New Orleans has beignets and gumbo; Paris, Brie and baguettes. But narrowing down iconic foods for New York City is a little tougher. With its rich history of immigrants from around the world contributing to its culture and cuisine, New York’s food scene is as diverse as its population. Yet there are a few distinct dishes — either invented or perfected here — that immediately spring to mind when you think “eating in New York.” Here, we’ve collected a few of Manhattan’s best places to sample these iconic dishes.
Bagel: Russ and Daughters
179 E Houston Street, New York, NY 10002
Since 1912, this New York institution has been serving up smoked fish in dozens of glorious varieties, chopped liver, super-sour pickles… and, of course, ultra-classic bagels. Baked six days a week the old-fashioned way, these chewy-crispy treats are perfect paired with natural cream cheese (flavored or plain), vegan tofu spreads, or — for a truly indulgent experience — cream cheese combined with premium caviar. Pick up a variety of cold salads and fish dishes to complete your “appetizing.”
Pizza: Joe’s Pizza
7 Carmine Street, New York, NY 10014
Combining perfectly crisp-edged crust with plenty of gooey cheese and not-too-sweet tomato sauce, these classic slices have been a Greenwich Village fixture for more than 35 years. The pizza may be old-school and the (lack of) decor a little retro, but the unsparing focus on quality is a welcome throwback to pre-chain pizzeria days.
Pastrami on Rye: Sarge’s Deli
548 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10016
You never know when the craving for a classic deli sandwich will strike. And Sarge’s serves up one of the greatest pastrami on rye sandwiches in town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Slow-smoked pastrami paired with tongue-tingling mustard and hearty rye bread are a traditional and justly famous combination. Feeding a crowd (or just insanely hungry)? Try your luck at the Monster Sandwich, a daunting pile of pastrami, salami, roast beef, turkey, and trimmings that tips the scale at nearly five pounds.
Hot Dog: Katz’s Delicatessen
205 E Houston Street, New York, NY 10002
Sure, you could grab a dirty-water hot dog from any cart in town… or you could enjoy a delightfully snappy all-beef, natural-casing frankfurter served up on a butter-toasted bun. Stripped down and plain or piled with condiments from sauerkraut to chili, this dog has been voted #1 in NYC for many years running. Steel yourself for the famously cranky service and prepare for a meal that will make bystanders say “I’ll have what she’s having!”
Black & White Cookie: Zabar’s
2245 Broadway, New York, NY 10024
Hot and cold, day and night, sweet and sour. These paradoxical pairings meet their match in another New York classic: the black and white cookie. Its origins are fiercely debated, but it’s been served up at NYC bakeries since at least the early 1900s. Technically a “drop cake” rather than a cookie, its best examples are soft, crumbly, and topped with perfect half-moons of chocolate and vanilla fondant. Zabar’s, in business since 1934, now serves up a classic example, along with a selection of coffees, gourmet snacks, kitchenwares, and other browsable goodies.
General Tso’s Chicken: Wo Hop
17 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013
This “Chinese” classic is actually as native to New York as cheesecake. Invented in Chinatown in the ‘60s as “General Ching’s chicken,” this sweet and spicy concoction adopted the name of a famous (but still thoroughly modern) Taiwanese dish. Wo Hop’s rendition is tender, crispy, and drenched in just enough sweet-sour sauce. The lengthy menu features plenty of other Chinese-American classics as well, from crunchy egg rolls to “4-D Lo Mein” with chicken, duck, beef, and pork.
Italian Ice: Pasticceria Rocco
243 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10014
Refreshing, fruity, and sweet with a note of tartness, “Italian ice” is another misnamed treat whose origins lie in the Italian-American communities of the early 20th century. Similar to sorbet, it’s a light, dairy-free dessert with a finer texture than coarse-grained granita. At Pasticceria Rocco, you can enjoy a traditional lemon flavor or pick from a list of seasonal specialties. Whichever you choose, it’ll be hand-packed into a paper cup perfect for snacking while you stroll. Want to indulge your sweet tooth with something a little more substantial? Try a creamy gelato or a custard-filled baba rum instead.
Shawarma: Omar’s Mediterranean East Midtown
154 E 55th Street, New York, NY
Though the iconic scene at the end of Avengers was actually filmed in Los Angeles, shawarma is a perfect edible symbol of New York: rooted in one immigrant culture, adopted by many others, and popular among people from all walks of life. The slow-roasted, thin-sliced meat pops up at restaurants from Turkish to Israeli. At Omar’s, a pan-Middle Eastern spot owned by an Egyptian native, chefs carve servings from two massive spits of chicken shawarma to be served with tahini, orange sauce, and a garlic aioli.