Visiting this iconic city and taking in all it has to offer can be a whirlwind experience. Here's our pick of the best dishes to seek out in the Big Apple.
Along with the Statue of Liberty, yellow cabs and skyscrapers, food is a quintessential component of New York City. Its status as a cultural melting pot means you can eat your way across the globe within the confines of one city, taking in some iconic dishes along the way.
Don’t leave New York without trying…
When it comes to pasta, New Yorkers love gnocchi, and both rustic and modern versions are available city-wide. Clay, a farm-to-table restaurant in uptown Manhattan, offers gnocchi served with mildly sweet butternut squash, crunchy hazelnuts, fresh sage, maitake mushrooms and pickled Fresno chillies.
2. Nasi lemak
New York’s food scene will take you around the world. Look out for Singaporean hawker-style venues that fuse intensely flavourful Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines. Be sure to try nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk served with spicy lamb curry, crispy fried anchovies, a hard-boiled egg and fresh sliced cucumber.
Going out for ramen on a cold or rainy day in New York is a local pastime. The Japanese staple of wheat noodles in a meat or fish-based hot broth is typically flavoured with soy sauce, miso, or garlic oil and heightened with toppings like sliced pork belly, dried seaweed, bamboo shoots and soft-boiled egg.
Almost every ramen noodle soup in New York offers its own variation, from the Okinawa (a chicken broth seasoned with yuzu and sake lees) served at ROKC to the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) found on Jin Ramen’s menu.
4. Fiery cocktails
Setting fire to a cocktail is a great way for creative bartenders to impress patrons. But experienced mixologists know that the flames aren’t just for showing off – to do this right, it takes finesse, precision and an understanding of how the fire can enhance the flavours of the liquor used in a cocktail. The Honeywell does it best with the cinnamon torched cocoa butter in their Disco Inferno, a drink made with rum, beer, orange oils and agave.
This classic is more of a dessert than a drink. You can find the standard chocolate, strawberry or vanilla-flavoured milkshakes at almost every ice cream shop in the city, but if you’re looking for something special, with over-the-top candy and ice cream flavours, be sure to visit Black Tap.
6. Shawarma platter
Over the past few decades, New York City has seen a rise in halal cart street food vendors. They’ve become one of the most iconic outdoor dining destinations in the city, offering platters like seasoned lamb, chicken or falafel over rice.
While halal carts might all look the same, every vendor adds their own flair to set themselves apart. It’s definitely a grab-and-go scenario, which is perfect if you want to savour cheap eats while people-watching on a bench. Spicy food lovers should say yes to the hot red sauce.
A long-rise yeast bread with a ring shape, bagels are boiled before they're baked, creating a shiny exterior that yields to a doughy centre (legend credits local water for the unique NY bagel taste). It was Eastern European Jewish immigrants that brought bagels to New York in the late 1800s. Like pizza, bagels give New Yorkers a reason to brag. In most bagel shops or corner delis, you can find flavours like poppy seed, sesame, cinnamon raisin and a New York favourite called “everything”, topped with poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and salt.
With their thick crust and fluffy centre, fresh bagels can be eaten plain, with butter, or smeared with cream cheese. For those who want to start their day with a filling breakfast or early lunch, a bagel with lox (smoked salmon), cream cheese, red onions, tomatoes and capers is the best way to go.
Everyone knows that you can’t visit the Big Apple without devouring a slice, or let’s be honest, an entire pizza pie (yes, New Yorkers call them pizza pies). New York pizza boasts a thin crust topped with sweet marinara sauce flecked with heaps of oregano and a heavy hand of mozzarella. Pizza spots dot the city’s streets, perfect for picking up “a slice,” as locals do, at any time of day or late into the night. Neapolitan immigrants landing in NY in the late 1800s are credited for bringing pizza to the city – it was Gennaro Lombardi who opened the city’s first pizzeria in 1897, and Lombardi’s on Spring Street still stands today. There are walk-in spots that offer traditional New York or square Sicilian (thick crust) slices for $1 to $4 each; perfect for eating while on-the-go and if you’re travelling with a tight budget.
For those who want to unwind with a glass of wine and try a more personalized pizza pie – for example, a gluten-free crust, vegan-friendly options, or toppings like meatballs or ricotta – places like Arturo’s, Rubirosa, and Lucali are a few local top picks. Urban legend says that the city’s tap water used to make the crust is part of the reason why the signature item reigns supreme here.
