Arguably, New York City has the best food in the US. There are thousands of incredible restaurants in the city. Here’s my not at all definitive guide to them.
In the past few years, I’ve made quite a few trips to New York City. Some of the trips were for sad reasons, visiting my grandma when she was sick and then for her funeral, while other trips were for fun, like when I went for a bachelorette party. It’s funny, I spent the first seven years of my life in Brooklyn, and when I moved to Atlanta, I decided I absolutely hated the city. It was too big, too crowded, the people were mean. But in my last few travels, I’ve fallen back in love with the city, and so has my born and bred South Carolinian husband. We even talk of living in NYC at some point.
A couple weeks ago, I was in New York and New Jersey for what may be my last trip for awhile. Scott and I flew up to New Jersey for the unveiling of my grandma’s gravestone, a Jewish tradition that’s done a year after a family member passes. Although we were there for a solemn occasion, we took the opportunity to celebrate her life by exploring the neighborhood she grew up in, the Lower East Side and enjoying time with my mom, aunt, and two of my cousins who live in the city. I also got to see my aunt and another cousin on my dads side. Lots of family in the city 🙂
No surprise, but one of my favorite things about New York City is the food. To be honest, I don’t know how I would maintain a healthy diet if I lived in the city, or a positive bank account! I just love that no matter where you are, there are so many amazing choices at every price point within walking distance.
This guide is by no means definitive, nor is it a selection of the best raw/vegan/paleo/gluten free options. It’s simply my favorite places to eat and drink that give you a good taste (pun intended) of the city I love. It’s organized by neighborhood, in a kinda/sorta clockwise pattern starting with the Upper East Side/Yorkville. I’ve also included nearby sights and museums to help you plan your next trip. Enjoy!
Upper East Side/3rd Av. between 90/91st St.
If you like tapas, you’ll love Kaia, a South African restaurant that serves small plates and delicious wine. My aunt Kerry, who lives in the Upper East Side, discovered Kaia after traveling to South Africa and falling in love with the country. I had an incredible meal here with her and my cousin, Jenna. Their sliders were amazing with unique fillings like ostrich with avocado and elk with red onion marmalade. I also loved the mini bobotie pies, a traditional spiced meat pie. For dessert, we split malva pudding, which doesn’t sound all that appetizing but it’s this delicious cake that reminded me of sticky toffee pudding. And of course being a wine bar, they have an incredible selection, so don’t forget to split a bottle…or two. Oops!
Upper East Side/2nd Ave between 89th/90th St.
A cute little Italian restaurant, perfect for a date night, although my date night was with my mom, aunts and cousin. Like all good Italian meals, it was a refined carb and cheese overdose. We started with perfectly crispy arancini with spicy ham and a cheese plate served with truffled honey. On a related note, truffled honey should be served with everything, at all meals. I split one of their yummy paninis and pasta special with broccoli rabe, sausage and fontina cheese for dinner. Like I said, refined carb and cheese overdose…and it was worth every bite!
Upper East Side/Corner of 3rd Ave and 92nd St.
My cousin and I dropped by here for a much needed salad and beers after a meat heavy weekend with our family (no offense guys). Although we just split a salad, it was a really good salad, so I feel like it deserves a mention. With arugula, frisee, golden raisins, pepitas, purple potatoes and a little bit of brie, it was definitely one I’ll be recreating at home. They also have a great beer list, with plenty of variety without being overwhelming. We sat outside, but there was a great crowd inside for the World Cup, so if you’re looking for a sports bar but without sports bar food, this would be my recommendation.
Upper East Side/82nd St. between 3rd Ave. and Lexington
Thanks to my little brother, I got horrible food poisoning the last time I ate mussels and haven’t been able to stomach them since. Despite that, I would muscle through my sauce bearnaise syndrome to eat at Flex. Their mussels are served in huge pots with really interesting flavor combinations, like Thai with lemongrass, coconut and kafir lime or Mediterranean with lemon, fennel, oregano and kalamata olives. You should also order a basket of truffle fries, for obvious reasons. Flex Mussels is located about four blocks east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so this would be a great place for dinner after spending the day touring Central Park and the museums. Other Locations – West Village.
Midtown/59th St. and 5th Ave
Maybe you don’t have $1000 to spend on an overpriced hotel room, but surely you have $10 to spend on an overpriced pastry? In all seriousness though, the Plaza Food Court is a really fun place to pretend to be rich and famous, although I think my Old Navy sandals gave me away. With dark wood and gold embellishments, the food court at The Plaza looks nothing like the one at your local mall. And instead of Panda Express and Arby’s, you can order caviar and lobster. On this last trip, we split really delicious pastries from one of the stands, including a cauliflower and cheddar quiche and the yummiest, barely sweetened berry bread pudding. The Plaza is located at the Southern end of Central Park, so this would be a great place to kick off a day of exploring the park.
