Yup, the post title that was so good I had to use it twice.
(Not going to lie, pretty proud of that one.)
I’ve been meaning to return to my home city for a while now, but I hadn’t been able to get the timing right. Then, Ben’s company sent him to a conference in New York so away we went! I didn’t do a lot of planning this time around, which was giving me anxiety because I was waking up every day not really knowing what I was doing that day… But it was also pretty freeing. As a result, though, I wasn’t able to see as many people as I usually do when I’m up for a visit. Freeing, but I love seeing my old friends. I didn’t want to drag Ben around, though, so it was good that we were able to spend some just-us time and go with the flow. (You all know how much I struggle to do that.)
I’m going to include links to the businesses we visited and links to reviews so as to not bore you with details in this post here. If you’re interested, I do go fairly in-depth for most of the businesses in my reviews. I have lots of photos and we saw a fair bit, so strap yourself in!
Note: This trip took place in September 2015.
I’m a big fan of taking the bus between NYC and DC because it’s $20 each way and I can sleep on the way. We left from Union Station (where we always plan to eat Bojangles before boarding and never do because we never want to eat Bojangles at the very start of our day OR wait until too close to our departure time for the lunch menu to be served).
It’s okay, we got Popeye’s at the rest stop on the way.
Knowing that we weren’t going to spend much time wherever we stayed because we’d be out
eating having adventures — and in the interest of budget — we opted to stay at the Chelsea International Hostel (review). We still got our own room because I know from experience how annoying it can be to either be the last person to come back to a shared room (tip-toeing in a failed attempt to be courteous to the other bunks) and especially how annoying it is… not be the last person back. The walls were kind of thin, so we still got to find out that people used the bathroom outside the room all through the night. BUT for the price and the convenience and all, it did the job and I’d recommend it if you want to stay in/near Chelsea.
We were getting dinner with one of my closest friends from my high school in New Jersey at 7, so we had a bit of time to kill before that. I was very tempted to get a pre-dinner slice, because my craving for a New York slice of pie was REAL and brewing since 2012. In the end, Ben steered me away from pre-dinner pizza —several times— and we just walked around Union Square (just in time for the end of the farmer’s market), Washington Square Park (an always-favorite), and a quick little mosey around St. Mark’s Place, where I picked up a quick bubble tea/boba from the same Coco’s (review) location I visited the last time I brought Ben to New York. I also visited a few of the thrift stores nearby, but I am not trying to buy vintage Chanel so that was not really my scene.
At the continued and persistent recommendation of many friends, we went to Momofuku Noodle Bar (review), one of famous restaurateur David Chang’s establishments. I don’t think this came across in my last post, where I briefly mentioned that Momofuku Milk Bar, the dessert spot that simply wasn’t worth the hype. Since then, I seem to have developed a very strong opinion about Milk Bar. The mere mention sends me into a rage that includes key phrases like “Cornflake milk is the least desirable cereal milk, who would ever want a soft serve made of that GROSS” and “People need to STOP comparing stuff to crack, that crack bar was okay at best”. Okay, Starr, so you don’t like cornflake milk and you didn’t think the crack bar was so good it was like crack. That’s fair. BUT David Chang has done wonderful things with ramen and pork buns! This is what I was told. And boy, was I let down. It’s not that the food wasn’t good; it was! But it wasn’t that good. And it wasn’t the best I’ve had in the city. And it wasn’t the best bang for the buck. Plus, we were so crowded in there, and there were times I could barely hear or be heard by my friend without feeling like I was also yelling at the couple sitting next to us. (Sorry to that couple, I know my voice is a little shrill!) It was good to catch up with my friend after so long, though, as I don’t think I’ve seen him since we were in high school. He was one of my closest friends when I attended school in New Jersey, and he remained one of my closest friends when I moved.
Afterwards, we did a little bit of meandering and wound up at Strand Bookstore (review). Oh man, it was a pretty magical place. I only wish we got there earlier, because the Rare Books room is open without appointment but does close earlier than the rest of the store. Still, they had a great book selection and just so many cool knick knacks that I wanted to just take home and fill my home with. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to visit Strand but I’m glad I finally did, and with my boys!
The original plan, after parting ways with my friend, was to meet up with some friends from college for karaoke over at Koreatown. But, we were both feeling pretty tired, and Ben was starting to develop a bit of a cough. Maybe singing at the top of our lungs wasn’t the best idea then? We had a big day ahead of us.
This turned out to be a really productive day as far as crossing off places to eat on our list. We started the day with DOUGHNUTS. First, a stop at Doughnut Plant (review), which was recommended by Esther over on Local Adventurer. In an attempt to start the day on a healthy note (…), Ben and I split a raspberry doughnut because raspberry is a fruit and fruits are healthy.
