A guide to classic NYC foods

By Deborah Menikoff

Photography by Getty

Skip to Navigation

June 2017

From the best bagel to a perfect slice of pizza, where to eat steak to the city’s iconic cheesecake, food writer, Deborah Menikoff, shares the secrets of where to find nine of New York’s classic dishes.

New York has it all - iconic restaurants, celeb chefs, culinary crazes, and a place on the cutting edge of food trends. New York and New Yorkers have been creating classic, category-defining dishes for decades. For newcomers and visitors, however, it can all seem a little daunting. Here's what to eat and where to find it.

A Slice (New York-Style Pizza): Lombardi's

When in New York, 'grab a slice' can mean only New York-style pizza – and Lombardi's Pizza is the place to get it. Lombardi's was the first pizzeria in America, going strong since 1905. While it isn't in the exact same location as it was back then, it is in the same neighbourhood and serving up the same coal-fired pizza.

In the know… Pizza is a hands-on experience; don’t expose yourself as a tourist by picking up a knife and fork.

What's more New York than a bagel? Even some produced elsewhere use water shipped from New York to ensure authenticity

Bagel: Russ & Daughters Café

What's more New York than a bagel? Even some produced elsewhere use water shipped from New York to ensure authenticity. For the ‘best in class’ bagel, head to Russ & Daughters Café. They celebrated their E. Houston shop's centenary in 2014 by adding a café on Orchard Street. Same great bagels you find in the shop but more room to relax and enjoy.

In the know… While there, pick up a few classic black and white cookies; you'll be taken for a native in no time.

  • Feast on a traditional New York hot dog © Getty

    Did you know…?

    Gray’s Papaya has featured in a number of hit films and television shows, such as Die Hard with a Vengeance, You’ve Got Mail, Sex and the City and the popular comedy How I Met Your Mother.

    Book flights to NYC
  • The best steak experience in town at Peter Luger Steakhouse

    Steak it out

    Peter Luger Steakhouse is open Monday to Thursday 11.45-21.45, Friday and Saturday 11.45-22.45 and Sundays 12.45-21.45.

    Explore New York
  • Fancy an ice cream float? Make a stop at Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain

    Sweet and savoury

    Treat your taste buds and try the Mr. Potato Head – potato crisps mixed with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and warm caramel sauce topped with fresh whipped cream.

    See more NYC eats

Hot dog: Gray's Papaya

There is a long-standing debate over what constitutes the quintessential New York hot dog. Street vendor 'dirty water dogs' and Nathan's both have their ardent supporters. For many though, the New York hot dog experience can only be the Recession Special at Gray's Papaya - two dogs and a drink for $5.99.

In the know… Bring cash, they don't take cards.

Steak: Peter Luger Steak House

You can get steak anywhere, right? So how is it a classic New York dish? Well, this isn't just about a cut of steak. This isn't about a particular preparation. This is about the whole steak experience – the best steak in New York from arguably the best steakhouse in the United States. This is about Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn.

In the know… This place is expensive but worth it, and cash only so bring big bucks on the day. It's also hugely popular so call at least a month ahead, six weeks to be safe.

Pastrami Sandwich: Katz’s Delicatessen

You may have seen Katz’s Delicatessen, home of New York's best pastrami sandwich, in When Harry Met Sally. However, don't 'have what she's having.' Meg Ryan's character ordered turkey but those 'in the know' order the pastrami sandwich. The quality – and frankly quantity of the sandwich will be like nothing you've had anywhere else and you won't be hungry for the rest of the day.

In the know… there are two ways to order at Katz's: via table service from the menu or via tickets at the counter. To embrace your inner New Yorker, order at the counter but keep your ticket firmly clasped in your hand – there's an extra fee if you lose it.

Cheesecake: Junior’s

There is no question about where to go for classic New York Cheesecake – Junior's. All their locations offer the same menu but for an authentic New York experience, go for the original location in Brooklyn. There are some great eats happening in Brooklyn these days and Junior's is a granddaddy of the outer borough food scene, having been there since the 1950s.

In the know… You can’t miss it; look for the bright red and yellow building glowing along Flatbush.

Chicken and waffles: Amy Ruth’s

What comes to your mind when I say 'chicken and waffles?' I'm guessing soul food and Southern cooking but probably not Harlem. Many people are surprised when they hear that chicken and waffles originated in Harlem. Not, obviously, as individual foodstuffs but as a classic combination. Harlem is still home to the best chicken and waffles in New York – specifically at Amy Ruth’s.

In the know… There's an unhurried, comfortable feel to Amy Ruth's so if the rush and hum of New York is getting a bit overwhelming, this is the perfect place to catch your breath and relax.

  • Big Gay Ice Cream can’t (and shouldn’t) be missed

    Colourful sensations

    The Salty Pimp is one of seven Ice Cream Pint creations. There’s also the Rocky Roadhouse, which includes chocolate chunks, marshmallow and hazelnut fudge.

    Plan your trip
  • Junior’s is the granddaddy of authentic New York Cheesecake

    Did you know…?

    Junior’s in Brooklyn has been open since 1950 and is home to the World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake and a variety of great regulars like the steakburger and ribs.

    Fly to NYC
  • Pizza was made for sharing at Lombardi’s © Getty

    The perfect slice

    The smoky-crusted coal oven-baked pizza at Lombardi’s is topped with a San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil – no wonder the locals keep returning.

    Book a holiday

Egg creams: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain

Unlike other iconic New York treats, egg creams never really took off anywhere else, remaining very much a local delicacy. Perhaps a frothy mix of chocolate syrup, seltzer, and milk isn't for everyone. As soda counters started to fade away, egg creams became harder to find but are still prominent in the memories of nostalgic New Yorkers. To get a proper, old-school egg cream in its natural habitat, head to the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain.

In the know… Egg creams come in several flavours these days but the classic is always chocolate. Accept no substitutes.

The salty pimp: Big Gay Ice Cream

New York is home to lots of cold creamy goodness but only one ice cream treat has become a modern classic – the Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream. They went from food truck to culinary institution in a New York minute and the Salty Pimp – soft-serve vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt, all dipped in chocolate – is one of the reasons. It won rave reviews, word spread quickly and it soon became an iconic symbol of a New York holiday, featuring prominently in the selfies of locals of all ages and visitors from all over the world.

In the know... Lines can be long but they move quickly so don't let that put you off.