Day One: Downtown
10am: Get to Chinatown before the weekend crowds descend on Golden Unicorn, a circuslike dim sum palace. Make sure to flag down the carts carrying roasted pork buns and custard-filled tarts.
1pm: Full already? Please. Continue your culinary tour several blocks north up Broadway in SoHo with a wander through the Spanish goods shop Despaña. You can purchase freshly-sliced, house-cured Serrano ham and other Iberico imports, or if you’re feeling peckish, grab a Picante sandwich with chorizo and Basque peppers to go.
3pm: Amble east along Houston Street to the East Village tea retreat, Gramstand (214 Avenue A; 212-533-1934), where you can rest your calves (and calm your stomach) over a pot of soothing, loose-leaf Eucalyptus Well tea ($7).
4:30pm: Just one avenue east, do like some of the city’s top chefs and forage for high-quality, hard-to-find ingredients at Trufette. Treat the store like your own well-stocked pantry, pulling open drawers, peering into shelves, and plucking out edible treasures like Tahitian vanilla beans, green cardamom, and truffle salt.
6pm: Head a few blocks west for an early dinner at Una Pizza Napoletana, an unassuming spot devoted to the art of Neopolitan-style pies. Owner Anthony Mangieri sometimes runs out of dough for his brilliant, charred-crust pizzas, so the earlier you get there, the better.
7:30pm: The feeding frenzy continues two avenues over at East Village Ice Cream (218 Avenue B; 212-673-6030). Sit at one of the shop’s two tables for a generous scooping of handmade pistachio ice cream ($3) topped with thick hot fudge.
10pm: Take a postprandial stroll over to the Lower East Side, where bustling ’inoteca offers an effervescent farewell to the evening: a glass of bubbly Lambrusco La Luna ($10).
Day 2: The West Side
10am: Start the morning with a pilgrimage to midtown’s gourmet mecca, the Time Warner Center. It’s too early to nab tables at Masa, but you can hit the Bouchon Bakery for a flaky pain au chocolat ($2.95) or a plump elderflower and apricot Danish ($3.25).
12:30: After you’ve spent a few hours burning calories across the street in Central Park, erase any health gains at Burger Joint, secreted away behind a curtain in the lobby of the luxury hotel, Le Parker Meridien. Follow the neon burger sign to enter this hidden (yet constantly packed) world of creamy shakes, greasy fries, and juicy, perfectly-broiled burgers.
2pm: Take the 1 train down to the West Village, where you can taste-test artisanal goodies at the tiny Blue Ribbon Bakery Market. If you don’t want to schlep around a freshly baked loaves of Jewish rye, then take home something more manageable like a jar of 100% raw Mexican Mesquite Blossom honey.
4pm: Take a breather a few blocks away on Waverly Place at Joe. The coffee is just as good as Seattle’s finest, made with sublime beans from the Barrington Roasting Company in Massachusetts.
5pm: Rifle through the stacks of vintage cooking tomes at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, a quick stroll away. Remember that dog-eared Betty Crocker book you grew up with? You might just find it here.
6:30pm: For dinner, walk west to Hudson St., then north several blocks until you land at Fatty Crab, which serves up fiery Asian food similar to what you’ll find at street stalls in Malaysia. Try the rice noodles studded with disks of Chinese sausage ($14) or the watermelon salad with crispy pork ($10).
9pm: You’re in for a memorable nightcap at Little Branch, just a few blocks east. This romantic subterranean space serves up some of the best cocktails in the city, mixed with fresh herbs, juices and blocks of long-lasting chipped ice.
Day Three: Brooklyn
9am: It may be known for its pretty brownstone buildings and quiet, tree-lined streets, but Brooklyn’s is also a haven for foodies. Begin your outer-borough jaunt at the kitshy diner Tom’s in Prospect Heights (take the 2 or 3 train to the Grand Army Plaza stop). Buttery options abound, but the best may be the ethereal lemon and ricotta pancakes, served with an addicting slab of lime butter.
11am: Just up Washington Avenue, take a spin around the Brooklyn Museum, pausing to check out Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Afterwards, recharge over a flaky yellow patty stuffed with spicy chicken ($1.85) at Christie’s Jamaican Patties (387 Flatbush Ave.; 718-636-9746), several blocks away on Flatbush Avenue.
