If you are from the great state of New Jersey (okay fine, or Long Island), you are well aware of the god forsaken awful place that is Penn Station. Yes, it provides (so called) “easy” transportation in and out of NYC from your home in NJ and makes it feasible to simply hop on a train into the city for dinner and drinks and then back home, but it is unfortunately not located in the best of areas. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked “I need to grab dinner by Penn Station, any good recommendations?” Restaurateurs are finally starting to notice this area as a total outlier on the supply/demand table and opening some great new spots, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Luckily, there are still some gems in the area, and I am fortunate to have a good friend, Lara from @_littlemissfoodie, to tell me where to go. As a fellow NJ resident, and knower of all great places near Penn Station, it was an absolute no brainer to have her featured on the Freckled Foodie & Friend’s Favorites to help everyone commuting find a great meal before they hop on the train (and pray NJT actually runs on schedule).
Place to order a strong cocktail:
STK Midtown: As much as I love to save money, stay in, and make dinner on my own with a glass of wine, there’s something about grabbing a fancy cocktail that makes me feel like a real woman sometimes. I always resort to STK when I’m in the area. Never have I ever had a more delicious dirty martini before that made me feel like I downed 4 vodka sodas. And I know what you’re thinking… don’t all dirty martinis do that? Not quite. I’ve had my fair share and this place does it right. So, grab a dirty martini, Manhattan, or Whiskey Sour from STK for happy hour and you’ll know you’re doing happy hour right.
The Keg Room: In all of my foodie experiences, I’ve noticed that the best burgers aren’t exactly at the popular burger joints that boast a 1lb burger for $45. Who can even finish a 1lb burger anyway?! I find the best burgers to be at the smaller joints, with more of a bar atmosphere, that caters to sports fans. This is where you’ll get a good-sized burger, cooked perfectly to your liking with all the delicious toppings that won’t break the bank. The Keg Room is my favorite place to gather with family, friends, or for a college reunion for cheap drinks and good food. The burgers are always juicy, you can swap out sides and toppings, and add all extra cheese you want. Are you sold yet? It’s conveniently near Penn Station so you don’t have to stumble far when you need to catch a train, but it’s also in Midtown/Times Square where there are plenty of other places to venture out to. My favorite burger on the menu is the Pub Burger: grilled 8oz certified black angus beef with Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and Irish cheddar cheese – add guac and you’ll definitely be back for another soon!
Parents are in town:
Quality Italian: My family, or myself for that matter, aren’t big into going out to dinner for Italian food. Why go out for Italian when you can make it even better at home? On the other hand, there’s Quality Italian. Quality Italian is located on the South end of Central Park, and the North end of Midtown, just a stone’s throw from Radio City Music Hall. You can kill two birds with one stone by showing off some of NYC’s best tourist spots while getting in a delicious dinner. What to order? The chicken parm pizza. And don’t mistake it for pizza topped with all things chicken parm. Nope – the crust is made from a pounded and flattened chicken cutlet, topped with sauce and melted cheese. The drizzle of honey on top makes for the most amazing meal. My mouth is watering thinking about it. But don’t start with that – don’t forget the garlic monkey bread (my pre-garlic allergy self loved this) and the brussel sprouts for a starter. End it with a Ghriardelli gelato and you’ll be in heaven. My biggest advice? Go hungry. Like, starving.
Date night that involves getting dressed up:
Koi Bryant Park: You know those restaurants that are kind of hidden in a busy part of the city, where it should be impossible to walk in and get a table, but it isn’t because it’s so underrated. That’s Koi NYC. Koi is conveniently located on Bryant Park, at the bottom of the Bryant Park Hotel which serves upscale Japanese fare and imaginative sushi. The music is good, the waterfall walls keep it relaxing, and the lights stay dim to enhance your romantic dinner. I’m that person who can’t just order sushi from anywhere…I’m super skeptical of my fish. But Koi is fresh and the sushi comes out slightly warmed. Start with the rock shrimp and a glass of red wine.
Date night where I can still wear leggings:
Frames Bowling Lounge: Who says a date night can’t be a bowling night? As you can tell, I love date nights that are fun rather than always sitting down and getting dinner. I’ve been to my fair share of bowling alleys in the city, and they all have a 2hour limit, all you can eat and drink options. Plus, who ever has a bad time bowling? It always winds up being fun! Make a reservation for a lane, just you and your significant other and rock those leggings all night! They play good music so you can dance and even paly billiards. They have everything from hot pretzels to mac and cheese bites, beef sliders and nachos for appetizers, to quesadillas, salads, burgers and sandwiches for dinner.
Girl’s night out:
Top of the Strand: Nothing screams a night out, especially GNO, like a good rooftop. Top of the Strand is located in Midtown, right near Bryant Park, and a quick and easy walk back to Penn Station. It’s set on the 21st floor of the Strand Hotel, which has a retractable glass roof for a fun ambiance any time of year. The views of the Empire State Building are dazzling and will make your girlfriends snapchat the scene all night (that’s when you know it’s good, right?) They have creative cocktails catered to the season, an extensive wine list, and small bites to cure the munchies. You can get dressed up or still fit in with a pair of jeans, cute top and heels!
Takeout without feeling like garbage:
Dig Inn: If you’re familiar with NYC or Boston, or you’re pretty into the instagram foodie community, then you’ve heard of Dig Inn. Dig Inn is perfect for breakfast, lunch OR dinner, which makes it everyone’s favorite. Each day the staff (who is always super, super friendly) prepares proteins, grains, and veggies, which turn into mouthwatering and delicious bowls that will keep you satisfied for hours. It is only made with quality ingredients but it won’t break your bank. Think: homemade meal at a restaurant. Order ahead of time or grab-and-go for a guilt-free takeout option. Pro tip: get the sweet potatoes. ALWAYS get the sweet potatoes.
Juice Press: Anything with “juice” in it is healthy, right? It should be. Juice Press is conveniently located a block from Penn Station so you can get your health fix on your way to work or on your way home. The downside: you have to go through Macy’s. But it’s worth it! Hey, a little extra steps never hurt nobody! Juice Press is a chain for health-conscious foodies featuring smoothies, juice, raw foods, vegan foods and even cleanses! What I love about Juice Press is that they give you menu options, but you can also create your own.
Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar: Wine and chocolate? In the same place? You got it! This is a great spot for a date night with your hunny or a night out with your girls. If you like charcuterie boards for their variety, consider this charcuterie for dessert. This French-inspired bar and restaurant features nearly 100 wines and champagnes, chocolates, cheeses and more. I love to end my night here after a super savory (read: Quality Italian or steak) dinner. Grab a glass of wine and a smorgasbord of chocolates to share and decide on your favorite. I used to go on date’s here, cut each chocolate in half, “cheers”, and try them. We’d share our thoughts and then decide our favorite at the end. It’s a fun way to switch up a date night when you’ve been dating someone for a while. They have lamps and heaters outside so you can get cozy al fresco in the winter.