First, we're going to start this guide with a few tips on how not to eat like a New Yorker: Don’t get sucked into the void that is Times Square and find yourself waiting in line for Bubba Gump's or the Hard Rock Café. Don’t eat Ray’s Pizza and think you’ve somehow 'had New York Pizza.' And definitely don’t hand over that well-earned penny for a dinner that isn’t worth it.
There is an over-abundance of America’s best food in New York City, so Daniel and I put together a complete guide of our favorites. They won’t break the bank, but they may just blow your mind:
Quick note: We didn’t put any addresses in this guide because many of these restaurants have multiple locations. Google Maps is very accurate in New York. It will be your friend.
Also note: Not all of these photos are ours. Most of them were grabbed from the restaurant’s website.
We're starting with Brooklyn-ified Southern Food: fried chicken headlines this diner's menu of Southern specialties and signature pies. When we visit, we both get chicken biscuits smothered with hot sauce and honey butter, then split a side platter of mac & cheese and cheese grits. Pies N' Thighs is the only place in NYC where we've had good grits.
The Meatball Shop didn't exist when we first moved to NYC, but it's quickly becoming a New York classic. With locations all over Manhattan and one in Williamsburg, there is almost always a Meatball Shop nearby! Their prices have risen throughout the years, but their menu has improved as well. Get your meatballs served over veggies, pasta, salad, in a hero or as sliders. You can score a hero with an apple-and-arugula side salad. We suggest chicken balls slathered in their tasty house made pesto sauce or lemon butter. And pair it with a whiskey float. Mmmm.
Hop on the C Train to the Northwest edge of Central Park to get a taste of authentic Caribbean without leaving Manhattan. Freda herself serves up affordable and heaping portions of jerk chicken, curried goat, and calalloo. Take a walk around Columbia’s campus or Morningside Park when you’re done.
This New York original now has branches all around the world, but to us its still a taste of home. Excellent burgers, fries, and shakes. The lines can be quite long. In our experience, the Upper West Side location @ Columbus Ave and 77th has the shortest waits in the evening unless you want to travel to the outer boroughs (which of course, we recommend!) Also: it's infinitely better than In N' Out. There's just no debate.
This Mediterranean lunch spot is set up like Chipotle: you can see a display of ingredients and customize your bowl or pita sandwich as you order. The flavors are unique and the ingredients are always healthy and fresh. Whether you throw on some of their falafel, classic doner, red cabbage salad, yogurt & dill sauce, pickled peppers (or all of the above!), you can't go wrong.
Blend serves Latin fusion cuisine at a great price during their brunch and lunch hours. (It’s one of our favorite brunches in the city.) The mimosas are tasty and you can’t go wrong with their churrasco and chimichurri. Take the 7 train out to Long Island City for a visit.
This Brooklyn Beer Hall isn’t just known for its drink selection, but also its German sausages. You can get a traditional bratwurst or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try something like the Rabbit Sausage with Mango Chutney or Jalepeno Coleslaw. We like to grab the seats by the fireplace and play a game of Jenga.
A local Cambodian Sandwich shop that has eight locations from Times Square to the Financial District. The Village Voice voted them “Best Sandwich” in the city in 2013. All sandwiches are served with cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro & chili mayo on a semolina or quinoa baguette.
We're New Yorkers through and through, but we do have to admit that we prefer Chicago-style pizza. (I know, say it ain't so!) However, if you asked us to pick our favorite place to get real New York pizza, then it would be Roberta's. With topping options like alpine cheddar, gorgonzola, broccolini, double garlic and oyster mushrooms (to name a few), you can get a very 'Brooklyn' taste of New York's famous thin-crust pizza.
We found this local Queens gem after returning to the US from our trip to Thailand. While in Thailand, we had boat noodles (literally noodle dishes made from hawkers in their boats and passed to other boaters floating down the canals.) The moment we tasted Pye Boat Noodle, we we were transported back to the land of smiles. Give Pye Boat Noodle a try if you're looking for truly authentic Thai cuisine.
We recently discovered a love for Polish (and similar Eastern European) cuisines. In the Lower East Side, Vaselka serves up delicious Ukranian food. We most loved their matzo ball soup and chicken paprikash (butter noodles covered in well-seasoned chicken and gravy). Journey to Greenpoint, Brooklyn for more delicious Polish options - pirogues, potato cakes, schnitzel, oh my!
Get your taste of Authentic Peruvian food in Long Island City. We often decide to treat ourselves to the rotisserie chicken and supplement with delicious sides like salchipapas, sweet plantains and yellow rice. It's not at all hard on the wallet, and the portions are generous. No matter what you decide to taste, though, ask for extra green sauce. Their spicy, tangy aji verde sauce pulls compliments any of their entrees.
