Like most great cities, the Big Apple has two sides, the side photographed and explored by tourists and the side known only by the locals that inhabit it. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to see this great city as both. I followed the tourist trail from the Statue of Liberty to Times Square and as beautiful as these sights were, I was also incredibly disappointed by the food pandered to tourists.
Luckily for me when I moved to NYC, I did my research on the food scene, was surrounded by budding chefs willing to eat everything that this city had to offer and had some great tips from my Brooklyn family on where to find some of NYC’s good eats.
So this list isn’t exhaustive and I’m sure every day there is another great little restaurant, food stand, food cart or food truck opening up, but here is my list of NYC good eats, bon appétit
Lower East Side, unofficially everything south of Houston and not including Chinatown, this area is full of creative buzz, its streets bursting with food, fashion, beer and liquor. This is where New Yorkers hang out and where the tourists may be weary to tread.
The Meatball Shop
The Doughnut Planet
Hailed by many as one of the best doughnut shops in the country by the Food Network, Bon Appetit and many other magazines and newspapers, no trip to NYC is complete without a taste. The shop bakes throughout the day, ensuring a constant supply of fresh doughnuts. Beware though the fan favourites sell out fast as people by them by the dozen so come early. My personal favourites are tres leche, crème brulee, peanut butter and jelly and carrot cake.
Unique and vibrant bar in the LES, it has an excellent offering of local microbrewers. It has a great vibe and offers some decent food to go along with your pint(s). The food for me has been a bit hit or miss as far as entrees go, but if you are looking for a place to grab some appetizers and have a few beers, you won’t find a better place.
Chinatown – A little side note about Chinatown, in my opinion this is less an area for authentic Chinese food and more for tourist these days. The real Chinese food has relocated to Flushing, which is worth the trip if you are really craving it. In general though, the Chinese food fell short compared to offerings of Toronto, so don’t have too many places to recommend, but there are a few hidden gems…
Fong Inn Too
This place is easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled, this tiny establishment supplies many Chinatown restaurants including Hong Kong Market (where I purchased some of their deliciousness and decided to seek out the store for myself). This place has a limited menu of tofu and rice products, but everything here is amazing. They have the best radish and taro cakes I’ve ever eaten, and my god I have eaten a lot. Besides the food, there is something admirable about a team of little Asian aunties and uncles making Chinese food the old school way, in small batches, with love, Cantonese, a bit of Mandarin and all that great Asian customer service.
Unnamed Chinese Tofu Shop….yes it really has no name or address
Location North East Corner of Grand and Bowery (across the street you should see an angry Chinese man with a cart)
This place is run by two very amusing Cantonese women, who mostly peddle tofu and rice noodles . They have some other offerings, but I wouldn’t bother since most of the traffic in here comes for these two products. While I am not a tofu fan in general I do think part of the reason why it tastes so bland normally is because it is made in some far off factory and isn’t fresh. Fresh tofu does have a distinct taste and texture that is all its own.
Banh Mi Saigon
For any Torontoian used to the 1.50 Viet Sandwich Specials of Chinatown, you will suffere some sticker shock at the price of banh mi in NYC, an average of $4 – 7 USD. However, sometimes you just need a banh mi and all the logic in the world goes out the door, when this happens banh mi Saigon is the best I’ve found. A half jewelry store, half banh mi shop, this chain offers a wide selection of freshly made sandwiches. The baguette is appropriately crusty, meat to bread ratio is decent and quality of pickled veg is pretty good. Is it as good as my favourite shop in Toronto, no, but it is the closest thing I’ve found this side of the border and does satisfy my Viet cravings for a few weeks.
Food Stalls, Centre Street, Canal Street and Grand Street
These food carts offer either steamed or fried Asian food and the quality and price are quite good. A good place to grab a quick bite $1 for a skewer for various curried meatballs) if you don’t want to do your grocery shopping ravenous!
