From hole-in-the-wall gems to hard-to-book must-try restaurants, these are the best restaurants in New York City!
New York City is one of my favorite cities in the world, and at one point in time I was tossing up between moving to NYC or San Francisco for work. Though I ended up living and working for a short while in SF, I never stopped dreaming about the incredible food and vibrant neighborhoods of New York.
I used to visit New York frequently for business trips, but I haven’t been back in a few years so don’t quite have my finger on the pulse of where to go for the best food in New York. Luckily for me, my brother is a food professional and currently based in New York City so I did what any self-respecting sister would do: I put him to work.
Visiting New York and need some restaurant recommendations? Read on for a guest post from my brother, Morgan, on his top picks for grub in New York City!
It’s no secret that New York is full of amazing restaurants: New York has one of the most diverse and dense restaurant scenes in the world!
Here are the top 30+ establishments that I love going to when I’m in the city. Let me know what you think if you end up visiting one of these wonderful restaurants and dessert shops. Read on for the best places and must-try dishes in New York!
Check back every so often for updates – there are so many places from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Jackson Heights, so the list is going to be huge.
Where to go for a New York Slice
When you think of New York, you have to think of its staple comfort foods and quick bites. Regardless of your preferred style of pizza – Detroit squares, 18″ classic New York pies, Chicago deep dish – New York pizza reigns supreme. They say it’s the natural minerals in New York’s water supply that gives the crust the perfect texture and adds to the flavor of the crust (big boo to unseasoned dough!). Here are some of the best pizza places in New York.
A classic narrow and deep New York establishment, Rubirosa serves pizzas in 2 sizes, with the larger size comfortably feeding 2-4 people depending on whether or not you order any sides. I strongly recommend skipping everything else and diving right into the pizza to grab a large half-and-half of Tie Dye and Pepperoni.
Their Tie Dye pizza is what they’re famous for (and what you could spend over 2 hours waiting for if you don’t get there early!), which has a beautiful balance of vodka sauce, fresh mozzarella, and pesto sauce – throw some pepperocino on it and you’re in for a treat! Their pepperoni slices are smaller than what you’ll usually see but they crisp it up just right and they’re not too salty like most places you’ll try.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with their crust: thin and crispy, but has just enough body to hold itself up without folding over when you pick it up. Strongly recommended to get there early, or head there for slices during the pizza hour between 4 – 5 PM every day.
2. Prince Street Pizza
A tiny shop that’s geared towards grabbing a few slices and moving on, Prince is a New York pizza that serves a mean square Detroit-style pepperoni pizza. Loaded with pepperoni and with a crisp crust, it has a doughy middle and a gentle amount of sauce for a perfect grab-n-go walk-n-talk slice, especially after a big Friday and/or Saturday night out.
A franchise of the original location in Rome, Trapizzino serves thick oven-baked pizza crust with fillings (trapizzini) rather than toppings. Skeptical at first, I’ll admit that they snared me with their suppli (breaded & fried risotto balls with fillings) and trappizini of Lingua (veal tongue, parsley, Sicilian anchovies), Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail ragu, celery, red wine), and Doppia Panna (straciatella di burrata, Sicilian anchovies).
The Doppia Panna was especially surprising, with a warm and fluffy pizza crust that’s perfectly crispy on the outside and well-seasoned, it’s filled with a cold straciatella that’s slightly sweet and beautifully salty anchovies for a little shock factor of balance.
4. Best Pizza
Ballsy to be naming your joint Best Pizza in one of the pizza meccas of the world, but Chef Frank Pinello (in a venture with Brooklyn Star and Roberta’s, another sexy pizza joint) isn’t far off. They’re famous for the white pizza (house-made mozz, fresh ricotta, pecorino, caramelized onions (yup), and sesame seeds sprinkled on the crust as an ode to Pinello’s Sicilian heritage. If you’re not into that sort of thing, go for their grandma’s pie (square with a slightly thicker crust) and the garlic knots!
Where to go for the best bagels in New York City
Another New York classic, you’ll find bagels at every street corner as well in New York, from delis to food carts to specialty bagel stores. No visit to the city would be complete without a bagel, and you really can’t go wrong with so many choices of fillings!
