New York has, as you might expect of the Big Apple, all the eating options covered and you can find almost every type of food available and every cuisine of the world represented. There are literally tens of thousands of restaurants, ranging from dingy $0.99-a-slice pizza joints to $500-a-plate prix fixe sushi. Thousands of delis, bodegas, and grocery stores dot every corner of the city and do it yourself meals are easy and cheap to find. Street food comes in various tastes, ranging from the ubiquitous New York hot dog vendors to the many middle eastern carts at street corners in Midtown. Fruit stalls appear at many intersections from spring to fall with ready to eat strawberries, bananas, apples, etc. available at very low cost and vegetarian and vegan options abound throughout the city.
A peculiarly New York thing, a true New York pizza is a large pizza with a very thin crust (sometimes chewy, sometimes crisp), plenty of cheese, and an artery-hardening sheen of grease on top. From just about any pizzeria you can get a whole pie or a slice with a variety of toppings available, or ask for "a slice" if you just want a piece of plain cheese pizza. Just fold in half lengthwise, be sure to grab a lot of napkins, and enjoy. Or pick up one with pepperoni - the quintessential meal on the go in New York. Pizza-by-the-slice places can be found all over the city, and include the many different variations of "Ray's Pizza", all of which claim to be the original thing. However, perhaps the most respected of the corner joints is the wildly popular Joe's in Greenwich Village.
But while pizza in New York is generally considered a fast food, the most respected pizzerias in the city are those that act like sit-down restaurants, serving whole pies only; no slices. Except for DiFara's, all the following pizzerias use a classic New York style of coal-fired, rather than gas-fired ovens, which allows them to bake their pizza for a very short time at very high temperatures, producing a unique style of crispy, slightly charred crust that makes their output quite different from the average corner slice shop. Every New Yorker has their own personal favorite, but several routinely make it to the top of the list. Lombardi's in Little Italy is regarded as the oldest pizzeria in town and continues to draw in big crowds of tourists, but Patsy's in East Harlem has long been regarded by connoisseurs as serving perhaps the purest example of plain New York-style coal-oven pizza (don't order any toppings, though). Greenwich Village is the center of pizza on Manhattan, home to not only Joe's but also the classic John's and the popular Arturo's. In Brooklyn, Grimaldi's in DUMBO is hugely popular with lines that go down the street, while Totonno's on Coney Island and Di Fara's in Midwood remain mainstays with the locals. There are also excellent brick-oven establishments serving Neapolitan or other styles of pizza that are not classic New York but well worth having.
Nothing represents New York street food like the almighty hot dog. Affectionately called "dirty water dogs" by the locals, a New York hot dog is typically all-beef, served in a plain bun, and topped with mustard, ketchup, relish, or any combination of the three. You can get one from pushcarts on seemingly every street corner and park in the city. Just wrap the dog in a paper napkin and walk along the sidewalk trying not to let the toppings slip and slide all over your hands. And of course, both ballparks make sure to keep their fans' hot dog needs satisfied.
However, there are a few places that go a step beyond the typical dirty water dog, with better cooked dogs and a much greater variety of toppings available. Many hot dog enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the original hot dog stand, Nathan's on Coney Island, although locals generally view it as a tourist trap. In Manhattan, Papaya King (on the Upper East Side) and Gray's Papaya (in Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side) are favorites, so-named because they also serve tropical drinks with their frankfurters. In addition to their sandwiches, Katz's on the Lower East Side is also reputed for an excellent deli dog. In the East Village, Crif Dogs draws people in for their deep-fried, beef-and-pork (and often bacon-wrapped!) dogs. Dominick's food truck commands a fiercely loyal crowd, who flock to a quiet side of Queens to get a taste. People looking for a good bratwurst should try the Hallo Berlin cart on 54th and Fifth in Midtown, while Chicago purists should head to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
There is no bagel like the New York bagel anywhere else in the world. Bagels are a doughnut-shaped round of boiled dough that is then baked until it has a distinctive, chewy, sweet interior and a leathery outer crust. They arrived from the old world with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and have become utterly New York in character. You can get bagels anywhere in the city, but for the best bagels you may have to trek away from the main tourist sites. The key point, though, is get them when they are hot (and that does not mean reheated in the microwave). Some places actively discourage toasting; try them fresh out of the oven. Good bagel shops will offer a variety of cream cheese spreads and sandwich stuffings, like lox, salmon, tofu spreads, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers, among others.
