Foods You Must Eat in New York City

The best food in NYC includes the pastrami sandwich at the Empire Diner – and much more besides
The best food in NYC includes the pastrami sandwich at the Empire Diner – and much more besides | © Sergi Reboredo / Alamy Stock Photo
Nick Dauk

Senior Travel Writer

The New York culinary scene is ever-changing, but one thing holds true: the best NYC food is as iconic as the city skyline. Hot dogs and cheese pizza. Deli sandwiches and blue-plate specials. Italian and Jewish eats, so authentic that you’d think you were on the edge of the Mediterranean. Check out the best food in NYC, including legendary dishes given a modern spin.

Loved by over 40s

New York pastrami sandwich at Empire Diner

Diner, American

Colorful mural depicting four peoples faces carved Rushmore-style on wall outside the Empire Diner, as cars and people pass
© Edward Westmacott / Alamy Stock Photo
This landmark art deco diner in Chelsea has dusted off its 1970s menu and updated the classics with a fresh American twist. Booth-style seating delivers that iconic seen-on-screen experience, but whitewashed walls, sconce lights and buttery-soft leather accents update the picture for a modern audience. The New York pastrami sandwich – with melted Swiss cheese and horseradish coleslaw on marble rye – will ensure a round of applause from your taste buds.

Wu-Tang Clam pizza at Milkflower

Pizzeria, American

Astoria pizza parlor Milkflower isn’t here to reinvent the classic New York slice, but will offer you an alternative to standard red-sauced, cheese-topped pies. Case in point: the Wu-Tang Clam pizza. Aside from its excellent name – which throws up the W for the Staten Island hip-hop group – it’s stacked with grana padano, fresno chili, parsley, garlic and cherrystone clams. Remix it with add-ons including anchovies, streaky speck bacon and egg, if that’s your jam.

Everything Dog at Crif Dog

Restaurant, American

You’ve already got a classic New York hot dog and quintessential bagel mapped onto your mental must-try menu; why not knock them both out in one meal at Crif Dog? This East Village institution serves up the famous NYC food any way you like, though the Everything Dog is the way to go – it’s a Crif Dog, smothered in cream cheese, scallions and everything-bagel seasoning. Order with a side of cheesy East Village tots, scattered with pickled jalapeños, for ultimate satisfaction.

Hot Honey Yardbird at Red Rooster

Restaurant, Soul Food

Woman stands outside the Red Rooster restaurant, with several shaded seats in an al fresco dining space beside her
© incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
Soul food is the shining star of this jazzy Harlem restaurant – which takes its name from the local speakeasy that welcomed the likes of Nat King Cole and James Baldwin. Southern favorites such as pan-fried catfish, lobster rolls and shoestring fries hit the spot any day of the week. You’d be wise to arrive with a crew of hungry friends, as the Chicken Tower requires teamwork. Twenty pieces of Hot Honey Yardbird are served with the best fixins: blistered heirloom tomatoes, creamy stone-ground grits and cheddar mac with collard greens.

Mofongo at Malecon

Restaurant, Caribbean

Though Malecon has a spot in the Manhattan Valley, their classic dish of mofongo (fried plantains) is best experienced at their restaurant in Little Dominican Republic, way uptown in Washington Heights. Let the aromas of the Caribbean lure you to the top of Broadway and set your phone to island time. Your only care should be deciding which two ingredients to pack into your mashed green plantains. Fried pork chunks and cheese? Garlic shrimp and green sauce? Any of the above will do.

Cacio e tartufo at L’Artista

Restaurant, Italian

It’s in Hamilton Heights, not Lower Manhattan, where you’ll find exceptional northern Italian cuisine prepared by Turin-raised chef German Rizzo. L’Artisa will send your appetite on a first-class flight to Italy’s Piedmont region with their dish of cacio e tartufo. Need we say more than spaghetti alla chitarra topped with pecorino toscano, parmesan and white-truffle shavings? Perhaps only: would you like a negroni or Aperol spritz with that?

Matzo ball ramen at Shalom Japan

Restaurant, Japanese, Asian, Vegetarian

Want the classic New Yorker experience of Jewish deli food, but yearn for the more cosmopolitan vibes of a night out at the sushi bar? Look to Shalom Japan in south Williamsburg to give you a uniquely New York experience. The traditions of Jewish and Japanese cuisine are both embraced here, as chefs with Israeli and Japanese heritage gift diners with dishes such as matzo ball ramen. Inhale the delights of spiced char siu chicken and nori seaweed swimming in broth. Go ahead and drop an additional matzo ball in there – maybe even a foie gras dumpling or soy-marinated egg for good measure.

Babka at Bread’s Bakery

Bakery, American

Man and two cars outside the cream-painted exterior of Breads Bakery, which has a canopy sign with its name hanging over it
© Warren Eisenberg / Alamy Stock Photo
Discerning sweet teeth will be unable to resist the braided babka at Bread’s Bakery. This popular Jewish bakery does a baguette and feta bourekas (crispy sesame-spiked parcels) just as well as any artisan, but there’s no denying that the babka is what brings people through the door. Choose between a version with Nutella and dark chocolate, or a cinnamon edition with currants and walnut. Better yet, wait for May, when they stuff a New York cheesecake inside.

Save dollars for New York’s dishes by digging into the city’s cheapest hotels. Alternatively, consider a stay in the middle of Manhattan or discover the Big Apple’s famous hotels with stories to tell.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Julia Goicochea.

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