Hemingway may have called Paris “a moveable feast,” but you could say the same about New York City.
From immigrants bringing a taste of their home culture to New York by opening restaurants to trendsetting chefs always in search of the next big thing, the city’s restaurant scene is constantly evolving. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, it highlights quintessential dishes from both old-school favorites and hip newcomers worth checking out the next time you’re trying to figure out what and where to eat in New York.
Bagels and Lox at Russ & Daughters
It doesn’t get more classic New York than a bagel piled high with cream cheese, lox, tomatoes, onions, and capers. Though there are plenty of bagel shops around the city, Russ & Daughters on East Houston Street is the OG shop opened in 1914, where generations of New Yorkers have gone to buy bagels, premium smoked salmon, knishes, rugelach, and other Jewish specialties. It also has a sit-down restaurant around the corner on Orchard Street and an outpost in the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side.
Pastrami Sandwich at Katz’s Deli
When Harry Met Sally may have immortalized Katz’s Delicatessen on the silver screen, but this place has been a New York institution since 1888. Presidents, celebrities, and visiting heads of state have all lined up at the counter to sample the classic pastrami on rye. Grab a ticket and take your pick of pastrami, hand-carved corned beef, brisket, hot dogs, and matzo ball soup. Don’t forget the pickles.
Oysters and Lobster Rolls at Pilot
What could be more fun than floating on the East River, a glass of rosé in hand? Every summer, you can drink and dine aboard Pilot, a restored 1924 racing schooner docked at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The floating restaurant-bar serves refreshing cocktails, wine, beer, and coastal fare like sustainably harvested oysters and lobster rolls in a suitably chic nautical setting. The floating restaurant is by the team behind two other popular waterfront spots, Grand Banks in Manhattan and Island Oyster on Governors Island.
Pizza at Roberta’s
New Yorkers take their pizza seriously, and choosing a favorite pizzeria is an extremely subjective matter. That said, a few places stand out from the rest. Roberta’s in Bushwick is one of the city’s best spots for wood-fired pizza in a casual space with DIY vibes. Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint is perpetually crowded with people who flock here for the delicious pies made in a traditional oven shipped over from Naples. Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s pizzeria Marta in the Redbury Hotel specializes in thin-crust Roman-style pies. Try them all and find your favorite.
Buckwheat Crepes at La Mercerie
A newcomer on the scene, this chic all-day café is attached to the Roman and Williams Guild store in SoHo, and everything from the plates to the tables and chairs is for sale. If the gorgeous design isn’t reason enough to go, the mouthwatering French fare will be. This place serves buttery croissants and pastries, refreshing salads, and—the pièce de résistance—a decadent buckwheat crepe stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Farm-to-Table Fare at Marlow & Sons
The term “farm-to-table” gets overused now, but to really understand what it’s all about, it’s worth a visit to this Williamsburg stalwart by restaurateur Andrew Tarlow, who brought farm-to-table dining to Brooklyn before it was a thing. He sources from farmers and butchers in and around New York, and the menu changes daily, depending on what’s fresh and in season. Expect to find vegetables, meats, and the legendary salted caramel chocolate tart.
Soft-Shell Crab Tacos at Oxomoco
Drawing inspiration from Mexico City, Oaxaca, Baja, and the Yucatán, this bright, airy Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint might be the only place in the city that serves soft-shell crab tacos. A newcomer on the scene, it’s one of the city’s best places to find great Mexican food, along with Cosme and Atla by famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera, La Esquina, and La Superior.
Dim Sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Opened in 1920, this Chinatown institution was updated and revamped but still retains its old-school design, with original tiling, vintage diner stools, and faded sign out front. Bring a group and prepare to feast on dim sum classics, like dumplings, rice rolls, scallion pancakes, and the original egg rolls stuffed with veggies and chicken. Don’t forget the jasmine tea, and save room for almond cookies.
Modern Indian Cuisine at Baar Baar
A new wave of forward-thinking Indian restaurants is washing over New York City, expanding diners’ expectations of what Indian cuisine can be. In addition to Junoon and Babu Ji, Baar Baar is one of the best places to enjoy the flavors of the subcontinent. Colorful, modern decor with big, plush banquettes, chairs brought over from India, and painted murals set the stage for the bold, flavorful dishes and creative cocktails.
Burger at the NoMad Bar
The burger at the NoMad Bar—the restaurant inside the NoMad Hotel run by the dream team behind Eleven Madison Park—consistently ranks among the city’s best and is a favorite of chefs like Dominique Ansel. The beef patty has plenty of suet (the fat from around the cow’s kidneys) and bone marrow, and comes topped with white cheddar and a house-made secret sauce. Wash it down with one of the bar’s signature cocktails.
