This post is about 17 classic New York City foods to try when you are in town.
We also include recommendations of the iconic eateries that serve up the best renditions of these foods.
Table of Contents
- Hot Dogs
- Black And White Cookie
- Soup Dumplings
- Egg and Cheese on a Roll
- New York Egg Cream
- General Tso's Chicken
- Pork Buns
- Porterhouse Steak
- Chopped Cheese Sandwich
- Chicken and Waffles
- Food Trucks
- Food Halls
Some of these foods are enjoyed during our Pay-What-You-Wish NYC Food Tours so join us!
Pizza was introduced to NYC by Italian immigrants who settled in East Harlem and Little Italy.
Lombardi's in Little Italy opened in 1905 and was the first pizzeria in America. Lombardi's thin-crust pies are pretty darn amazing and we can't recommend them enough.
You can also try Grimaldi’s located in DUMBO under the Brooklyn Bridge. Be prepared to wait for a table, but it is well worth it.
Our post, Best Pizza in New York City, has many more places to get a great slice.
Our Greenwich Village Food Tour stops at Bleecker Street Pizza where you can try the Nonna Maria slice for yourself.
Alternatively, if you want to visit at least half a dozen great pizza restaurants in the city, you can take the New York Pizza Tour from Secret Food Tours.
This outing includes at least 4 slices of pizza, one dessert, and a mystery dish!
While most Americans are familiar with bagels, travelers from overseas may not be so here is a brief explanation.
A bagel is a round bread product that is made with yeasted wheat dough that is shaped into a ring and boiled, then baked.
Bagels are about the size of the palm of your hand. They are typically eaten at breakfast with butter or cream cheese.
For a quintessential New York experience, try a bagel with lox.
This is an open-faced bagel topped with cream cheese and lox (similar to smoked salmon), topped with thinly sliced red onions and capers.
Bagels are believed to have been invented in the 1600s by Jewish communities in Poland.
When Polish Jews immigrated to America in the late 19th century, bagels began to appear in NYC.
Now, bagels are a staple of New Yorkers' diets and you can find bagels all over New York City.
But not all bagels were created equal! Be sure to read our post on how to find the best bagels in New York City.
And after reading this post, read what the roughly 170k members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group say are their favorite foods in NYC and join the conversation.
The group is made up of locals, regular visitors to NYC, and those just getting to know the city.
There's no need to join to read the recommendations.
NEW YORK CHEESECAKE
Cheesecake is believed to have originated in Ancient Greece.
Romans conquered the Greeks and spread the cheesecake concept throughout parts of their empire.
Millennia later, cheesecake made its way to America through immigrants from Europe.
In 1872 an American dairyman William Lawrence of New York State unintentionally created cream cheese, similar to the French cheese Neufchâtel.
He began to mass-produce cream cheese which was marketed as a spread for bread.
Someone came up with the idea of using cream cheese in a pie mold, mixing it with eggs and sugar and voila! Cheesecake was born.
New York-style cheesecake is different from traditional cheesecakes in that it includes heavy cream or sour cream. It is both silky and dense and can be quite sweet.
Get yourself over to Juniors, for the quintessential NY-style cheesecake. Your stomach will thank you!
Be warned...slices are massive! Your stomach won't be happy but your sweet tooth will!
For the human-sized cheesecake, try an individual mini-cheesecake from Eileen’s Special Cheesecake at 17 Cleveland Place in NoLita.
Eileen has been making fantastic NY-style cheesecake in her small shop since 1976.
Another type of cheesecake to try in NYC is ‘Italian-style’, made using Ricotta cheese.
Pastrami is cured cuts of meat (similar to corned beef or brisket).
The origins of pastrami go back to Romania. “Pastra” is the Romanian word for preserve -- or in this case, cured.
This style of cured meat made its way to America via Romanian Jewish immigrants who settled on the Lower East Side.
Today the Lower East Side is where you can find the best pastrami sandwich in NY, at Katz’s Delicatessen.
Katz’s pastrami on rye bread sandwich is big enough for two people to share.
Order a side of pickles or cole slaw and wash it all down with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and you will have done Katz’s right.
You might recognize Katz’s Deli from the infamous scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally. Read more about Katz’s.
In case you have heard about the famous Carnegie Deli. Sadly, it closed in 2016 so don’t spend time looking for it.
