Dining in New York City is a journey in itself.
Neighbourhoods nurture local specialties, delicious street food is no more than an arm’s length away, and exclusive dining spaces sit side by side with quintessential 24-hour diners. In a city where tips and tax can add up to 28% to the bill it’s important to hunt down good deals, as well as splashing out on the occasional indulgence that will make your holiday one to remember.
By the way, be under no illusions about tipping in the USA. It’s not generally discretionary. A friend tells a story of being chased down the street when the tip left was less than expected!
Here are tried and true suggestions for great places to eat in New York City to suit every budget.
There are three traditional New York bites that have to be tried — pizza by the slice, fresh pretzels and bagels.
Walking and eating a slice of pizza at the same time comes naturally to New Yorkers. Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village has been serving up slices of pizza since the 70s. Think a thin, crispy base with tangy tomato sauce and stringy mozzarella, fresh from the oven. Eat it there or get a piece ‘to go’ (take away). 2 Bros Pizza has locations dotted across the city. With slices for a buck, you can’t go wrong!
Pretzels are as New York as yellow cabs and Broadway, and you’ll find them for sale on most street corners. However, fresh is best (warm and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside). The City Bakery on W 18th Street are renowned for their pretzel croissants. After one bite, you’ll understand why.
Black Seed Bagels offers hand rolled bagels, baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven. You have to go the bagel and lox (similar to smoked salmon) with cream cheese. There are stores in the East Village, Battery Park City and Nolita. While in the East Village hood, wander around the nearby Essex Street Market, where a cupcake from I.M. Pastry Studio is a true treat after a hearty soup from Peasant Stock.
Diners are a mainstay of American dining culture. They feature in movies and sitcoms, and come complete with colourful booths and bars propping up weary patrons gulping bottomless cups of coffee. Tick Tock Diner on the corner of 8th Ave and W 34th (next to the New Yorker Hotel) is perfect for an early breakfast if jet lag has you up at 3!
The Odeon on West Broadway has a varied menu and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner non-stop. With a buzzing bistro-style atmosphere, it’s a great spot for an inexpensive bite in Tribeca (close to One World Trade Centre).
The Lower East Side has become super cool. Visit Katz’s Deli, a New York institution since 1888. A pastrami on rye will set you back over $20 (the price you pay for the best sandwich in town!), with the meat piled high. The pastrami is cured for three weeks with a secret rub and smoked over woodchips, just as the family has done it for five generations. It doesn’t get more New York City than this.
For dinner close by, book in at the Taverna Di Bacco. Chef and owner Maurizio Crescenzo beat the opposition in the TV series ‘Chopped’, and personally welcomes most guests. Think delicious home-cooked Italian food and cosy surroundings. Continue the evening at Mr Purple on the roof of the Indigo Hotel, with its stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.
If you want to be ‘seen’, head for Vandal — the ultimate in Lower East Side chic. This place takes culinary inspiration from street food the world over. DJs set the mood; the cocktails, food and crowd do the rest.
Cosme serves up fresh and innovative Mexican food. While great for lunch or dinner, try the weekend brunch and wash down delicious huevo rancheros with a Bloody Maria. It’s a five-minute walk from the iconic Flatiron Building.
Americans do BBQ as well as the Aussies (or dare we say better!) and while Brooklyn may be the new Manhattan, Hometown Bar-B-Que down near Brooklyn Waterfront Artists is anything but. Using traditional pit smoking to cook the meats, this is a tasty twist on a time-honoured culinary tradition on both sides of the Pacific. It’s walk-ins only (order a cold craft beer while you’re waiting).
Also on this side of the bridge, Llama Inn is very, very cool. Let the Peruvian-inspired tucker take your taste buds on a delicious journey. Call in for breakfast, lunch or dinner (perhaps over a pisco sour or two — gotta love that!). The ceviche served with charred octopus is extra yummy.
Back in Manhattan, Estela on the border of Bowery and Nolita is where people gather over a bottle of great wine and tasty tapas. The Iberico ham, thinly sliced and slightly salty, almost melts in the mouth. The mussels escabeche on toast is deliciously different.
Gramercy Tavern has a bar area for drop-ins and a dining room where reservations are recommended. Book a long lunch and choose from the a la carte or seasonal tasting menu. Dinner is three courses for a set price or the seasonal tasting menu. Settle in surrounded by beautiful murals and stunning floral displays. There is no tipping here (service is included). It’s worth ordering the vegetarian tasting menu just for the strawberry gazpacho.
Pack a jacket if you’re thinking of visiting Daniel, a couple of blocks back from Central Park on the Upper East Side. The entrance looks like a chic Manhattan apartment, and the French cuisine and wine list are the celebrity residents. Enjoy the theatre as the The North Side gin cocktail is prepared at your table. The degustation menu served in the Skybox (a glassed private dining space suspended over the kitchen) is one of those ‘wow’ culinary moments.
Tokyo’s omakase (meaning ‘chef’s choice’) sushi restaurants are exclusive hangouts, where presentation, attention to detail and the quality of ingredients are second to none. New York manages to hold its own, with top Japanese chefs commanding some of the best dining spaces in the city. Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village will guide you through each expertly crafted piece.
Last but by no means least, Le Bernardin remains one of Downtown’s finest dining experiences. The three Michelin stars are well deserved — earned through dedication and a passion for fabulous food that looks as stunning as it tastes. The list of awards and accolades is endless. Splash out!
Do you have any tips for great places to eat in New York City? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.