In a city as giant and populous as New York, you'd better believe the restaurant, cafe, bar, and hole-in-the-wall dining options are endless. But between every budget, palate, preference, and place there's something for everyone — and that's seriously no exaggeration. So when planning a whirlwind trip (or let's be honest, even a longer one) it can be incredibly hard to choose exactly which places to eat at. After all, you couldn't possibly try them all. Luckily we've chatted with Matt Levy from The Levys' Unique New York! to get the inside scoop on exactly where to go. Read on, foodies.
Tell me a bit about how The Levys' Unique New York! got started.
The Levys' Unique New York! (or LUNY! as we like to call ourselves!) was started by Mark Levy, my father, in 2003. Dad had just retired from his city government job and he was looking to re-invent himself and his career. Dad said to himself "Well, I love to talk. And I love history. And I love to be the center of attention. I should start a tour company!" I came along at the same time as a college graduate with a useless degree in Performance Art / Poetry, which is also good when it comes to talking and being the center of attention. So Dad asked me to join the biz and voila! NY's First Family of Tour Guides.
As a born and bred Brooklynite and tour guide of Manhattan, how would you describe the difference between the two?
Brooklyn is much more laid-back, more open spaces, more trees, more sky. Manhattan is more crowded, louder, more transient, more of a relentless drive. Brooklyn is more middle class and working class, Manhattan is more upper class and 1%er. Brooklyn is cooler, Manhattan is hotter. Brooklyn is more creative, Manhattan is more business. You couldn't pay me enough money to move to the city. I'm a Brooklyn boy.
Which Manhattan tour is your favourite and why?
Chinatown Ethnic Eating Tour. Chinatown is amazing. Think about it. Every single neighborhood surrounding Chinatown is for the wealthy and the cultural classes - SoHo to the north, TriBeCa and the Civic Center to the South, the Lower East Side to the East, Hudson Square and Greenwich Village to the West. All of these 'hoods have expensive hotels, boutiques and Starbucks. Chinatown should have been gentrified out of existence by now. But it hasn't. It's still defiantly, proudly, amazingly immigrant driven and working class. And the eats are cheap and delicious.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Lower East Side of Manhattan: where are some of the very best places to eat that are off the tourist track? What do we have to try there?
I'd be remiss if I didn't say Katz's Deli. It's most certainly NOT off the beaten track - it's crowded, loud, hectic, visually jammed and historic, but its the Platonic ideal of a Jewish Deli. Ask for your pastrami a little "jugoso" which means "juicy" in Spanish. Russ and Daughters Cafe is a tremendous experience, not just a meal. They truly transferred the history and culture of their Houston St storefront into a modern sit-down cafe that respects and elevates the past. There's a really lovely Greek trattoria, Souvlaki GR, on Stanton Street that serves a mean gyro. And of course, fill your cavities and get some new ones at Economy Candy.
Which other neighborhoods of Manhattan are known for incredible food?
Flatiron for fancy sit-down as well as fast-casual
East Village for Japanese, Chinese, Northern Thai
Hells Kitchen for Mexican
What do you think is the most underrated neighborhood in Manhattan and why?
Chinatown. See above. NYers just go for dim sum and tourists just go for knock-off Prada purses but it's much, much more.
What different types of people can you find in different parts of Manhattan? Are there any specific neighborhoods you would associate with certain crowds?
Upper East Side = money, honey. old school.
Upper West Side = native New Yorkers who've been here since the city was a dump; new arrivistes who cant afford downtown.
Flatiron = techie crowd
East Village = NYU kids, post-college grads, daydrinkers.
Chelsea = the gayborhood.
Your tour of the Financial District says it holds some of NYC’s earliest history. What are some interesting facts that you think most people don’t know?
NYC was the capital of America for five short years - 1789 - 1794. The Federal Hall (basically a White House without a bedroom) sat immediately across the street from the Stock Exchange. Meaning the financial capital and the political capital of this fledgling nation were situated catty-corner from one another.
Where do you like to hang out in New York on your days off?
NOT IN MANHATTAN!!! hahaha. Brooklyn, baby. At home, at the local park, on my bicycle, enjoying a cocktail, eating delicious ethnic foods, playing with my daughter, basically anything but heading into the city.