On Manhattan, many people swear by Ess'a Bagel in Gramercy, with their giant bagels and huge variety of toppings, although bagel purists respect Murray's in Greenwich Village and Chelsea for their refusal to allow toasting. Other places in Manhattan which command fiercely loyal followings are Brooklyn Bagel, also in Chelsea, and Absolute Bagels in the Upper West Side. In Brooklyn, Bagel Hole in Park Slope is a no-frills place with smaller bagels, and is often ranked as one of the top bagels in the city, while over in a quiet section of Queens, Bagel Oasis is regularly considered among the very best.
Another delicacy brought over by Jewish immigrants, corned beef or pastrami sandwiches are another specialty of New York City. A "Reuben", a grilled sandwich piled high with corned beef, Swiss cheese, dressing and sauerkraut between two slices of rye bread, is always a good choice. Be aware that a good deli sandwich doesn't come cheap; be prepared to spend upwards of $15 for a good sandwich. Many delis also serve other Jewish specialties, such as matzo ball soup.
If you want pastrami, your best bet is Katz's Delicatessen, an institution on the Lower East Side that's been serving up excellent sandwiches for over a century. 2nd Ave Deli in Murray Hill is a famous kosher deli that's a real throwback to the Jewish delis of old. Near Times Square, Carnegie Deli inspires either fierce love or hatred, though no one can deny that the sandwiches are massive. And if you find yourself over in East Brooklyn, Mill Basin Deli is known for some of the best pastrami in Brooklyn.
Another New York claim to fame is the New York cheesecake, which relies upon heavy cream, cream cheese, eggs and egg yolks to add a richness and a smooth consistency. It was made famous by Junior's, which still commands a loyal crowd with locations in Grand Central Terminal and Times Square, although the original is in Downtown Brooklyn. Other favorites are Eileen's in NoLiTa, Lady M and Two Little Red Hens in the Upper East Side and S&S in the Bronx (whose cheesecake is also sold at Zabar's on the Upper West Side).
Another dessert of New York origin is the egg cream, also often referred to as a "chocolate egg cream", a blend of chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer water. Though not often on the menu at many diners, many will still prepare one for you if you ask for one. You can also find them in surprising places, like some newspaper and convenience stores in the East Village.
Maybe it's the size of New Yorkers' tiny kitchens, or perhaps it's the enormous melting-pot immigrant populations, but either way, this city excels at every kind of restaurant. There are fancy famous-chef restaurants, all ethnic cuisines and fusion/updates of ethnic cuisines (second-generation immigrants tweaking their family tradition), plus all the fashionable spots, casual bistros, lounges for drinking and noshing and more.
It's only a slight exaggeration to say that virtually every type of cuisine is available in New York. And in some neighborhoods you'll find many national and regional styles represented. However, certain neighborhoods, particularly those in Queens, really shine in terms of the sheer variety available to visitors. Where Manhattan's high rents often result in expensive restaurants and sometimes watered-down, unnaturally sweetened food, Queens' vast array of cuisines are often served primarily to patrons from the country where it originated. Not that Manhattan is completely bereft by any stretch, however: a wide variety of Chinese options can be found in Chinatown, there's the small Koreatown with some very good (but not necessarily cheap) restaurants, Washington Heights is the center for Dominican food, the East Village is full of Japanese eateries of various types, and part of Murray Hill is known as "Curry Hill" for its proliferation of Indian restaurants. But in Queens, Flushing offers a vast and diverse array of Chinese (including Northeastern, Sichuan, Hunanese, Shanghainese, etc.), Korean, and Indian eateries; Jackson Heights includes a prominent Indian section among a vast Latin American neighborhood whose eateries span the American continents from Chilean to Mexican and almost everything in between; nearby Elmhurst features various Southeast Asian (for example Vietnamese and Thai, with a couple of Indonesian and Malaysian restaurants thrown in) and Chinese cuisines, Long Island City has locally well-known Middle Eastern establishments among a very diverse set of good establishments; nearby Astoria is best known for its Greek food; and Rego Park has Uzbek dining halls. In Brooklyn, Brighton Beach is noted for its Russian eateries, while Sunset Park is home to a third Chinatown as well as plenty of Malaysian and Vietnamese options. Italian options can be found in virtually every neighborhood, although a higher number appear in Staten Island, the East Village, Greenwich Village, heavily Italian parts of Brooklyn like Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, and the area around Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. (Italian restaurants in Manhattan's "Little Italy" are mostly for tourists only, and New Yorkers generally avoid Mulberry St. between Canal and Broome.)