1pm: Circle the roundabout at Grand Army Plaza to enter the culinarily blessed neighborhood of Park Slope. Though you’ll bypass dozens of restaurants on stroller-laden Seventh Avenue, hold out for a visit to the Lebanese-run marketD’Vine Taste (150 7th Avenue; 718-369-9548). Look for Middle Eastern specialties like meat pies, homemade lebneh yogurt, and slightly sweetened hibiscus juice.
3pm: Give your stomach a break by detouring a few blocks to Seventh Avenue, where you can scope out an array of fashionable pitchers and colanders at Tarzian West Housewares. Then walk south until you hit the F train at 9th Street, taking it three stops to Carroll Street and the impressive cheese assemblage at Stinky Bklyn (261 Smith St.; 718-522-7425). The shop is run by the same husband and wife duo who own the nearby wine store, Smith & Vine, loved by the locals for its well-selected $10-and-under table.
6pm: Before cracking open that wine, how about a cocktail? Walk a few blocks south to the Brooklyn Social Club—look for a door with the words “Non-Members Welcome”—a jazzy spot with a 1940’s vibe and a knack for inventive cocktails like the Riposto, with vodka, tangerines and rosemary ($7).
7:30pm: With bottle of wine in tow, grab a cab back to Park Slope for dinner at the cozy trattoria al di là, maker of a mean malfatti, swiss chard and ricotta gnocchi ($12), among other Venetian-style standouts.
10pm: End your Brooklyn wanderings with a decadent dessert at The Chocolate Room, just an eight-block wobble down Fifth Avenue. Wash down the signature chocolate fondue with a glass of chocolate port ($7.50) or another one of the café’s dessert wines.
Day 4: Excursions
1. Take a cab to the waterfront enclave of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where on weekends from May through November, a group of food vendors from Mexico and Central America set up shop at a soccer field on Bay and Clinton Streets. Sure the games are fun to watch, but the real highlight is the authentic cheese-filled pupusas, grilled-steak huaraches, and cups of fresh-squeezed lime juice. While you’re out here, take a stroll down Bay Street to Red Hook’s main drag, Van Brunt Street, where you’ll find LeNell’s, a well-parsed liquor shop known for its collection of bourbons; the friendly, pocket-sized wine bar Tini (414 Van Brunt St.;718-855-4206); and the organic-minded restaurant, the Good Fork. At the very end of the Van Brunt is a gigantic new Fairway grocery, where the colorfully stacked organic veggies are eclipsed only by the gorgeous views of the Statue of Liberty from the back patio.
2. Believe it or not, but the borough of Queens is a culinary hotbed. Begin your ethnic-food wanderings by taking the 7 train to 52nd St. in Woodside. Grab a cappuccino, bread basket, and a plate of huevos rancheros at the sweet Mexican-French spot, La Flor Bakery and Café. For lunch, the best bet is approximately eight blocks away at Masala (39-26 61st St., 866-370-9132). Try the tender chicken tikka masala, a dish so good they named the restaurant after it. Venture further east into the Indian neighborhood of Jackson Heights, where you can peruse giant jackfruits and luscious mangos at the massive Patel Brothers (37-27 74th Street, 718-898-3445) grocery store. At day’s end, make your way back down to Woodside on the 7 train, for a taste of the mint-laced beef salad at Sripraphai, one of the city’s last bastions of authentic Thai food.
3. Let’s face it: fighting the crowds in Manhattan’s Chinatown requires great resolve. For a much calmer experience, venture to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park via the D train. The Chinatown here is roughly twenty blocks long, with less crammed sidewalks. Begin your trek down 8th Avenue with a perfectly spiced shredded-pork bahn mi sandwich and rich avocado shake at Ba Xuyen (4222 8th Avenue; 718-663-6601). A half-dozen blocks south, $1 gets you five pork- and leek-stuffed dumplings at Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House (4801 Eighth Avenue, 718-437-3542). Four more blocks and you’ll hit Leung’s Bakery (5214 8th Avenue, 718-871-1488) and its pillowy red-bean buns—a light, sweet reward for a hard day’s eating.