New York's Best-Kept Secrets

From uptown to downtown and everywhere in between, we scoured Manhattan for its most authentic restaurants and deal-friendly stores.

New York City at sunset

(Vincent Laforet)

Readers' Choice Best food city and best shopping city

There's an irony to New York that few visitors realize. For as big a city as it is, the comment you consistently hear is that it's really just a small town. That's because those of us who live here have tracked down a handful of intimate restaurants and affordable shops where we feel right at home. For travelers, however, the thousands of options can be dizzying. So we decided to translate our city of 8.5 million into a small town for all, whittling the countless restaurants and shops down to a far more manageable 17. Then we plotted them on a map to make sure, as in any small town, that no matter where you are—uptown, downtown, or somewhere in between—you're never more than a few blocks from a place you'll feel comfortable.

1. Century 21
At this epic Financial District discount department store, you're almost guaranteed to find a jump-up-and-down deal. Prices on pieces from designers like Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriguez, and even Prada can be slashed up to 70 percent. It should come as no surprise, then, that you're also guaranteed a lot of company. Attack plan: Go early (the store opens at 7:45 a.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. on Sundays), scan the accessories on the first floor, and then hightail it to the designer collections upstairs, the well-stocked men's department near the west entrance, or the shoe store next door. 22 Cortlandt St., c21stores.com.

2. 88 Palace
New York City can transport you to a foreign country in the time it takes to cross an intersection—or, in the case of 88 Palace, ride an escalator. With an entrance on the top floor of a Chinese shopping mall, the restaurant is a sea of local families and carts teetering under the weight of classic Hong Kong–style dim sum: tender pork spare ribs, pan-fried dumplings, and steamed beef meatballs. At about $1.50 apiece, the dim sum is as good a deal as any in Chinatown. 88 E. Broadway, 212/941-8886.

3. Peasant Wine Bar
You probably wouldn't notice this place if you passed it. Underneath the high-toned Italian restaurant Peasant, this subterranean wine bar is one of downtown's best-kept secrets. With a discounted menu cribbed from its parent, it's the perfect spot to spend an evening over wood-fired pizzas, a heaping meat plate, and a simple green salad. Add to that a carafe of red wine, along with complimentary olives and bread, and you might wonder why anyone springs for the pricier entrées upstairs. 194 Elizabeth St., peasantnyc.com, pizzas $14.

4. Ina
While it can be tough to dig up deals in the swish boutiques and well-stocked vintage shops of Nolita—SoHo's quieter, less flashy neighbor—the side-by-side Ina outlets (one men's, one women's) are a pretty good bet for deep discounts. In these high-end consignment shops, it's totally conceivable to find Manolo Blahniks worn for a night at 60 percent off or a Christian Dior dress for less than you'd spend on a pair of Nine West boots. 19 & 21 Prince St., inanyc.com.

5. Freemans
Once the exclusive domain of the über hip, this Lower East Side restaurant, set in an unassuming alley flanked by old tenement buildings, has mellowed with age. Now the 19th-century-America-themed spot (note the emphasis on taxidermy) is simply a place for great food and drink. Best of all is the brunch, where nothing—not the poached eggs with cheddar-cheese grits and buttered toast, nor the waffle with crème fraîche and bananas—tops $14. Freeman Alley, freemansrestaurant.com, brunch from $10.

6. The Mermaid Oyster Bar
If there's one secret Greenwich Villagers guard jealously, it's the daily blue plate special at Danny Abrams's oyster bar. On a good night, the rotating $20 special—offered until 7 p.m.—will be the shrimp and avocado sandwich with chipotle mayo, or the whole roasted Idaho trout. Along with your dish, you get a glass of sauvignon blanc or a Blue Point beer. If the special doesn't appeal, you can always hit the bar for a dozen fresh oysters (from $26). 79 MacDougal St., themermaidnyc.com.

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