With more than 24,000 restaurants in New York City, finding a place to eat in the 'Big Apple' can be a tricky feat. Any bonafide foodie and New York native will have their go-to restaurant recommendations that capture the international flavor and eclectic flare of the city. Whether it's a hole-in-the-wall soup dumpling joint in Chinatown, a French bistro in Manhattan or one of the last Ukrainian diners in the city, the beauty of New York's food scene is how your taste buds can travel the world without a plane ticket.
For visitors, a cardinal rule of dining in New York is to avoid any chain restaurants. After all, why dine at Applebee's in Times Square when there are charming tapas joints promising live flamenco? In a city positively bursting with food options, a visit to New York should always leave a memorable taste in your mouth. Even better if that fantastic meal comes with a bit of old New York history.
Whether you're a purveyor of sweets, a foodie who loves unique meals, or on the hunt for that next Instagrammable dish, we got you covered! From Vietnamese Pho in Queens to Jamaican-inspired ramen in Manhattan’s East Village, the following 20 restaurants promise a delectable meal and taste of a new culture.
20 District Saigon (formerly District Mōt)
Vietnamese food is a popular staple in NYC, often celebrated for its fresh herbs, simple ingredients, and ample spice. Tucked away on Broadway Avenue in Astoria, Queens is the unassuming District Saigon with Vietnamese fare that is the closest you'll get in NYC to the Southeast Asian country. Founded by Vietnam native, Chef Lam, District Saigon is a family-run establishment that brings the flavors of far-flung Saigon (and Chef Lam's family) to the palates of Astoria.
Of all the traditional dishes that are whipped up in this Queens restaurant, it is the pho (pronounced 'fuh') that steals the spotlight.
The pho is served with a choice of free-range shredded chicken, wood smoked brisket, and a generous plate of fresh herbs that includes mint and cilantro alongside hoisin sauce and Sriracha. Combine the ingredients in the broth and you have one of those life-affirming meals that warm the belly and seem to melt away the day's troubles.
19 Jules Bistro
New York is lovely but sometimes you just want to escape across the ocean to Paris. Of course, dropping over $500 on a plane ticket isn't always possible, so enter the next best thing: a meal at Jules Bistro in Manhattan's East Village. Jules Bistro is one of those hidden gems in New York that you can blink and miss when power walking down the sidewalks of the city. Listen close and on a warm summer night, you may hear the siren's call of light jazz calling you to this first-floor jazz club. Owner Georges Forgeois brings the vibes of Paris' Boulevard St. Germain to New York with his wine bar/restaurant/jazz club hybrid that serves such French classics as escargot, steak frites, and creme brûlée.
18 Shanghai Asian Manor
There are three things that New Yorkers debate about: what neighborhood has the highest rent, which subway station is the worst and where to get the best soup dumplings. Xiao Long Bao or soup dumplings are doughy pockets filled with a savory soup and a choice of either pork or crab meat. This no-frills meal is perfect for cold weather months and at Shanghai Asian Manor you'll find flawless soup dumplings without the pomp and circumstance of some other Chinese joints. While other New Yorkers may vehemently argue a different restaurant as their go-to soup dumpling spot, this New Yorker attests to the sheer magic (and affordability) of dining at Shanghai Asian Manor.
Located on Mott Street in Manhattan, Shanghai Asian Manor is about as authentic a Chinese restaurant as you'll get when visiting the city's Chinatown neighborhood.
Go for the soup dumplings, the Szechuan wontons, and the pork buns (you'll thank us later).
17 Magnolia Bakery
True, Magnolia Bakery is hardly an under-the-radar bakery. In fact, this popular tourist spot has been featured on such shows as HBO's Sex and the City. Regardless of Magnolia Bakery's star status, this sugar mecca is worth a visit for anyone with a sweet tooth to satisfy. Magnolia Bakery opened in NYC back in 1996 and has since become a city staple for its buttercream cupcakes, nostalgic decor, and warm ambiance. While the once-humble bakery has now morphed into an international brand, we will temporarily suspend our aforementioned cardinal rule of dining at chain establishments because these cupcakes are worth it. Baked fresh daily, nothing about Magnolia Bakery feels mass produced. We recommend visiting the original Magnolia Bakery down in Manhattan's West Village and indulging in a cupcake (or two).