5. Russ & Daughters Cafe / Russ & Daughters
If you only have time for the bagel store (Russ & Daughters), do not miss out on the pastrami-cured salmon. It’s absolutely glorious. The belly lox can be overwhelmingly salty for most, but the pastrami-cured salmon and the whitefish salad with an everything bagel is your answer to all the average bagels you’ve had in your lifetime.
As for the cafe which is right around the corner from the original store, treat yo’self and be sure to get one of their caviar offers for cheap(er than usual…they have quite a nice spread from American to your fancy Osetra), all served with blinis and a nice spread of finely chopped chives, egg yolks and whites, and creme fraiche. If you’re sitting there with a bit of an appetite, be sure to try everything from the chopped liver (served with crackers and pickled onions) to the trio of pickled herring (served with different pickles and sauces) and the potato latkes (with roe and creme fraiche). It’s hard to fault this menu, which showcases some of the most delicious Jewish comfort food.
6. BO’s Bagels
Started by a couple living in Harlem who struggled to find good bagels in the neighborhood, BO’s Bagels began as a stand and is now a legitimate brick and mortar that generally hosts a healthy line out the door on weekends. Offering homemade fresh bagels and spreads as well as coffee, they even have bagel dogs with chili (a hot dog inside bagel dough) – just be sure to get your bagels toasted and you’ll be living the good life!
It’s hard to go wrong with this vintage-style spot best suited for bagel brunches, located in Soho not far from quite a few subway stations. You’ll get your range of smoked fish and salads in a tower, a good range of egg options, caviar, and their specialties like sticky buns. Sadelle’s has also been voted for having the best bagels in New York, so my best advice is to just try them all and make up your own mind! Something important to note: it’s a credit card only spot.
Where to go for your Mexican food fix in New York City
I’m sorry to say, but everyone knows that good, affordable Mexican food does not currently exist in Hong Kong. Ain’t nobody feeling good about $100 tacos that still don’t do it justice in terms of flavor. Here’s a small (and growing) list of Mexican/Tex-Mex spots that are worth your time and money.
8. Great Burrito
A hole in the wall spot (100 West 23rd Street, Chelsea) that also advertises pizza (focus face here, gang), Great Burrito has the most generous portions of all the spots below at $3.50 per taco. 2 tacos con todos (crema, queso, their version of guac, salsa, cilantro, onions) is already a decent meal, and 3 will immediately send you over the edge. Don’t miss out on their Lengua (beef tongue, slow braised on the stovetop), Al Pastor (lil’ bit of a kick here with the marinated pork and pineapples), and Pollo (chicken).
Each taco comes with 2 layers of corn tortillas which are needed for the absolute bulk of food that tastes like good ol’ home cookin’. If you’re more of a burrito kinda guy or gal, go nuts, they are not skimping on portions regardless of what you order.
9. Los Tacos Numero Uno
A stall in the famous Chelsea market down on 14th Street and 9th Avenue, Los Tacos gets some pretty long lines during peak hours with pretty normal portion sizes. The winner here is 100% the Especiales, their fried quesadilla which can be stuffed with your choice of meat on the menu.
The flavor here is big and it is so damn good for when you’re hungry or cold or just craving some comfort food. Swing around the corner to Los Mariscos (still in Chelsea Market) right after for some marine-based choices and drinks and the option to actually take a seat!
10. Los Mariscos
Right around the corner from Los Tacos Numero Uno sits Los Mariscos, a spot that seats maybe 30 people at most but has a laid-back, beach vibe. The menu definitely adds to it, with a range of raw options (ceviche and raw shellfish) to their seafood tacos. Do yourself a favor and grab some raw clams and oysters while you wait for the fried fish tacos (with a bit of that delicious chipotle aioli), and some grade A margaritas rimmed with citrus zest and chili.
The best breakfast spots in New York City
Another shocking weak spot for Hong Kong is the lack of accessible, affordable, and delicious breakfasts options. New York doesn’t play around in this regard, with many spots opening up early (seriously, why do coffee spots open after 9AM in Hong Kong?) and throwing down with some badass food.