For incredible Israeli food, visit Reunion; from shakshooka to shawarma, you will not be disappointed. The ingredients are fresh and the flavors are explosive! Reunion is primarily a brunch restaurant (though it is open until 5pm.) Their menu rotates every now and then, so don't get too attached to your favorite items and be prepared to experiment with new things when the time comest!
We realized we had never tried Filipino cuisine before, so we consulted some friends of ours (as well as Yelp) and found Mama Fina’s. It’s a cozy location serving Filipino classics such as sisig, tapsilog, bihon (all three of which we sampled) and more. Top off your meal with halo halos or flan for dessert.
Citrus flavors and fish tacos mix with traditional Mexican cuisine in this unique California fusion experience. Whatever you end up getting, try it with some of their famous “crack sauce”. They have food carts and restaurants located in several places around Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"Eat well. Eat with purpose" is this vegan restaurant's motto. And they have crafted a mouth-watering menu that lives by it. They have a myriad of vegan options like burgers, breakfast foods, pastas and salads. And their menu of market specials rotates often and are as inventive as 'roasted asparagus w/ tahini vinaigrette + red chili' and smashed avocado toast with 'marinated cucumber, tofu feta and dill + almond parm.'
Originally from Syracuse, this restaurant offers phenomenal BBQ chicken, ribs, and live music. Thrillist listed them as being one of the top wing joints in the city. And their veggies are great, too! Their sweet and sour cucumber salad and cajun corn are top notch. Locations in Harlem & Brooklyn.
This one isn’t technically NYC based, but it’s a very popular option with the local lunch crowds. Their menu is constantly changing with the seasons, utilizing fresh fruits and veggies from local vendors to create their creative concoctions of salads. Did you know peach and goat cheese pairs wonderfully together? And that curry cauliflower is even better than curry chicken? Sweetgreen knew that!
Wagamama actually started in the UK, but has since opened locations in both Boston and NYC. We're including it in this guide because, though it is not NYC-local, it is still unique to only 2 destinations in the USA - and, the most important part, it has phenomenal ramen. This sit-down Japanese restaurant is a bit on the 'fancier' scale compared to a lot of the hole-in-the-walls we've been featuring, but that just means you can lap up the luxury as you order your favorite ramen, donburi or teppanyaki.
This Cuban restaurant has live music and employees rolling Cuban cigars in the front windows; it's a lively and busy atmosphere. It's also the most expensive restaurant on our guide and it generally requires a reservation, so keep that in mind. Entrees average $25, but make sure to factor in the cost of their $40 pitcher of sangria because you are not going to want to skip that.
This delicious Italian joint serves our favorite sandwiches in the city! Though their menu differs between locations (their Upper West Side location, for example, serves more traditional Italian meals during their dinner hours), we always decide to order their sandwiches. You can't go wrong when deciding between their chicken parm, eggplant parm, meatball parm or chicken caprese sandwiches. Get it on a sesame seed hero and ask for their spicy tabasco mayo (on their secret menu!) Their buffalo cucumbers or italian fries are a perfect compliment.
This Korean chain has locations all over the world! Get your Korean fried chicken, potstickers and bibimbap here. Every time we go, we sample something new off the menu - we’ve yet to have something that’s disappointed us! But do be warned - their “spicy” wings are NOT MESSING AROUND. Daniel and I can tolerate spicy, but this was physical-pain spicy (in the best way.) Highly recommend!
We've lived in Jackson Heights for going-on four years; we love this microcosm of the world that is exploding with diversity and culture. (Over 167 cultures are represented within the 300 acres of Jackson Heights, making it the second-most diverse neighborhood in the USA.) So, naturally, Jackson Heights' ethnic food options are phenomenal. And though it is just 25 minutes away from Grand Central, Jackson Heights is rarely frequented by tourists; that gives you all the more reason to take the 7 train out to Jackson Heights and hit up some of these locations!
Before her brick-and-mortar restaurant, the Arepa Lady was cooking this Colombian staple on the NYC streets for decades. Now she has a location in Jackson Heights and, more recently, Downtown Brooklyn! Experiment with the unfamiliar items on the menu and utilize their homemade sauces, especially the pineapple relish. Don't forget to top it all off with a mango shake!
