Survival in NYC is dependent on a combination of street-smarts and miracles. Each day brings the possibility that you may meet your end by way of rat bite, subway blunder, or an unsecured air conditioner hurtling toward the pavement. Here, baby strollers are steamrollers, Elmo might be a groper, and even pizza sauce can land you in the crosshairs of the mob.
And yet, against all odds, the city has so far failed to chew you up or spit you out -- meaning you still have time to try the best of our Harlem bodegas, storied West Village dinner spots, buzzy Brooklyn joints and questionable food carts. This city doesn’t eat you, friend. You eat this city.
Eat a Giant Polenta Feast On Your Table
1. Bacon, egg & cheese
Your local bodega Forget artisanal bacon and farm-fresh eggs -- the real-deal NYC breakfast is a greasy bodega bacon, egg & cheese. There is no hangover it can’t cure.
2. Porterhouse steak
Peter Luger Steakhouse Carefully selected and dry-aged in the basement of the legendary Williamsburg chophouse, the hefty steak for two arrives sizzling in a glorious mix of melted butter and its own juices. It’s enough to make any vegetarian cringe.
3. Braised pork shoulder
The Spotted Pig April Bloomfield’s first nose-to-tail gastropub is essential for serious carnivores. Renowned for its hefty cuts of tasty, local meat, this place is trading in the best of the best -- like the beer-and-apple-braised pork shoulder with roasted mashed potatoes.
Di Fara Pizza The long lines at this storied Midwood joint are as legendary as the man behind the wood-fired pies. Di Fara’s signature -- a smoky slice topped with sausage, peppers, mushrooms, San Marzano tomatoes, and mozz -- is worth waiting for on its own, but the chance to watch owner Dom DeMarco in action sweetens the deal.
5. Pork bun
Momofuku These days, the city is littered with a wealth of pork buns -- but the often imitated, never duplicated OG bun is surprisingly simple: steamed bao, roasted pork belly, cucumbers, and scallions. The proportions are perfect; it’s savory and sweet; and it puts food market copycats to shame.
6. Lamb over rice
The Halal Guys Not all street meat is created equal, as evidenced by the hour-long line that snakes from this 53rd Street cart. The spit-roasted lamb on basmati is excellent, but as every New Yorker knows, the secret’s in the white sauce.
7. Arepa de chocolo
Arepa Lady Street vendor Maria Cano’s Colombian specialty -- a griddled corn cake stuffed with gooey salted queso -- catapulted to fame during her elusive late-night runs in Jackson Heights. Having graduated from her street cart, you can now order the dish at a brick-and-mortar spot on Roosevelt Avenue.
Dominique Ansel Bakery Look, we get it -- it’s the mash-up pastry heard ‘round the world can’t possibly match the hype. Don’t hate: Chef Dominique Ansel’s zeitgeisty croissant-meets-donut is a flat-out ingenious dessert. Sure, the line is a hassle -- but the thing is delicious.
Pyza Greenpoint, Brooklyn is a haven of Catholic churches and Polish butcher shops -- a sliver of preserved Polish-American culture -- so it comes as no surprise that traditional kielbasa is at its finest from a little hole in the wall on Nassau Avenue. The perfectly sweet, meaty sausage will come served on a plastic plate with a mountainous side of sauerkraut.
11. Chicken & waffles
Red Rooster Harlem Helmed by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, this classic comfort food spot is a Harlem institution. Here, the “Yep, Chicken & Waffle” comes with tender, a perfectly seasoned fried chicken breast atop a warm cornbread waffle, drizzled in a house-made honey chili sauce. Come by for Sunday brunch, and your meal will be accompanied by a live gospel choir.
12. Elote callejeros
La Esquina No meal at this buzzy, subterranean speakeasy-style Mexican joint is complete without an order of the world famous elote. The skewered, charred grilled corn on the cob is served steaming hot and topped with lime, queso cotija, chili powder, and house spicy mayo.