11. Johnny’s Luncheonette
A classic narrow countertop diner, Johnny’s serves classics and breakfast all day. Head in for a couple of eggs your style, corned beef hash, and sausages, washed down with a pot of coffee.
Open 7 AM – 2 AM every day, Buvette is a quaint French bistro that does food, wine, and coffee pretty damn good. They’re known for their “steamed” eggs at breakfast (and actually the breakfast selection in general), which are basically uber fluffy scrambled eggs – get the Jambon (prosciutto shaved to-order, which you’ll likely witness if you’re seated at the counter) or Chèvre (goat cheese, tomato confit, pesto), and if you’re feeling hungry, don’t miss out on the waffle sandwich, which is a glorious mound of fresh waffles, sunny-side egg, bacon, gruyère cheese, topped with maple syrup.
13. The Grey Dog
Serving a classic American breakfast spread from eggs to waffles in homey digs, The Grey Dog has big bang-for-your buck portions and a casual vibe, so stop by to nurse that hangover or fill your belly after a long day (or night).
Where to go for the best Asian food in New York City
This list could and should be its own entity, but for the time-being, I’ll have to just include a few of my loves below.
14. Fish Cheeks
Started by two Thai chef-brothers, Fish Cheeks serves a seafood-centric Thai comfort food menu, where they recommend sharing a few of the mains. The set menu is definitely worth it if you’re thinking of ordering a few dishes, but if you can, get there for the happy hour as well for $1 oysters and reduced price drinks – use the beer to help with the heat on some of the dishes like the Coconut Crab Curry! If you’re a Thai food veteran, you’re going to realize that some dishes are definitely toned down for the palate here, but Fish Cheeks is worth it! It doesn’t hurt that the setup and staff are easy on the eyes, either.
An offering from the minds of Kura (omakase on St. Mark’s) with Norihiro Ishizuka’s recipes and his original partners Huey Cheng, Jeff Lam and more recently Francis Yu, Raku is an udon specialist with options ranging from cold to hot udon and light to heavy broths. While you’re here though, don’t skip over the appetizers, with Ankimo (monkfish liver), their fried chicken (Chicken Tatsuta-age), thick-cut bacon (Atsugiri Bacon), and gyoza (pork or vegetable dumplings).
If you love Japanese steamed egg dishes, look no further than their chawanmushi with crab. In terms of their udon, I’m a bigger fan of hot udon, and my favorites were the Niku (beef short-ribs & honeycomb tripe) – a dish that they initially built Raku on – and the Nameko (Nagasaki nameko mushrooms & wakeme seaweed). It’s hard to go wrong – their udon has just the right amount of bounce and bite and doesn’t fall apart in the hot broth after a few minutes, either! If you’re more of a rice person, they have a few donburi options, but don’t be silly and get yourself a hot bowl of udon.
16. 456 New Shanghai
A clean and bright spot in Chinatown that’s known for it’s soup dumplings (小籠包), be sure to order both the classic pork as well as the crab and pork. Another must-have dish is the pan-fried buns (生煎包), one of my personal favorites with a fluffy white bun top and crunchy seared bottom. 456 New Shanghai is a great spot for a casual dinner washed down with some beer.
17. Xi’an Famous Foods
A family-run business that serves Xi’an cuisine, they’re famous for their hand-pulled noodles that are pulled to order. That’s right – every single order of noodles is only pulled and cooked when your order is called. This is the way it should always be done. Xi’an Famous Foods got a ton of exposure after the one and only Anthony Bourdain visited and loved it, and they’ve only grown since then.
They’re best known for their spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles, cold-skin noodles, and biang biang noodles (“biang” also being one of the most complicated Chinese characters!). As a fast-casual chain with no table service, this is an ideal spot if you’re riding solo and craving some spicy food on short order.