'Halal' simply refers to food that is permissible in traditional Islamic law, but the word is often branded onto food carts that sell platters of meat, rice and salads, usually topped with a delicious (and mysterious) 'white sauce.' Sammy's Halal is a Vendy Award winning food cart in Jackson Heights, and it's - by far - the best halal we've had in the city. Get a combo platter of lamb and chicken - and make sure they slather on that white sauce!
Putting the debate between New York and Chicago-style pizza aside, we have to highlight a forgotten favorite: Long Island-style pizza! Aka, the 'Grandma Pie.' And Louie's Grandma Pie takes the cake. (Or the pie?) This thick, olive-oil crust topped with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil is served in rectangles, making it a unique pizza experience.
Gothamist declared it the best Thai in NYC and we’d have to agree. Well, with the clarification that Arunee is our favorite Americanized Thai food, and Pai Boat Noodle (listed earlier) is our favorite authentic Thai food. Arunee's menu is full of sweet curries, equally-sweet noodle dishes, and pineapple rice actually served in a pineapple! They also have amazing ‘lunchbox' deals until 3:45PM.
If you've never had meat prepared the Brazilian way, then you're in for a treat. Cooked and seasoned uniquely, you order your meat at Aroma from from their lengthy menu (skirt steak, sirloin, beef ribs, etc) through a window in the back of the restaurant. Supplement your meal at the buffet, then weigh your plate to determine the cost. (Average cost: $13/plate.) Top your meat with chimichurri sauce and a grilled pineapple, and wash it all down with the delicious Brazillian soda, Guarana Antarctica.
This delicious joint serves Korean fried chicken and draft beers. It's quirky branding and interior matches perfectly with its unique fusion menu: things like beef bulgogi empanadas, kimchi pancakes and crispy chicken katsu are served along with their Korean fried chicken. We love their sweet and spicy marinade, and their soy garlic marinade; they also have some of our favorite fries in the city!
The Queensboro is a new addition to Jackson Heights! It’s fancy interior and elevated menu sticks out amongst a neighborhood of hole-in-the-walls, but we love dining here on a “treat yourself” night. We love their Fusilli pasta dish, and their pear thin-crust pizza, topped with fontina, caramelized onions, speck and arugula.
You didn't think we'd get through an entire guide of our favorite places to eat in New York City without including desserts, did you? NYC is just as famous for its desserts (and its cheesecake) as it is for its savory food. And I'm not talking tourist-hyped desserts like DŌ or cronuts or the raindrop cake (and yes, we've all of those, of course), I'm talking desserts like this:
By far the best NY cheesecake. Martha’s was a local Queens secret, but it has since opened two locations in Brooklyn. With a menu of cheesecake flavors like nutella and apple crumb (plus an egg nog cheesecake during the holidays!), and excellent cookies, strudels, muffins, pies and hot drinks, Martha's should be on every NYC itinerary.
Wafles & Dinges used to be a food cart that you had to hunt down via their twitter, but now they have multiple carts and even a brick-and-mortar location in the city. They offer authentic Belgian Wafels with tasty toppings; get yours with some “Spekuloos” Ice Cream and Nutella spread.
Donut shops are popping up all over New York, but the Polish-Italian crew at Peter Pan Donuts have been baking them in Brooklyn since the 1950s. Not only are they delicious, but their prices are a steal at just $1.10 a donut. We like the red velvet donuts the best; but show up as early as you can, because they sell out!
Over-sized cookies made with love in an undersized kitchen. The line at this Upper West Side store can sometimes be quite long, but the wait is worth it. These cookies come warm, gooey and HUGE. We most recommend the dark chocolate peanut butter chip.
This Staten Island original is home to a unique, cream-based variety of italian ice. Try some out on a hot day at either their Manhattan location (E. 24th & Lexington Ave) or one of the many scattered across Staten Island and Queens.
Are you visiting in the winter? Stop by one of Jacques Torres' locations for the best hot chocolate in the city! It's essentially a cup of liquid chocolate, so rich that a size 'small' will do. Some locations even have blood orange or mexican hot chocolate. Even if you aren't visiting in the winter, their specialty chocolate is worth a taste! (Our second favorite hot chocolate in the city can be found at City Bakery.)
And speaking of chocolate: ROYCE chocolate is like no other! This melt-in-your-mouth Japanese chocolate has only made its way to the USA in the past few years. (Now it's sold in NYC, Boston, Santa Monica, Chicago and Las Vegas.) This chocolate is rich, cool and silky smooth; but keep in mind that it has to be refrigerated. Stop by one one of their locations for some samples.
Thanks for taking a look at our 'How to Eat Like a New Yorker' guide! Have you tried any of these delicious destinations? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below, or on our instagram!