New York City
MUST EAT ITEMS: Bagel, Hot Dog, Pizza, Reuben, Hot Pastrami, Cheesecake.
It is said that a key factor in making NY style bagels so unique and difficult to replicate is the New York tap water. New York bagels first get boiled in said NY tap water with barley malt added giving them their signature taste and outer leathery texture. After the boiling, they are backed, but without that first step, they simply wouldn’t be NY bagels. Don’t miss trying the special and delicious taste and texture of NY bagels on your visit. A very New Yorker way to enjoy them is with lox (smoked salmon) and a schmear (New Yorker slang for cream cheese).
Colloquially known as dirty water dogs, another must-try are the hot dogs that can be purchased from street carts found on nearly every corner of NYC. They are cooked by being boiled in water (hence dirty water dogs) right there in the carts. Don’t fret, they aren’t cooked in dirty water and they are usually quite a tasty snack to help fuel all the walking you’ll be doing in NYC.
Likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New York foods is PIZZA. Every block has a pizzeria, many selling them by the slice as convenient street food. Some of the characteristics associated with New York-style pizza are its large, thin, and hand-tossed crust. The outer crust is typically hard and crispy while the center is softer and pliable lending its slices to be eaten folded in half. Part of the reason for folding them in half is because the slices are cut very wide. Similar to bagels, it has been argued that New York tap water also plays a part in distinguishing the dough of its pizzas. Originally, NY pizzerias would only cook their pizzas in coal-fired ovens and put the cheese on the dough first and then layer the sauce on top. This style of pizza can still be found throughout NYC.
And finally, the decadent dessert you’ve been waiting for- New York Style Cheesecake. The New York Style of this classic dessert is typically very rich, dense, and with a smooth creamy texture. You’ll find a delicious NY style cheesecake in almost every deli, bakery, and restaurant through the city, each with their own take on it. However, many would agree the best one is entitled to its hype as “The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake” and that decadent delight can be found at Junior’s. Getting its start in Brooklyn in 1950, it can now be found more conveniently located for visitors in Times Square.
THE PLACES TO EAT:
The sun is up and you just rolled out of bed in your home for your weekend getaway in NYC. Where to eat first?
Honestly, every block has a deli and almost every deli in NYC is going to make you a kickass breakfast sandwich on a delicious New York bagel. If you’re in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn we highly recommend Bagelsmith on Bedford Ave for tasty bagel and smear. Treat yourself to a French toast bagel with a smear of maple bacon cream cheese. Full disclosure, you may never be able to fully appreciate a normal bagel again after this. However, if you are seeking something bigger – let’s say you had a big night out or your flight got in late last night so you're looking to indulge in some pancakes with a side of eggs and bacon. Well, the city also has its share of diners, but one we really loved with its old school vibes and décor intact was the Landmark Coffee Shop & Pancake House on Grand St between Lafayette and Centre streets. Perfectly located to start a day of shopping and exploring in Soho. If you’re interested in experiencing a New York tradition and it’s the weekend, may we suggest brunch? On our last trip to NYC, we enjoyed brunch at Essex (located near the Lower East Side). They had a scrumptious variety of dishes to choose from and the quintessential bottomless mimosas, screwdrivers, or bloody marys. From benedicts to vegan burgers, and shrimp & cheesy grits to challah french toast they have an entree for everyone’s taste.
After breakfast, you’ll likely have a busy day ahead and require several coffee breaks. Scattered through the city you’ll find our personal favorite American coffee chain (and often with a line to the door), La Colombe Coffee Roasters. We are normally iced americano with a bit of cream kind of people when we are adventuring, but La Colombe has been known to tempt us with their very Italian setup which allows you to have your espresso while standing at the bar before you continue on your journey cup free. If you up near Times Square, Broadway, and the Garment District get yourself to Oren's. Again, you may have to stand in line (but hay lines are kind of New York way of life… so when in Rome). Oren’s not only has stellar coffee drinks (like caramel latte we love) but also a brilliant selection of perfect pastries. They have the best bran muffin you will ever have and it will change your mind about eating healthy things (Amelia can vow for this). From flakey pastries to moist cakes their pastry counter should be the sugar boost you need for your day of big walking. If you’re down near the Village and Soho we recommend Gasoline Alley Coffee on the corner of Grand St and Lafayette St. It’s a small place, has a hip vibe (inclusive of a bicycle hanging on the wall), and serves flavorful artisanal coffee. If you’re visiting Little Italy, we strongly encourage you to stop in at least one of the cafés for an espresso. Served like you’re you in Italy you’ll receive a small glass of water to accompany your espresso. From the serves to the ambiance you will question if you are still in America. A spot we tried and enjoyed is Sapori d’Italia, which translates to flavors of Italy.
