My absolute favorite places in NYC

I grew to acquire some favorite places in the past year and a half of living in New York City. It’s truly a playground for the comfortably wealthy however, for those like me attempting to live off the savings (after all your first paycheck is dedicated to heinously expensive rent) of their first job, it’s quite a task to live on a budget. Not sure I did so successfully, but I managed. At any rate I’ve gained the wisdom to impart the recommendations below. Listed in no particular order (could you even ASK a girl to list her favorite stores in order??), below is a trustworthy guide I would impart on my best friends who are seeking recommendations on where to visit when in NYC.

My favorite places to shop (women’s clothes primarily)

Zara in Midtown (666 5th Ave, New York, NY 10103)

Amongst all the Zaras in NYC (and believe me, I’ve been to all) this one in particular is my absolute FAVORITE location. Why? First and foremost it has tons of space – on 2 floors – to accommodate Midtown crowds of business people, tourists, what have you. Even at its worst it never seems oppressively crowded. They’ve done a great job with lighting to make it bright and cheerful in here, motivating shoppers to shop. Another reason I like bright lighting is the enhanced ability to spot any flaws/makeup stains on clothing before you try & buy. Secondly, I’ve seen merchandise in this store that aren’t available in other smaller Zaras. And lastly, it’s right nearby an Aritzia, which is another one of my favorite stores of all time, and within walking distance of other stores on 5th Ave, making this Zara a win on all accounts.

Lululemon in Union Square (15 Union Square W, New York, NY 10003)

I hadn’t even stepped foot into a Lululemon store prior to this year. Prior to the boom of the whole “athleisure” trend, I just had no need to buy pricey workout clothes. Once I started to work out a bit this spring, I was hooked on the quality, style, and design of Lululemon attire. It was an expensive habit indeed. While all Lulus do not have much of a sale section at all, this one is spacious, centrally located in Union Square and at any rate, much larger than the tiny Lulu in SoHo. The sales people are quite friendly and accommodating as well.

Nordstrom Rack in Union Square (60 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003)

Before a Nordstrom Rack opened up nearby my work in Downtown Brooklyn, this was mecca for me. With a selection of discount high-end designer shoes as well as more affordable selections, I’ve purchased countless articles of clothing from this store. I’m a bit lost when it comes to attempting to find affordable shoes and Nordstrom Rack will typically take care of that. I would come here for affordable business casual clothes and to peruse their shoes.

Aritzia in SoHo (524 Broadway, New York, NY 10012) – also in Midtown

I absolutely love the vibe of this place – young, very downtown chic. Think lots of monochromatic clothes, muted colors, loose & flowy layers, and leather. The sales girls here play their part well in going with the whole downtown casual/cool theme. The sound system is sweet, makes you feel like you’re pregaming before a night out in the evening. I’ve purchased a variety of clothes from here – casual dresses, tanks, and even a pair of black pants for work. I find their merchandise quite easy to dress up or down because it’s not over-accessorized like some options you’ll find at other boutiques (like Topshop). Their selection of purses while beautiful is definitely on the pricier end.

Comptoir des Cotonniers in SoHo (155 Spring St, New York, NY 10012)

I first discovered this brand in 2012 after a friend in London raved about their basic layering tops. While the majority of their items are definitely a bit on the higher-end for me, the vibe is oh so chic and so very Parisienne. I always feel nostalgic coming to this store as I frequented multiple Comptoir des Cotonniers stores in Paris. Believe me, with merchandise from this store, you could transform anyone into a chic Parisian. While the denim here will never be as distressed, the colors a little more muted and even simple t-shirts not quite so baggy as what you’ll see on women strutting the streets of NYC, the outfits you can find in this store will make you look impeccably polished and put-together in a way that will give you that je ne sais quoi. And if you’re on an unlimited budget, Chanel also does that too for a much higher price tag.

