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If you’re visiting New York City, you’re probably salivating at the thought of the food in New York City. As a native New Yorker living abroad, I got very hungry while writing this…but I hope that it provides some inspiration for some classic dishes and desserts that you must try in New York City.
I try to focus less on the cool instagram things, instead the classics that never change too much. That said, I include some crowd favorites. I’ve included also the best places to buy these famous New York foods in New York City.
- Bagels (and lox…)
- Chicken and Rice
- Chinese food
- Egg Cream
- Pastrami sandwich
- Black and white cookie
- Hot dogs
- Rainbow cookies
- Fusion food and other imports
- Chicken and Waffles
- Chocolate chip cookie
- Greek food
Bagels (and lox)
Can you visit New York City without having a bagel? (Even if you’re gluten intolerant, don’t worry: there are gluten free bagels!) It’s traditional to have your bagel with smear (cream cheese) and/or lox (salmon). I recommend Russ and Daughters, Zabar’s, and Ess-a-bagel to get your fix. That said, it’s much harder to go wrong here…and a bagel is perfect for a quick breakfast! Get it with a regular coffee (coffee with milk and sugar) and you’ll be on your way to becoming a New Yorker.
A bialy is the lesser known cousin of the bagel. This delicious item originating in Poland in the city of Białystok looks similar to a bagel, however it is made differently. It’s not boiled at all–and there’s not a hole: just filling (often onions). Most Jewish bagel stores will carry them.
Knishes are a traditional food from the Jewish community. They were brought over by Eastern European immigrants and they’re one of the most unique foods to find in New York as I’ve not found them in many other cities. They’re doughy pastries with a filling, often potato. I recommend heading to Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery on the Lower East Side and Knish Nosh in Rego Park for the real thing.
Chicken and Rice
Not a classic, but chicken and rice from the Halal Guys are a New York food classic. This former hot dog stand opened in 1990 ended up changing their menu to suit the tastes of Muslim cab drivers looking for halal food. Their chicken and rice with white sauce and hot sauce is worth the wait 100%.
Cheesecake in New York is a must. There is a reason why people rave about New York Cheesecake. For the best cheesecake in New York, I recommend going to Junior’s in Downtown Brooklyn, the original branch of Junior’s with less of a line than the other locations in Manhattan.
Pizza in New York City is a must. I proudly say that New York Pizza is the best pizza in the United States as pizza came to the United States starting in NYC. Really. The first pizzeria in the United States of America was opened in 1905 by an Italian immigrant from Naples in New York City.
You eat a New York slice by picking it up, folding it in half while supporting the bottom (if needed), and taking a bite. You don’t want to tilt it too much, so that the cheese and oil don’t drip off. Do not use a knife and fork!
Good pizza should not be too oily with a thin crust. In the photo above, you can see pizza from one of my favorite places, a small pizzeria in Queens, with high quality mozzarella that doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the rest. I usually get the margarita pizza, which includes basil, cheese, and tomato sauce. At a high quality pizzeria, this should be divine.
For a good slice, head down to Coney Island to visit one of the oldest pizzerias in New York City: Totonno’s. Also in Brooklyn, consider visiting Roberta’s. I used to always recommend Grimaldi’s , however the original owner has left and opened up a new pizzeria: Juliana’s in Downtown Brooklyn. In Manhattan, head to Joe’s Pizza and Keste.
New York has amazing Chinese food thanks to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, so you must eat up. I’m not talking about American Chinese food, but the real thing. One of my favorite things to do in New York is to go down to Chinatown or Flushing (Queens) for dim sum, bubble tea, and some amazing noodles.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor is a New York classic for dim sum and Vivi is a popular place for a refreshing bubble tea. In the photo above is a photo from Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle. This cash-only hand pulled noodle place is amazing! I’m also very partial to a good hot pot (Hometown Hotpot) and soup dumplings (Shu Jiao Fu Zhou). Don’t miss out on the Chinese bakeries as well.
An egg cream actually has no egg or cream in it. This classic NYC drink has milk, carbonated water, and syrup (chocolate). You can try it out when you head to Katz’s Deli. (Nobody truly knows how the name came to be.)
I’m sorry vegans, but a good Pastrami sandwich is just a dose of childhood to me. There’s nothing like perfectly cooked pastrami on rye, mustard, a delicious pickle, and a massive sandwich that will make you want to not eat for the rest of the day. In case you don’t know what it is, pastrami is beautifully cured beef with a delicate taste.