Of course, if you want to take all of the guesswork out of it, you can enjoy a great Reuben sandwich on the Greenwich Village food tour from Secret Food Tours!
Hot dogs are another food that existed long before it arrived in the U.S.
First sold in the Lower East Side by a German immigrant in the 1860s, this quick and easy food caught on quickly in NYC.
At the World’s Fair in 1893, hot dogs we sold by the thousands and after that, hot dogs became a staple at baseball games across America. Now hot dogs are about as American as it gets.
Hot dog carts can be found just about anywhere in the city. Most carts sell the same brand of hog dog -- Sabrett.
They are boiled and sit in the water until ordered. Some locals refer to hot dogs from a cart as 'dirty water dogs'.
Don't let the name put you off. With spicy brown mustard, sauerkraut, green relish, and hot onions on top, these hot dogs taste great.
If you prefer a grilled hot dog head to the beloved Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side at Broadway and 72nd Street.
Another excellent hot dog chain is Nathan’s. What started out as one hot dog cart in 1916 is now an international chain.
For a great hot dog and fries, head to Coney Island, the sight of the first Nathan’s.
Our post on things to do in Coney Island includes Nathan's as one of the best places to eat.
If you get their John-John Deragon (a hot dog with cream cheese, scallions & everything bagel seeds) it’s like eating two must-try New York foods in one!
They have a second location in Williamsburg.
Falafel is a chickpea batter made with herbs and mild spices and deep-fried into a ball a bit smaller than a golf ball.
Falafel is usually eaten on pita bread with some lettuce and tomato garnish and tahini (sesame paste).
Falafel sandwiches or even falafel balls on their own are a cheap and quick snack.
They have been serving NYC the best falafel since 1971.
They stay open until 5 am every night and it can be quite busy at that time as it is near the campus of New York University.
They have another location on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village.
The concept of the doughnut goes back centuries with variations across the globe.
An early form of doughnut made its way to America with Dutch settlers in the 1600s.
At that time, doughnuts did not have holes. It wasn’t until centuries later that doughnuts began appearing with a hole in the middle.
In fact, the first hole-making machine was invented right here in New York City in 1920!
If you want to discover one of the best doughnut shops in the city, the Greenwich Village food tour includes a gourmet doughnut in addition to some of the other dishes on this list.
Here are some doughnut shops that we cannot recommend highly enough.
At the Doughnut Plant, you can get traditional doughnut flavors like vanilla glazed, chocolate frosted, and jelly-filled.
This shop is known for its creative take - they came up with the world's first Crème Brûlée doughnut!
If you are seeking the international craze - the “Cronut” (the croissant/doughnut hybrid) you will find them at Dominique Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring St. in SoHo
The Doughnut Project in Greenwich Village offers some unusual but yummy doughnut flavors like a doughnut with maple glaze and a slice of bacon!
One of their best donuts is the “The Bronx”, a basic donut that has a hint of olive oil and a bit of black pepper.
BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE
The origin of this cookie in NYC starts with a Bavarian immigrant bakery on the Upper East Side.
This classic NY cookie is a big flat disc with a shortbread base and iced with fondant frosting. One half has vanilla fondant and the other half has chocolate, hence the name.
These cookies are SO New York that they even make an appearance in an episode of Seinfeld.
Seinfeld fans, you might enjoy our self-guided Seinfeld walking tour.
Soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) are one of the most famous dishes that originated in the Jiangnan region of China.
Xiaolongbao are small steamed dumplings filled with seasoned pork filling and - as the name indicates - savory soup! Other fillings are available such as pork and shrimp, chicken, or beef.
The wonder of this food is not only the delicious flavor but also the magic of how the soup stays in the dumpling.
You must know how to eat these dumplings or you may end up spilling the hot soup inside.
Xiaolongbao is served with a side of black vinegar and strips of ginger, but even without this condiment, you will enjoy every bite - and sip!
EGG AND CHEESE ON A ROLL
Just about any deli in NYC whip up this sandwich of scrambled eggs covered with a slice of cheese (usually bright orange American cheese) served on a soft kaiser roll.
Add bacon for a BEC (Bacon, Egg, Cheese). Try your egg and cheese on a bagel. Ask for other types of cheese - swiss, cheddar, gouda.
It takes less than 5 minutes to make this sandwich and even less time to gobble it down!
NEW YORK EGG CREAM
This classic fountain soda shop drink was invented in the 1920s and was made mainly in New York City (particularly Brooklyn).