Last but not least, unmissable Italian/Italian-American restaurants in New York
There is no debate that Italian-American food holds significant cultural importance in the U.S. Descendants of Italian immigrants made up a huge portion of immigration starting in the 1860s and continued for decades, and thanks to many of these families and their descendants setting up restaurants in order to make a living, we’re now blessed with some of the most soul-healing food you can have. Of course, you’ll also have your pick of classic Italian spots serving traditional food cooked the traditional way!
18. Malatesta Trattoria
A cash-only gem that holds a corner spot that’s perfect for sitting outdoors during the warmer months of the year, Malatesta Trattoria is a casual Italian spot in the West Village offering a small, seasonal menu and homemade pastas. With wines served by the glass or carafe, the ambience here and the dishes are perfect for a small group, date, or family dinner. I recommend the burrata and squid ink pasta if it’s on the menu!
A basement location just a stone’s throw from Times Square, I stumbled across this because the more popular places around Times Square had hour-long waits, easily. But make no mistake: Scarlatto’s staff are on point, moving quick and professionally with good knowledge of the menu. The food was a pleasant surprise as well, with generous portions and all well-cooked, with their Linguine alla Vongole actually topping those from more popular spots. You won’t be disappointed by this less-talked about restaurant in a busy location.
20. Il Melograno
A small, brightly-lit corner location with outdoor seating, Il Melograno in Hell’s Kitchen has a cozy, homey feel to it and is one of the best Italian restaurants in New York City. This initial feeling is immediately thrown to the wayside when you taste the food – their pastas and mains are legitimately delicious and their ricotta cheesecake is one of the best I’ve tasted in the city. Another fantastic location for a date or family meal, Il Melograno will not disappoint.
21. Frank, Supper, Lil’ Frankie’s
Frank Prisinzano may be one of the most active chefs on Instagram, and he’s popular for good reason: not only does he run a few cash-only, constantly poppin’ joints in the East Village, but he also uploads how-to cooking videos on Instagram Stories on a daily basis. His spots are known for the Pasta Limone, a light creamy, zesty pasta that just works in warming your soul.
Frank has outdoor seating and more narrow seating inside with more homestyle cooking, Lil’ Frankie’s offers wood-fired pizza with casual Italian and a full bar, and Supper sends out comfort food in a rustic trattoria setting with top class service. My preference is Supper, but it’s hard to go wrong with Chef Frank!
Where to eat quintessential New York food
A bit of a mixed bag to top it all off with – this list below is the epitome of NYC food, a mix of cuisines that are all absolutely delicious. Read on for some of the best casual American food joints in New York City.
22. Katz’s Delicatessan
The mother of all delis in New York. Katz’s has been open since 1888 (and is a part of an iconic scene from When Harry Met Sally) and has been pumping out delicious sandwiches at an alarming rate. Get some cash out, walk in, grab a ticket, and snag yourself a beer while you order and wait for your insanely large and delicious sandwich.
The pastrami is moist and sliced thinly, loaded with sauerkraut, cheese, and a tangy sauce that is just balanced exactly as it should be. You’ll be given a plate of pickles and tomatillo to nibble on between the fatty bites, and when washed down with that beer you got earlier, life feels good.
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune created one of my favorite cookbooks of all-time (also called Prune), a beautifully poignant memoir titled Blood, Bones, and Butter, and was named the James Beard Best Chef in New York City in 2011, and Outstanding Chef in 2018. Not bad for someone with no formal culinary training or background when she opened this 30-seat restaurant!
The French and Italian influences in her life are reflected in her New American menu best known for brunch (get there early, lines form about 30 minutes before opening), so don’t miss out on their items like the Fresh Ricotta (fresh soft ricotta with raspberries, figs, toasted pine nuts and honey, served with Merveilles), Fried Oyster Omelette with remoulade sauce, and potato rosti, and last but not least, a range of the best Bloody Mary’s that will convert haters of this cocktail.
24. Little Owl
An incredibly charming but unassuming 28-seater in the heart of Greenwich Village, it’s tough to get a reservation here in the peak hours. It’s definitely more of an American-Mediterranean spot rather than a pure Mediterranean joint (which you may read online elsewhere), where Little Owl serves some dirty (in a good way) Gravy Meatball Sliders, naughty (in the best way) bone-in Pork Chops & Butter Beans, and some gorgeous grilled sardines and slow-braised, moist and tender, rich and decadent beef (if these are specials when you’re there, get it).