Journelle in SoHo (125 Mercer St, New York, NY 10012)

My favorite lingerie store in NYC. Would obviously be a different story if I had an unlimited budget but alas that is not yet the case. I may be jumping the gun by talking about the changing room but lets – they are enormously spacious, and the sales associates provide free water bottles and chocolate while you’re changing giving a whole new meaning to bedroom boudoir pampering. I personally always try to at least color-coordinate my bra & underwear if I can’t wear a matching set.. its been a bit of an obsession of mine ever since I heard French women only wear matching lingerie sets. Si intelligentes, ces femmes. Journelle carries a variety of lingerie brands from L’Agent, Elle Macpherson, Stella McCartney, etc so you can definitely find something within your budget here. Though personally I always try to hold out for their annual Friends & Family sale where you can get 20% off your entire purchase. Some things are definitely worth waiting for.

Frye in SoHo (113 Spring St, New York, NY 10012)

Truly gorgeous store with leather, leather and more leather. I appreciate the symmetrical structure of this store – one side is for women, the other for men – and can attest to the longevity and durability of Frye leather. A pair of dark brown over-the-knee boots I got from Frye last winter still garner compliments from strangers on the street. A pair of boots from Frye is an investment well-made. Leather never goes out of style, it looks better with age.

The Reformation in Lower East Side (156 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002)

I love The Reformation for their dresses. You seriously cannot find a better casual or night-out dress than from here. Plus I love their concept of using leftover fabrics from other fashion houses/brands and creating a set number of limited pieces and not bringing back more. Makes pieces feel a bit more one-of-a-kind which we’re all looking for. Not a fan of the service I’ve received at this store, the sales girls are all a bit cold but small price to pay to get to try on and potentially take home a gorgeous piece.

Incaze Boutique in Lower East Side (101 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002)

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I’ve returned to this jewelry store countless times, mostly for earrings but also for necklaces. I find the price quite affordable for quality jewelry that does not tarnish or break. Earrings can run anywhere from $20 and I believe can go up to $100 or so. The flower ring featured in the picture is a showstopper by the way. Their merchandise changes fairly frequently as I believe they’re handmade so theres limited stock. A great place to get gifts or to treat yourself.

For mid-shopping breaks aka Cafés/Bakeries

Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo (189 Spring St, New York, NY 10012)

Some of the absolutely beautiful pre-made pastries available for sale!
Some of the absolutely beautiful pre-made pastries available for sale!
Pastries, encore
Pastries, encore
My sister and I ordered made-to-order Madeleines as well as their famed Frozen S'more!
My sister and I ordered made-to-order Madeleines as well as their famed Frozen S’more!

Consider the consumption of any one delicacy from Monsieur Ansel’s famed SoHo bakery an immediate revival to the soul. Consider it a privilege to be privy to the creations of artwork and the ever-developing imagination of Monsieur Ansel. Whilst I have never had the privilege of trying a famed cronut (yes, even after two years it is still that popular) the honor to have this bakery in proximity to some of my favorite boutiques in famed SoHo is something to cherish.

Georgetown Cupcakes in SoHo (111 Mercer St, New York, NY 10012)

High-ceilings, cute space. In line for ordering
High-ceilings, cute space. In line for ordering
L to R: Vanilla, Sea Salt Caramel and Red Velvet. All LOVELY. They make one of the BEST Red Velvet cupcakes in my humble opinion :)
L to R: Vanilla, Sea Salt Caramel and Red Velvet. All LOVELY. They make one of the BEST Red Velvet cupcakes in my humble opinion 🙂
Georgetown Cupcakes' seasonal maple flavors - delectable
Georgetown Cupcakes’ seasonal maple flavors – delectable

July 2012. My first memory of Georgetown Cupcakes came from an impromptu post-slumber party with one of my closest girl friends who was staying just a stone’s throw away. “What is this Georgetown Cupcake?” I mulled. “Free cupcakes, limited supply! Hurry!” Lily declared. It was fate that the free cupcake of the day was their famed Earl Grey Lavender, soon to be one of my all-time favorite flavors.  Lofty ceilings, cupcake artwork and sweets crafted to perfection for the eyes and for your taste buds. I’ve got to get this franchise to Seattle.