13. Bagel & lox (The Classic)
Russ & Daughters This 100-year-old shop is still the place to go for the city’s finest Jewish fare, and the timeless combo -- sesame bagel, schmear, and smoked salmon cut whisper-thin by expert fish-slicers -- is the best thing on the menu.
14. Black Label Burger
Minetta Tavern On the fancier end of the burger spectrum, this one sets the gold standard with its juicy, funky dry-aged patty, caramelized onions, and pretty-much-worth-it $33 price tag. Served in an old-school West Village spot with checker-tiled floors and a seemingly endless parade of buttoned-up waiters, the ambiance is as classic as the burger.
15. Recession Special
Gray's Papaya The no-fuss double-dog and soda special is a beloved combo, even when the economy is doing well. Skip out on the dirty-water dogs, and head to one of Gray’s several locations instead.
16. Murray's Melt
Murray’s Cheese Murray’s Greenwich Village cheese shop should be your go-to for every cheese need -- but if you’re not looking to build a cheese plate, the counter at this famed spot serves incredible “melts” (essentially tricked-out grilled cheeses). The menu offers plenty of sandwich fillings, but opt for the classic Murray’s Melt: a secret blend of five phenomenal cheeses perfectly melted between two thick-cut slices of the bread of your choice.
17. Grilled octopus
Taverna Kyclades At first glance, the charred tentacles, dressed in olive oil and lemon, look a little creepy-crawly. But the fishy limbs are moist, perfectly seasoned, and as tender as a good steak. Taverna recently opened an East Village outpost, but be sure to stick with the flagship Astoria location for the real goods.
Hometown Bar-B-Que True to its moniker, this Red Hook spot is manned by a Brooklyn native slinging some of the most outrageously tender beef this side of the Mason-Dixon line. The beef rib is no slouch either.
19. L&B Sicilian Pie
L&B Spumoni Gardens Grabbing a doughy Sicilian slice -- laden with tart tomato sauce and a dusting of pecorino -- and a spot at a picnic table in the massive courtyard at this Gravesend establishment has been a summer rite of passage for generations. Finish things off with a sweet spumoni treat for the full L&B experience.
J.G. Melon This no-frills burger stands on superior ingredients done right: a griddled medium-rare patty topped with American cheese, lettuce, onions, and pickles, all sandwiched between a perfectly squishy bun. On the corner of MacDougal, the spot is just as solid as the uptown original.
Veselka At this 24-hour East Village mainstay, it doesn’t matter which pierogi you choose (though if the short rib special is available, you must get those... so it kinda matters). Each tender, springy pocket feels like it came straight out of your baba’s kitchen. Bonus points if you get your pierogi fix at (or past) 4am.
22. Maine lobster roll
Red Hook Lobster Pound This waterfront-adjacent Red Hook fish shack -- with a dining area reminiscent of a cabin on a lobster boat -- is exactly the sort of place you’d expect would serve an unrivaled lobster roll. Tender Maine lobster meat (pulled from the spot’s very own lobster tanks) is mixed with house-made mayo, butter, paprika, and scallions, and stuffed into a New England split-top bun.
23. Artichoke slice
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza Good pizza is indulgent in all its forms, but there is no slice quite as creamy and rich as the classic white sauce slice at Artichoke Basille’s. Topped with artichoke hearts, spinach-speckled white sauce, and a layer of baked Parmesan and mozzarella, this enormous slice will make you wonder why you’ve been so monogamous with red sauce.
24. Soft pretzel
Any hot dog stand We’re not saying this is the best soft pretzel you’ll ever have, but just like chicken over rice and dirty-water dogs, you need to try it from a street cart at least once. After that, head to Sigmund’s.
25. Pappardelle alla fiesolana
Bar Pitti Still drawing the same scene-y crowds it’s been serving since 1992, Bar Pitti’s prime Sixth Avenue sidewalk seating gives the venue its see-and-be-seen energy. The ever-popular alla fiesolana -- a pink sauce with fresh tomatoes, cream, smoked bacon, and Parmigiano over thick, flat pappardelle noodles -- pairs perfectly with people-watching.
