An eatery that specializes in grilled cheese, featuring bright yellow picnic tables and walls plastered with tongue-in-cheek witticisms, Melt Shop has mastered the art of the playful fast casual aesthetic. And although the line appears daunting, the staff move their customers along at a steady pace with great efficiency — so people can get in and out, having made their day a little better with a quality American sandwich. Speaking with one of the partners, Josh Morgan, I learned the company is continuing to grow as this location marks the third of numerous eateries that have sprouted up under the branding since its foundation in 2011. “It is all about the experience and serving the best quality product, ” he explained. Josh’s personal favorite happens to be the fried chicken sandwich with loaded tots. Next door, The Little Beet is under the same ownership and has garnered similar success with an emphasis on produce.
Who doesn’t love a good, healthy smoothie? Fresh from Hell, a very cleverly named Hell’s Kitchen health food restaurant, serves them up, well, fresh. Founded in 2016, this bustling local favorite is known for its acai bowls, smoothies, and sandwiches. From wittily-titled favorites like the Hell’s Kitchen Sink - an acai bowl featuring chia, peanut butter, and granola - to can’t-go-wrong classics like the ham and swiss sandwich, this side street treasure has something for everyone. According to Jorge, the manager, Fresh from Hell was established with one simple goal: “to serve healthy food. ” That goal has clearly been met. Multi-grain bread is always an option, and specials for vegan or gluten-free customers are some of the favorites. Even the Chocolate Lover acai bowl could be considered health food! Fresh from Hell gets its name from the neighborhood and the dedication to serving fresh food. Jorge stresses that “everything is fresh. ” While many similar restaurants pre-make and refrigerate their sandwiches, at Fresh from Hell, “all the sandwiches are made when the customers order. ” Walking into the shop on a hot summer day, I immediately cooled down, and as I soaked in the smell of fresh food and the sounds of the customers talking, I couldn’t help but notice how dedicated and efficient the kitchen staff was. With delicate speed and expert craftsmanship, each bowl, sandwich, and smoothie came out looking perfect, and the smiles on the customers’ faces were a testament to the food's taste and quality.
This three-tiered observation deck at the top of Rockefeller Center offers an unobstructed 360-degree panoramic view of New York and beyond. Its view is somewhat different from that of the Empire State Building as one is at eye-level with surrounding skyscrapers, rather than gazing down upon them. Opened in 1933, it was designed to resemble the upper decks of a 1930s ocean liner. When Top of the Rock reopened in 2005 – after having been closed since 1986 – my family was one of the first to ascend to the 70th floor, as it held special memories for my parents when they were dating back in the 1940s. It has since become a favorite tourist stop for me when out-of-town guests are visiting. With its mezzanine photo exhibit and other items of interest on the way to the top, what a phenomenal place to wow people of any age and to begin their journey through the side streets of Manhattan.
Toloache, a bustling Mexican bistro on 50th street, shares its name with the legendary Toloache flower. According to a myth in Mexican culture, the flower can be brewed into a love potion - if someone tastes the drink once, he or she will always return for another sip. The restaurant’s food and drinks have the same effect: Many people who eat there once return time and time again. General Manager Jorge shared a story about his friend from Japan who visited Toloache on the first night of a weeklong vacation in Manhattan. He ended up returning every day that week and then again every year during his annual visit to the city. Toloache on 50th is the first of many restaurants opened in New York by chef-owner Julian Medina. Chef Julian grew up in Mexico City, where he was inspired by the home cooking of his father and grandfather. He was originally brought to New York by Chef Richard Sandoval, who appointed him as Chef de Cuisine at Sandoval’s Maya. He went on to gain experience at distinguished restaurants and graduated from the French Culinary Institute with recognition. Today, Chef Julian owns seven of his own restaurants in the city and has been featured in several publications, including Men’s Journal, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. He has appeared on shows such as "Iron Chef" and "Beat Bobby Flay. " His impressive background is reflected in the success and distinctive menu of his “first child, ” Toloache. Julian designed Toloache’s extraordinary menu to have something for everyone – the wide range of dishes include both vegetarian and gluten free options. He prides himself on using only the freshest of ingredients, whether it is white truffles or chapulines (dried grasshoppers imported from Oaxaca). These crunchy critters have gained quite a bit of media attention, including a feature on "The Today Show. " The kitchen brought out the Tacos Chapulines for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph, and we had to admit that the insects were made to look very appetizing. We were also presented with the diverse Trio de Guacamoles, which allowed us to sample three varieties of the dip: the familiar traditional guacamole; the Frutas Guacamole, which incorporates fruit instead of typical ingredients (pomegranate, mango, and apple instead of tomato and Thai Basil instead of cilantro); and the Rojo guacamole, made with chipotle. Several of us went on to sample the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche y Trufas (made with fresh truffles), The Baja Tilapia Pescado, and the braised short rib, served with quinoa and carrots. Each dish exemplified Chef Julian’s inventiveness and ability to put small, flavor-enhancing twists on typical Mexican cuisine. The drinks were equally impressive, including Julian’s favorite “Chef’s Selection Margarita, ” made with his hand-picked bottle of Herradura Tequila. The bartender mixed a few cocktails for us to photograph and taste, including the refreshing “De la Calle, ” made with cucumber and jalapeno; the spicy “Mezcalita de Pina”; and the signature “Toloache, ” made with hibiscus and blueberries. The food is amazing and the drinks are fantastic, but what really keeps so many guests coming back is Toloache’s dedication to quality service. As Jorge informed us, “Our goal is to make every guest feel at home. They are our friends. ” Each of the servers have their own style, creating unique, yet equally enjoyable dining experiences. Guests are able to experience Toloache in a completely new light from one day to the next just by sitting at a different server’s table. It was event manager Temple who summed the restaurant up perfectly: "Toloache feels like a family – like you’re walking into Little Mexico. ”