16 Pochana Thai Kitchen
For the most part, Queens flies under the radar in lieu of its shimmering neighbors, Manhattan, and the ultra-hip Brooklyn. Back in 2015, Queens was abruptly shoved into the spotlight when Lonely Planet voted this overlooked borough as the number one destination to visit of the year. The realization that something wonderful was brewing just over the East River dawned on New Yorkers who started swiping their Metro cards and flocking to the multicultural food scene that is famous to Queens.
Home to more than two million people, Queens is a global hub of immigrants who bring authentic flavors from far-flung countries to this multicultural borough.
One such family of immigrants are the husband and wife duo behind Pochana, who relocated from Bangkok to New York. Forget about Pad Thai and limp egg rolls, Pochana serves true Thai classics such as turmeric braised chicken, wok-friend clams, and a family-recipe yellow crab curry.
15 Miss Lily's
From Mexico to Thailand to Vietnam, dining in New York City takes your tastebuds around the world for little more than the cost of a $2.75 USD subway swipe. In Manhattan, your appetite can head straight to the Caribbean with Miss Lily's Jamaican fare. Designed to look like a retro diner awash in color, Miss Lily's has two locations in the East Village and Soho neighborhoods. Miss Lily's is led by Executive Chef Adam Schop and Chef de Cuisine Andre Fowles, who is a Jamaica native that puts a modern twist on island specialties.
Advertised as 'an island vacation in the middle of a busy city,' it is the innovation of Miss Lily's menu that makes this restaurant a foodie magnet.
Sure, you'll find classic Jamaican dishes like Jerk chicken and codfish fritters, but you'll also spot unique meals like Jerk ramen—which blends Jamaican flavors with the popular Asian noodle soup—or Guyanese vegetable lo mein.
There's a key tip-off to what distinguishes a solid Mexican food restaurant from a lackluster joint, and that is the tortilla chips. Some places will offer stale chips that seem to have been purchased from the nearby deli yesterday; while a good Mexican restaurant will take as much care with the gratis tortilla chips they serve patrons as they do any of the main dishes on their menu. It is Horchata's chips and the trio of salsas that first greet hungry customers and reassures them they've made the right restaurant choice. Horchata—which is designed to look like a Mexican hacienda replete with Mexican art, communal tables, and strings of lightbulbs–freshly bakes their tortilla chips and serves up classic Mexican fare. From quesadillas to roasted chicken served with chimichurri, it is the tacos at Horchata that capture our attention. Each of the tacos is served on fresh tortillas (another telltale sign of excellent Mexican food to come) and includes grilled striped bass, achiote braised pork or roasted poblano chiles.
13 Taiyaki NYC
Let's be honest, in today's social media obsessed culture a meal is expected to look as good as it tastes. Instagram-worthy dishes are all the rage in New York City, where any dining experience is sure to find you surrounded by self-proclaimed Instagram influencers snapping photos of their food. One such Instagram hot spot is Chinatown's Taiyaki NYC. The literal translation of taiyaki is 'fried fish,' but don't worry, the only thing fishy about this dessert treat is its shape. Taiyaki is a fish-shaped waffle cone that is filled with either a red bean paste or custard. At Taiyaki NYC, the ice cream has become an internet sensation for its creative spin on this 100-year old Japanese treat. The crew at Taiyaki will use dessert treats to serve up unicorn-inspired cones and other playful ideas. In the words of the company itself, dessert is always a good idea and when visiting NYC you simply can't go wrong with ice cream at Taiyaki NYC.
12 Shake Shack
Shake Shack is a New York staple and chances are, if you're NYC-bound, this restaurant is already at the top of your foodie list. Just in case it's not, we're throwing it in for good measure. Shake Shack started out as a humble hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 until it expanded to a brick and mortar stand within the park in 2004. Going from cart to actual stand allowed Shake Shack to expand its menu from hot dogs to the beloved burgers and milkshakes it serves today. While the restaurant is indeed a chain (there we go, breaking our cardinal rule again!) it was never intended to expand beyond NYC. Due to its immense popularity and insatiable demand, Shake Shack did expand out from its original Madison Square Park location to now 136 locations worldwide. Of course, if headed to NYC then you can enjoy visiting the original Shake Shack stand in all its glory. Be fair warned, every Shake Shack in the city (and I mean, every single one) has a line.
