Katsu-Hama– 75.1 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Katsu-Hama is a calm oasis in midtown.  The menu features panko-breaded fried pork or chicken cutlets.  They offer a number of lunch specials for all appetites, including a seafood katsu option.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The decibel reading for our visit was higher than we would have guessed, because we found the place to be very comfortable, even relaxing.  Although we were seated in the front where parties of one or two are placed, we believe the reading fairly reflects the entire space as we checked out the back dining area and found it to be consistent with our experience up front.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Calm is the word that best describes Katsu-Hama.  Instrumental jazz played very softly in the background.  Nearby diners chatted, in person or, sigh, on their phones, but it wasn’t bad–no screamers.   We did pick up some kitchen sounds, but they weren’t jarring or pingy.  The space is not live, and the low lighting and soft music really make for a relaxing experience.  We highly recommend a visit to Katsu-Hama.

HOURS

Monday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (betw. 5th and Madison Avenues), New York, NY 10017

WEBSITE

Katsu-Hama

Rosa Mexicano (Lincoln Center) — 79.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We went to the Rosa Mexicano located just across the street from Lincoln Center to meet up with friends who were attending a midday performance.  The space began to fill up as the other patrons streamed in to what is one of the larger restaurants nearest to the Center.

As soon as we walked in we knew that the space was going to be live, as there was a large expanse of glass in the front of the space on both levels.  Fortunately there were curtains and a textile floor covering, but it didn’t appear that the textiles helped to absorb much of the sound.

We were seated on the second level.  It was fairly noisy, with the main source of the noise  coming from the other guests.  This is one of the few times that the noise was primarily due to voices rather than music.  In fact, we weren’t even certain if music was playing.  If it was, we couldn’t hear it because of the chatter.  We suspect that the second floor is louder than the first floor, most probably because the chatter from the first floor was wafting up and adding to the chatter on the second.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Rosa Mexicano was fairly crowded but not packed during our lunch visit.  We think the combination of the hard surfaces and the lack of a barrier between the two floors made the second floor hard to tolerate. The space simply wasn’t pleasant, and we would advise that you proceed with caution. There aren’t many options that are as close to Lincoln Center, so either plan to eat a little farther away or pack a pair of ear plugs.

HOURS

Sunday and Monday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 62nd and 63rd Streets), New York, NY 10028

WEBSITE

Rosa Mexicano/Lincoln Center

Annam Brahma – 63.4 to 63.6 decibels

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

Photo credit: Jeanine Botta

By Jeanine Botta

I discovered Annam Brahma years ago while walking through Queens, searching for a cold drink on a hot day.  I’ve returned dozens of times since, alone, with family, and with friends, and I’ve ordered food for large and small parties from the catering menu.  Others find the restaurant through reviews or word of mouth or in vegetarian restaurant guides.  One of four restaurants in Queens run by students of the late Sri Chinmoy, an artist, poet, and spiritual teacher who encouraged vegetarian diet, meditation, and fitness, Annam Brahma attracts diners from all over the world.

On a recent visit, I placed an order of soup, salad, and appetizers for a party of eight from the catering menu and also ordered a small meal. My meal began with a cup of ginger and honey tea selected from a drink menu, followed by a cup of dal, a savory lentil soup that is very popular.  I also ordered a samosa, a potato filled pastry, and bhajiia, a lightly spiced fritter, both served with chutney.

Annam Brahma serves vegetarian and vegan Indian cuisine, but it also features vegetarian Chinese, Italian, and American options on certain days.  The restaurant has long featured an international smorgasbord on Sundays, but at the time of this writing the website states that the Sunday smorgasbord is not available. The menu includes Indian breads, desserts, coffees and teas, as well as omelettes, sandwiches, and a delicious selection of vegetarian burgers.

Annam Brahma is quiet enough to lose oneself in a book in a cozy corner or to chat with companions easily without straining to hear or be heard. There is subtle instrumental music playing in the background, but it is never loud or distracting. The dining room is decorated with Sri Chinmoy’s paintings and other artwork (greeting cards featuring Chinmoy’s art, displayed along one wall, are available for purchase). The space is soothing and visually appealing, open and airy with a distinct rustic charm.

To reach Annam Brahma by subway, take the Jamaica-bound F train to Parsons Boulevard, walk up the hill along the two-lane boulevard, turn right on 85th Avenue, and walk five blocks to 164th Street.  Alternatively, you can take the 65 bus from the Parsons Boulevard F train station, but it might be worth skipping the wait for a bus and walking.  If traveling by car, Annam Brahma is four blocks east of the Grand Central Parkway, and street parking is available. The surrounding Jamaica Hills neighborhood is safe, friendly, and walkable.

Annam Brahma is cash only.

