Living^WEating in Murray Hill

[I wrote this in late 2019 and intended to spruce it up with photographs but… a lot has changed since then. Still, I post this both selfishly – as a memento – and hopefully – for future relevance. Many of these places are open and deserve business, some are already closed for good, and still others might reopen someday.]

Coming from Tribeca, I was not particularly looking forward to living in what is dispassionately called Midtown East and more affectionately called Murray Hill. It has built a reputation as a place for young bank workers to live and party, due to the cheap real estate and cheap dive bars. But, even in the last few years, the neighborhood has grown around us and has definitely outgrown its bro-y reputation.

Yes, that reputation can still be found (I’m looking at you, Jackson Hole, Peter Dillon’s and Joshua Tree), but actually the neighborhood has a lot of refinement. There are no less than 17 Michelin stars within walking distance, and many of the neighborhood restaurants are quite good.

Here are some of our favorites.

Restaurants

Frequent Meals

Yuko does meal-prep at the beginning of the week for meals for the rest of her week, and I mostly eat at work. When I don’t, I get food from:

Zucker’s Bagels: I love bagels. I love New York bagels. I love fresh New York bagels made just down the street. This is my go-to breakfast for one of the mornings of some weekends. I’ll sometimes pick up a pastry to share with Yuko at the Maison Kaiser next door, or go across the street to get a platter full of fruit. Go early, as the lines can get long. A solid backup is Bagel Express down the street. (It’s sort of wonderful to live in a city where two bagel places only a block apart can live in harmony.) We haven’t actually done this, but it would be nice to walk down to their 23rd Street location and eat in the Madison Square Park.

Sons of Thunder: A great poke joint, the only move is a spicy salmon bowl with brown rice, nori, avocado, shallot krispies, pineapple, and serrano pepper for a bit of a kick. The waffle fries and the various hot dogs are worth getting, too.

Great Northern Food Hall: One of Claus Meyer’s casual restaurants (see Michelin-starred Agern, below). The breakfast sandwiches are tasty, as is my favorite pastry ever, the tebirkes: the croissant-equivalent for the Danish, it is a a poppy-seed encrusted flaky dough with a sweet interior. The falafel sandwich for lunch is the best.

Kati Roll: I love this place. I have loved kati rolls ever since being introduced to them by my Bengali friend in college (Roti Roll in Morningside Heights, which also interestingly also is the provides food to the gay bar next door through a window). I recommend the chana masala and chicken tikka; get some combination of three if you are like me and need lots of calories.

Omar’s: The best (albeit only) chicken shawarma in the neighborhood. It’s served with sauces and a small piece of baklava. The falafel is also really good, but as usual, be sure to eat it fresh out of the frier. The line is out the door for lunch at peak time; go during an off-hour.

Alidoro: Simply the best Italian sandwiches in New York. I like their namesake sandwich, hot, on whole wheat and will sometimes get a Laura (nutella + hot spread). Expensive, though. Again, the line is out the door at peak.

Dunhuang Noodles: This Northwest Chinese cuisine is a recent addition to the neighborhood and I hope it stays around. The noodles are really good. Definitely get the chill oil hand-ripped noodles, along with the eggplant and seaweed salads.

Less interesting, frequented, inexpensive fast casual restaurants include: Chop’t (always an all-kale, Mexicali Vegan burrito-style “sandwich” with falafel, avocado and chopped onions), Dos Toros (the market vegetable burrito with double dragon is a thing of beauty), Bareburger (mmmmmm Impossible burger and fries and a peanut butter milkshake…), and Dig Inn (farro, kale, broccoli, and tofu, please!), and when we’re really feeling desperate, Pret (for any sandwich on a baguette; our cat prefers us to get the tuna sandwich).

Occasional Dinners

El Parador: This is one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, one which we frequent after seeing a late-afternoon movie at the nearby cineplex. It has been in existence since 1959 and I understand why. The correct order here is: eat all the homemade chips, then a mushroom quesadilla followed by the Chef’s Combo, and then the tres leches cake. Plus one or three house margaritas (neat, with salt, of course). The service can be a little slow, but at least you have a margarita to pass the time with. It’s pretty cute that the booth in the back has placards from long-time regular couples.

Urbanspace Vanderbilt: A food hall, I come here for the breakfast burrito (on the weekends) and the fish tacos (at night) from La Palapa, the hummus from Mimi’s Hummus, and sometimes a slice or a pie from Roberta’s wood-fired oven (which is a replica from their original outpost in Industrial Williamsburg). The beer selection between all of the stalls is good, but expensive.

Osteria Laguna: RIght on busy and chaotic 42nd Street, you walk into this restaurant and are almost immediately calmed by the soothing effects of warm pasta in a nice atmosphere. This is a Northern Italian place with really fast service.

Sam’s Place: A nondescript hole in the wall neighborhood restaurant that serves good pasta without pretension.

Her Name Is Han and On: Good, modern Korean food with nice decor. All of the restaurants in this restaurant group vary from pretty good to excellent. We had excellent service at On when we went; it also had a good cocktail menu.

New Wonjo: Our go-to Korean joint. Get the scallion pancakes for sure, and really anything else.