Whether it’s for lunch or as a snack you have to have pizza, right? Hands down the city’s best pizza, the place Amelia’s family has been going to since their origins in New York, is John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street in the Village. It’s a shame if you add toppings by the way because their pizza is perfection and you don’t want to miss appreciating how simply sauce, cheese, and the dough can be so incredible tasting. You have to have pizza at John’s, but who’s only having pizza once on their trip to NYC? So, for your other pizzas, we recommend Joe’s Pizza on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg or Famous Original Ray’s Pizza which has several locations throughout the city. Proof Ray’s is good, Mark Wahlberg once came in to pick up his order while Amelia’s family was dinning there back in the day.
Other great options for quick lunch include Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs which has many locations though the most famous is out at Coney Island. Expect a satisfying snappiness and flavorful eating. If you’re looking for something on the lighter side we recommend Mamoun’s Falafel which has two locations, one just off Washington Sq Park and the other in the East Village. A staple component to any NYC visit for our family is Mamoun’s Classic falafel sandwich (falafel, tomato, lettuce, onions, hummus, and tahini in a pita pocket), baklava for dessert and lemonade with mint to drink. If you’re more in the mood for a pitcher of sangria with a side of nachos to pick at then we enjoyed resting our feet and quenching our thirst at Dos Caminos after walking the Highline.
No matter what vibe you are going for we have a great place for dinner that will delight you. Though we will admit our selection of restaurants range American to Italian with only one exception, Miss Favela a rustic Brazilian restaurant in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Miss Favela serves you Brazilian specialties, a colorful venue and live music (often accompanied by some dancing), it is lively with rough around the edges feel that delighted us.
For Italian, we give you three choices Carmine’s near Times Square and perfect for a pre-theater dinner, Eataly in the Flatiron District, or Epistrophy in Little Italy.
At Carmine’s your family, or at least you are served that way. Expect huge sharing plates like your home for the holidays. A big salad bowl for the table, a large plate of chicken parmigiana, another big bowl this time filled with pasta, and well on it goes depending on what you order. One thing is for sure, you’ve got to go with people you can agree on dishes with because they’ll all need to be shared. Adding to the homie feel are photo-filled walls, nice white table cloths, and friendly waiters. Carmine’s provides such a warm and classic Italian ambiance you’ll end your meal longing for your return.
Eataly, in itself, provides you 2 dining styles plus a well-welcomed shopping option. When you enter you are what many could only describe as heaven. To describe it as a grocery store doesn’t do it justice, it is much more like a depot of all edible delights hailing from Italy. Cookies and candies you’ve never seen before, brands you most definitely never heard of, truffle oil, panettone during the holidays, imported parmesan and prosciutto, sauces, and pasta galore! If you’re a foodie who also loves to cook it will be next to impossible to pass through here without some purchases for later. Scattered around this depot of delicious Italian goodies are cafeteria-style dining options. Choices include but are not limited to (there are just too many to list) a coffee counter serving Lavazza coffee and pastries, a pasta station, panini station, a pizza station, desserts counter (cannolis, and tiramisus, and cream puffs oh my!), and of course a gelato station. But if all of that is not enough for you, Eataly has your back, they also provide a more traditional sit-down and be waited on dining experience upstairs on the ROOF! Oh, yes. Tuck into the elevator hidden in a corner and ride up to the roof. Once there you will discover what feels like an Italian beer garden on summer days. Drink up Italian beers, wines, and cocktails alongside your tasty meal while enjoying a beautiful view of the city around (and below) you.
Sometimes great things come in small packages. The smallest of our Italian recommendations is nestled the streets of Little Italy Depending on what time of year it is when you go you can choose from a handful of tables out front on the sidewalk, a leather stool at the bar, or from a few bohemian table arrangements inside. Providing a more intimate ambiance it is great for a date night. We enjoyed their charcuterie board, a salad, and some drinks.
Now, on to the American fare. We have four options for you that provide American cuisine and vastly different experiences. Choose from Ellen’s Stardust Diner near Broadway, Freeman’s between Little Italy and the Lower East Side, Gramercy Tavern just off of Union Square Park, or Westville which has a few locations scattered through the city.