Restaurants with entrees under $25 are unlikely to have any preference about what their customers wear. Of course, like most major cities, New York has some expensive, extremely fashionable restaurants that care about, and enforce, a certain level of dress among their customers - but "jackets only" restaurants are very uncommon nowadays.
If you're from elsewhere in the US and wish to "pass" as a local within Manhattan, pay attention to your shoes and coat. Most local exclusiveness is pretty understated, but where it exists it's generally from nightlife commuters from New Jersey and Long Island that supposedly threaten to rob bar-filled neighborhoods of their local color. Therefore, if your style doesn't fit in but is obviously from outside the US, you may find yourself welcomed as graciously as any local, if not more so.
Vegetarians and vegans will find New York to be a paradise with hundreds of vegetarian-only restaurants and good veggie options in even the most expensive places. There are many vegetarian only restaurants with offerings varying from macrobiotic food to Ayurvedic thalis or Asian Buddhist food. But, more importantly, almost every restaurant at every point on the price scale has vegetarian dishes that are more than an afterthought. Even Per Se, one of the most expensive and sought after restaurants in the city, has a seven course vegetarian tasting menu well worth the expense. DIY vegetarians will have no problem finding fresh vegetables, a wide variety of cheese, bread, and prepared vegetarian foods in New York supermarkets.
Nothing differentiates New York more from other American (and European) cities than the astonishing amount of food cooked and served on the streets. Starting with the thousands of hot dog stands on almost every street corner, the possibilities are endless. People trek to Jackson Heights in Queens for a nibble of the famous arepas of the Arepa Lady. Freshly cooked Indian dosas are served up for a pittance at the NY Dosas stand in Washington Square Park. The Trinipak cart on 43rd and Sixth in Midtown serves delicious Trinidadian/Pakistani food. Danny Meyer, the famous restaurateur, runs the burger stand Shake Shack in Madison Square Park as well as several other locations throughout the city. The halal offerings in Midtown are legendary (Kwik-Meal on 45th and Sixth; Halal Guys on 53rd and Sixth and many others). Most carts serve lunch from about 11AM to 5 or 6PM in the evening and disappear after dark, so look for a cart near you, smell what's cooking, and enjoy a hot and often tasty lunch for a few dollars (a meal costs anywhere from about $2 to $8). Mornings, from about 6AM to 10AM, the streets are dotted with coffee carts that sell coffee, croissants, bagels, and Danish pastries and are good for a cheap breakfast: small coffee and bagel for a dollar or so. From 10AM to 7PM, many vendors sell lunch and dinner choices, including hot dogs, hamburgers, gyros, and halal. Other street vendors sell Italian ices, pretzels, ice cream, and roasted peanuts. Also, look around for the coffee truck (often found in Union Square), dessert truck, and the Belgian waffle truck that roam around the city.
New York's many markets and grocery stores make preparing your own food interesting and easy. Almost every grocery store, deli, or bodega has a prepared foods section where you can make your own salad (beware, you are charged by the pound!) or buy ready to eat foods such as burritos, tacos, curries and rice, lasagna, pastas, pre-prepared or freshly-made sandwiches, and many other types of foods. Any supermarket will have enough to take away to the park or your hotel room for a low cost meal. Whole Foods has five New York City locations, all with a variety of foods and a clean place to sit and eat. Zabar's on the Upper West Side is very famous, with a huge selection of foodstuffs and expensive foods as well as cooking supplies. There is also a Trader Joe's at Union Square for cheap but delicious supermarket buys, and Western Beef supermarkets offer more foods from different ethnicities than average supermarkets.
If you have a place to cook, you'll find almost any kind of food in New York though you may have to travel to the outer boroughs for ethnic ingredients. Most supermarkets have Thai, Chinese, and Indian sauces to add flavor to your pot, and many, especially in Upper Manhattan, have the ingredients necessary for a Mexican or Central American meal, but go to Chinatown for the best Chinese ingredients, Little India in Murray Hill for Indian ingredients, Flushing for all things Chinese or Korean, Jackson Heights for Peruvian, Ecuadorian, and Indian, Flatbush and Crown Heights for Jamaican, Williamsburg for Kosher, and Greenpoint for Polish. Ask around for where you can get your favorite ethnic ingredients and you'll find traveling around in local neighborhoods a rewarding experience.
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