From there, we headed a few blocks away to Dough (review), which my foodie friend who is back and forth between DC and NYC, Mimi, recommended. Again, to stay healthy (……..), we got a lemon & poppy doughnut there, because lemon is a fruit…? If you had to choose one doughnut shop between the two, go to Doughnut Plant if you like a cuter, brighter atmosphere (colorful doughnut decor, doughnut shaped pillows, etc.) and go to Dough if you like a more rustic, calm vibe (reclaimed wood, a brass cocker spaniel tap, etc.) The doughnuts were very comparable, but I guess I’d have to try more to give you a better comparison!
From there, we started heading downtown, as I was attending a CTY alumni get-together. But first, I got my pizza!!! Oh man, it was so delicious. We went to Joe’s Pizza (review) on Carmine where I enjoyed maybe the first plain cheese pizza slice I’ve had since living in New Jersey. Ah, it was the pizza of my childhood, with the added bonus of being able to look at multiple photos of Leonardo diCaprio (a fan of Joe’s, evidently) and the many other celebrities who visit the store. It was bliss. Pure bliss.
The CTY get-together was practically across the street at Molly’s Cupcake (review coming soon). Unfortunately, no one really showed up until almost 3 (we got there at 2…) but it was still nice to connect with the girl who organized it, as we apparently were campers together with the same circle of friends!
Onwards to our next stop: LMHQ for the Boba Guys pop-up (review). Boba Guys started as a pop-up in SF and now has their own shops (I think) and came to fame for not using powdered mixes for their bubble teas. I was just glad to be in town the same weekend, so I made sure to make a visit. At first, Ben and I were dismayed by the super long line (of almost exclusively Asian millennials) but Ben was actually relieved because he needed to do some stuff for his fantasy football leagues. It was fun to be able to catch this pop-up, but it wasn’t worth the time at all.
(Update: Boba Guys now has a location open in New York.)
On the other hand, visiting the One World Observatory (review coming soon) at the top of One World Trade Center was well worth our time. They’ve only just opened the building about 12 months ago, so this is something that most locals haven’t experienced yet. It doesn’t feel too touristy because it still feels so new. The lines weren’t long and there was great attention to making every part of the experience feel alive, from the testimonies by the construction team as you walked to the elevators, to the time-lapse of New York City on the ride up to the 102nd floor. Honestly, even if you are a New Yorker, I highly recommend taking a trip up. It’s a spectacular, beautiful view, and I learned so much about New York City and its history while I was up there. Honestly, this was the highlight of the trip.
We wound up spending a lot longer at the top of the city than I thought we would. We arrived just a little bit before sunset and left shortly after it had become completely dark. It was about 8pm, so we were kind of famished. We started walking towards Chinatown when we developed the following plan:
- Get some xiaolongbao (soup dumplings, 小笼包)
- Get some ice cream (gelato would have been accepted)
- Get some Halal Guys (duh)
- Head back to the hostel for mooncakes that we had brought along.
So, first stop: Joe’s Shanghai (review), which is pretty hyped so I tried to lower my expectations. We got a ticket (#6, if anyone was curious) and were told we could expect to wait 20-40 minutes. I wondered if we could maybe get ice cream around the corner first during that time when we were called up about 5 minutes later, so I suppose it was a good thing we didn’t leave for ice cream! The two of us were seated with a bunch of other people and our XLB order was promptly taken. We opted for one order so we’d have room for Halal Guys, and also ordered a vegetable so that we could try to get some nutrition. I was pleasantly NOT let down by these soup dumplings! It was, hands down, the best soup dumpling broth I’ve ever tasted, yummay.
Then we skipped along to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (review) where all of the unique flavors (over half the menu) we were there for were out… so we left with a green tea scoop and pouts on our faces.
Bellies really full, we started walking the 50 blocks up to 53rd and 6th, the original Halal Guys cart, by ways of Little Italy, which Ben had never experienced. I don’t think either of us really thought we’d walk the whole way, but the walking was welcome after eating. ALSO, we happened upon the eclipse party at Washington Square Park, so we sat there to watch the supermoon, aka blood moon, eclipse. Unfortunately, a few minutes before NASA’s estimate for the complete, total eclipse… a giant cloud rolled over. People booed. People howled. It was fine, we got to see a lot of the eclipse. So in the end, it was nice that we didn’t immediately hop underground or we might have missed it.
Finally, we made it to the Halal Guys (review) cart, we got our fill, and brought the leftovers back to our hostel for another night of rest. (Still waiting for the franchise locations to open in the DMV… as was promised to us…)
Ben’s conference accommodations included a hotel stay, so Monday morning we checked out of the hostel and checked into his hotel in Times Square. I haven’t felt the need to go to Times Square in a long time, which is a little nuts considering that it used to be a must-visit for me to feel like I had visited Manhattan. First order of business for me? BAGELS. So we ambled over to Best Bagels & Coffee (review coming soon) where I introduced Ben to the magical world not only of New York bagels, but bagels in general. (I know, ludicrous.) I got the smoked salmon (duh) on everything (double duh) and it was heavenly. It was a large sandwich, and it smelled so good on our way back to the hotel.