HOURS

Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (near 85th Avenue), Jamaica, Queens, NY 11432

WEBSITE

Annam Brahma

Han Dynasty (East Village) — 75.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

The East Village location of Han Dynasty was less than half full when we arrived for lunch, but it quickly filled up and was at least half full by the time we left.  Overall we found the space merely tolerable, which raises concerns for the noise levels when the space is packed.  Han Dynasty has lots of hard surfaces with few few elements that could absorb sound, though unframed art work may have mitigated noise a hair.  Once again there was one overarching factor for the less than optimal soundscape: the music was too loud.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Yes, it could have been worse–our ears weren’t bleeding, after all–but we found the space to be  rather live, and the music (odd choices, by the way) just dominated the soundscape.  There were lots of work groups in the place and they were chatty, but their voices were manageable.  If the music were lowered a couple of notches, the space could have been comfortable.  It was, instead, merely tolerable, and that depended, more on less, on the song that was playing at any given time.

Han Dynasty offers very reasonable and tasty lunch specials.  If the place is packed and the music volume is as loud as it is at lunch, the noise level  probably will be intolerable.  That said, we tolerated the noise level during our visit, but wish it was better.  Why not aim for comfortable?  We suggest that you proceed with caution.

HOURS

Sunday through Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Thursday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 12th and 13th Streets), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Han Dynasty–East Village

Veselka — 72.4 to 78.7 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Our first lunch time visit to the always crowded Veselka clocked in at 78.7 decibels.  The reading was higher than expected (we would have guessed that the sound level was in the lower 70s), but we were seated at the counter within a few feet of the open kitchen and our decibel meter obviously picked up all of the nearby sounds (staff chatter, occasional china noises, and a cook singing softly to himself).  We were also right next to the area where the waitstaff pick up dishes to deliver to their customers.

Even being in the worst possible seat in the house, the sound level wasn’t that bad. The fact that Veselka does not play background music really helps.  On our way out,  we quickly recorded the sound level in the nearby dining room.  It was 72.4 decibels, which was more than acceptable.  The lesson here is that at Veselka you must balance your desire to be seated quickly (counter seats are easier to get) against your desire for a quieter meal.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

On our second lunch time visit, the meter registered 75.9 decibels, which again was higher than we would have guessed.  There are a lot of hard surfaces in the restaurant, including big windows looking out on 9th street, but the absence of background music makes a huge difference because the space was mostly comfortable.  If background music had been playing we think the reading would have easily been ten points higher.   With music, the crowded room–there was a wait when we arrived–would have been unbearable.  Without music, the noise level was mostly manageable, with the bulk of the sound coming from the many conversations throughout the room that were conducted at reasonable levels (i.e., no screamers).

One other plus: No electric hand dryers at Veselka; only paper towels are provided in the restrooms.

And finally, although we focus on sound levels and comfortability, we would be remiss is we didn’t note that Veselka offers one of the finest bowls of borscht in the city.  They are also noted for their tasty and filling pierogis.

Attention restauranteurs, this is how you run a busy but comfortable space: kill or aggressively reduce the volume of background music.  It’s an easy thing to do and it offers immediate relief.

HOURS

Open 24 hours a day

LOCATION

WEBSITE

Veselka

Karczma — 71.9 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Karczma is a lovely Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that still has a large Polish population.  There is a bar in the front with a few tables on the opposite wall, and further back there is a dining room.   Unsurprisingly, the menu offers Polish home cooking served by women in traditional dress.

All of the booths in the dining room were taken during our lunch time visit, and there were only a few tables free.  Most tables were occupied by couples or groups, so there was plenty of conversation (and beer).  Polish music played softly in the background, yet the dining room was perfectly pleasant.  No doubt the decor helped, as it featured a fair amount of unfinished wood and was decidedly old school–the antithesis of the Industrial look responsible for much of the loudness at most restaurants today.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

If the place is packed it will, of course, be louder.  That said, the dining room was over half full during our visit, plus a handful of people at the bar, and it was perfectly fine.

Our lunch was big, fresh, and tasty.  Filling doesn’t come close to describe it.  Somehow we managed to finish it, convinced that we wouldn’t have to eat until the next day (and we were right).  Note that it’s a meaty menu, so it’s not the place to bring your vegan friend.

HOURS

Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Monday through Thursday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. Manhattan and Franklin Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11222

WEBSITE

Karczma

Paul’s Da Burger Joint — 74.6 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Paul’s Da Burger Joint despite its name because we read that it had been around for at least 25 years, which is starting to be a real milestone for New York City restaurants.  We assumed that the good reviews on various restaurant sites, coupled with the 25+ year history meant we were going to have some pretty fabulous burgers.  But we were wrong.  There’s no compelling reason to come here.

Background music was playing softly when we entered, which was encouraging. There’s an open kitchen, so you’ll hear the annoying grill sounds along with the cooks and staff chatting but it’s manageable.  Shortly after we were seated the waitress took our order. Then, inexplicably, someone raised the volume of the music–a classic rock radio station–when a song by Meatloaf came on.  On purpose.  Just our luck, it turns out it was a block of Meatloaf.  While the volume wasn’t set at 11, it was too loud.  And it was Meatloaf.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

A really tasty burger could have made up a bit for the soundscape, but what we got was just meh.  The burger looked good but it had an odd taste, or, more accurately, not much taste–it was more like a chopped steak than a burger, and not in a good way.  The space smells of beef fat and whatever oil they use to fry their french fries, and it didn’t smell fresh.  So we thought to ourselves, why come here? Streecha is around the corner, Veselka is nearby, and if you want a good old-fashioned burger, walk nine short blocks to Joe Jr. to taste what a great diner burger should taste like.