Two Little Red Hens in Upper East Side (1652 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10028)

Yellow Cupcake & Red Velvet Cupcake - one of the rare occasions where I didn't get a Brooklyn Blackout!
Yellow Cupcake & Red Velvet Cupcake – one of the rare occasions where I didn’t get a Brooklyn Blackout!

Thank heavens for the power of social media. A stranger’s recommendation of this venue on a Facebook comment turned into my love affair for this bakery’s Brooklyn Blackout cupcakes. Larger than your typical cupcake and running $4 a pop, it is worth every dollar. Chocolate pudding inside is perfection with the moist chocolate cake and sweet and slightly (dare I say) fudgy frosting. I’m not even a fan of chocolate cake and yet I will always get at least the Brooklyn Blackout here.  For the man or woman you love, get them the 6” Brooklyn Blackout cake. You will be seriously rewarded.

Momofuku Milk Bar in East Village (251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003) – also in Midtown Manhattan & Brooklyn

It was perhaps for the best of my waistline that I did not venture into one of my now all-time favorite bakeries when I lived in Stuy Town (15th St & 1st Ave) in the summer of 2013. Since discovering this Milk Bar in Fall 2014, I’ve been a loyal devotee. I’ve introduced friends and acquaintances to their phenomenal Cornflake, Corn, and Compost cookies (I’d take one of these over a dozen mediocre batch of chocolate chip cookies ANY DAY) as well as their famed cereal milk soft serve. Oh and the birthday cake truffles… how could I forget those bits of sugary wisps of heaven. Needless to say, these make terrific gifts and it is truly a unique NYC bakery to experience. With additional outposts in Midtown and in Brooklyn, there’s no excuse not to get here.

Fay Da Bakery in Chinatown (191 Centre St, New York, NY 10013)

How could one refuse these beautiful cakes.. only $20!
How could one refuse these beautiful cakes.. only $20!
Just a small sampling of their abundant pastries
Just a small sampling of their abundant pastries

I must be frank and admit that I was not particularly keen on visiting a bakery in Chinatown. Yes, I was prejudiced and refused to believe they would be up to my standards which were quite elevated as a lover of Georgetown Cupcakes and French bakeries. However, once I overcame my prejudice and figured I had nothing to lose by spending $1 on one of the plethora of buns here, I was an instant convert. Any lover of dim sum would DIE for the size & quality of the buns here. Taro buns. Roast pork buns. Their sponge cakes! Enough said. Even their cakes look splendid enough for a birthday or anniversary fête. I will sorely miss this place with all my heart for it quickly climbed the ranks as one of my favorite little cafés in NYC due to how affordable its generously-sized buns are (~$1). Will be on the hunt to find its counterpart out in Seattle.

Best quality eats

99 Favor Taste in Chinatown (285 Grand St, New York, NY 10002)

Commencing our 2-hr AYCE (All You Can Eat) hot pot & BBQ extravaganza!
Commencing our 2-hr AYCE (All You Can Eat) hot pot & BBQ extravaganza!
AYCE BBQ - huge selection of meat, seafood and veggies to select
AYCE BBQ – huge selection of meat, seafood and veggies to select

Being the first hot pot restaurant I’ve been to in the United States and the fact that it boasts a two-hour all-you-can-eat BBQ and hot pot deal for $30, this place will be one of the first restaurants I return to when I revisit NYC. With a copious variety of seafood, meats, and vegetables to choose from, I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent indulging in either hot pot or BBQ or both (yes, I’ve done all three). Plus free ice cream if you check in on Yelp… not that you will ever leave this place hungry, that’s for sure. Such an awesome bang for your buck.