11 Nai Tapas
Think tapas and immediately the image of free-flowing sangria and a revolving selection of delectable bites comes to mind. In NYC, going out for tapas is a popular choice for groups as the 'let's share' approach to dining makes it much easier to tackle the bill (even split, everyone?). Nai Tapas is a restaurant in the Lower East Side that translates to 'mother' in Gallego, the language of Galicia. According to the restaurant's website,
"Nai Tapas is the continuation of the traditional cuisine of Galicia, specifically the home-made recipes handed down from the Grandmother of Gallego Cuisine, Emilia Arias. Recipes that were handed down to Nai (Ana Maria Gonzalez Arias) to open her first restaurant in Galicia, Spain in 1983."
Manhattan's Nai Tapas is a nod to traditional Galician cuisine and the culture of Spain. Guests can also transport themselves across the Atlantic by enjoying live flamenco performances weekly.
10 Han Dynasty
At the mere mention of Han Dynasty, stomachs start rumbling because this Chinese restaurant is just that good. Whatever lackluster Chinese takeout experience you've had, just toss it out the window. Han Dynasty is the type of Chinese food you long for when the week is long, your emails are endless and Netflix and couch time are heaven on earth. Located in Manhattan's East Village and Upper West Side, Han Dynasty serves up such specials as pork belly with sweet chili oil, dry pepper style chicken and—of course—classics like kung pao chicken and vegetable lo mein. You really can't go wrong with any dish at Han Dynasty but no matter what, order their cold sesame noodles and spicy cucumbers as appetizers to start. The spicy cucumbers are one of those simple dishes that takes little more than a fresh vegetable tossed with spices to give your tastebuds a whack of flavor. If you don't order the cucumbers, simply lie to us and say you did.
9 Dirt Candy
Dear vegetarians, we haven't forgotten about you! With all this talk of kung pao chicken, brisket pho, and achiote pork tacos it may seem that NYC is hell to navigate for our veggie-loving tourists. Quite the contrary! New York happens to be a great place to eat for vegetarians; from Shake Shack's veggie burger to the exclusive Dirt Candy restaurant. Dirt Candy is spearheaded by Chef Amanda Cohen who brought to life this vegetarian restaurant—one of the first in NYC—back in 2015. This award-winning veggie haven challenges the notion that vegetarian food can be boring. Chef Cohen's innovative recipes include jalapeno hush puppies, popcorn beets, brussel sprout tacos, zucchini takoyaki and much more. If Dirt Candy just shot to the top of your foodie list, then be fair warned that reservations are a must and that as of September 2018 Dirt Candy will only offer prix fixe menus starting at $54 USD per person.
Remember when we said the only three things New Yorkers debate about are rent, the subway and soup dumplings? Well, we left out a crucial one: pizza! Here in New York, everyone is a pizza snob. Some argue that the $1 slices enjoyed after a Friday night spent drinking are the best. Others will say that Brooklyn's thin crust pies are a thing of beauty; while some will say the gummy crusts and crafty blends—like those found at Milkflower—are the real winner. Milkflower is an Astoria pizzeria found on 31st Avenue and 34th Street.
The restaurant's distressed wood tables and exposed brick decor set the tone for the no-frills, no-fuss pizza that customers can expect here,
from the classic 'Queen' pizza of tomato, mozzarella, and basil to the 'Wu-Tang Clam' pie of cherrystone clams, garlic, Fresno chile, parsley, and granna padano, it is the unique pies that make this restaurant worth a visit.
7 Katz Delicatessen
In a city like New York, new restaurants are popping up around the city daily. From trendy fusion eateries to overpriced wine bars, more often than not the focus of diners is gravitating towards the new. Sometimes though, some of the best meals in this fair city are not at the latest Sushi Samba to open its doors, but rather at the oldest establishments in NYC. One such restaurant is Katz Delicatessen, which has been around since 1888. Back then, two brothers opened a small deli in the Lower East Side that was originally called Iceland Brothers. In 1903 the name was changed to Iceland and Katz and then eventually to Katz Delicatessen. This family-run establishment is the type of historic eatery that is starting to disappear in this city thanks to sky-high rent costs. Hopefully though, Katz's famed pastrami sandwiches—which garners international attention and visitors—will be here to stay.
6 Sullivan Street Bakery
While a stroll in Paris will reveal freshly baked bread emanating from charming boulangeries, in New York bakeries can be hard to find. The city has its fair share of pastry shops, wine bars, restaurants, and delis but bakeries are few and far between. Sullivan Street Bakery is an authentic bakery in New York that has been a staple of the city for more than 20 years. Sullivan Street is inspired by old Italian bakeries and serves up fresh bread in addition to Roman-style pizzas and fresh pastries. In other words,
dear reader, this unassuming spot is carb heaven!
