Unexpected Culinary Sanctuaries in New York City - EXP Trips

Unexpected Culinary Sanctuaries in New York City

Experience the tranquility this person somehow seems to be finding on a NYC subway platform.

If you’ve ever been to the Big Apple, you’re probably under the following impressions:

  1. Everyone is busy
  2. Nobody is friendly
  3. Everything is expensive

But darlings, that’s just not true! First of all, people in New York are actually very friendly and helpful. And second, there are absolutely places you can go that feel calm, soothing, and–dare I say it?–rejuvenating.

Whether you’re a student looking out for potential culinary schools, or a teacher scouting out field trip locations, it’s always nice to have some friendly, quiet, tasty places to grab a bite.

Here’s a (nowhere NEAR exhaustive) list of places you can go when you need a lift. (And hey, chime in if you live in the area and you’ve got a favorite!)


Aleef Coffee House (Midtown, Manhattan)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a staff that smiles more than this one. Even early in the morning, the owner is always incredibly friendly and welcoming (and rocking a beautiful headscarf to boot). They have a standard breakfast menu–croissants, bagel sandwiches, etc.–and a ton of paninis. Plus, salads made to order! There are a couple seats, but you might be better off walking a couple blocks to Bryant Park.


Le French Tart (Park Slope, Brooklyn)

When a chalkboard sign outside a cafe claims they have “The Best Croissant In New York,” it’s easy to be a little suspicious. But in my humble opinion, they were not kidding around. I took one bite of their buttery, crunchy, perfectly-flaky croissant and teared up. (There were witnesses.)

If croissants aren’t your thing, they have approximately everything else that might be your thing. Eclairs, fancy mousses, cakes, tarts, gelato, coffee, sandwiches…the world is your oyster. There’s also plenty of room to sit down in this charming atmosphere and admire the beautiful handwriting on the seemingly endless chalkboard menus.


Ix Cafe (Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn)

I found this sweet little cafe near the end of winter, on a cold day when I was really, really looking for some hot chocolate. And not cocoa powder stirred into milk, either–but liquid chocolate in a cup. Ix Cafe, run by a very sweet Guatemalan couple, totally delivers. They have 5 or 6 different versions of thick, Guatemalan hot chocolate, with plenty of flavors you can add in (Cinnamon? Rose? Cayenne? Yes, please).

Since this post is going up in the middle of summer, I get that hot chocolate probably isn’t the first thing on everyone’s mind. Luckily, this beautiful place also has iced coffee and a ton of desserts–dulce de leche croissants, lime cookies, mini pies, and more. If you want to settle down and stay a while, they’ve got tables and full lunch-and-dinner menus.

And did I mention it’s right next to Prospect Park?


Brooklyn Brainery (Multiple Locations, Brooklyn)

Maybe a cooking class is more your jam–or even a class about food that offers free samples at the end. The Brooklyn Brainery offers a ton of one-off courses on a ton of different subjects, and the food is always somewhere in the mix at a range of prices.

You can learn how to make a stone fruit galette from scratch, try your hand at some wontons & dumplings, try some samples of spicy fermented foods, or learn how to make eclectic homemade pickles.

I also just want to go ahead and say that if the idea of going to a cooking class (or just a lecture!) intimidates you, the Brooklyn Brainery is the LEAST intimidating place. It’s so, so welcoming, and they always have tea that you can help yourself to (particularly if you’re settling into a late-night lecture).

(Editor’s note: I’ve personally taken classes and met friends there–who were then nice enough to invite me to a tea party on their (what!) water-adjacent apartment terrace.)


Nicandra’s (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

A beautiful, sweet little Italian place that serves pasta that’s oh-my-god-I-want-to-cry good. Sidenote–PLEASE try the Gnudi with braized oxtail, pecorino cheese, and marjoram leaves.

Definitely a little more expensive than everything else on this list (except for some of the Brooklyn Brainery classes), but this pasta place has an extraordinarily friendly staff, a small and cozy building, and a guestbook you can sign (or doodle in) when you leave.


That’s my list. Yes, Brooklyn-heavy, but this is a list from personal experience–not based on Yelp reviews or secondhand info.


Where are culinary sanctuaries you’ve found? Which eateries feel like a breath of fresh air?

Photo credit: Matthew Kirkland//Laura Billings//

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