The Best New York Eats

A native offers his suggestions after 30 years in the city

After thirty years lived in New York I am finally prepared to say farewell, but before I do I would like to leave behind some recommendations gleaned from a lifetime’s eating in this great city.

In many ways I am indebted to my roots in the borough of Queens. Although I have lived in Manhattan for over a decade I have never considered the island to be synonymous with the city. This has proved advantageous for me since I find it no less of a stigma to pay a visit to the East Village than I do to stop off in East New York. My penchant for finding good food and my desire to fully explore my own backyard has provided me with a rich experience in the five counties of Manhattan, Queens, Kings (better known as Brooklyn), the Bronx and the Richmond (otherwise known as Staten Island) that is rivaled by few.

This list is hardly complete, nor could it ever be, but it should serve as a good starting point. If I have a parting wish in writing this column it is that you, the reader, use this list to not only fill your stomach, but also, through these travels, your understanding of the different New Yorks you coexist with and may not even notice. It is the greatest city in the country – now get out there and learn why.

  • Bagels: Absolute Bagels / Manhattan / Morningside Heights / Bagels are commonly a Jewish food, but the Vietnamese team that runs this place knows their stuff. If you are overwhelmed by the number of choices an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese is always a win
  • Bakery:
    • Cheesecake, Black & Whites: Junior’s / (multiple but the original is in) Brooklyn / Fort Greene / There are many bakeries in the city worth mentioning, but overall you cannot go wrong with Junior’s. Although they are known for their iconic cheesecake, they also make the best black and white cookie in the city. While you are there be sure to try a rainbow cookie, another New York specialty
    • Cupcakes: Sugar Sweet Sunshine / Manhattan / Lower East Side / Most people focus on the frosting, but the mark of a good cupcake is in fact the cake, which, unlike those at better-known New York institutions, is moist and flavorful at Sugar Sweet Sunshine
  • Barbecue: Dinosaur / Manhattan / Harlem / Many bbq places excel at one thing or another, but Dinosaur is the best all around, especially their beef brisket and their sides. They also serve the best chicken wings in the city – try them with wango tango sauce – and have a great beer selection
  • Burgers: Shake Shack / Manhattan / multiple locations / Given the size of the shack burger my choice might be heretical to some, but the flavor of the burger and proportion of meat to toppings to bun is so good that if you are hungry you should order two singles instead of one double. Get a shake, but skip the fries
  • Chinese:
    • Dumplings: Prosperity Dumpling / Manhattan / Chinatown / Everything about these dumplings, including the wrapper thickness, proportion of meat to wrapper and price, at 5 for $1, is right. Buy them frozen in bulk and defrost when you get a craving
    • Pork buns: Golden Steamer / Manhattan / Chinatown / Both the steamed and baked buns are tasty, tender, well-proportioned and ridiculously cheap
    • Lamb burger: Xi’an Famous Foods / (multiple locations but the original is in) Queens / Flushing / Ok, so I created a category just for this one dish, but it is worth it. The burger is actually sliced, cumin-flavored lamb mixed with hot peppers and stuffed inside Uighur Chinese flat bread. The original location is one stall among many in the basement of a food court
    • Beef noodle soup: Yogee Noodle / Manhattan / Chinatown / Noodle soups are the perfect cure for a cold winter day, and Yogee should be your destination for any variety of Chinese noodle soup, especially a beef one with wontons
  • Cuban:
    • Sandwich: Margon / Manhattan / Midtown West / Three kinds of pig, Swiss, mayo and mustard combine to form a mighty sandwich at a pleasing price
    • Everything else: Sophie’s / Manhattan / multiple / Sophie’s hot sauce is bliss in a little plastic container. Be sure to ask for extras and pour it liberally on anything you order
  • Deli/Sandwiches:
    • Italian: Faicco’s / Manhattan / West Village / There are sandwiches and there are sandwiches. The Italian Special, bursting at the seams with meat, is of the latter variety and good enough for two meals
    • Jewish: 2nd Avenue Deli / Manhattan / Murray Hill / Instead of wasting your time at Katz’s, get some exceptional Jewish deli at 2nd Avenue (it was formerly located on 2nd Avenue). Matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich should have you sitting pretty and full
    • Pastrami: Harold’s New York Deli Restaurant / New Jersey / Edison / Despite the name, this restaurant is not in New York, but is worth the visit. A single sandwich (they make double- and triple-deckers) can feed four, and they have an expansive pickle bar
    • Submarine: Subsconscious / Manhattan / Morningside Heights / The menu here has exploded over the years, but stick to their classic subs and you will be fine. The aptly named Final Exam, the most basic one of these, contains cheesesteak, two eggs, bacon, onions and peppers and mayo
  • Greek:
    • Meat: Stamatis / Queens / Astoria / Stamatis has been an institution for a long time and deserves the acclaim. Stick to the meat dishes over the fish, get the lemon potatoes and pray that they are not out of pastitsio or moussaka. Don’t forget about the meze dips – tzaziki, taramasalata, melitzanosalata and skordalia
    • Fish: Bahari Estiatorio / Queens / Astoria / Opt for Bahari if you are more in the mood for fish, and once there a grilled fish should have you just fine