While Sullivan Street Bakery bread is sold around the city, we recommend going to the NYC location and enjoying both the taste and smell of the freshly baked goods.
5 Murray's Cheese Bar
Where there's a bakery boasting fresh bread, cheese is not far behind. Murray's Cheese has been pedaling cheese since 1940 when it opened its original Bleeker Street flagship location. Back then, the Bleeker Street location was simply a cheese shop but in 2012, the team behind the brand decided to open Murray's Cheese Bar to give a space for cheese-lovers to dine. In short, Murray's Cheese Bar is a mecca for anyone visiting NYC whose salivary glands go bonkers at the mere thought of cheese. This cheese heaven serves brunch and dinner with a menu that includes such mouth-watering dishes as classic mac & cheese, raclette, fried burrata, cheese curds, fondue and (of course) grilled cheese.
4 Jack's Wife Freda
Brunch is a favorite New York tradition that locals revere. Come Saturday or Sunday morning, red-eyed brunch enthusiasts will peel themselves from the comfort of their beds—hangover in tow—and seek the revitalization that can only come from meticulously made eggs and 'hair of the dog' mimosas. At Jack's Wife Freda—found in NYC's Soho and West Village neighborhoods—the food is as beautiful as it is delicious. Jack's Wife Freida is founded by husband and wife duo, Dean and Maya, who immigrated to the United States from Israel and South Africa, respectively. Dean is the grandson of Freda and Jack, a couple who met and married in South Africa back in the 1930s. Dean and his wife, Maya, were keen to open a restaurant in NYC and in an 'a-ha!' moment decided to name their charming brunch spot after Dean's grandmother, Freda, and her famous hospitality. The rest, as they say, is history. The Mediterranean influenced menu puts a unique spin on classic brunch dishes, such as poached eggs with tomato and halloumi and rosewater waffles.
Brunch can typically be a half-day ordeal as New Yorkers enjoy bottomless mimosas and bloody mary's; but what if you just want a quick bite to eat? Enter eggslut, a breakfast sandwich haven with locations around the city. Breakfast sandwiches are a favorite around NYC, where an egg and cheese combo served on a fresh Kaiser role can be found at almost any local deli shop. At Eggslut, the founders took a NYC staple and embellished, adding creative breakfast sandwiches you're not likely to find elsewhere. There's the Goucho, which includes seared wagyu tri-tip steak, cage-free eggs, chimichurri, red onions and arugula on a brioche bun. There's the Fairfax, which has scrambled eggs and chives, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and Sriracha mayo topped on a warm brioche bun. Then there's the classic bacon, egg and cheese sandwich that adds a dollop of chipotle ketchup for added flavor.
2 Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos
Remember when we said Mexican food is only as good as the tortilla? Well, at Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos—known simply as 'Los Hermanos'—the tortillas are made fresher than anywhere else because these tacos are served in the tortilla factory.
Los Hermanos is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it taqueria in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood that is a no-frills, taco joint.
Don't expect table service when you come to Los Hermanos, this is the type of place where you order a taco, pull up a chair, take a bite and just bask in the simplicity of a few simple ingredients. Los Hermanos was opened in 2006 when the owners of the factory decided to set up a simple Mexican cantina in one of their loading docks. The freshly-made tortillas are taken right off the line and served with a choice of seven fillings of which the chorizo is the most popular. Tacos are served with homemade salsas, which are smoky and spicy and add just the right amount of heat to this authentic Mexican meal.
Diners are a big deal here in NYC, about as big a deal as the local bodega shops where New Yorkers shop for everything from milk to cat food. There is just something comforting and nostalgic about an old-timey diner that serves up comfort food. Unlike other restaurants that can be pretentious and expensive, the expectation of diners is they are always affordable, always open, always welcoming, and always laid back. In New York, most diners are historic establishments that have been run by the same family for generations. One such diner is Veselka, a 24-hour Ukranian diner in the East Village that is a staple of the community. Veselka was founded in 1954 by World War II Ukranian refugees, Wolodymyr and Olha Darmochawa. Unlike traditional American diners, Veselka is one of the last Slavic diners in the city and serves up classics like borscht, pierogis, and meatloaf. Regarded by Eater as the "best after-hours establishment," Veselka is popular amongst locals seeking a late night bite to eat on weekends.