Despite the name, Egg Creams contain neither eggs nor cream! That's the only part about this New York drink that doesn't make sense.
Everything else about it does. The quick explanation: it's chocolate milk with seltzer.
Sounds easy, but a good egg cream is all about the amounts of each ingredient, the stirring method you choose, and some say, the brand of chocolate syrup you use.
Foodies know that U-Bet, made in Brooklyn, is the real deal!
For the ultimate New York Egg Cream in NYC hit up Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop, which opened in 1929! It's located across the street from the Flatiron Building.
Also, try out Ray’s Candy Store at 113 Avenue A in the East Village and the aforementioned Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side.
GENERAL TSO'S CHICKEN
This Hunan-style Chinese dish is battered chicken pieces fried until crispy then tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce.
It is typically served with broccoli and sometimes hot red chile peppers so be on alert.
While there is no doubt that this dish is incredibly tasty, its origins are in dispute.
In 1972, a prominent chef of Hunan Chinese cuisine, Peng Chang-Kuei, moved from Taiwan to New York.
He opened Peng's Restaurant on E. 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan and claimed that his restaurant was the first to serve General Tso's Chicken.
Meanwhile, across town at Shun Lee Palace on E. 55th St., chef T.T. Wang and partner Michael Tong claim that they put General Tso's Chicken on the map.
Regardless of where it came from and how it got to New York City, General Tso’s Chicken is a must-try.
Another Chinese treat is steamed pork buns (char siu bao). These fluffy, steamed buns are filled with sweet and savory barbecue pork.
You can also get a baked variation, but steamed buns are more traditional.
Pork buns are a staple of Dim Sum, Chinese brunch where small plates of a variety of foods are served.
NYC is a top city for a porterhouse steak, and while there are many great steakhouses to eat at, Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn is arguably the 1st choice.
These dry-aged steaks can weigh upwards of 2 lbs (almost 1kg!). For most people, this is a meal for two.
And please, eat this steak medium rare.
CHOPPED CHEESE SANDWICH
This mouth-watering sandwich is the Big Apple's version of a Philly cheesesteak.
A chopped cheese sandwich starts with ground beef, onions, and peppers laid out on a flat-top grill and then chopped up together.
The finishing touches are slices of American cheese, which melt nicely, served on a roll with lettuce and tomato.
It's believed that the chopped cheese sandwich originated at Hajji's at 2135 1st Ave. in East Harlem (formerly Blue Sky Deli). But just about every bodega (Spanish for "small grocery store") serves them up.
You see street food carts and trucks all around the city. You walk past them and the savory smell in the air calls to you. Food trucks raise street food to a whole new level.
If you walk by a food truck and there's a line, you know it's good.
The Halal Guys cart at W. 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, down the block from the Museum of Modern Art, always has a line but their chicken and rice served with white sauce and hot sauce are worth the wait.
Another New York favorite is the El Toro Rojo Truck which roves around the city to a new location weekly.
Their chicken or beef tacos are fabulously juicy, though be careful with the el pastor which may be a bit too spicy for some.
CHICKEN AND WAFFLES
Chicken and waffles is a sweet meets savory dish with roots in the American south.
Considered part of African-American cuisine, chicken and waffles is a must-try staple of Harlem Soul Food.
You can find this dish at many places in NYC, but the best is served at the famous Sylvia's Restaurant and Amy Ruth's Restaurant at 113 W. 116th Street in Harlem.
If you can't make it uptown, try Sweet Chick, with two locations: 178 Ludlow St. on the Lower East Side and 164 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg.
Food Halls are like upscale versions of food courts. It's one-stop shopping for all kinds of foods.
For great culinary experiences check out Chelsea Market.
It's one of the best food halls, especially if you are going to High Line, an urban park on the west side lined with amazing architecture.
Some others are Eataly located in the Oculus at the World Trade Center, City Kitchen in Hell's Kitchen, and the Time Out Market in DUMBO where the view of the Manhattan skyline is even better than the food!
Best Neighborhoods for Foodie Experiences
If you are looking to enjoy a lot of small food tastings within one neighborhood, here are a few to check out.
They are filled with mom & pop shops to try out.
Many of these are in historic neighborhoods which means you'll enjoy seeing many landmarks as well.
- Greenwich Village
- Lower East Side
- East Village
- Arthur Avenue (the Little Italy of the Bronx)