Whether you’re a lifelong New Yorker, are visiting or just moved to town, there are times when you hanker for quintessentially New York eats. Here’s where to score exemplary versions of the classics.
The benchmark for all others, Brooklyn original Junior’s Cheesecake (386 Flatbush Avenue EXT, Brooklyn, 718-852-5257, juniorscheesecake.com) is the world’s most famous for a reason. Richly indulgent and properly tangy, its unparalleled pies are made with fresh fruit, house-made purees and sponge cake bottoms to great acclaim. What about the competition? We’d equally recommend beloved pastry chef Umber Ahmad’s Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery (28 Greenwich Ave., New York, 212-498-9810, mahzedahrbakery.com) for stellar slices. The former investment banker’s tangy, creamy cheesecakes are all the better when enjoyed in the quaint West Village shop. A once-fledgling online business, it earned a cult following — not to mention backing from restaurateur Tom Collichio.
What makes New York bagels so good? Some say it’s “the water.” We don’t know if that’s true, but they are undeniably good. That’s especially true of the rounds at Utopia Bagels (1909 Utopia Pkwy, Queens, 718-352-2586, utopiabagelsofnewyork.com). Set in a nondescript stripmall in the residential Whitestone neighborhood, it turns out bagels with a smooth, crackly exterior and fluffy, chewy interior just begging to be slathered with schmear.
It’s no secret that the pastrami at Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St., New York, 212-254-2246, katzsdelicatessen.com) is the best around. A fixture on the Lower East Side since 1888, it’s where sandwich-lovers converge over massive, mustard-laden pastrami hand-helds, their rye piled high with hand-carved, salty, dark-edged meat.
Colloquially called a BEC, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from a corner bodega — pretty much any corner bodega — is an on-the-regular New York tradition. These owner-operated convenience-stores-slash-delis — come in all kinds. No matter which one you come upon, though, you’ll likely encounter this kick-start your day.
Forget the dense cart pretzels in Central Park — you want the blistered, buttery version from Werkstatt (509 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn, 718-284-5800, werkstattbrooklyn.com),Thomas Ferlesch's ever-popular German eatery. Finished with a crackle of salt and served with house-made, paprika-laced liptauer cheese, it’s the stuff of legends — right in Prospect Park South. No time to make the trek? Keep an eye out for the straight-up great pretzels from Bronx Baking Co. instead — they’re sold all around town.
Democratizing a meal out is the $1 slice. Upwards of 70 spots hawk these dirt-cheap eats, which cost less than a subway ride. Not surprisingly, some are better than others. Skip the disappointing versions and start with local chain 2 Bros. Pizza (www.2brospizza.com), which has locations from New York City to Brooklyn and The Bronx. Even better, though, the one from Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St., New York 212-366-1182, joespizzanyc.com). It has served the same unadulterated, no-frills slices since 1975.
New York-Style Pizza
Of the many regional styles in America, never mind globally, traditional New York-style pizza makes the short list for most. Get a top-rate taste at Lombardi’s (32 Spring St., 212-941-7994, firstpizza.com) — the nation’s first pizzeria— in Nolita. The star among its treasured coal-fired, Neapolitan pies is the version cloaked in bright sauce, fresh, whole-milk mozzarella and a shower of basil. Alternately, bypass the tourists in favor of Brooklyn’s Di Fara Pizza (1424 Avenue J, 718-258-1367, difarapizzany.com), a Midwood storefront where blistered pies — finished with snips of basil — come courtesy of an ancient coal fire oven.
Skip the “dirty water dogs” sold by street vendors in favor of the franks at Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway and 612 8th Ave, New York, 212-799-0243, grayspapaya.nyc), an all-night stand known for its budget-friendly dogs and booze-free tropical drinks. Its main competitor, Papaya King (179 E. 86th St., New York, 212 -369-0648, papayaking.com) — another counter-serve stalwart — was actually the first to pair its eponymous fruit juice with dogs at its flagship Manhattan address.
Snag a cronut — a croissant-donut mash-up — from its creator: SoHo’s Dominique Ansel Bakery (189 Spring St, Queens, 212-219-2773, dominiqueanselny.com). The original — rose-vanilla, with Tahitian vanilla cream and rose sugar — is joined by seasonal selections, like cassis and lemon, fig and orange blossom, and pumpkin and rice pudding. On top of being indulgent and delicious, they’re downright inspired.
Meat Over Rice
Rising above dozens upon dozens of halal carts is Kwik Meal (100 W, 45th St., 646-729-8702, facebook.com/KwikMealNYC). The Midtown East vendor — marked by a cheery green sign — serves a spice-rubbed chicken and rice platter christened with hunks of succulent, lightly crispy dark meat; aromatic basmati rice; a crispy, dressed salad; and white and green sauces that nearly steal the show.
Whether you crave it day or night, Mamoun’s Falafel — New York’s oldest falafel shop — prepares the city’s most famous take. Offering stiff competition, though, is Falafel Tanami (1305 E. 17th St., Brooklyn, 718-483-9100) in Midwood. Everything is ultra-fresh, right down to the herbaceous chickpeas, numbing harissa harissa and plush laffa bread.
Black and White Cookie
Soft, cakey and finished with a divide of sweet chocolate and vanilla icing, two-tone black and white cookies are a ubiquitous New York treat. You’ll find them in just about every deli throughout the boroughs, but the buttery, dunkable minis from smoked fish emporium Zabar’s (2245 Broadway, New York, 212-787-2000, zabars.com) definitely leads the pack.
Want to go beyond the basics? We have more ideas for you on our blog.