25. Blue Hill
Set in a townhouse, Blue Hill is Chef Dan Barber’s New York City location (Blue Hill Stone Barns is their other location, set on Stone Barns about an hour outside of the city). These are places where “farm-to-table” and “seasonal ingredients” is 100% true and in the DNA of Barber and his restaurants and partnering farms.
They are Michelin-starred for good reason, and the price tag of just over $100 per person is an absolute steal. Things taste the way they should here, and if you’re like most people, you won’t really know how a carrot, tomato, or piece of meat in-season actually tastes like. The flavors will pop and delight you, and you should make it a priority to try this place (or places, with Stone Barns costing more than twice as much), especially for a special occasion. The food, service, and ambience hit the spot, and that’s the holy trinity that is incredibly rare to find in the world of F&B.
26. Fette Sau
In a popular neighborhood of Williamsburg, you’ll find Fette Sau down a short alley and in an well-lit, open space with bar seating and long tables. Head straight to the bar for a casual date or catchup with friends, or to the tables for a larger group, but be sure to order the dry-rubbed barbecue in the brisket (ask for the fattier cuts), pork ribs that have a bite (they’re not the fall-off-the-bone type but they have that smoke!), moist cornbread, smoky, sweet, and tangy pulled pork, fatty and tender pork belly, and the links that may actually be the flavor winner of the bunch. Wash it all down with draught beers (with knives as handles for the taps) or their large list of bourbons that pair wonderfully with all that smoked meat.
Don’t be thrown off by the fact that there are 7 locations on Manhattan alone – Westville serves casual American food and has a varied menu with locally-sourced produce. They’ll have a huge variety of fresh greens for you to order, and if you’re in a sandwich mood, go for the Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Marinated Skirt Steak, or Crispy Fish. Otherwise, go with the Plates and choose 2 market sides.
The best sweets and dessert joints in New York
Love rounding off your meals with something sweet? New York has no shortage of options, but here are a few of our favorites below.
28. The Doughnut Project
Famous for their maple bacon and beetroot rings of doughy goodness, The Doughnut Project is a small shop right around the corner from a couple of bangin’ pizza joints (Keste and John’s of Bleecker) that’s definitely worth a walk and talk with a few hundred calories of sweetness.
29. Doughnut Plant
With a few locations in Manhattan, these folks aren’t messing around when it comes to variety and purely delicious doughnuts (and some pretty good coffee, too!) and is one of the best donut shops in New York. They’ve got choices in yeast, cake, filled square doughnuts, doughseeds (mini round filled doughnuts), and filled cake doughnuts. It’s really, really hard to go wrong here, but if you’re a sucker for classic glaze, get the Vanilla Bean. Love PB&J? They’ve got an option for that, too. Love French desserts? How about a Crème Brûlée? Love cake? Red Velvet, baby. Fruit? Wild Blueberry! They’ve even got gluten-free options. Walk into Doughnut Plant at your own risk!
30. Big Gay Ice Cream
Now a mainstay of the New York ice cream scene, Big Gay Ice Cream is best known for their Salty Pimp flavor, and it’s well-deserved. Vanilla ice cream swagged out with salty dark chocolate bar chunks & salty swirls of dulce de leche, then finished in a coating on the spot of dark chocolate and sea salt, it’s an ice cream for any mood. Don’t waste your time with pints – go to their locations and enjoy those soft serve cones. They’ll occasionally throw some crazy flavors out there like a Cheetos-flavored ice cream…and it isn’t as crazy as it sounds!
31. Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery
Opened by former financial advisor Umber Ahmad, Mah-Ze-Dahr has a few small tables and is perfect for a coffee catch-up if you’re planning on sitting down. Ahmad has talent, and it’s shown in the creamy lusciousness and gentle tang of their cheesecakes, and the soft spongy brioche donuts (filled and unfilled) that pair beautifully with a hot coffee.
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Featured photo credit: Skeeze via Pixabay
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