10 of my worst food experiences in New York City

Time to write about my New York City disappointments. To my surprise, I’m not a big fan of the food in this town. As you may well know, I’m very, very careful about using the word “overrated” in my reviews. However, considering the spotless reputation some of these restaurants have, it really is the best term to describe the situation.

Originally, I wanted to make a list of NYC’s finest dining establishments. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a place that would truly amaze me. And only three of them I can actually recommend with a clear conscience. I’ll discuss them next week. I hope I manage to find some good restaurants to expand that list a bit.

The selection of restaurants is not random. Don’t be fooled by how it looks. I didn’t want to target the obviously worst restaurants just to be able to give them a bad review. In this entry, you will find:

  • a place recommended by everybody, everywhere (Pastis)
  • a place recommended by Bourdain (Papaya King)
  • a place with gigantic cues (Shake Shack)
  • a place recommended by the media and by New Yorkers (Whitmans)
  • two places that are always crowded (The Smith, Grotta Azzurra)
  • a restaurant recommended by Michelin, Zagat and the New York Times (Mercato).

More than half of the restaurants mentioned above has at least 4 stars on Yelp. All of them get consistently good reviews on countless blogs and websites. I visited each place one time, and one time only. Therefore, please treat my opinions as anecdotes rather than well-researched reviews.

Today’s pictures are a bit lacking in quality. That’s because I usually don’t eat dinner until it’s dark outside (hence the poor light), and because of the fact that most restaurants here are incredibly crowded. In this environment, taking out my camera and trying to position the meal food while dabbling with the camera settings for a few minutes is out of the question.

Pastis in West Village


The biggest disappointment. The legendary Pastis, the mecca of New Yorkers that was popularized by Sex and the City. I ordered exactly what was recommended by the waiter, so I wouldn’t feel guilty for accidentally ordering something bad.

I was served a bagel, some smoked salmon, thick onion slices and a slightly frozen dollop of cream cheese that tasted rather blandly. I admit, the bagel was delicious on its own, but the experience itself I found a bit distasteful. What’s so amazing about handing your patrons a bagel, some fish and half an onion?

Pick a bagel in Hell’s Kitchen

My first truly disappointing sandwich. I grabbed the thing and wept. The bread was lukewarm, the filling was cold like it was just in the fridge. Most sandwich spots in New York follow the same boring pattern. Layered meat, some vegetables, bread. About 99% of these overhyped sandwich places couldn’t hold a handle to good ol’ Subway.

Viva la Crepe in East Village


Combining sweet pancakes with savory ham and cheese? Thanks, but no thanks. Crepes are only acceptable with chocolate.

Shake Shack w Hell’s Kitchen


I didn’t go there because I wanted to. I went there because people told me to. The middle of the night, a long-ass cue… Still, this place was pretty nice. You place your order and get this toy thing that vibrates once your food is ready.

Well, that’s too bad. The hot-dog was assembled by the book, but somehow it was uneatable. They must have chopped two whole onions for this thing. The sausage tastes like something from a gas station or a Seven-Eleven. Well, maybe a bit better.

Alright, so maybe I should grab a hot-dog at one of the universally liked places? Anthony Bourdain knows a thing or two about food. He wouldn’t recommend anything uneatable, right? Alright, let’s do this.

Papaya King in Noho


This place has got a fantastic vibe. The staff is very easy-going. They keep cracking jokes and will make you the hot-dog of your dreams. I had two. One sausage, one frankfurter. It’s instantly noticeable that they’ve got a clear idea of what type of place they want to be. That’s why I’m not surprised that they’re considered one of the best. And have been, for years.

But, see… Most New Yorkers have never been to Europe. They’ve never had real gas station hot dogs. I’m being 100% serious here – european gas station hot dogs are miles above even the best New York City hot dog. Hot dogs are all about the sausage. Over here, they’ll give you a tiny fat little frankfurter and dump half a ton of toppings on it. It may look pretty cool, but it doesn’t taste all that great.

Oh, and that thing in the lower right corner? A French fry hot dog.

KFC next to Union Square

What? I had to go there at least once. How could I resist?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, in the United States of America, fast food restaurants are mostly visited by the lower class. Walk into any fast food joint and you’ll see many folks who don’t look like they’ve got too much money. Or like they simply have none money, at all. The food? Simply indigestible.

The Smith on the Upper West Side


I think I can finally join the elite circle of people who are disappointed with American burgers. I didn’t have that many of them in the past three weeks. Maybe around 5, I think. They’re mediocre, at best. Americans are terrible at choosing the right sauce and they don’t know how to grill their meat. Oh, and their buns are horrendous.

Whitmans in Noho

Despite its slightly dillapidated look, this place was supposed to charm me. I was afraid to even enter it, but people kept recommending it and forcing me to give it a try. I was supposed to find out what a good burger really tastes like. I didn’t. A mediocre meatball and a tomato slice squeezed into a bun. That’s all I can say about it.

Grotta Azzurra in Little Italy


My first dinner in Little Italy. The waiter recommended the pasta with meatballs and sausage, so that’s what I ordered. I’m not sure what the chef’s thought process looked like when he invented this dish. Maybe he just wanted something to create something that could be assembled from the leftovers of other guests. This pasta could only be treated as something to fill your stomach with. It’s certainly no delicacy.

To be honest, Little Italy is kind of disappointing when it comes to dining. I ate there a bunch of times and only left satisfied once.

Mercato in Midtown

Featured in the Michelin guide from 2011 and 2012, this restaurant was also recommended by Zagat, the New York Times and a bunch of different media outlets.

I cannot recall the name of the cheese I ordered as a starter. It reminded me of fried mozzarella. Decent, but kinda salty. I was also served some weird meat swimming in oily sauce. I forgot the name of this one, too. Italian cuisine aficionados – help me out here!

The entree – clams. Mussels are very popular in New York City. I don’t think any other city in the world can boast such a ratio of oyster bars per square mile. The sauce had the aftertaste of a bouillon cube. The pasta was decent, but it wasn’t al dente. The meal itself was completely tasteless. Also, I’m not a fan of dishes that are, how to put it, impractical. Eating bland pasta and cracking bland mussels is not one of Jason’s favorite things to do. I only ordered it because it’s what this place is known for. The food looked good, the staff was pleasant. The place looks rough, but it has a certain vibe to it. The only thing they couldn’t provide was the thing the best restaurants are known for – the taste.

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