Then, after a quick stroll through Central Park, where Ben was almost mugged by a squirrel, we stopped at Albertine Books (review coming soon), one of the most magical places I have ever been to and a quiet little oasis on the Upper East Side. It was so serene that I really thought about just not telling anyone about this little gem across the street from the park. They have 14,000 titles in French and English, as provided by the French Embassy’s Cultural Services division. I might do a separate post on this beautiful spot, but please know that when I was there, there was an adorable 4-year-old boy getting French lessons from a really beautiful woman and it was perhaps the most perfect thing that could have been occurring there.
After feeling significantly rejuvenated and really zen, to be really honest, we headed back downtown as we were meeting some of my friends for dinner in Chelsea, where our journey in New York started. I took my new glasses to Warby Parker for a quick adjustment before Ben and I strolled along the High Line (review). I had actually not been to this section of one of my all-time favorite spots, and it included soooo many goodies and treats (popsicles, gelato, cookies, and more) and a little pseudo-beach where folks could lay back in recliners to look out over the Hudson River or take off their shoes and let a bit of water run beneath their bare feet. The High Line never disappoints and I always find something new to love about it every time I visit.
Monday was shaping up to be just a really nice, relaxed day. We weren’t walking as much and the most intense activity we had done was probably obtain our bagel and walk uphill at Central Park. We browsed around Chelsea Market before meeting my friends at Google New York to catch up and have dinner. The Google building takes up the entire block and it was a lot to take in. Ben and I got schooled in ping pong, where we were working up appetites for dinner. Our meal at Google was easily the healthiest thing we had the entire trip, as I loaded up on lots of fresh salads and veggie medleys in an attempt to balance out all the carbs and fat we had eaten that weekend. The best part of my visit to Google, however, was getting to sit up on the roof with my friends and enjoy the nightscape of the financial district and Hoboken across the river. Especially since I thought it would be cold and rainy by Monday but was in fact really comfortable and clear outside.
Ben and I ended Monday night with dollar slices of pizza because we could. And they were so good.
Tuesday was the first day of Ben’s conference and my last day in the city. When he left to catch his shuttle to the convention center, I tried to figure out how to spend my last few hours in my home city. Originally, I had wanted to get ramen at Ippudo to make up for how disappointing my experience at momofuku was, but Ippudo doesn’t open until 11 and my bus back to DC was at 1:30, so it was cutting it too close for comfort. Instead, I just kind of chilled, which I don’t normally do ordinarily, let alone in New York. First, I stopped by Paris Baguette, which I’ve seen loads of photos of but we don’t have any locations in DC. I was hoping they might have some croissant-doughnut pastries, but none to be found. I picked up a meh bubble tea and an adorable Royal Pudding bottle that I couldn’t eat there because how do you eat those when the bottle is so small??? (Not a rhetorical question, I did not know how to eat this. Please advise? I had to scoop it out with a chopstick?) I also got to eavesdrop on a job interview up there while I was people watching the street below. (The kid did well, but his interviewers fear he’ll run back to the roadkill of his childhood — aka Louisiana — to knock up an old girlfriend and leave. I am not kidding. ALSO there was an angry Italian story about John McEnroe that ended with the police being called. I don’t know, I was just trying to embrace some zen.)
I’m not great at sitting and relaxing, so I went back to Best Bagels and Coffee to pick up a bagel for my bus ride home (lox schmear this time!) and then picked up a bubble tea from Gong Cha, another bubble tea franchise we don’t have in the DC area, to wash down the bagel.
Then I had to just kind of sit tight. I ordered room service for the first time in my life because I was started to get really stressed about time and I didn’t want to stray too far from the hotel. And then I was off. Ben was kind enough to leave the conference center during his lunch break to make sure I got on the bus.
Lemme tell you guys about maybe the best bus experience I’ve ever had???
If you ever ride BoltBus, and your bus driver’s name is Calvin, prepare for SMILES.
He was big on calling us a family, this little family on a bus to DC, stuck together by circumstance for 4 hours. He was so friendly and nice! We originally weren’t going to make any stops, but he pulled over at one of the rest stops because a girl accidentally got on the bus to Baltimore instead of to DC. As we were getting ready to head out, he gave us some trivia questions:
- Who was the first American president?
- Answer: NOT George Washington! Actually, depending on how you define “American president”, John Hanson was the first president of the Continental Congress as the role was written in the Articles of Confederation. After all, George Washington was a general first, and there was someone in charge while he was!
No one got that one, but I knew what kind of dog Scooby Doo is! (He’s a Great Dane!) THEN Calvin gave me a Cinnabon and a soda for getting the question right! I thought there was some kind of weird catch but nope, that was that. Even though I don’t normally consume that much sugar, I was grateful that my random trivia paid off like that. 😀
It was a really great way to end a fun trip. I can’t wait for my next one!
Where should I go next time I visit my home city of New York?
Which borough should I make sure not to skip? (I’m very Manhattan-biased, but as we get older, my friends move off the island to Brooklyn, Long Island, and Queens.)