In a city as expansive and diverse as New York, compiling a list of restaurants to recommend to friends and family seems like a Herculean task. There's simply too many to choose from. That's one of the many reasons why every Journy itinerary is built entirely from scratch, taking into account travelers' budget, dietary restrictions, tastes, preferences, and more.
And odds are if you ask a handful of local New Yorkers what their top bite of the city is, they'd all say something different—and staunchly stand behind their choice—which is precisely what happened when we started asking around.
From pierogies to tacos, halal to scallops, pizza to spring rolls, these are the best foods to eat in NYC, according to locals.
1) Pierogies at Veselka
Journalist and author of ¡Cuba Libre!
"I’m an East Villager through and through, so I love the potato pierogis at Veselka—fried (of course), doused in sautéed onions and preferably devoured after a night on the town. I sometimes drop in there around 4am if I’m jet-lagged—it’s whole new social scene when the bars close and the club kids wander in."
2) Steak quesadilla from Los Tacos No 1
Music supervisor of “Broad City” and Hulu’s “Difficult People”
"My personal favorite dish in NYC is the steak quesadilla with a FLOUR tortilla (not corn—very important!) from Los Tacos No 1, the original location of which is in Chelsea Market.
Let’s talk tacos. Though most people would have you believe that corn = authentic when it comes to tortillas, it’s a veritable fact that certain regions and subcultures of Mexican cuisine actually prefer the flour tortilla. I once dated someone whose father was from Baja California, a Mexican state located on the southern border of what we know as American California. To him, these are the most authentic tacos he’s had in NYC; the closest thing he’s had to the baja tacos he ate growing up.
Now, when I say ‘quesadilla’ I don’t mean the thin, flat, sad, cheese smoosh that conjures images of Napoleon Dynamite and airport restaurant appetizers. No, in this case quesadilla simply means that the tortilla is *slightly* bigger and that a slice of gooey queso lies in between the flour-y vessel and yummy protein filling.
And let’s talk about that filling...Los Tacos No 1’s steak is the best taco steak I think I have ever had. Perfectly rare, with real grill flavor. Yes, they also have the al pastor-esque red-pork-on-a-spit ’Adobaba’ as an option, which I happily suggest you try with a corn tortilla...just so you can see how right I am that the steak quesadilla on flour is a truly unparalleled bite of food."
READ MORE: The Journy Guide To New York
3) Chicken and lamb combo platter from Sammy’s Halal
Music supervisor of “Broad City” and Hulu’s “Difficult People”
"My other favorite legendary dish in NYC is halal street food, specifically the combo platter of chicken and lamb over rice from Sammy’s Halal, originally off West 4th and 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village.
As someone who grew up scrappy eating in NYC, I would consider myself somewhat of a halal food expert, and although most would have you believe the best halal food comes from the famous Halal Guy’s of 53rd street, my favorite halal is EASILY Sammy’s Halal on West 4th. Let me count the ways.
For starters, Sammy’s does their chicken differently. The marinade is distinctly sweet, and the chicken takes on a pink-red color that is very different from the turmeric-curry-spiced yellow chicken you’ll find cooking on the flat tops throughout the rest of the city. Additionally, most halal carts around the city use vegetables as fillers mixed in with the chicken: a bit of broccoli, some green pepper, even a giant medallion of carrot—though Sammy’s is 99% chicken with the occasional bite of onion for flavor. Many years ago—after spending an entire summer eating my late-night meal there 5-6 times a week—I tried to convince one of the nightshift workers at Sammy's to give me the recipe. Although he wound up keeping his secrets, he did divulge that this chicken had more in common with chicken tikka spice-wise than it did with other halal cart chicken.
Sammy’s also does lamb, and I usually order a combo of both. Although their lamb doesn’t seem nearly as bespoke as their chicken, I can testify that they never take the bits off too soon, which translates into perfectly caramelized chunks of meat.
Sammy’s also has a little bit extra in the sauce department—instead of the classic trifecta of white, red, and bbq sauce that the majority of NYC carts employ, they also have a green sauce, a chutney-esque puree of cilantro and spice that really brings a whole other dimension to the food. Also, for first timers: you really don’t have to pick just one or the other. Honestly, go crazy. I get a squirt of all four."
4) Crab spring roll or crispy salmon sushi from Jean-Georges
Carrie Lyn Strong
Wine Director, Casa Lever NYC
"The sweet crab is wrapped and fried in a spring roll wrapper, then cozied inside a piece of fresh lettuce with mint and fresh coriander for a zippy herbaceous note. Dip in zesty tamarind dipping sauce for a sweet, fresh, crispy, surprising, and vivacious international treat—quite similar to NYC.
Another surprising bite marries similar ideas of fresh, clean sushi with crispy rice, a bit of spice, and a bit of herbs. One bite—clean and fresh with the underbelly of fried glutton and a spicy finish —feels like NYC."
4) Scallops Alexandra from The Beatrice Inn
US Ambassador, Charles Heidsieck
"Two of my favorite things come together: puff pastry and caviar...lots of it!
I often find myself a bit down in the afternoon from the daily Champagne hustle, and popping into the bar for happy hour on a Monday or Tuesday at The Beatrice Inn is a monthly staple of mine. Most recently, Chef/Owner Angie Mar has unveiled her new Autumn menu and I was smitten to find the Scallops Alexandra!
A puff pastry cocoon caresses a diver scallop shell resting on a pedestal of silver. Nestled inside the million layers of puff pastry sits the tender scallop heart, which slivers along with seaweed and French saucy deliciousness (aka butter, garlic, and parsley). The glam presentation is 100% Chanel-worthy, as per usual at the Bea! The surgical staff then present you with a tin of caviar which they gently stir into a heavenly warm beurre blanc sauce that’s bathe-worthy. They then pour the Golden ribbons with black stars into a surgical opening in the puff pastry shell right before your eyes. Paired with a vintage Champagne—this is now on my death row menu and a must for the end of 2019 for sure!"
5) Truffle butter ravioli from The Aviary
Natalia Garcia Bourke
Brand Director, Mezcal El Silencio
"I have to say the one bite that has stuck with me and won’t leave my mind is overlooking Central Park sitting at The Aviary. An impeccably dressed human delivered an unassuming spoonful of what, would end up exciting my palate and marking that moment in time. A truffle butter filled ravioli that warmly explodes in your mouth and reveals various sensations and flavors."
Other stand-outs from Natalia...
"Irish breakfast at the Hudson Hound in the West Village—it feels like home when Ireland feels so far. I like to pair it with a cup of Barry’s tea and a pint of Guinness. Other ones would be the duck tacos and uni sushi at tetsu! And obviously, pizza! I’m attached to Arturo’s. Not the best pizza in the world but you can catch amazing musicians playing around the piano! Late night pizza has to be a keeper though."
Speaking of pizza...
6) A slice from Prince Street Pizza
Adam Aleksander Presents Event Marketing + Production + Set Design
"For me, the thing all New Yorkers have in common is strong beliefs about the best slice of pizza. Prince Street Pizza is my go-to. The cheese is oohey gooey and stretches out. The crust if just firm enough to hold in the hand. The pepperoni are thick and flavorful. The sauce is dark rich and like cherry and cuts the fat of the cheese and pepperoni perfectly."
If you happen to have some energy remaining after loading up on tacos (and pierogis, and halal, and pizza, and ravioli), pop into one of NYC's best independent bookstores or work off your food coma by embarking on these bike routes in, around, and outside the city.