Table in a New York City diner with napkins and mustard bottle | LivingIn
NYC Guides

Eat Like a New Yorker: NYC’s Classic Foods

November 6, 2018

It’s hard to argue with the fact that NYC is bursting with diversity: its people, its neighborhoods, and best of all, its cuisine. From fresh hand-pulled noodles in Flushing, Queens to a standard chopped cheese from a bodega in Harlem, this city’s food has flavors for every palette. Though New York food trends come and go as fast as an express train, there are a few NYC classics that you can be sure are here to stay.  

Several large pizza pies on a counter | LivingIn

NYC Pizza

Pizza is the staple of New York food. What makes NYC pizza so special is that you’re able to get it by the slice and eat it on-the-go to match the busy lifestyle of the city’s patrons. NYC water is credited as the special ingredient for the deliciously unique crust that has gained a great deal of fame around the world. 20 years ago, you would have seen most pizzerias selling $1 slices, but prices have tripled and even quadrupled since then. A handful of pizzerias still sell cheap slices, but be warned, you get what you pay for. Some argue that you will need to travel to Brooklyn to grab a top-of-the-line, authentic slice from a place like Di Fara’s or Roberta’s. But if you’re staying in the city, Lombardi’s, Joe’s Pizza, or Speedy Romeo’s are real crowd pleasers. Wherever you decide to eat, make sure you’re folding your pizza in half. If this blurb about pizza has you craving more, check out our pop-up spotlight on The Museum of Pizza which is open through November 18th.

Pastrami sandwich on rye with a side of pickle spears | LivingIn

NYC Deli Sandwiches

Though many locals will swear by their local corner store’s bacon, egg and cheese, you can’t mention NYC sandwiches without paying homage to Katz’s Deli. The family-owned establishment has been around since 1888 and shows absolutely no sign of giving up its rightful place on Houston Street. They’re best known for their monstrous pastrami on rye, served traditionally with only mustard. Make sure to wash it down with a can of celery soda (Dr. Brown’s Cel-ray), whose herbal, bitter yet refreshing, peppery flavor pairs perfectly with salty, fatty deli meats. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, grab a classic egg cream, which deceivingly contains neither eggs nor cream. The perfect mix of milk, carbonated water, and chocolate syrup produces its characteristic froth that cannot be captured in a bottle.

Homemade Chopped Cheese Sandwich with Ketchup and Mayo | LivingIn

NYC Chopped Cheese

Though technically an NYC sandwich, the Chopped Cheese stands in a category of its own. It is often described as somewhere between a cheesesteak and a cheeseburger, which is somewhat metaphoric of NYC culture. If you get a craving for this tasty hero filled with ground beef, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and melted cheese, you’d have to go a bit farther than your nearest Subway. As long as you can locate a bodega with a grill, you’re in the right direction! Though most prominently found in Harlem, these iconic sandwiches have also made homes in the outer boroughs of the Bronx and Queens.  

Heaping pile of bagels on top of a tray | LivingIn

NYC Bagels

While the story of the bagel originates in Poland, the Jewish influence on NY cuisine has made bagels as much a part of its culture as its skyscrapers. For decades, New Yorkers have quarreled over who serves the best bagel. Though many amazing delis are contenders for the title, one that has proven to stand the test of time is Russ & Daughter’s, which has been in business since 1914. Choose from 10 different types of salmon to complete your must-have bagel with lox and schmear (a generous serving of cream cheese). You also have the option of trying the bagel’s less popular but equally satisfying cousin, the bialy, which is baked rather than boiled. Rather than a hole, bialys have a depression filled with chopped onions, garlic, or poppy seeds. For dessert, top your meal off with a couple of black and white cookies that are guaranteed to hit the spot. They’re great for when you can’t decide between chocolate or vanilla, so you get both.

Hand putting mustard on a hot dog at hot dog cart | LivingIn

NYC Street Foods

When a typical American thinks of a hot dog, the first thing that comes to mind is a baseball game or a backyard BBQ. When a New Yorker thinks of a hot dog, they’re thinking of “dirty water dogs” from a hot dog stand, served with a side of questionable hygienic practices. Nonetheless, the famous Sabrett stands remain one of the foods most strongly embedded in NYC culture. They’re cheap, easy, and always available so you’ll never waste time during your commute—and we all know that time is a New Yorker’s most precious commodity. For a few extra dollars, you also have the option of a hot Italian sausage or shish kebab (tasty beef or chicken chunks served on a stick). Throw some hot sauce on there and you’re set.

Of course, when it comes to NYC street food, you can’t ignore the Halal Guys food cart on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, boasting hour-long waits. Over the years, many other food carts advertising the same plates have sprouted up on various Manhattan corners. But New Yorkers stay faithful and claim the secret is in the white sauce. Order a mixed plate of beef and chicken over rice, grab a spot in the public seating area, and enjoy watching the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan.

Now that you’re in the know when it comes to special NYC-centric foods, it’s time to brush up on how to speak New York. Check out our guide to practice your local slang here.

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