There's no more authentic way to start your day in NYC than with a fresh-baked bagel, such as at the bohemian Murray's Bagels in Greenwich Village. Get in line with the locals and make up your mind among standard flavors ($1 each) and organic options ($1.35 each) and supplemental spreads. If you're in the mood for a bona fide diner experience, the East Village's Stage Restaurant is rich in character and couldn't be more humble in ambience and prices, slapping down filling plates of eggs and bacon. Veselka is another East Village favorite, serving Ukrainian soul food (blintzes, potato pancakes, borscht) 24 hours a day.
For lunch, try the sandwich of the moment: the Vietnamese bánh mì, sold at a number of take-out shops. Spicy-sweet meat (pork, beef, chicken, steak, pâté) in a crisp baguette runs under $10 at Num Pang, near Union Square; Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches in the East Village and in Downtown Brooklyn; and at Baoguette's three branches around town. Need a hit of sugar to make it through the afternoon? Take a chocolate-chip-cookie break at the sublime City Bakery, off of Union Square.
And who says you can't find a good, cheap dinner in Manhattan? At Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown, it can be as little as $10 per person, since dishes are shareable (don't miss the crab-and-pork steamed buns) and pots of tea are free (the restaurant also has locations in Midtown and Flushing, Queens). The landmark Arturo's, on the edge of SoHo, has terrific coal-oven pizza and frequent live jazz. In addition to low prices, both bustling venues have the same brusque service in common. If you're not quite ready for bed, try a low-key downtown nightspot like the Lower East Side's Clandestino, playing good music till 4am, or The Magician, also on the Lower East Side, where happy hour is from 5 to 8pm every day of the week.
Doing the Scene
Balthazar is an unwavering classic: the theatrical SoHo space is always full of movers and shakers. Breakfast is the easiest time to snag a seat for fresh-baked pain au chocolat and a bowl of cappuccino. For lunch, head to David Chang's seminal restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, in the East Village. This media darling is known for pork steamed buns, flavor-packed ramen and a cool playlist on the sound system.
While you're in the East Village, fight your way into the tiny Abraço for a café cortado. The coffee bar's incredibly devoted following swears it's the best coffee in the City. The olive oil cake, among other eclectic snacks, is also amazing. Another sweet spot to hit nearby is Dessert Club, ChikaLicious, where the smooth-frosted, luscious cupcakes are worthy of a magazine shoot.
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's Otto does not have a happy hour, but if you find yourself in Greenwich Village, there's no more pleasant place to be among in-the-know New Yorkers who stop in for an afternoon quartino of wine at the bar. Then it's on to dinner at Keith McNally's lovingly restored Minetta Tavern, a bistro with loads of Greenwich Village history and classic French fare. For a stylish nightcap, wend your way to a speakeasy like Death & Co. (in the East Village) or Employees Only (in the West Village). Cocktail specialists agree that both are can't-miss.
In town for a break-the-bank birthday or anniversary? The moneyed class can be found at breakfast at Nougatine, a sunny, contemporary café adjacent to the infamous Jean Georges, off Central Park. The continental breakfast here features dreamy pastries fresh from the bakery. Norma's, within the swanky Le Parker Meridien hotel, offers a dizzying selection of pancakes, French toast and egg dishes, along with a dare-you-to-expense-it lobster frittata topped with 10 ounces of sevruga caviar for $1,000.
Daniel Boulud is one of New York's titans in the food world, and his db Bistro Moderne is a classy, fashionable spot for lunch, serving the richest burger in town: sirloin stuffed with braised short ribs and foie gras, sandwiched in a Parmesan bun and accompanied by pommes frites. Peter Luger is far less fancy when it comes to decor—not much has changed since it opened in 1887—but is equally celebrated for its half-pound prime-beef burger, offered only at lunch. Peter Luger's highly prized, marbled steaks are worth making the trip over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.
TriBeCa's gorgeous Brandy Library is the place to whet your appetite before dinner; its catalog of rare spirits is a real eyepopper—how about a Pierre Ferrand cognac from 1914 or a Springbank single malt distilled in 1969? Classic cocktails are also on hand. To have dinner at Batali and Bastianich's Babbo, which still thrills after more than 11 years in business, means some planning ahead. Even in this economy it's arduous to get a prime-time dinner reservation. When you taste his mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage and deconstructed osso buco for two, you'll know why. Wind down with a drink at the luxurious Bemelmans Bar, in The Carlyle hotel, or step into the intimate, romantic Café Carlyle and see who's playing jazz—it might even be Woody Allen and The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band.