Eating Around Lower Manhattan

I usually prefer to be in Midtown, but I found myself staying in the Financial District over the weekend. And there’s plenty to eat in Lower Manhattan.

First stop of the day for lunch was Lam Zhou Homemade Noodle, on the outskirts of Chinatown.

They don’t speak much (any?) English. There’s no air conditioning. If you want a soda you take it from the refrigerator sitting outside. Soup is about $5, a dozen dumplings ~ $3. They’ll sell you 50 frozen dumplings for $8.50. Cash only.

Somehow Michael Bloomberg allows them to remain open (perhaps because the refrigerator has only 16 ounce cans of soda?), despite a “B” rating from the health department, is anyone’s guess. This is not a pretty restaurant.

No water or tea if you do not ask. But outstanding soup, I had the brisket (#2), and the dumplings are incredibly flavorful and you discover sauce inside when you take a bite. Delicious.

That’s a meal in its own right, but I wanted to try a different approach to dumplings and also a sesame pancake at Prosperity Dumpling.

Cheap and delicious in its own right, the dough for the dumplings was fresher but the meat not as flavorful, and they fry in less oil, it was burned in some spots.

The pancake was good, the crumbled duck on top was delicious, but there was too little filling. Unsurprising for a couple of bucks, how much duck could they give you? I did wish there was more of it, though.

Dessert time and I walked over to Lung Moon Bakery for some egg tarts.

Eighty cents apiece and delicious, the perfect combination of price and quality. The best egg tarts I’ve ever had remain the ones from room service at the Westin in Macau (I imagine some will argue vociferously for Lord Stowe’s bakery there). These didn’t approximate those by a stretch. But they’re still really good, I don’t think I’ve had better in the United States.

Later on at dinner time I made the trek down to Katz’s Delicatessan on the lower East Side.

I’ve been going there for years. It’s a bit too popular, and I worry about its future with rising rents in a neighborhood that was once questionable seems to be gentrifying (there’s a high end gelato “laboratorio” directly across the street now). Prices are already high at $15.95 for a pastrami sandwich — not Times Square high where you’ll pay more for a lesser sandwich, but not cheap.

Still, they have the best pastrami I’ve ever eaten. This is a religious discussion, really, what’s the best New York deli? I don’t make the broad claim that Katz’s is the best all-around deli. But I will argue that they have the very best Pastrami.

I wonder how much of its status as a tourist destination stems from word of mouth about the pastrami, I actually doubt that’s the source of the customers since I often see a large number of out of towners completely dazed by the experience. They have no idea what to order, I always tell them to get the pastrami.

More likely it was made famous outside of Pastrami-circles as the restaurant where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat in When Harry Met Sally, you know the scene, she is really enjoying her meal and another customer declares “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The way this plays works, you walk in,, they hand you a ticket. Each person gets a ticket, and each person returns the ticket when they leave the deli. You hand over your ticket when ordering food, and the amount you owe gets handwritten on the ticket. It’s fine for two people (or more) to have the full amount of their meal on one ticket, but you return all of your tickets — one per person — on the way out. Cash only.

People queue up in the first line they see, if you can call it queueing. And that’s the trick to getting through this place quickly. Each “cutter” (sandwich maker) has their own line. Just wade through the crowd and get in the shortest line, which usually is not going to be the first one. There are also separate lines for side dishes like knishes and also for hot dogs, anything besides sandwiches. And a separate line for sodas (oddly enough, “and fries”).

For a group I think the best strategy is to assign someone to grab a table, and have someone else in the group order for them.

Or just do waiter service, the tables along the wall — and often you’ll see more tables free all the way to the back and then to the right — will get you a waiter to let you order off the menu. But, truly, that’s not what the experience here is about.

What’s it’s about is:

(For what it’s worth, another religious discussion, a knish is supposed to be square. Far less controversial, one must have a Dr. Brown’s soda to wash down the sandwich, I’ve always been partial to cream ever since I was a kid though in a pinch I’ll go with black cherry — Cel-Ray soda not so much.)

Since I was already down on Houston Street, it seemed a good idea to cap off the night by bringing some dessert back to the hotel. Down on West Houston is Francois Payard Bakery for the very best macarons I know.

Not cheap at $2.25 a macaron, that’s about the price of three egg tarts, and almost as much as a dozen dumplings. But soooo good and worth saving a few until morning to go with coffee…

Earlier on, by the way, I walked by a Mister Softee (soft serve ice cream) truck, which is something I remembered from when I was a kid, the Mister Softee and the Carvel truck used to come by the community pool and everyone would go running. Funny, when I was 10 the Mister Softee truck never struck me as likely to be selling natural male enhancement pills.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] My own time leading up to midnight was spent at Laduree for dessert and champagne. They’re known for having some of the best macarons in France, which meant they were a must-do for me. Although they are now also on Madison Avenue in New York, and having had the macarons in Paris it’s not obvious to me that they’re better than what I was already getting Francois Payard Bakery. […]


  1. You should have more of these posts up! Honestly, much more interesting since most of the stuff is cheap & good. The caviar and 10 course meal gets too much when every blogger decides to fly Lufthansa or Cathay

  2. Katz’s pastrami is so good, it’s worth forgoing the miles? It still amazes me how in 2012 a place that charges $15.95 for a sandwich doesn’t accept credit cards?

  3. You know you have good friends when they bring you a deli platter from Katz’s when you’re sitting shiva. What’s shiva? Shiva = wake.

  4. Love Katz and Prosperity Dumpling! I’m also hoping you took advantage of free lunch ala BA VISA with their dining promotion in NYC? =P

  5. Gary; Next time you are in Los Angeles try LANGERS #19
    pastrami on double baked rye. The absolute best !!

  6. @DJP_707,
    Speaking as someone who’s lived in NY for the last 12 years, I can tell you are not from around here. haha. There are places in Brooklyn (gasp!) that serve pizzas that’s $20 a pie and cash only. Just how this city works… If your place is good enough, it doesn’t matter if you’re cash only.

    And Gary, that pizza place is Lucali’s. It’s good enough for Blue Ivy’s parents so probably good enough for travel bloggers!

  7. So Gary, I am a Taiwanese having grown up in Malaysia, though now my parents have been working in China for the past 10+ years so I’ve had my fair share of Lam Zhou style noodles. The Lam Zhou Homemade Noodle place you described is THE place I go when I am in Lower Manhattan. At one point, my gf and I went to about 3 or 4 places that serve beef handmade/pull noodles in ONE night and that place is our favorite (though it wasn’t easy to find initially). So kudos to your taste in beef noodle soup!

  8. A small note of interest: the “other customer” in When Harry Met Sally who wants “what she’s having” is Estelle Reiner, wife of Carl Reiner and mother of the movie’s director, Rob Reiner.

  9. $2.25 a macaroon seems like a bargain to me, of course I am comparing it to the 4 euro version I had in Paris, but you are right…regardless of price, an OH so good treat you aren’t likely to have very often.

  10. i’d rather have two plates of chicken and rice for your one pastrami sandwich. =)

  11. the “sauce” in the dumplings was actually soup– they’re called soup dumplings and are a specialty….

  12. WTF is this compiling the most disgusting places to eat (except for bakery, those mac look pretty good)?

  13. Katz’s DOES take credit cards but not at the register by the door.

    To use a credit card, take your ticket to the mail order counter (to the left of the French fry station). Pay your bill with your cc but be sure to get your receipt to show the guy at the door when you exit.

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