26. Fish tacos
Rockaway Beach Surf Club On the best beach days, the taco line at this colorful Rockaway fish shack typically stretches across the joint’s narrow outdoor garden. Grab a frozen margarita from the side bar to keep you company through the wait and then order a couple of soft shells filled with beer-battered white fish, shaved radish and carrots, spicy mayo, and fresh guac.
27. Black and white cookie
Glaser’s Bake Shop The New York classic at this 116-year-old bakery is more cake than cookie, but still light enough to let the flavors of the half-chocolate, half-vanilla frosting (never fondant!) shine through.
28. Peking duck
Decoy The bird at Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng’s downstairs bar is everything a good Peking duck should be: juicy and succulent, with crackling skin. The prix fixe feast comes with all the usual fixings (pancakes, scallions, cucumbers) and an abundance of other dishes (rice, dumplings, etc.). Leftovers are pretty much assured.
29. Bee Sting
Roberta’s Pizza With a blistered crust and sweet-savory toppings (soppressata and honey), nothing about this new-school pie is conventional, but it’s damn delicious and rightly deserves a place in New York’s pizza canon. Plus, who doesn’t love a rooftop garden?
30. New York cheesecake
Junior’s If there’s a name that’s become synonymous with our fine city's namesake cheesecake, it’s obviously Junior’s, where they continue to churn out creamy slices built atop sponge cake instead of graham crackers to great effect.
Ivan Ramen This bowl is Japan by way of New York, fusing noodle guru Ivan Orkin’s Jewish Long Island upbringing (rye noodles, schmaltz-infused broth) with age-old ramen traditions. It’s no hard task to locate a good bowl of Ramen in NYC, but Ivan is the stand-out option.
Maison Premiere This charming, classic Williamsburg oyster den’s Parisian influence is made manifest in its lengthy absinthe menu, featuring multiple French drips served with a sugar cube and chilled water. Pair one with your selection from a list of 25 raw oyster varieties, plated on tiered beds of ice with steel dishes of lemon, butter, and a signature red sauce.
33. Everything bagel with cream cheese
Ess-A-Bagel This family-owned shop has remained mostly the same since its founding in the ‘70s -- they’ve kept their hand-rolled bagels huge, perfectly dense, and just fluffy enough. Don’t you dare ask for it toasted -- the freshly baked thing is perfectly warm and soft as is.
34. Chocolate babka
Breads Bakery Seinfeld had it right when it called chocolate the superior babka (take that, cinnamon), and the best of them all is found at this relative newcomer bakery, where the braided loaf comes woven with Nutella and Belgian chocolate chips and a sugar-burnished top.
35. Spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles
Xi’an Famous Foods What started as a humble stand inside the basement of a Flushing food court has grown into a formidable mini empire, thanks to pliant hand-stretched noodle dishes packed with gamey lamb, spices, and a highly potent chili oil. As unassuming and cheap as it was in its first iteration, this place is as worth a taste as ever.
36. Mutton chop
Keens Steakhouse Few places still offer this time-honored cut, making the colossal chop at Keens -- with its charcoal-kissed crust drenched in lamb jus -- a meaty rarity best enjoyed with a scotch. Come here for a special occasion, and bring your dad.
37. The New Yorker Tea
The Palm Court The Palm Court’s menu was recently revamped by executive chef Sani Hebaj and the room was spiffed up to include a bar, but the experience remains very much the same: dainty sandwiches, bite-size desserts, and a spot of tea inside a New York icon. With your pot, you’ll be served a tiered tray of scones and other delicate bites, just exactly as you pictured it while reading Eloise.
Shake Shack In 14 short years, Danny Meyer’s homegrown burger chain has taken the city -- not to mention Dubai, Moscow, and London -- by storm with this elevated fast-food burger, featuring a toasted Martin’s potato roll, Pat LaFrieda beef, and top-secret ShackSauce.
