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Famous Foods of New York City

Updated: February 21, 2024

New York City has a lot of famous things about it, and one of the biggest is its food. This post lists 19 iconic foods to try when in the Big Apple.

Our list comes from our local tour guides, many of whom are native New Yorkers. But you don’t have to rely on just our say.

For more opinions, we asked the more than 230,000 members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group "What food is New York known for?" At the end of this post, you can see what they had to say.

The group consists of locals, regular visitors to NYC, and those just getting to know the city.

There's no need to join to read the recommendations. So take a look at our group for more ideas or ask a question yourself!


Some of these foods are sampled 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 a half-day New York Pizza Bus Tour from Scott's Pizza Tours (read more about Scott and his famous tours here).

TIP: If you like street art, head out to Bushwick for our Bushwick Street Art tour and afterward go to Roberta’s Pizza - one of the best in NYC.


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.

At first, you could only get bagels at specialty Jewish food shops. On our pay-what-you-wish Lower East Side Food Tour, we visit one such shop, opened in 1936!

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.


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!

Opened in 1950, this landmark restaurant is located in Downtown Brooklyn near Brooklyn Heights. They also have locations in Times Square and Midtown Manhattan.

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 1974.

Another type of cheesecake to try in NYC is ‘Italian-style’, made using Ricotta cheese.

We recommend Pasticceria Rocco at 243 Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village and Veniero’s Pastry in the East Village.

New York Walking Tours


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. 

Instead, head to the Upper East Side to the 2nd Avenue Deli. They also have a location in Midtown Manhattan.


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.

This is just a few blocks away from Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History.

Another excellent hot dog chain is Nathan’s. What started 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. 

For a unique twist on the hot dog, try Crif Dogs in the East Village.

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.


First question. What is a knish (pronounced k’nish)? 

A knish is typically made as a ball of lightly seasoned mashed potatoes wrapped in a thin layer of dough and then baked. Simple and delicious. And very hearty!

Knishes originated in Eastern Europe, at least 200 years ago, and are regarded as a Jewish food.

When boatloads of Jewish immigrants came to America in the late 1800s, they brought their homeland's recipes.

Many of these immigrants settled on the Lower East Side, which is where the first knishery (knish shop) opened in 1910.

While you can find knish in many big cities where there is a Jewish population, they were first introduced to New Yorkers.

You can find knish carts around the city, though these are square and deep-fried. They are delicious and make a wonderful snack on the go.

But if you want the real deal, go to Yonah Schimmel Knishery on the Lower East Side -- or come with us on our Lower East Side Food Tour where we start with the best knish in town.


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.

Though there are food carts that sell falafel around town, the best is at Mamoun’s on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village.

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.

Our Greenwich Village Food Tour visits Mamoun’s.


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.

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, this Greenwich Village food tour includes a gourmet doughnut in addition to some of the other dishes on this list.

One of our favorite shops is the Doughnut Plant, where 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.

We pass it during our SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown.

Read more about the Cronut from our post on things to do in SoHo and how you can ensure you get one before they sell out!


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.

Black and White cookies are SO New York that they even make an appearance in an episode of Seinfeld.

If you are a fan, check out our self-guided Seinfeld walking tour.

For some of the best Black and White cookies head to Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side.

There's also William Greenberg Desserts at Hudson Yards in Chelsea and also on the Upper East Side.

They sell other yummy treats like their famous Linzer tarts and almond cookies.


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. 

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!

In New York City, head to Chinatown and check out one of the following places: Joe's Shanghai, Noodle Village, and Deluxe Green Bo.


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. 

egg and cheese

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!


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 S and P's (formerly the historic Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop). 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.


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. 

General Tsos Chicken

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

Pork buns are a staple of Dim Sum, a Chinese brunch where small plates of a variety of foods are served.

Many Chinese restaurants in NYC serve these at any meal. You can also find them at bakeries in Chinatown.

Our favorites are made at Mei Lai Wah and Golden Steamer.


NYC is a top city for a porterhouse steak, and while there are many great steakhouses to eat at, the historic 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 rare... or if that's too much for you, no more than medium rare! Trust us on this!

Another amazing place for steak and other dishes like mutton chops is Keen's Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan.


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.

There's always a line but their chicken and rice served with white sauce and hot sauce are worth the wait.

They are one of the places to get the best cheap eats in NYC.

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 is a sweet meets savory dish with roots in the American South.

Considered part of African-American cuisine, chicken and waffles are 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.

Chelsea Market Food

Some others are Eataly located in the Oculus at the World Trade Center and Hudson Yards.

The Time Out Market in DUMBO has a view of the Manhattan skyline that might be better than the delicious 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-and-Pop shops to try out.

Many of these are in historic neighborhoods which means you'll enjoy seeing many landmarks as well.


While our local tour guides have chosen the foods on this list, we thought we should get more opinions on the matter.

That’s why we asked the more than 250,000 members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group what they thought.

Not unsurprisingly, hundreds of comments identified pizza, bagels, and hot dogs as iconic NYC foods. Pastrami came up plenty of times, as did cheesecake. 

All the dishes on our list came up and many people shared their recommendations of where to find the best of these foods.

Here are just a handful of comments. If you want to see more, go to our group page. You don't need to be a member to see comments or ask a question.

When it comes to where you should get these foods, you can ask 50 people and get 50 different answers - that’s just how many fantastic places there are to get these New York City foods!

When it came to pizza, these are among the top favorites and we agree.

Here's the Battle of the Best Bagel -- we agree that all of these are awesome!

Lots of people loved hot dogs and while most people liked them from street carts, a few people felt that the best hot dogs were in Coney Island at the original Nathan’s.

No shortage of votes for pastrami sandwiches and some came with recommendations of where the best could be found.

Last but not least, what to eat for dessert? NY Cheesecake of course! 

Here’s where our members said the best cheesecake could be found -- and they’re right!

Now go dig in! Bon appetit!

NYC Travel Tips & Hacks Facebook Group


About The Author

Courtney Shapiro

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”. READ MORE...
Updated: February 21st, 2024
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