Katz’s Deli is a easy place to find it although I’d also recommend the 2nd Avenue Deli. Historically, New York had over 1,500 kosher delis, however only a fraction of these still exist today. Please keep them in business as one of my favorites just closed for good. 🙁
Black and white cookie
It’s kind of funny; I always assumed that other people knew about black and white cookies and took them for granted. Then, I moved out of New York City. These soft cookies with icing on them are made with shortbread. They almost melt in your mouth. They were popularized in New York at the turn of the century by one of the German bakeries on the Upper East Side.
Usually, you can find black and white cookies at bagel stores. A solid place to get black and white cookies is William Greenberg on the Upper East Side although I’m also a fan of the ones from Zabar’s.
Listen, you do not want a street hot dog. I write this as someone who is looking out for you. A hotdog is a classic and I strongly recommend heading to Grey’s Papaya’s for a hotdog and a smoothie if you’re feeling it. Of course, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can even have a hot dog at the original Nathan’s on Coney Island.
Well, I’m not a big steak eater, but a lot of people get excited about steaks in New York City. (Personally, I’m more excited by Philly cheese steaks!) Peter Luger steaks are famous for a reason.
My personal version of heaven includes unlimited rainbow cookies. I used to work at an Italian bakery and needless to say, I have not been able to kick my addiction to these delicious cookies/cake. (They are called tri-color cookies, Italian flag cookies, or seven layer cookies depending on who you ask.)
Rainbow cookies are tough to find in Italy as these delicious cookies (or cake depending on who you ask…) were created in New York by Italian bakers who created this Italian-inspired cookie in New York City. The cookie is fairly complex as it contains three kinds of almond cake (dyed different colors) and jam (often raspberry or apricot). It is not a rainbow cookie without the iconic dark chocolate exterior. Making them is a complex process, however eating them is far too easy.
Fusion food and other amazing imports
The great thing about NYC is that there are so many great chefs and amazing restaurants that are creating authentic food true to their home country. This is a very incomplete list, but basically if it exists, you will find a restaurant serving their food in New York City.
Wafels and Dinges serve up delicious Belgian waffles. Period. That’s all you need to know. (They will serve it with a scoop of ice cream if you like!) Their food truck moves around the city, so check ahead for locations.
Anything from Momofuku
Momofuku is a new New York classic for a reason. This innovative restaurant serves up the best fusion food that might blow your mind. They deliver during lunch time during the work week if you’re not having any success getting a restaurant reservation.
My husband told me that it was unforgivable to write this without including takoyaki. In case you’ve not heard of this specialty food from Osaka, Japan, takoyaki are fried octopus balls. They’re divine and they can be found at Otafuku. It’s basically a kiosk with no seating, however it’s worth the wait. I love their okonomiyaki (scallion pancakes) too.
New York has great ramen and it’s been hard to match the level of fantastic Asian food elsewhere in the United States. My go-to place is Totto, a cash-only ramen restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.
Banh Mi & Pho
Many people don’t realize that New York has a huge Vietnamese population. As a lover of Vietnamese food, I have a few Vietnamese places that I love: Sau Voi for delicious banh mi to go in…a surprising environment. (It’s a video store.) For pho, head to Saigon Shack. For sit down dining, pho, and banh mi, I like Thái Sơn. I’ve never had a bad meal here.
Chicken and Waffles
People often forget that New York has a rich African-American history. If you head up to Harlem, you’ll want to get a chicken and waffles at Amy Ruth’s, a Harlem institution.
It’s a bit contested when chicken and waffles were invented, but there’s no doubt that New York history played a role as the Dutch played a role in this when they brought Dutch waffles over them.
Chocolate chip cookie
Chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery are a classic. You’ll wait in line for the privilege, but the massive cookie is worth it.
There are so many great cupcake bakeries in New York City. Although the Magnolia Bakery is the most famous cupcake bakery thanks to Sex and the City, I don’t think that it’s the best. You’ll find lots of great other options elsewhere and to be fair, I’ve rarely had a bad cupcake. I quite like Sprinkles for a solid cupcake.
For the best Greek food in New York, head to Astoria. This neighborhood in Queens is hands down the best place to have Greek food as it has historically been a Greek encove although that’s rapidly changing with more millenials moving here. Head to Taverna Kyclades for lunch. (It’s less crowded!)
Babka / Kokosh
Oh babka. Some things you don’t miss until you leave. This sweet bread, closer to a dessert, can be found at kosher bakeries all around New York. Babka and kokosh are very similar to each other, however the difference is that isn’t braided. It’s just as good though!
I generally don’t recommend eating at a random street food stand as you don’t always know how hygenic their food practices, but even I’m guilty of buying a street pretzel. There’s nothing like a giant salty pretzel after a long walk around.