Robataya in East Village (231 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003)

Sit at the front of the restaurant to witness the foods cook by two chefs right in front of you & served on long-handled wooden paddles
Sit at the front of the restaurant to witness the foods cook by two chefs right in front of you & served on long-handled wooden paddles
Variety of veggies and fish to choose from
Variety of veggies and fish to choose from

Sit by the front of the restaurant to witness dishes served in front of your eyes on wooden panels as this Japanese-themed restaurant (with amazing yuzu-based cocktails) transports you to the essence of Japan via the East Village. While much of the restaurant experience is to pay for something different than what you normally get, it does not take away from the fact that any evenings that start here are memorable.

Turntable in Koreatown (314 5th Ave, New York, NY 10001)

A youthful, energetic crowd dominates on weekend evenings. No doubt their flavored soju, flavorful fried chicken, hushpuppies appetizer and kimchi fried rice elevate moods all around. I’ve returned here on countless occasions and it works as either a date-venue, a girls night out dinner venue or as the site for a raucous team outing. Its high-energy is addicting. One of my favorite places in Ktown although the wait for large parties (4+) can be exhaustingly long. Only speaks to its popularity I suppose!

Mu Ramen in Long Island City (12-09 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101)

Completely worth the wait to get a seat!
Completely worth the wait to get a seat!

I’m thrilled that with all the hype that accompanied this ramen joint’s opening in December 2014, it has continued to push the envelope and bring creative culinary inventions to the table. With flora that decorate the tabletops of which Seattleites would approve, Mu Ramen easily tops any other ramen joint in the city for switching it up and infusing what is Asian comfort food with a flare of novelty and creativity with regularly changing menu items.

Gramercy Tavern in Flatiron (42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003)

Stunning fresh floral decorations on the interior.
Stunning fresh floral decorations on the interior.
Delicious lunch
Delicious lunch – seafood broth

Though I only had the chance to come here once for lunch, I finally comprehend why it is one of the most famed/coveted restaurants to visit in NYC. From the impeccable service, fresh floral interior and deliciously crafted food, I would make a visit here an occasion worthy to remember. I know my bestie from Dallas thoroughly enjoyed her visit here when we came here on a serendipitous visit on Memorial Day weekend.

Memorable Bars/Cocktail Lounges

NYC—and maturity I suppose—transformed me from once disdaining dive bars and Irish pubs into acknowledging their presence in making a city what it is. However, I will always prefer the art that goes into cocktails. Below are a couple that made the cut:

Top of the Standard in Meatpacking District (848 Washington St, New York, NY 10014)

Happy hour at the Standard Biergarten - forgot the name of these pink drinks but it's a raspberry-vodka-calpico drink written on the cocktail menu on the wall
Happy hour at the Standard Biergarten – forgot the name of these pink drinks but it’s a raspberry-vodka-calpico drink written on the cocktail menu on the wall
View of NJ from the 18th floor of the Standard at night
View of NJ from the 18th floor of the Standard at night

Quite possibly the most beautiful view of downtown NYC & New Jersey you will ever get. Yes, that is a superlative. Come here during sunset and the lights of the setting sun blend with the vibrant lights of downtown and neighboring New Jersey in a way that is unparalleled with any other rooftop. The Top of the Standard puts its neighbors to shame. With the Standard Biergarten and the Standard Grill on the ground floor and a cocktail bar & club (with a hot tub, albeit tiny) on the 18th floor of this hotel, The Standard quite literally is the entire package.

Whiskey Park in Central Park South (100 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019)

The drinks aren’t much to rave about here. Rather, it is its spectacular location on Central Park South, the best bouncer/doorman I’ve ever encountered in NYC, and its elevated sense of what a sports bar should be that draws me to this place. Having made this destination my last stop on countless evenings out, I consider this an upgrade to your typical last-call stops. 

Angel’s Share in East Village (8 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003)

An unmarked door on the second floor of a restaurant serves as the entrance to this remarkable speakeasy. Truly every one of the cocktails here are crafted with thought regarding ingredients’ compatibility with one another. I try to order something different each time as the plethora of choices makes me wish I had a higher tolerance for spirits.

