My boyfriend’s parents are coming to visit from Charlotte, NC in May. I am dying to show them some amazing restaurants that NYC has to offer but they are extremely picky and are on a tight budget. They pretty much only eat at chain restaurants and don’t venture far from American staples (wings, burgers, steak).
Last time they visited they ate at TGIFriday’s, (the one by Rockefeller isn’t even affordable!), Chick-fil-A, and free happy hour snacks at the hotel. They did venture out to Eileen’s Cheesecake (didn’t like it), and some pizza spots (not worth it). Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!
- The Girlfriend Trying To Help
Dear Girlfriend Trying To Help,
This question sent an unexpected wave of nostalgia crashing over me. I never thought I’d miss New York’s visitors like your boyfriend’s parents, but I do. What I would give to weave in between people holding bags from the M&M store, en route for a stroll in Central Park before catching the 7pm production of Stomp at the Orpheum.
I won’t ask if you are a fan of your boyfriend’s parents. As for me, I sincerely love your boyfriend’s parents. First and foremost because I relate to finding free Happy Hour snacks like a truffle pig searching for mushrooms in a forest. This is why, as their friend, I need your boyfriend’s parents to break up with Chick-fil-A and support local restaurants.
There’s a tourist-fueled misconception that everything desirable in NYC is expensive. That is simply not true - many of my favorite meals cost less than the whiskey glazed doughnut burger from TGIFridays. And while I would like to recommend the $3.50 pork-and-chive dumplings from North Dumpling or the $10 jerk chicken meal from Peppa’s to your boyfriend’s parents, I also realize you’re not actually related to these people, so you have to pretty much do whatever they ask.
To please the North Carolinians and their American food comfort zone, send them to one of New York’s classic burger spots like Joe Junior in Gramercy, Fanelli Cafe in Soho, or JG Melon uptown. All of these unmistakable New York icons serve great, thick-cut burgers for less than $20.
Plainly speaking, the best deal of the three is the cheeseburger deluxe from Joe Junior. It costs $12.20 and comes with dill pickles, as well as a side of crispy, thick-cut fries on the side. The place feels about as classic as a NYC diner can be in 2021, with an old-school counter and wood paneling galore. There’s some covered seating on the sidewalk outside as well.
At $17, Fanelli’s burger is slightly more expensive than Joe Junior’s, but it’s similar in terms of the classic thick patty that oozes into the bun. The restaurant itself feels like a co-op for people who have lived in Soho before Warhol’s Factory moved there - skateboarders in their twenties, and anyone else who likes a martini served sans pretension. Dinner or lunch will be energetic and cool without trying to be.
If I had to be unreasonably choosy, I’d say that the quality of JG Melon’s $13 thick cheeseburger patty outshines the other two versions. This barebones, classic NYC restaurant also gets bonus points for serving cottage fries, which are oddly hard to come by in this city. If your boyfriend’s parents go this route, tell them to bring cash since JG Melon doesn’t take credit cards.
Have fun, and good luck.