Nirvana: Decent, fancy-ish, americanized Indian food around the corner. We get takeout from here from time to time, especially if it is raining and we have no other plans.

Riverpark: A Tom Coliccio joint, of whom I’m a fan. His restaurant serves delicious food, has a good wine and cocktail list, and usually has at least one interesting beer on tap. The location is odd for such a restaurant: out of the way and next to the infamous Bellevue Hospital.

La Pecora Bianca: This pasta-focused chain outpost isn’t open quite yet, but I’m sure we’ll come here often once it does, as we are fans of the other locations.

Michelin Stars

There are an astounding number of restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars in this neighborhood.

Cafe China: We routinely order takeout from this one star restaurant, which is an amazing thing to be able to say. I’d never want to actually eat in the restaurant, as it is consistently packed. The scallion pancakes, duck fried rice, dan dan noodles, pork dumplings, wonton soup, three pepper chicken, bok choi, and eggplant are the winning moves.

Kajitsu: This place across the street from our apartment serves two set menus of intricately prepared vegetables in the Zen Buddhism tradition. It was tasty, but expensive for what it was. Though I love a good vegetarian meal, I think I had a second dinner afterwards.

Ai Fiori: We only recently visited and I really enjoyed it. I thought the four-course $108 prix fixe menu was a good value.

Agern: Restaurateur Claus Meyer really made a splash a couple of years ago by opening no less than three different restaurants within Grand Central. I really enjoyed this $155 tasting menu, in particular the slow-roasted beet. The rye bread is literally the best bread you will ever have in a restaurant.

Tempura Matsui: This restaurant that earned a Michelin star and two stars from Pete Wells is a block and a half away from our apartment. The tempura was very high quality, perhaps the highest quality, but it was still just tempura. Really expensive tempura. I’m glad we tried it, but we’re not going back.

Also around are: Gabriel Kreuther (not yet visited), Sushi Ginza Onodera 2 (with a $300-400 omakase-only dinner menu, the winning move is to come here for lunch for a mere $100-$150), Aureole (good but the one in Vegas is more engaging), Sushi Yasuda (a relative bargain at $150-$200 for omakase dinner), Sushi Amane (not yet visited), and Atomix (not yet visited).

Little Tokyo Midtown

It turns out that a Japanese neighborhood sprung up around our apartment since my wife moved here in 2007. This is kind of incredible luck: she is Japanese and I love Japanese food (which was definitely a qualification for marriage for her). There are now a huge number of Japanese restaurants and shops in the area, some of which we haven’t even been to.

Soba Totto: We love this restaurant. The menu is large, the skewers and soba and donburi are great, and the Kirin flows. We come here monthly.

Momosan Ramen: Right around the corner from our apartment, this is Iron Chef Morimoto’s ramen place. We like the gyoza and the kakuni bao, and I prefer the tantan ramen for its spiciness. It’s a good resource to have nearby, but not a destination like other ramen places.

Ootoya: We used to go to their first outpost in Chelsea fairly regularly for home-style Japanese cooking. They opened one near Times Square that we go to occasionally. The food reminds Yuko of her mother’s cooking, but much costlier. Tasty and recommended; I like the traditional oyakodon (a chicken and egg dish whose name literally means “parent and child rice bowl”, which is hilarious). The set comes with chawanmushi, which is only okay but is a good deal.

Sakagura: Most well known for their extensive sake selection, complete with cocktails and tasting flights, they also serve small dishes that can be shared. We prefer the menu at Soba Totto, especially since Sakagura only offers reservations 24 hours in advance or more and is frequently booked. This place is delicious. Definitely have the “Matcha Tira Masu”, which is a very Japanese take on a tiramisu served in a… wait for it… a masu.

Ippodo Tea: This is a mecca for green tea enthusiasts and is across the street from our apartment, in the lower level of Kajitsu. I am not a huge green tea enthusiast: I like the cheap stuff. I got sucked in by the New York Times, which mentioned the thick matcha, for a whopping $9.50. Not worth it.

Wokuni: We really like the simplicity and value of the food here. This on the next block over from our apartment. The sushi is really good (though with fish being flown from their farm in Japan daily, it does not have a good sustainability story) and everything else is tasty. This is our go-to when we are craving Japanese food but don’t want to walk very far. We tend to go during happy hour for its specials. I’m told the lunch special is great.

nonono: With a restaurant that serves Japanese food and whose name is composed of my wife’s favorite word, plus an extensive, inexpensive menu, what’s not to like? Their interior design is very interesting as well. As of the time of writing, we’ve only been here once, but it was enjoyable.

Katagiri Grocery Store: A couple of blocks away, this is our go-to grocery store. The selection is more limited compared to Sunrise Mart, but there are fewer people (and staffers!). Plus, the rice balls from the shop-within-a-shop Omusubi Gonbei are the best ever, including in Japan. We haven’t tried the other shop-within-a-shop Brooklyn Ramen, but the reviews are favorable.

Sunrise Mart: This other grocery store has more selection, including produce, but it is always super-crowded. The prepared foods are really good though, such as the bento boxes and the baked goods.

