New York City’s Food Scene: A Flood of New and Old School
- Jacqueline Raposo
- 5 Min Read
If you’re looking for new delicacies to hunt, consider the fact that just about every neighborhood in New York City has something to offer, by way of their food scenes. The city is one big melting pot and its food scene a catalog of foods new, classic, and globally inspired.
New York City’s food scene covers the globe and deploys some of the best. Right now, in NYC, French food is trending, and Frenchette is causing quite a stir. So is the stunning all-day hangout La Mercerie cafe at the Guild. For Italian food, just look to Lilia, whose chef, Missy Robbins, recently won a James Beard Award for best chef in New York City. Then, it’s also worth checking out David Chang’s Momofuku empire, James Beard winner Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune, and Floyd Cardoz’s Bombay Bread Bar, whose food has Mindy Kaling and the New York Times swooning.
If you’ve long admired the classics of the NYC food scene, there are many good candidates who’ll prepare that for you. With three Chinatowns filling New York—in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens—there are three ways to land on delicious flavors. Or, ask a local to guide you to neighborhoods devoted to purely Greek, Puerto Rican, Korean, or Jamaican plates.
There’s truly something for everyone in New York‘s food scene. Here’s some help navigating the city that never sleeps, and the dishes to keep in sight.
The Boroughs That Make Up New York City
New York City proper is made up of five boroughs. Here’s the lowdown on each.
- Manhattan: This is “the city.” Home of Broadway shows, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and the best diners and delis you’ll find nationwide.
- The Bronx: Yankee Stadium lives here. Arthur Avenue does, too—what many New Yorkers consider the “real Little Italy” of the New York City food scene.
- Queens: Business Insider reports that more languages are spoken in Queens than anywhere else in the world. This translates into outstanding Greek cuisine along Astoria–Ditmars Boulevard, authentic Chinatown eats in Flushing, and more.
- Brooklyn: Head to Brooklyn for excellent theatre and for Prospect Park. Check out the Asian Food Mafia’s collection of new American-Asian restaurants, or wander through Bushwick and Prospect Heights, where more chefs cross the East River to open eateries every day.
- Staten Island: The family focused island of Staten has beaches, boardwalks, and killer Italian delis at the ready. Insider tip: a roundtrip on the Staten Island Ferry is fast, free, and has the best view of Lady Liberty in town. Stand on the right (starboard) side of the boat, and have your camera ready.
New York City Neighborhoods to Know!
The geography of the New York City food scene is too extensive to adequately summarize. But some neighborhoods are particularly worthy destinations. Here are a few highlights, lined up from north to south.
North of Central Park and tucked between the East and Hudson Rivers is Harlem—home to New York’s African-American cultural center and the best African, Caribbean, and soul food on the NYC food scene.
There’s always a hot crowd at celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem and Sylvia Woods’s Sylvia’s Restaurant, whose philosophy is that “the love and tradition is the love and authenticity.” Meanwhile, classics like cornbread, baked chicken, and banana pudding come to you from Lady Lexis. Elsie’s Caribbean lures first-timers with jerk chicken and shrimp. And when comfort food is a must, Spoonbread Catering delivers chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler.
Upper West Side
West of Central Park is the Upper West Side, where you’ll find two popular sites, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the American Museum of Natural History. Take a lunch break and wander through this family friendly part of town with a classic hot dog or pretzel in hand, fresh from a food cart. Order in a Turkish bread-and-breakfast feast from Simit & Smith, or an Ayurvedic Indian lunch setup from Ayurveda Cafe. Fischer Bros. & Leslie has been serving some of the best Jewish eats on the NYC food scene for 80 years, and they make a platter of superb kosher deli sandwiches. The Upper West Side also hosts some of the best old-school diners like The Manchester, where pastrami sandwiches, tuna melts, and Reubens are king.
“Midtown” runs the width of Manhattan. The busy hub contains some of the most expensive real estate in the world, as well as New York’s skyscrapers the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Plus, Times Square and Madison Square Garden, and the Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station live here, too.
Hungry in Midtown? This area is so dense with crowds from the commercial, entertainment, and media industries that you’ll find that a lot of restaurants deliver here. If dining out to impress, go for landmarks like the Rainbow Room, Gallagher’s Steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, or the Russian Tea Room. Looking for a sub-hub of interesting eats? Continue to Koreatown.
There’s plenty for everyone with NCY’s hyper-defined food scene. On W. Thirty-Second Street, between Madison Avenue and Greeley Square Park, Koreatown restaurants feature tables with individual grills and plenty of sizzling rice bowls, meat platters ready for the flame, and lots of kimchi.
Dons Bogam is a long-standing institution of the New York City food scene. Chef David Chang, local to NYC, goes for the quality meats served at Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong—so secure reservations. Can’t grill in the office? Korilla BBQ delivers bulgogi (rib eye marinated in umami-rich Korean barbecue sauce) rice bowls with tons of topping options. Tiger Bomb and BarKogi’s spicy barbecue pork and beef, grilled sweet short rib, and stir-fried chicken buffets satiate cravings, too.
SoHo / NoHo
South of Houston Street or north of it, the SoHo/NoHo line once played host to artists and creative spirits. Now it’s where you go for upscale boutiques and international eats. For the best? Try the vegan-friendly dishes and grain bowls from Broken Coconutor the no-frills meat-heavy deli platters from locally loved Mile End Deli.