39. Crazy Shakes
Black Tap It’s hard to tell if these shakes are meant to be consumed through a straw or an Instagram filter, but they are a sight to behold in either case. Topped with whipped cream and overflowing with mounds of cotton candy, cookies, lollipops, and other sundry confections, the indulgent desserts are genuine works of art.
Joe’s Pizza This is your spot for a quintessential, cheap, classic New York slice. The original Bleecker Street location has been shut since 2005, but the Carmine street location continues to serve hot, gooey slices of flawless, foldable pizza until long after the local bars close.
41. Soup dumplings
Joe’s Shanghai When you arrive at this packed Chinatown mainstay, you’ll have to take a number and wait outside until a table finally clears (be warned, this could take a while). But once you make it inside the cramped, hurried dining room, and finally order your soup dumplings (get several orders, and don’t bother with much else on the menu), the wait will have been well worth it. They’re served perfectly plump, steaming hot, and brimming with an unmatched thick, flavorful broth.
Katz’s Delicatessen Katz’s is a living portrait of frenetic customers clutching loaves of golden rye, butchers in blood-soaked aprons, and a study in the best pastrami sandwich in the city (and perhaps the world). There’s no more “New York” nosh than the towering hand-carved pastrami on rye at this Lower East Side institution.
43. Steak au poivre
Raoul’s Dating back to the ‘70s, this SoHo bistro was once packed with local artists, languidly smoking cigarettes indoors. Today, the place has maintained its old New York charm -- sans nicotine. Land a table under the tin ceiling in the bustling dining room and order the steak au poivre, served buttery and pink with a mountain of hand-cut pommes frites.
44. Chopped cheese
Hajji’s You’ve surely heard surly New Yorkers banter about chopped cheese sandwiches more than once. The simple deli creation is a little like New York’s answer to the Philly cheese steak -- a meat and cheese classic best eaten between the hours of 2 and 4am. While they’re available at bodegas all over the city, purportedly the first and best iteration comes from Hajji’s in Harlem.
45. Manhattan clam chowder
Randazzo’s Clam Bar None of that New England bullshit here. Perfectly at home in Sheepshead Bay, this austere, pier-side staple knows its way around seafood, ladling bowls of chowder that are rich, zesty, and chock-full of clams.
Mamoun’s Mamoun’s is the West Village’s great equalizer, serving hungry tourists, long time locals, and NYU students in-between bars at 2am. Since 1971, the Bleecker Street spot has been frying up balls of brown, crispy, herb-dusted falafel at rapid speed, plated with warm pita and hummus. Ask for some secret spicy sauce with your order.
47. Potato knish
Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery This spot is just about as unassuming as an East Village hole-in-the-wall can get (which is really saying something). It’s been turning out knishes for over 100 years -- mounds of buttery mashed potatoes wrapped in thick egg-washed dough. Add cheese and onions, or keep it classic -- you won’t find a more iconic double-carb knish anywhere else in the city. Grab some deli mustard for dipping.
48. Chocolate chip cookie
Levain Bakery Levain is a tiny bakery turning out enormous treats. The chocolate chip cookie -- a behemoth of a baked good -- is perfectly gooey on the inside, studded with a rainstorm of chocolate chips and walnuts, and weighs in at a newborn kittenesque 6 ounces.
49. Moroccan Benedict
Cafe Mogador Mogador has been a downtown staple for Moroccan fare since the ‘80s, and even with an additional outpost in Williamsburg, the East Village locale still has people lining up to wait for tables. The dinner menu is popular, but nothing beats their brunch: The Moroccan Benedict comes with poached eggs on toasted English muffins, doused in Hollandaise sauce and topped with a scoop of house-made spicy tomato Harissa sauce.
50. Slutty cakes
Shopsin’s Kenny Shopsin is a classic New York character. Enduringly crass and unsmiling in his uniform Mets cap, he has been serving a menu boasting over 900 items to loyal customers since 1973. While the location has changed, the man and his menu have not. Order the famed OG “Slutty Cakes,” a stack of fluffy griddle cakes stuffed with pumpkin and peanut butter. And be sure to place your order quickly -- Shopsin has no patience for dawdlers.
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