Forget Central Park and Broadway. The best way to experience New York is through food. The city that never sleeps is also the city of a million or more restaurants. There are cuisines from every corner of the world, but also plenty of dishes that are iconically New York. From bagels and dollar slices to soup dumplings and mochi donuts, consider this your bucket list.
Peter Luger's Steak House: Luger Burger
Two years after the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor, the city welcomed another landmark: Peter Luger’s. The Michelin-starred steakhouse has been serving up dry-aged beef and other old-school favorites since 1887, but it’s worth a visit for the burger alone: over half a pound of juicy prime-grade chuck, served on a sesame bun with an optional blanket of melty American cheese or thick-cut bacon. It’s only served at lunch — or all day on DoorDash.
Levain Bakery: Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie
When an insurmountable cookie craving hits, New Yorkers know there’s really only one place to go: Levain Bakery. The cherished bakery has been turning out truly gigantic, six-ounce cookies since 1995. Each one — chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate peanut butter, toasty oatmeal raisin — has a just-baked gooey center and crisp exterior. The chocolate chip walnut is the most popular, so start there.
Cafe Mogador: Greek Salad
Founded in 1983, this East Village stalwart still has one of the best brunch scenes in the city. The downtown cultural hub is full of artists and those who love them, but the Greek salad is stunning enough to distract from the prodigious people watching. It’s a fully loaded plate of crunchy romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a zippy lemon dressing, piled high with feta cheese and za'atar croutons.
Win Son Bakery: Millet Mochi Donut
The signature springy texture of mochi adds a special something to the greasy, sugar-dusted doughnut you know and love. The popular Taiwanese-American Win Son Bakery is a standout for all manner of dishes and meals — fried chicken; bacon, egg, and cheese on a scallion pancake — but that doughnut is the scene stealer. Nutty millet flour and chewy mochiko flour team up for a double dose of salty-sweet satisfaction. It’s gluten-free, too.
Roberta's: Bee Sting
Once upon a time — 2008, to be exact — one scrappy Bushwick pizza joint forever changed the restaurant industry. That pizzeria was Roberta’s, whose pies can now be found in grocery freezers around the country. The pizza that solidified their charcoal-burnished, hipster-chic legacy? The Bee Sting. The exceptionally chewy sourdough pie is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy soppressata, and basil, then gilded with a spicy-sweet punch of dried chili and drizzled honey. It’s just as exceptional more than a decade later.
Via Carota: Insalata Verde
Chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi are known for turning out exceptional fresh pasta and tender Sicilian meatballs at Via Carota, their West Village temple to old world Italian Cuisine. But their Insalata Verde — dubbed “the best green salad in the world” by chef Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat fame — steals the spotlight. It’s an ultra-tall tangle of the freshest, most tender lettuce imaginable (think: farmer’s market endive, butter lettuce, frisée, and watercress), gently dressed in a shallot and mustard vinaigrette. Take a bite and ask yourself: Who knew salad could taste like this?
Joe’s Pizza: Plain Cheese Pie
Jennifer Lawrence. Jimmy Fallon. P Diddy. Bill Murray. These are just a few of the countless celebrities who have come to Joe’s in search of an exceptional New York-style slice (and whose photographs grace the walls today). Owner Joe Pozzuoli, originally from Naples, established the first, now-iconic Greenwich Village shop in 1975. The pizza is the same today: a huge triangle of a slice with an extra crispy crust, molten cheese, and expertly calibrated sauce. It’s best eaten like a New Yorker: folded down the middle. If you only eat one slice of pizza in New York City, let it be this.
Joe's Shanghai: Pork Meat Soup Dumplings
The perfect soup dumpling is tender and plump, with a miniature geyser of aromatic soup ready to burst through the thin dumpling skin with one bite. This is exactly what you’ll get at Joe’s Shanghai. The first location was established in 1995 in Flushing, Queens, and their extra porky soup dumplings remain a standout. Instructions for eating soup dumplings safely: Carefully lift the dumpling with a large spoon and nibble a small hole out of the top; slurp the hot liquid out of the dumpling slowly and carefully; once the dumpling has cooled, proceed to eat it however you’d like.
David's House of Brisket: Brisket Beef Sandwich
David’s House of Brisket has been serving up high-quality, extra-meaty sandwiches to the Bed-Stuy community for over 70 years. They pile layer upon layer of halal, kosher beef on rye bread before slathering on a layer of spicy mustard for a distinctly Brooklyn bite. That house-made brisket is also available by the pound.
Katz’s Deli: Katz’s Pastrami
Close your eyes and picture a classic New York deli. You’ve probably just pictured Katz’s, thanks to its many movie cameos, most memorably the I’ll-have-what-she’s-having scene in When Harry Met Sally. The legendary Jewish deli has been serving mile-high sandwiches since 1888, but the pastrami is a clear standout. Choose your cut of meat (juicy or lean?), bread (deli rye or club bread?), and toppings (too many to count), and let the sandwich maestros do the rest.
Pillowy and potato-filled, Veselka’s pierogi are as quintessentially East Village as Tompkins Square Park. The traditional Ukrainian restaurant has been in the neighborhood since 1954, serving up affordable comfort food at all hours to a distinctly New York mix of partiers, students, and grizzled regulars. Each of the seven pierogi flavors (including cheese, short rib, and sauerkraut) is made in-house, served boiled or fried, then topped with a generous amount of sweet sautéed onions and tangy sour cream.