Cafe Zaiya: The baked goods and Japanese sandwiches here are good but we rarely visit.

Also around are: Kokage (the meat-oriented sister restaurant of Kajitsu), Kitano Jazz Bar (never been), Tomi Jazz (huge following, but never been), See also Sushi AMANE, Sushi Yasuda, Kajitsu and Tempura Matsui above.

Down Park Avenue

Okay, so this is not really Murray Hill. But these places are easy to walk to, straight down Park Avenue.

Gramercy Tavern: This is one of my favorite restaurants in New York, especially to sit at the bar alone when my wife is out of town (much to her chagrin). The food is reliably great and the beer and wine list are thoughtful. Show up early, give your name to the bartender and have a drink while you wait, if need be. The best seats are in the corner. The burger (which used to be off-menu and limited) is really tasty, but it is served with chips instead of fries, which is inexcusable. The vintage beer menu tends to be interesting, but expensive.

Marta: Maybe the best non-New York style pizza in the city. Everything is good. Get the specials.

Pongal: Delicious vegetarian South Indian food in Curry Hill. Our go-to Indian joint.

Upland: The menu is large and everything was enjoyable. Get the whole crispy mushroom and the pappardelle. It’s pretty loud, though.

Union Square Cafe: Another Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant, like Gramercy Tavern. The food here is good, but I like the menu and the bar at the sister restaurant better. We still visit here occasionally.

Cafes

Lucid Cafe: This is one of my favorite cafes in existence. It is the size of a shoe box, with maybe four seats in 20 square feet. The owners and staff are very nice and the espresso is top-notch. It is so small and lean that it doesn’t have a website and the year is 2020. Notably, they make their own almond milk.

Taylor Street Baristas: An outpost of a London-based, Australian-conceived chain of cafes. Really phenomenal coffee and breakfast food. (I’ve only been for breakfast). I like getting a flat white and either an order of their exquisitely done and not outrageously priced oatmeal, or one of the breakfast sandwiches. Also really good is their sausage roll, but only if you promise to go for a long run later to burn off the calories. I would like them significantly more if they were open on the weekend to help create a community in this office building-centric part of town.

Perk Kafe: Another excellent neighborhood cafe that is a bit larger than Lucid. We come here if we’re walking by and need our fix, or before Lucid opens. Yuko likes the brown sugar cinnamon latte.

Cafe Delectica: This place has been in the neighborhood for over 25 years. More than a coffee shop, Delectica serves really good breakfast and lunch items, the best of which are Mediterranean-styled. My favorite breakfast sandwich is the Shakshuka on a baguette (but eat it fast before it soaks through!).

Also in the area around Grand Central is a Blue Bottle (which carries Bouchon Bakery pastries!), a Cafe Grumpy, an Irving Farm, and a Joe’s, all of which are as you’d expect.

Bars

Gingerman: One of my favorite beer bars in the city, Gingerman has a phenomenal, well-curated beer list and doesn’t have any TVs so it never gets bro-y. I like coming for a slightly late lunch on a Saturday when the place is deserted. The Gingerman Club is the best sandwich on the menu, and for a ton of extra calories, go with the pretzel with honey mustard.

City Beer: ¼ bar, ¾ bottle shop, this is my new go-to for interesting beer to take home. Their tap list is short but — like the bottle selection — it is well curated.

The Porch at Bryant Park: Located on the southwest corner of Bryant Park, has exactly two beers on tap, but that’s not the reason to visit: sitting on one of the swinging chairs outside in the middle of a park in the middle of Midtown Manhattan on a nice day is worth the $9 (+tip) for a mediocre beer.

Other notables include: Fine & Rare (interesting cocktails, extensive spirit list, live jazz), The Campbell (good cocktails, swanky decor, but go on off-hours to avoid the commuter hordes), Raines Law Room (good cocktails), Middle Branch (good cocktails).

Other

Whole Foods Bryant Park: We do our grocery shopping here as the crowds at Fairway got too big and the produce is better here. The beer section is well-stocked and at a good price, and they get some interesting brews every now-and-then.

Lady M Cake: An outpost of a New York chain offering delicious, delicious cake. We routinely bring one to family gatherings during the holidays. I quite like the Checkers, though mostly because I’ve had their also-great, signature Mille Crepes (and its green tea variant) too much.

Isla Mori Garrido

Isla Mori Garrido came online on December 11th, at 7:26pm.

Both members of the on-call rotation are handling escalations well, despite their shift starting with them having only some theoretical knowledge of what they were doing. Reverse engineering a production [human] system, employing an OODA loop, performing under pressure, and quickly filtering and employing available reference literature have been notably transferable skills.

Our cat, Fiona, is not impressed with her new roommate. (It’s been a rough year for her: we also got a Roomba.)

So far, the steady state of being a parent is like being Admiral Adama in the first episode of the most recent Battlestar Galactica: handling long lulls that are regularly punctuated with intense periods of action, including the corresponding sleep deprivation and no clear end in sight, and with the high-level goal of survival. It’s fitting that the episode ends with the birth of a child and the series has a (mostly) happy ending.