In short, there’s no reason to eat here: the place smells of stale fried beef fat, the burger is fairly tasteless, and the music is too loud.  Ok, one reason to eat here would be that you’ve completed an East Village bar crawl, you drank way too much, and you need to put something–anything–in your stomach right this minute.  Otherwise, avoid.

HOURS

Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.

LOCATION

Avenue (betw. 7th and 8th Streets), New York, NY 10003

WEBSITE

Paul’s Da Burger Joint

Wasan — 64.2 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Wasan for a Monday lunch and found it surprisingly busy.  Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, as this small space was perfectly comfortable–despite one boomy and animated customer who spoke nonstop.  Jazz played softly in the background throughout our lunch, and the other guests either tuned in to their laptops or chatted very softly to each other. The soundscape was exactly what we like. Not silent, but the sound from chatter and music was in the background and wafted around, never dominating or intruding into our space.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

There is a large window in the front of the restaurant, but fabric drapes the bottom half and a heavy curtain hangs by the front door.  No doubt the drapery helped absorb sound. The seats have fabric covers and that may have helped too. Mostly, the space works because the atmosphere is serene and most people respect it by speaking softly.

At least half the tables were taken during our visit, so even if full the space should be at least tolerable.  Wasan offers lunch specials, including fabulous bento boxes.  We really enjoyed our meal and highly recommend a visit.

HOURS

Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. | 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

LOCATION

Street (at 5th Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11217

WEBSITE

Wasan-NY

 

 

Taiwan Bear House — 70.4 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

We stopped by Taiwan Bear House for a quick lunch on the July 4th holiday.  Many restaurants in Manhattan close on the 4th, but not in Chinatown.  Still, while Chinatown was generally crowded, the place wasn’t busy–only one other table was occupied. But we think our visit was pretty representative of what you can expect even if every seat is taken, because it’s a small space–there are only five tables for two and six stools–and Taiwan Bear House does not play music.  Together, these two factors ensure that eating in should be relatively pleasant.

And it was pleasant.  We were absolutely comfortable. The design elements, standing alone,  would lead one to expect a livelier soundscape, but the place was very quiet. In fact, we were surprised that the reading was over 70 decibels, but suspect that it’s due to a mechanical hum coming from the kitchen.  The hum didn’t bother us, to be frank–it sounded like white noise, and was neither annoying or distracting.

Taiwan Bear House isn’t a destination spot.  It’s a place that you order food to go or eat in and run.  The menu consists of a series of “bento boxes,” which are round containers that look like steamers that are filled with rice, vegetables (cabbage), a piece of firm tofu, some ground meat (pork?), and a protein (mostly pork or chicken).  The food was filling and tasty, and our meal was quick and quiet.  We recommend it.

HOURS

11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day

LOCATION

Street (betw. Bowery and Mott Streets), New York, NY 10013

WEBSITE

Taiwan Bear House

Hector’s Cafe & Diner — 71.8 decibels

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Hector’s Cafe & Diner is another long-time New York City diner, but this one is in the pricey Highline neighborhood–right under it in fact–and one of the few reminders that the heavily-touristed Meatpacking District actually was a meatpacking district in the not-so-distant past.  Hector’s was a place where the butchers and truck drivers could go after a shift or delivery, followed by the club kids and sex workers after midnight.

The neighborhood has since became popular, but it used to stink of beef blood in the summers.  We remember driving in a convertible one hot, sticky August afternoon years ago–it was something we never attempted again. Not that it would be possible today. According to the Meatpacking District Improvement Association website, only five meatpacking businesses remain (where there once had been 250), so Hector’s serves as a reminder of the past while satisfying a real need by offering inexpensive and quick diner classics in an increasingly over-marketed, over-developed, and over-priced part of downtown Manhattan.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

If it seems like we favor diners, there’s a reason. First, most diners tend to play no music or set the music volume on low.  Second, although New York City appears to be teeming with diners, truth is, they are disappearing, and as they die off so too dies the possibility of securing a (relatively) inexpensive meal in a (generally) comfortable space.

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

So, how is the soundscape at Hector’s? Pretty good. There is unnecessary background music, sadly, but the volume was really low. Why places insist on doing this is beyond us, as you can’t really hear the music but you can’t entirely ignore it. Still, at the end of the day the space wasn’t live despite lots of glass and tiled floors (perhaps due to the drop ceiling?), and as the meter reading shows, the sound level was in a good range.

We concede that it wasn’t very crowded when we visited for a late morning breakfast, but it was obvious that Hector’s is a relaxed place with a subdued crowd. That said, early morning hours may be quite different, especially when the partying crowd comes in for something to soak up all the booze.  So if you are visiting the Meatpacking District during the day or early evening hours, stop by for a quick, inexpensive, and mostly comfortable meal.  Proceed with caution after midnight.

HOURS

Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Monday and Tuesday: 2:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Wednesday through Saturday open 24 hours

LOCATION

Street (at Washington Street), New York, NY 10014

WEBSITE

Hector’s Cafe & Diner