Hot dogs. Pizza. Bagels. Such dishes are as New York as the Statue of Liberty. Yet New Yorkers know that there are plenty of other great, iconic New York dishes. A city of 8 million people will offer 8 million different opinions on what a “quintessential” New York meal is, but I’ve chosen ten highlights, and more importantly where you should get them:
Hot dog and papaya juice (Papaya King): Most people wouldn’t consider a hot dog and papaya juice a good combo, but New Yorkers know otherwise. While there are several establishments around Gotham who offer this combo, the original is Papaya King, located in the Upper East Side and St. Marks. Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West Side gets honorable mention as well.
Ramen (Hide Chan Ramen): In recent years, Americans from every city have gotten onto the ramen train, including New York. There are many places around the city who offer stellar ramen (many sing the praises of Ippudo), but my personal favorite is Hide Chan in Midtown East.
Pizza (Joe’s Pizza): “New York Pizza” is a phrase for a reason. There are plenty of excellent pizza spots around the city (Paulie Gee’s and Vinnie’s nearly made the list), but for a traditional, no-frills New York slice, visit Joe’s Pizza. They’ve luckily got several locations in New York, so they aren’t too hard to find.
Knish (Yonah Schimmel’s): Few people outside of New York are familiar with the “knish”. Even fewer are familiar with the traditional round, baked knish (most know of the square fried knish). You can get the traditional knish at various Jewish delis and bagel spots across the city, but the undisputed king is Yonah Schimmel’s in the Lower East Side. They’ve been slinging knishes since 1910. My personal favorite is the sweet potato knish with a bit of hot mustard.
Pastrami sandwich (David’s Brisket House): Pastrami as we know it was first developed in New York City by Romanian Jewish immigrants, who based it off a traditional recipe for goose. Many say that Katz’s does the best pastrami (and it’s certainly very good), but they aren’t the only ones out there. For a true New York pastrami sandwich off the beaten path, go to Bedford-Stuyvesant for David’s Brisket House, which makes the hands-down best pastrami in Brooklyn. A Jewish deli run by Yemeni Muslims, it’s a true New York experience whose very existence celebrates this city’s diversity.
Lechon and rice & peas (Lechonera la Piraña): Every weekend on the corner of 152nd and Wales in the Bronx, Angel Jimenez, also known as “Piraña” and “Papi Chulo”, serves traditional Puerto Rican-style roast pork out of a food truck. On Saturdays and Sundays, he wakes up at 4 in the morning to put a pig in a smoker, and then slow-cook it for eight hours before it’s ready. For less than $10, a cheerful Piraña will serve you a giant plate of his lechon and a generous helping of rice and peas. It’s the best Puerto Rican food you’ll get outside of Puerto Rico, and well worth the journey up to Mott Haven.
Chicken, mozzarella & pesto sandwich (Faicco’s): As one of the oldest Italian delis in the city (it’s been open since 1905), Faicco’s has had plenty of time to perfect its art. Their sandwiches are as delicious as they are gargantuan, and while every variety is worth writing home about and then some, my personal favorite is their chicken, mozzarella and pesto. Some close seconds include their classic Italian and meatball grinder.
Bagel & Lox (Barney Greengrass): Many consider Russ & Daughters to be the best bagel & lox in the city, but as an Upper West Sider, my loyalty lies with Barney Greengrass. Once you have lox from the “Sturgeon King”, you’ll never want it from anywhere else.
Soup dumplings (Joe’s Shanghai): No, it isn’t dumpling soup, the soup is inside the dumpling. Hard to make, even harder to perfect, these can be found throughout both Manhattan’s and Queens’ Chinatowns. Arguably the best comes from Joe’s Shanghai, which has outposts in Chinatown, Flushing and Midtown. Get an order of soup dumplings with peanut noodles and scallion pancakes, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Halal (Mamoun’s): Halal trucks sell gyro sandwiches on pretty much every street corner in Manhattan. But the original, and arguably the best, is Mamoun’s in the Village. This tiny hole-in-the-wall doles out the best falafel and shawarma in a no-frills atmosphere that attracts hundreds of visitors every day.