If you’re among the hundreds of thousands planning to take the family to New York City for the holidays, you’ve likely planned every detail of a sightseeing marathon –- the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building and the city’s dazzling museums from Fort Tryon to Battery Park –but don’t forget the food.
Even the most well-behaved kids will go on strike if forced on long marches past thousands of Chinese vases and Egyptian mummies in overheated museums on empty stomachs.
“Anchor sightseeing with your lunch stop…kids are more likely to visit museums if they know there’s a reward ahead,” says Susan Farewell, editor-in-chief of FarewellTravels.com.
Grabbing lunch in a museum no longer means a rubbery ham sandwich and some gooey rice pudding in an airless basement. Today, museum dining is one of the most dynamic experiences in New York City. Combined with free admission on certain nights, a family of four can dine at a critically-acclaimed venue without breaking the bank.
From Danny Meyer’s high-end dining rooms at MOMA and Untitled at The Whitney Museum of American Art, to The Wright at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, pre-fixe lunches start from $20 to $26. Each of these celebrity-grabbing venues offer moderate options: lunches MOMA’s Café 2 or, overlook Central Park at the café on the third floor of the Guggenheim for an $8.50 sandwich. Untitled at the Whitney does not require museum admission, and features an all-day breakfast/lunch menu featuring burgers, salads and sandwiches starts at about $20-$22.
On Christmas Eve, fortify yourself with hot chocolate ($2-$3), quiches ($5), sandwiches and soup at the Heavenly Rest Stop (8 am-6 pm), the café off the Church of the Heavenly Rest (90th & Fifth Ave.) before attending the pageant starring more than 100 children and live animals. Mary rides down the aisle on a donkey and shepherds hold baby lambs.
At the top of Museum Mile at 104th St. & Fifth Ave., find El Museo del Barrio with menus that reflect the Latin Diaspora and a yet-unannounced newcomer – LOX at Café Weissman -- at the Jewish Museum (92nd St. & Fifth Ave.) promises to bring a touch of the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side. El Museo’s celebration really starts on Three Kings Day, Jan. 6, after most crowds have thinned, you can dine on paella for $10; enchiladas for $9, hearty homemade soups for $5 alongside BLTs and goat cheese sandwiches for $6.50.
For Hanukkah (and Christmas Day) at LOX at Café Weissman, will feature paper thin latkes (potato pancakes), fresh farmer cheese in its light blintzes, its own cured salmon for its signature lox and serve sufganiyot or filled donuts. Prices range from $8 for classic grilled cheese to about $12 for a lox dish.
Outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art are Salvation Army Santas, graphic artists, portrait painters, jewelers, vendors hawking hats and gloves, and roast chestnut pushcarts, as well as dueling food trucks but winter in New York is no time for a stand-up lunch, says Kyle McCarthy, editor of Family Travel Forum Inc. “We love the Metropolitan Museum at the holidays, because the Christmas tree in the medieval wing is stunning and the bookstore is packed with unusual, well-priced gifts.”
Classical music plays in the Balcony Bar overlooking the Great Hall on weekend nights for wine ($12 per glass) and tapas-sized plates of food (about $12); it's okay for teens but not children.
Farewell’s other piece of advice: Build small itineraries. “If you go to Tussaud’s Wax Museum, think Japanese noodle shops -- Sobo Totto and Sakagura on 43rd St.” Or, Little Brazil on West 46th St. “Always be sure your dining spot is close to where you’re sightseeing,” she adds.
A delicious way to savor New York City’s history is to join the Tenement Museum’s “Foods of the Lower East Side,” a two-hour walking and tasting tour ($45) on Fridays and Saturdays through the neighborhood with stops for sampling Chinese dumplings, Dominican plantains, German pretzels and more.
Not every corner of the city has a museum with a fabulous dining room, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the East Village, home to the percussive musical “Stomp.” For an after-theater treat, leave your manners at home to eat your chocolate cake with a spatula at Max Brenner’s. “In the city that never sleeps you have to take it slow and conserve your energy,” cautions McCarthy.
Pace yourself, but never travel on an empty stomach. Cost Saving Tips Even in New York City, some things are free: For a daily listing of what’s free, check out nycgofree.com. Purchase a 7-Day Express Bus Plus MetroCard for $50 for unlimited travel throughout the city; and a CityPass, valid for nine days for access to six of the city’s most visited attractions.
And don't forget to breathe.