For independent reveries/weekend walks alone in NYC

I always need some time in the day alone whether it’s to clear my head or to concentrate on my own thoughts. I will so miss the following places as my little sanctuaries.

West Side Highway

View of the Financial District once you've ran up to TriBeCa!
View of the Financial District once you’ve ran up to TriBeCa!
Visually stunning sunsets are the perfect view to run alongside
Visually stunning sunsets are the perfect view to run alongside

While you might not think this bustling dog-walking/pedestrian/runner-friendly venue is exactly a peaceful part of town, my experiences here have been primarily on early-morning or late-night runs. It’s less crowded during those times and it’s incredible how nearly-meditative an independent run of even 30 minutes can be. And you just can’t beat the smell of fresh seawater and a refreshing view of the horizon break before your eyes.

Sheep’s Meadow and Model Boat Sailing Pond in Central Park

Model Boat Sailing Pond - plenty of benches near this area, perfect for an afternoon walk
Model Boat Sailing Pond – plenty of benches near this area, perfect for an afternoon walk
Trails run throughout the park - friendly for both athletes and pedestrians alike
Trails run throughout the park – friendly for both athletes and pedestrians alike

Yes, there is nothing quite like Central Park, however, I chose to be picky and only list the two areas where I’ve spent significant amounts of time. Both are quite the juxtaposition as the former is a large space of greenery (once grazed by sheep, hence its name) for picnics and sunbathing galore while the latter is full of young children and parents racing toy sail boats. Both however have served as fantastic locations to people watch and to mull over life over a novel and a beverage in hand.

Places I leave with sentimental memories

Perhaps not spectacular, but poignant sentimental memories resonate more with me personally than for service, quality of food/beverage, or views. I would be remiss if I did not give these a mention.

Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle

Lights that (visually) warm you up on cold winter evenings
Lights that (visually) warm you up on cold winter evenings
Columbus Circle - the beginning of Central Park from the west side
Columbus Circle – the beginning of Central Park from the west side

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Not the breathtakingly dazzling views as you could get from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, however the Time Warner Center boasts world-class restaurants such as Per Se and Masa (which I have yet to visit, oh dear) but also the Stone Rose Lounge, a spacious Sephora and J Crew along with Bouchon Bakery on the third floor to a lovely view of Columbus Circle. TWC is decked out during the holidays with lights and the fantastic glass building always makes this place dazzle from winter through summer.

Bryant Park

Take advantage of Bryant Park's supreme Midtown location and look around! The Empire State Building loves to dress up and try on new shades of lights
Take advantage of Bryant Park’s supreme Midtown location and look around! The Empire State Building loves to dress up and try on new shades of lights
Even when it's spring yet feels like winter, the plethora of seating available at the park allow you to rest up before tackling the rest of the city for the day
Even when it’s spring yet feels like winter, the plethora of seating available at the park allow you to rest up before tackling the rest of the city for the day

A little oasis in the bustle of Midtown. Once one of my favorite places to relax my feet or to read a book over coffee after shopping sprees at nearby Zara, I’ve since upgraded to far more regular visits to NYC’s true oasis, Central Park (plus it was 10-minute walking distance from my previous apartment on the Upper East Side). It will always remain in my heart as a special park amidst the hustle and bustle of Midtown’s offices.

Smorgasburg in Williamsburg

Looking out onto lovely Manhattan from Williamsburg
Looking out onto lovely Manhattan from Williamsburg

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You’ve gotta hand it to New Yorkers who can leave their bellowed island of Manhattan and trek across a river for a foodnomenal event such as Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, which occurs every Saturday. A similar one occurs at Brooklyn Bridge Park but on Sundays. An enormous variety of vendors set up their tents for an entire afternoon and the variety of food is incredible—from tacos, lobster rolls, gourmet fries, coconuts, donuts, ice cream and ramen burgers, any beautiful day outdoors should start at Smorgasburg. Plus it is an excellent starting ground for exploring Willamsburg.

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