Doughnuts at Du’s Donuts & Coffee
Wylie Dufresne earned a reputation as one of New York’s most wildly inventive chefs with his now-shuttered restaurant WD~50, so it may seem odd that he’s now running a doughnut shop in Brooklyn. But you can bet that if Dufresne has decided to dedicate his energy to making these sweet treats, they’re going to be the best doughnuts around. Creative flavors include brown-butter key lime pie, oatmeal chai, and PB&J. The grilled cheese is a sleeper hit.
Aperol Spritzes and Flatbreads at Dante
One of Greenwich Village’s old-school Italian-American cafés, opened in 1915, Dante came under new ownership in 2015 and has since become a hot spot for after-work drinks, which easily roll right into dinner. A redesign gave the place a new sheen while preserving its beloved vintage style. The cocktail list features Aperol spritzes on tap and 12 negroni variations, perfect for pairing with flatbreads, salads, and pastas. It’s the closest to a true Italian aperitivo you’ll find in New York.
Tiki Cocktails and Bites at the Polynesian
Opened by the hit-makers behind the Major Food Group, New York’s newest (and highest) tiki bar celebrates all things tiki. Located in the new Pod Times Square Hotel, the Polynesian is an homage to old-school tiki bars like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, with nostalgic decor and a spacious terrace. Go for cocktails like the Commodore daiquiri (a deep-purple riff on the original) and frozen piña colada. Stay for the addictive coconut shrimp and crab rangoons.
Ice Cream With Wacky Flavors at OddFellows
Extra-virgin olive oil, Thai iced tea, miso cherry, and sprinkles are just a few of the deliciously offbeat flavors you might find at OddFellows. Originally born in Williamsburg, there are now several locations around the city. Featuring nostalgic carnival-inspired decor, the shops sell soft serve, milkshakes, sorbets, and ice-cream sandwiches in addition to wacky ice-cream flavors made with additive-free and hormone-free dairy locally sourced from around New York City.
Pasta at Lilia
This is one place where you’re going to need a reservation. When acclaimed chef Missy Robbins opened her first solo venture in Williamsburg, it was an instant hit and the pace hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, Robbins just opened her second restaurant, Misi. What we love about Lilia: the minimalist-yet-cozy space, the handmade pasta (especially the agnolotti with sheep’s milk cheese, saffron, dried tomato, and honey), the great wine list, and the unpretentious vibe.
Vegetarian Delicacies at Dirt Candy
You don’t have to be vegetarian to love this meat-free restaurant in the Lower East Side. That’s because chef Amanda Cohen doesn’t shy away from using butter, frying, and otherwise manipulating vegetables to coax the flavors out of them. Be sure to order the addictive Korean fried broccoli and carrot sliders on carrot buns. You won’t even miss the beef.
Greek Cuisine at Taverna Kyclades in Astoria
Astoria, Queens, is known for its Greek restaurants, but Taverna Kyclades rules them all. This is the place to come for fried calamari and grilled octopus, homemade spanakopita, and kebabs in a place with humble, unassuming decor. Just be prepared to wait. This restaurant doesn’t take reservations and is perennially packed.
Sushi Handrolls at KazuNori
For when you’ve got limited time and money but want top-quality sushi served omakase-style, KazuNori is the place to go. Line up and wait for a seat at the counter, where sushi chefs deliver hand rolls made with quality fish, warm rice, and specially sourced seaweed. Choose from three, four, five, or six hand rolls made with salmon, yellowtail, toro, crab, and other fish. Think of it as the more casual sibling in the L.A.-based Sugarfish family.
Japanese Omakase at O Ya
When you’ve got the time and money for a proper omakase, it’s hard to beat award-winning restaurant O Ya. The New York location of the Boston-based restaurant is tucked away inside the Park South Hotel. Though you can order dishes like truffle-scented uni and fried Kumamoto oysters à la carte, the 18- or 24-course omakase options are the best way to understand what chef Tim Cushman is doing here.
Old-School Italian Desserts at Veniero’s
The neon sign shining in the night beckons visitors to this East Village pasticceria like moths to the flame. Open since 1894, this proper old-school Italian bakery with marble floors, stained glass, and a pressed-tin ceiling is heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth. The cannoli are a great choice, but the sleeper hit is the utterly addictive pignoli (cookies made with almond paste and dotted with pine nuts).