  • Hot Dogs: San Antonio Bakery 2 / Queens / Astoria / The Completo, the revolutionary Chilean hot dog that is plump, slightly charred and served in a freshly baked bun with guacamole, sauerkraut and mayo, is lovely and not overdone like some other specialty dogs
  • Ice Cream:
    • Frozen Custard: Timmy O’s / Nassau / New Hyde Park / Technically okay because he relocated from Corona, Queens, once you have had Timmy’s frozen custard you can never go back to eating ice cream ever again. He reopens this April – buy a couple pints to take home with you
    • Italian Ice – Lemon Ice King of Corona / Queens / Corona / This place is an institution and a favorite of those on the way to and from Mets games. Get some water ice and settle in at the small park across the street where you can watch the old men playing bocce scream obscenities at each other
  • Japanese:
    • Sushi: Blue Ribbon Sushi / Manhattan / Soho / Any Japanese person can tell you that sushi is about the rice, not the fish. Blue Ribbon’s fish is top notch, but the moist, plump, slightly vinegared grains of rice, are sublime
    • Ramen: Menkuitei / Manhattan / Midtown / New York lacks a truly great ramen-ya, but Menkutei does an all-around pretty good job at a normal price, unlike some places closer to school. Order the tonkotsu and ask for the broth strong and the noodles firm
  • Malaysian: Nyonya / Manhattan / Chinatown / If you have never experienced Malaysian cuisine before, Nyonya is a good place to start. If Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine had a child together, it would be Malaysian: rich, spiced coconut milk curries like beef rendang and stir-fried noodles like char kueh teow that always hit the spot. Try the stingray if you’re feeling adventurous
  • Mexican:
    • Tacos, Sopes: Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery / Manhattan / Hell’s Kitchen / Located at the back of a Mexican bodega, the tacos served here are simple and yet packed with flavor. They’re on the drier side, which helps concentrate the flavor and keeps them from getting sloppy. Pour on the hot sauce if you need a little moisture and catch up on your Mexican soap operas while downing a Jarritos
    • Burritos, Enchiladas, Quesadillas: Downtown Bakery / Manhattan / East Village / Burritos are not New York’s strong point, but Downtown Bakery does a pretty good job. Their rice and beans are solid, which helps sell their other dishes
    • Tortas: Tortas Neza / Queens / Corona / Parked under the elevated 7-train tracks, the Tortas Neza truck, operated by a man nicknamed Tortas, makes memorable sandwiches, including the Pumas, which comes packed with pollo milanesa, chorizo, ham, sausage, queso blanco, a fried egg, jalapenos and more. Get one and split it with a friend
  • Middle Eastern:
    • Egyptian: Kabab Café / Queens / Astoria / My favorite restaurant of all, the food is flavorful but not spicy, hearty but not heavy, and sweet but not saccharine. Ali, the chef/owner, fills the tiny space but it’s because he wants you to enjoy your meal. Don’t bother with a menu (you won’t get one) – the must haves include the meze platter, lamb/goat shank and dessert platter. Stroll down Steinway Street while you’re there
    • Lebanese: Tanoreen / Brooklyn / Bay Ridge / The vegetarian meze and sides are the way to go here, specifically the eggplant dishes
    • Hummus: Mimi’s Hummus / Brooklyn / Flatbush / There’s something about the hummus at Mimi’s that’s richer and more textures than that you can get elsewhere. Try the shakshuka if you’d like something different, preferably with merguez
  • Peruvian: Yuca Bar / Manhattan / Alphabet City / Any place that serves flavorful, tasty portions of meat large enough to prevent me from finishing them gets my vote, but everything is good. Watch the drinks carefully – after two mojitos you will be more than well on your way
  • Pizza:
    • Regular and Sicilian: Di Fara / Brooklyn / Midwood / Dom Di Marco uses three different cheeses and ingredients imported from Italy to make the best pie out there. Stick to a regular pie over slices, and get a square (Sicilian) pie if you have enough people. Fans are generally evenly divided between which is better
    • Thin crust: Goodfella’s / Staten Island / Dongan Hills / True thin crust pizza, which is brittle and snaps when you attempt to fold it, is the providence of Staten Island. The Smokin’ Goodfella – smoked mozz, roasted red pepper cream sauce, roasted peppers, sausage, onions, pecorino romano and basil – is a must have
    • Grandma: L&B Spumoni Gardens / Brooklyn / Gravesend / Dough, cheese and sauce, in that order, along with nice weather is the key to success at L&B, as is the spumoni. Take a trip down to Coney Island if you have the time
  • Soul Food: Foster’s Restaurant / Brooklyn / Fort Greene / If you don’t mind your clothes stinking of fried chicken for three days then Foster’s is your best friend. The fried chicken is tender and moist and not oily. Be sure to get the candied yams and mac & cheese
  • Steak: Keens / Manhattan / Midtown West / The mutton chop rivals the steak, which is consistently the finest I have ever tried; be sure to check out the Scotch bar as well if you are so inclined
  • Tapas: Sala One Nine / Manhattan / Flatiron / Consistency is key at a tapas restaurant and Sala does not disappoint. Neither does the sangria, so be prepared to order a couple pitchers. Must haves include the bacon-wrapped dates, fried goat cheese with honey, patatas bravas, calamares a la plancha, and paella
  • Thai: Chao Thai Restaurant / Queens / Elmhurst / Chao Thai specializes in northern Thai cuisine, so be prepared to order some dishes you might not be as familiar with, but will love after trying, such as the catfish salad, larb, pork blood soup and basil fried duck. Chao Thai Too, their sister restaurant across the street, also has a slightly different, but equally interesting, menu.

Written By: Mike Kraft

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