If you are in the mood for dinner and a show, an especially great option if you have kids with you, then we know you will enjoy yourselves at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Far from your average diner, at Ellen’s your server is also Broadway performer. A few times per service the dining room becomes a stage with the 1950’s sock hop dressed waiters and waitresses taking to aisles and tabletops to dance and sing for you. They usually pull in a customer or two to join in the performances. The experience is exciting and fun, and the diner classics like burgers, milkshakes, and club sandwiches are indulgent and delicious.
If it’s a bustling, see and be seen, award-winning New York staple you seek then head to Gramercy Tavern. They have earned not one but NINE James Beard Awards, including “Outstanding Restaurant.” Here you will find contemporary American cuisine with menus evolving seasonally, topnotch service, and warm atmosphere. In The Dining Room, they offer fixed price and tasting menus, and in The Tavern, they have an à la carte menu and welcome walk-ins.
Searching for something with a healthy and more low-key style? Westville serves vegetable-focused dishes with its rotating farm-to-table menu in small and understated space. They are usually busy so do still expect a nice atmosphere. We are not the biggest salad fans but here we took pleasure in eating a complex salad topped with grilled salmon and purple onions soaked in a honey vinaigrette. If you could just see our faces thinking about it. It’s not appropriate to use the lick lipping emoji in a blog, is it? Well just picture us like that thinking about this salad. Crazy.
If you seek something off the beaten path… literally unsuspectingly at the dead-end of an alley, then Freeman’s is your choice. A perfect place for a romantic dinner date or intimate catchup. It is decorated like a colonial tavern, its quite dark with tables lit by candlelight, and as we mentioned its hidden down an alley. Here you will fully escape the bustle of NYC and feel so present with your company. We recommend starting your experience with one of the unique craft cocktails. They describe their menu as inspired by old-world traditions, which is simple and rustic. Don’t be mislead the dinners are still decadent and what we would classify as a bit fancy. Menu options have included Hudson Valley Mallard Duck with Sweet Potatoes, Black Garlic Puree and brussels sprouts, Roasted Amish Chicken Breast with Pebble Potatoes, Wax Beans, and Eggplant Butter Sauce, and Wild Atlantic Halibut with White Beans, Chickpeas, Fennel Confit and Verjus.
Whether it is time for dessert or you need sweet indulgence midday (who are we to judge, we believe in breakfast dessert) here are a few of our favorite places to satisfy your sweet tooth.
As we mentioned earlier, you can’t go wrong with and really ought to try Junior’s for cheesecake. However, if you are seeking other Italian sweets… especially cannoli or cannoli cream cake (yes, that is a thing) then please get yourself to Ferrara Bakery & Café in Little Italy. This is actually where Amelia’s mom got her birthday cake from growing up. From seasonal specialties like Casatella egg bread for Easter, Panettone for Christmas, and celebratory Struffoli, to every Italian pastry, cake, and cookie you can imagine. Ferrara is another place that is well worth the hype. This is not only a tourist hotspot but a haven for Italian Americans whose immigrant or first-generation grandparents grew up visiting and still frequent.
Perhaps it’s a hot day and you could really use some creamy-smooth, rich, and cold gelato to cool you off. Amorino in Greenwich Village will make you feel you are in a gelateria in Roma. They have a long counter filled with many flavors you will struggle to choose between and they will serve with a spatula just like in Italy. You can get it in a bowl or a crunchy waffle cone, and if you really want to spoil yourself you can get a macaron on top.
New York is also home to one of the world’s best brands of gelato’s American counterpart, ice cream. Carvel used to have countless locations, but as the market has become more competitive their locations have become fewer and farther apart. One of the few locations left in Manhattan is near Wall St or South Street Seaport. So, if you are nearby, we recommend you get yourself some Carvel ice cream. They are also known for their ice cream cakes, which can be found in more and more grocery stores. This is the ice cream cake of Amelia’s childhood birthdays. Layers of rich creamy chocolate and vanilla ice cream separated by a crunchy chocolatey cookie layer and wrapped in thick whip cream.
A favorite sweet treat worldwide is the cupcake. NYC is no exception with bakeries specializing in cupcakes throughout the city. Our favorite shop, which lends itself those of us who thrive on variety is Baked By Melissa. All of their cupcakes are bite-sized, which is perfect for trying the maximum amount of flavors. They have some staple flavors which are always available, but they also constantly have new and unusual flavors rotating through. Some flavors have included Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate Eclair, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Sugar Cookie Dough, Cookies and Cream, and S'mores.
We hope you enjoyed our recommendations and we didn’t tease you too much. If you go to any of these do share your stories below in the comments and feel free to share your additional recommendations.