Midtown/42nd St. and Park Avenue
A tour of Midtown would be incomplete without stopping by Grand Central Terminal, one of my favorite buildings in New York. Their food court is a convenient place to stop if you’re with a group of people, since there are enough options to please everyone. Last time I was there, I ate a mushroom, spinach and blue cheese crepe from Ciao Bella. There’s also a Junior’s Cheesecake, home to my all time favorite birthday cake, as my friends who were at my 25th birthday bash can attest to. So can my dog Savannah, who may have snuck a bite.
Midtown/42nd St between 5th Ave and Ave of the Americas
I loathe Tom Colicchio. He steamrolls all the other judge’s opinions on Top Chef, letting the horrible Nicholas beat Nina, who was clearly the better chef, and human being. He stars in really dumb diet Coke commercials. He makes creepy remarks to Padma that even make me feel uncomfortable sitting in my living room. But darn it, he makes a good sandwich. Bryant Park, adjacent to the New York Public Library, is studded with ‘Witchcraft stands, where you can pick up an sandwich and enjoy some time people watching in the park. There are some delicious vegetarian options – I highly recommend the chickpea hummus with mint pesto and goat cheese with avocado and walnut pesto. Afterwards, head just one block over to the International Center of Photography, one of my favorite museums in the city.
First, a warning. If you click on that link and you’re at work, make sure your sound is off. I just browsed their menu at the public library and I’m now packing up and leaving out of embarrassment. You’ll understand. As you can probably guess, this shop specializes in meatballs. Choose between beef, spicy pork, chicken and veggie and add your choice of sauce, like classic tomato, creamy mushroom or pesto. I know this is the meatball shop and all, but I’m obsessed with their veggie balls, which are so good I’ve already recreated them for you! Now, if you go to this restaurant and make it out without giggling like a schoolchild, I will give you $5. Seriously. Other locations – Upper East Side, Williamsburg, West Village, Chelsea
Nolita/170 Elizabeth St between Spring St and Kenmare
On this most recent trip, my mom, aunt, cousin and I took a walk & nosh tour of the Lower East Side, where my grandma grew up with my great grandparents after immigrating from Latvia. Lower East Side was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, but somewhere along the way transformed into a pretty cool, hipster neighborhood. Therefore it seemed only appropriate to start our day with cool, hipster bagels. Black Seed is famous for their wood fired bagels, which are a little smaller than the average NY bagel, a good thing for the filling to bread ratio. It was hard to pass on the avocado, sprout and tofu cream cheese bagel (seriously), but I ordered the #2 on an everything bagel, which comes stuffed with beet cured salmon, horseradish cream cheese, watermelon radish, and dill. I was a happy camper indeed.
Lower East Side/Corner of Hester and Ludlow St.
This is a special one. For almost twenty years, my great-grandparents ran a candy store in the Lower East Side. Yes, this dietitian’s great grandparents were sugar dealers. We assumed like almost everything else in the Lower East Side, it had been renovated into something hip and new, as the neighborhood became a place people actually wanted to live. So when we were walking down Hester St. and my mom spotted the old shop looking exactly the same as it did in the 1950s, we were all shocked and pleasantly surprised. The current owner, Carmine, actually remembers buying candy and comic books from my great grandparents. He even remembered their names! My mom, aunt, cousin and I sat at the counter and chatted with him about the family and growing up in the Lower East Side while sipping on classic egg creams, an odd combination of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer. It shouldn’t be good, yet it is. Drop by if you’re in town and tell him the Meld’s sent you! Afterwards, head over the the Tenement Museum to see what life was like for working class immigrants in the Lower East Side.
Sadly, the Chinese restaurant I always went to as a child growing up in Brooklyn is long gone, but I’ve discovered a new favorite in Nom Wah. Go here for dim sum, which are small plates of food ordered a la carte. Perfect for trying, or attempting to try, everything on the menu! Don’t miss their soup dumplings. The trick to eating one is biting a little bit off over your spoon to let the steam escape and catch runaway broth. I also loved their eggplant filled with shrimp and turnip cake with XO sauce. After enjoying lunch at Nom Wah, head down nearby Bowery St. which runs into the Brooklyn Bridge in less than a mile.
Meatpacking District/near the corner of Hudson St. and 14th St.
I ate here with a huge group of girls for one of my best friend’s bachelorette party. We had such a blast! Definitely a great place to start a night out on the town. The margaritas are fantastic – I had the mango with chili salt. The guac is made fresh at the table, which you can get loaded with toppings like mango, papaya and habanero or chorizo and roasted tomato. There’s also plenty of vegetarian options, like tacos filled with grilled avocado, asparagus and cucumber pico de gallo and a grilled vegetable quesadilla served with a roasted tomato and arbol chili salsa. My favorite was the Mexican street corn! Other locations – Midtown East, NoHo, Rose Hill