Try making your own Margherita pizza at home with our ultimate next level recipe.
9. Ropa vieja and plantains
Ropa vieja, a Cuban stew of slow-cooked shredded beef, chillies and peppers, is the ultimate comfort food. The name means ‘old clothes’, which perhaps doesn't sound very appetising, but your taste buds will thank you for pairing the tender, vinegary meat with Caribbean-inspired black beans, yellow rice and plantains. It's the national dish of Cuba and most Cuban-Americans will tell you that their mum’s or grandma’s recipe can’t be beaten. Try it at Latin Cabana in Queens.
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, there are a plethora of excellent places to enjoy oysters in New York – best paired with a cold glass of prosecco or white wine. Be sure to always look for the money-saving raw bar happy hours that give you even more reason to indulge.
11. Hot dogs
Hot dogs are as ubiquitous to New York as yellow taxis. Traditionally made of ground pork, beef or both, these frankfurter-style sausages are flavoured with garlic, mustard and nutmeg before being encased, cured, smoked and cooked. Trek to Brooklyn to visit Original Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, opened in 1915 by German-born Charles Feltman who conceived of the hot dog while pushing a pie cart along Coney Island’s boardwalk. Or stop by the street carts on city corners for garlicky hot dogs with grainy mustard and tangy sauerkraut.
12. Chicken and waffles
Fried chicken served atop breakfast waffles is a combination that mystifies – until you take a bite. The earliest chicken and waffle meet-up appeared in Pennsylvania, but a Southern food-inspired take on the dish splashed onto the scene at the Wells Supper Club in Harlem in the mid-1900s. Though the restaurant’s doors are now shuttered, the salty-meets-sweet dish lives on in New York’s best soul food joints.
13. Pastrami on rye
Thinly-sliced pastrami piled mile-high and served hot on toasted caraway-flaked rye bread is more than worthy of your NY culinary bucket list. Originally brought to New York from Romania as goose pastrami, today’s best Jewish delis, like Katz's, opt for pastrami made of beef brisket that's cured in brine then seasoned with garlic, coriander and loads of black pepper. Enjoy it with a side of classic dill pickles for a perfect New York lunch.
Try making your own... hot pastrami bagels
New York cheesecake is known for its simplicity: cream cheese, cream, eggs and sugar are all that go into a local batch. Diners throughout the city dish out towering ivory slices, though the most iconic is found at Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. Opened in 1950, Junior’s has used the same recipe for three generations and is a cult favourite, well worth the journey to the boroughs.
15. Black-and-white cookies
These half-black, half-white iced cookies are more of a sponge cake than a proper biscuit. Hailing from upstate New York in the early 20th century, the biscuits were the result of leftover cake batter, mixed with a touch of extra flour to hold their shape. Skip the plastic shrink-wrapped variety and opt for those freshly made at local bakeries, with a vanilla cake base and fudge icing on one side, vanilla on the other.
Derived from the Yiddish word for dumpling, a knish is thick, dense dough that is baked, grilled or deep-fried. Potato knishes with spicy brown mustard are a NY classic, though mushroom, spinach and other vegetables often find their way into its doughy centre. Another Eastern European gift from the 1900s, knishes are commonly sold at diners, Jewish delis, butcher shops and street vendors from Brooklyn to the Bronx.
Wash down your pizza with a scoop of cold, colourful spumoni. A cross between an Italian ice and an ice cream, spumoni originated in Naples as the ancestor to the Napoleon ice cream. Spumoni, like its descendent, is a trio of flavours, typically chocolate, pistachio and cherry, though vanilla, cannoli or cremelata often make an appearance in place of the cherry.
Try making... this spumoni-inspired recipe
18. General Tso’s Chicken
New Yorkers love to dip chopsticks into those iconic white boxes, slurping out General Tso’s Chicken. Made of chopped, dark meat chicken that is battered, deep-fried and coated in a sugary-sweet, rich garlic hoisin sauce, speckled with hot chilli peppers and sesame, General Tso’s epitomises Chinese-American cuisine. Though the General did exist, Chinese-born Peng Chang-kuei is credited with inventing the dish, which was introduced to NY and subsequently Americanised during the 1970s Hunan craze in the city. A mainstay in Chinese-American takeout, General Tso’s is best chased with a fortune cookie baked in Brooklyn.
Check out more must-read guides at our travel hub.
What's your top tip for living like a local in New York? Leave a comment below...