Need more SoHo posh? Go ooh-la-la French—it’s making a comeback in the New York food scene. At the iconic Balthazar, Keith McNally’s team creates impeccable steak tartare and grilled chicken paillard. At newbie Le Coucou, Eater claims pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s omelette Norvegienne—a baked Alaska of pistachio ice cream, cherries, and kirsch liqueur served aflame—is “better off eaten than watched.” For an oh-so-French breakfast, Mille-Feuille brings delicate quiche, fruit, and viennoiseries (French pastries) delights straight to you, too.
The West Village of Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw’s cupcakes, Seinfeld’s diner front, and the legendary Stonewall Inn, is an area of quaint coffee shops, parks, and bakeries. It’s there to make sure all are well fed.
Beloved chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi team up together at Via Carota, a lovely “gastroteca” that combines the Italian fare of Sodi’s restaurant I Sodi with the flavors of Williams’s French bistro, Buvette. Flavor and health collide at Westville’s Tenth Street location—the tiny kitchen expertly handles big orders of marinated meats and market vegetables for those who want to dine in or have the food delivered desk-side. When needing a sweet fix on a walk, try chef Damien Herrgott’s impeccable French pastries at Bosie Tea Parlor. Or go around the corner to Bleecker Street Pizza for some classic slices, gluten-free-crust options, and more. (They deliver, too!)
East Village / Lower East Side
The East Village and Lower East Side are home to some of the city’s most exciting restaurants, new and old. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton recently won the James Beard Award’s top accolade of outstanding chef for her work at Prune, where she’s served hearty, comforting fare for almost twenty years. Hot spots like the local-seasonal Contra and vegetarian Superiority Burger live here, too.
But no cuisine made a greater impression on the area than Jewish deli classics. Sit down for a pastrami sandwich at 130-year-old Katz’s Delicatessen, so iconic it inspired the famous line from the film When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.” If you’re on foot or in the office, the famous Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys can’t be beat—for over eighty years, they’ve rolled out the best bialys the NYC food scene has to offer (according to every bagel critic with clout). Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish adds updates like chicken sausage and scrambled egg whites to the spread, too. To add blintzes, latkes, and challah french toast to the bagel buffet, it doesn’t get more Lower East Side than Baz Bagel and Restaurant.
In the late-nineteenth century, Cantonese immigrants set down the heart of Chinatown between Mott, Pell, and Doyers Streets. Wander around these streets today and find $5 dumpling shops, steamed-bun houses, and rowdy late-night feasts at communal tables. No matter where you end up, it’s hard to go wrong.
For old-school specialty dishes, Hop Kee and Wo Hop (New York’s second-oldest Chinese restaurant) sit at the heart of Mott Street and serve Cantonese crispy fried wontons, chicken wings, lo mein, chow fun, and orange chicken. Equally beloved, the massive Jing Fong brings juicy steamed dumplings, barbecue pork buns, crispy fried wontons filled with luscious shrimp, and more, straight to the office.
“NYC Scene Did It First” Foods. (Or, at least does it best.)
Every kind of food is to be found in NYC’s food scene. Street foods like chestnuts, pretzels, and hot dogs are must-finds when pounding the pavement. But these particulars are so ubiquitous in the city that never sleeps that you can find them all over the five boroughs, morning through late night.
Chicago may boast of a pizza scene that rivals New York’s. But New Yorkers know a real slice is thin-crusted, with a nice char on the bottom, and crispy edges. Since 1975, Joe’s in the West Village has fired up the quintessential slice. Want to branch out? Two Boots, 2 Bros. Pizza, and Nonna’s L.E.S. Pizzeria all slice to satisfy. Wood-fired delivery from Basil Brick Oven in Astoria, Queens, and veggie-laden pies from Brooklyn’s Grandma Rose’s keep the outer boroughs happy, too.
Bagels, Lox, and Schmear
“A true New York bagel is a beautiful thing,” reports Thrillist. Boiled then baked, a bagel hot off the NYC food scene has a crackly crust that needs no toasting, plus, a somewhat sweet interior. Murray’s Bagels, Black Seed, Baz Bagel, and Leo’s Bagels go one step further and bring the spread of bagels, schmear, and fish salad to you.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the black-and-white cookie—with a cakey base and layers of thick chocolate and vanilla frosting—is New York City’s cookie. Top your Ess-a-Bagel or Zaro’s Bakery order with tray of minis. Or go for Champs Gourmet Deli’s large “only-in-New-York” treat that promises to “turn an everyday lunch into a memorable meal.”
A Pastrami Sandwich
Just one more nod to the glories of Jewish deli eats! Get a pastrami sandwich, Reuben, or some form of cured meat while working or visiting the New York City food scene. Watch how it’s made at Katz’s in this video from New York Magazine’s Grubstreetand drool.
The Cronut & the DKA
The lines are still long for the original Cronut, from Dominique Ansel Bakery. Local tip? Snag a DKA instead. Dominque’s kouign-amann (pronounced queen-ah-man) has a caramelized, crunchy crust and infinite buttery, sugary layers. Eater concludes that the “genius patissier” may have started a kouign-amann revolution there, too.
Looking for more of NYC’s finest eateries? We’ve got that, too.