurants, but this crop of crowd-pleasing eateries is here to disprove that notion. Sure, out-of-towners may show up at Katz’s looking to recreate that infamous When Harry Met Sally moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the best New York delis. From the city’s best steakhouses to trendy bakeries to classic New York pizza, here are tourist-baiting restaurants that are good enough for us locals.
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Best tourist-trap restaurants in NYC
This cavernous cafeteria is a repository of New York history—glossies of celebs spanning the past century crowd the walls, and the classic Jewish deli offerings are nonpareil. Start with a crisp-skinned, all-beef hot dog for just $3.95. Then flag down a meat cutter and order a legendary sandwich. The brisket sings with horseradish, and the thick-cut pastrami stacked high between slices of rye is the stuff of dreams. Everything tastes better with a glass of the hoppy house lager; if you’re on the wagon, make it a Dr. Brown’s.
Although a slew of Luger copycats have prospered in the last several years, none have captured the elusive charm of this stucco walled, beer-hall style eatery, with well-worn wooden floors and tables, and waiters in waist coats and bow ties. Excess is the thing, be it the reasonably health- conscious tomato salad (thick slices of tomato and onion with an odd addition of steak sauce), the famous porterhouse for two, 44 ounces of sliced prime beef, or the decent apple strudel, which comes with a bowl full of schlag. Go for it all—it’s a singular New York experience that’s worth having.
Danny Meyer’s wildly popular Madison Square Park concession stand is mobbed with hour-long lines during the summer; in chilly weather, heat lamps provide all the warmth you need. Sirloin and brisket are ground daily for excellent patties, and franks are served Chicago-style on poppy seed buns with a “salad” of toppings and a dash of celery salt. Frozen-custard shakes hit the spot, and there’s beer and wine to boot. It’s worth waiting in line for, if you ask us, but if you’re in a rush, the Upper West Side’s wait rarely exceeds 20 minutes.
This massive food-and-drink complex, from Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich, sprawls across 42,500 square feet in the Flatiron District. A spin-off of an operation by the same name just outside of Turin, Italy, the store’s retail maze and six full-service restaurants include a rotisserie with the city’s best flame-roasted chickens, an awe-inspiring display of hard-to-find produce (plus an in-house “vegetable butcher”) and the meatcentric white-tablecloth joint Il Manzo, which serves a gorgeous tartare of Montana-raised Piedmontese-breed beef.
Dominique Ansel honed his skills as executive pastry chef at Daniel for six years before opening this American and French patisserie. There are Ansel's Cronut creations, of course, but there are also caramelized croissants, miniature pastel meringues and madeleines selections available at the counter. The café also serves savory offerings, like roasted butternut squash soup and a pork club sandwich with pickled eggs, tomatoes and spicy mayo on sourdough.
The coal-fired brick oven at this reliably shabby old-timer, open since 1929, turns out a standard-bearing Margherita pie, thin of crust and light of sauce, with gooey grated mozzarella clinging to every nook and cranny. With good-natured, Old World gruff, the servers will inform you that it’s only pies here, no slices—a great excuse to inhale an entire one all by yourself. John’s is both a local landmark and a major stop on the New York pizza-tourist circuit, and you don’t gain that kind of rep for nothin’.
Not only is the iconic Balthazar still trendy, but the kitchen rarely makes a false step. At dinner, the place is perennially packed with rail-thin lookers dressed to the nines. But the bread is great, the food is good, and the service is surprisingly friendly. The three-tiered seafood platter casts the most impressive shadow of any dish in town. The frisée aux lardons is exemplary. The skate with brown butter and capers and a standard-bearing roasted chicken on mashed potatoes for two are both délicieux. Don’t hate the patrons because they’re beautiful; just join them.
The signature offering is a burger that invites comparisons to the revered Corner Bistro’s. Melon’s is pricier, at $11.25 for the very basic model, but it’s arguably just as tasty. Served austerely with a few slices of red onion and pickle, these handfuls must be eaten quickly, before the juice soaks through the bottom of the bun. Several of the genial bartenders, hosts and servers (in genteel ties and sweater vests) have been greeting patrons by their first names since the pub opened in 1972.
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Whether you’re craving falafel or just looking for a quick, fresh meal in Williamsburg, Wafa’s has got you covered. This authentic Lebanese restaurant draws on the recipes and culinary traditions that the chef learned in her mom’s kitchen. Start with classic mezzes like stuffed grape leaves ($6.95), baba ganoush ($5.95) or tabouli ($5.95). You can also mix and match vegetarian dishes like falafel with tahini, fried cauliflower and hummus to create a veg-heavy platter ($11.95). Carnivores might opt for chicken shawarma ($7.95 for a sandwich, $13.95 for a platter), lamb shish kabob ($8.95 for a sandwich, $14.95 for a platter) or kibbe, croquettes of ground lamb, beef and cracked wheat ($8.95 for a sandwich, $14.95 for a platter). Sweeten the deal with rice pudding ($4.95), baklava ($6.95) or kanafeh ($7.50) for dessert.
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