Okay this is my guilty Chinatown pleasure, this former food cart decided to get itself a proper location as it was always busy. Famous for their $2.25 all day special of roast pork or soy sauce chicken over steamed rice (changes daily), the lines are long, but the rice and meat are fresh, tasty and cheap.
East Village - generally considered to be between Houston and 14th street east of Broadway, this neighbourhood is an eclectic mix of NYU students, Hispanic, Japananese, Polish communities and artists. This neighbourhood boasts many authentic ethnic restaurants, cheaps eats and local favourites.
East Village is home to 3 of the Momofuku restaurant and has 1 milk bar as well. David Chang is a food legend in NYC and whether you’re a lover or a hater, everyone should check out the original noodle bar that started it all to make up their own mind. The noodle bar is famous for their braised pork belly buns and signature ramen, no trip to NYC is complete without a meal here. The Momofuku milk Bar is an adult’s dessert wonderland where Change takes his tongue and cheek sense of humour and culinary skill to create fun and delicious dessert such cereral milk ice cream, crack pie and compost cookies.
One street north of St Marks, this tiny Japanese restaurant would be easy to miss, except for the crowds of NYU students and Japanese youths crowding the sidewalk. While the restaurant offers a handful of authentic Japanese treats, their claim to fame are the deep fried octopus ball, drizzled with a sweet, sour and tangy brown sauce and a generous smattering of bonito flakes.
The elusive New York pizza, well this place a cult following and is consistently rated one of the best. They offer a few different types of pizzas but the ones not to miss are the artichoke (a creamy sauce with roasted artichokes, it’s good...definitely worth having) and the Sicilian….a thin crust all about the tomato sauce pizza, which is kind of amazing. The Artichoke is great for a great slice of pizza when you aren't quite willing to make the trek to The Pizza Place in New York...Di Faros, but more about that later.
This packed East Village restaurant is introducing Venezuelan cuisine to New York, one arepa at a time. Arepas are crispy and moist corn patties filled anything from braised beef to fried plantains. These are sinfully delicious and small enough that you can put a serious dent in the menu in one sitting.
I discovered this place after a savvy Brooklynite raved about their sandwiches. Sara Jenkins is the chef and brainchild behind this place, it has a focused menu revolving around traditional Italian flavours and slow roasted porchetta. Definitely a must try.
This is one of those great establishments that become famous for its food, but doesn’t take much notice of it. Mamouns is the oldest falafel shop in NYC. Their tiny shop on St Marks is tucked away in a shop barely visible from the street. They sell a medley of Middle Eastern food along with the famous falafels which are all worth trying, just make sure you don’t leave without trying the house made hot sauce!
PDT, please don’t tell is the kind of restaurant that only New Yorkers would dream up. It is an old fashioned speakeasy, to get a reservation at this sought after place you need to go to Crif hot dogs, climb into the phone booth and pray that you get a reservation. At the appointed time you come back and climb into the phone booth, to announce your arrival and wait for the bouncer/hostess to let you in. I know it is cliché, but the drinks are strong and fancy, but they serve up crif dogs from next door and there is something intrinsically cool about sipping whisky at a posh underground bar eating a cheesy chili hot dog.
This restaurant has been a locale favourite since opening in 1999. Gabrielle Hamilton as won a number of accolades for her cuisine. A perfect place for brunch, lunch or dinner, this place is sure to win you over with their delicious. Besides any restaurant that is cheeky enough to have an omelette as an appetizer for dinner is my kind of place.
This sixteen seat restaurant may just be NYC’s best kept secrets and hardest place to book a table. But ask any chef in the city about this restaurant and they’ve all heard of it or eaten there, heck even Thomas Keller himself made sure to tuck in and eat a meal here. The Executive Chef Wesley Genovart is young, passionate and talented, having trained under some of the best Jean Gorges Bongerichten’s and Daniel Boulud he brings all the finesse of French cooking and Spanish flavours to the table. There is only one thing to order on the menu and that’s the chef’s tasting menu, and prepare to be inspired.