With its chaotic stew of cultures, New York has cooked up standout food moments, you just have to know where to find them.
New York, as they say, is a helluva town. Of all the cities to visit in the world I’ve been, nothing feels quite the same as this action-packed city for palpable action.
We may now be used to getting anything we want when we want it thanks to the internet, but New York has been like that for decades. You want a pair of Levi’s at 2am? Done. An evening that starts with caviar, vodka and blini followed by a baseball game and ending up at a club singing show tunes with strangers? Too easy.
And when it comes to food, you could live in the city for decades and never touch the sides when it comes to the diversity and number of places you can go for a bite. From cool restaurants like Contra and Chinese Tuxedo to various Momofuku joints and classic New York moments like Balthazar, the beauty of this city is that no two visits will ever be the same.
After a few years of being away, these are the quintessentially New York foods I’ve missed.
Bagels are an any-time-of-day bite that just feels better when you’re here.
A bagel with lox and schmear
New York has always been a rich, chaotic stew of cultures, subcultures, and communities, each contributing something special to the city’s magic. Bagels may have originated in Poland, but thanks to the Jewish community, New York’d happily claim them as a city staple. Whether toasted and spread with cream cheese (schmear), or laden with smoked salmon, red onion and capers, bagels are an any-time-of-day bite that just feels better when you’re here.
There are a few excellent purveyors across the city, and everyone is happy to give you their opinion on them. I love Russ & Daughters for a classic lox and schmear, partly because the salmon is at once buttery in texture and smoked to perfection, and partly because they’ve been doing what they do for more than a hundred years. So if it ain’t broke… These kinds of venues are true institutions worthy of a look-in, especially at a time in history where the demand is high for new and shiny toys.
There are four venues across the city. Head to the OG in Orchard Street for the history and a takeaway fantasy, or settle in for a bagel, and a slice of incredible Jewish-driven fare.
If you find yourself in Williamsburg, as most Australians inevitably do, try the spicy salami at L’Industrie.
A slice of pizza
Sure, you can find great pizza all over the world, but pizza served by the giant slice, preferably eaten from a paper plate streetside, is a truly New York thing. Whether it’s for lunch, or to soak up a good time late at night, grabbing a slice should be fast, cheap, and good… and there are rarely times in life when you can get all three.
Where to go, again, is a hotly contested point among locals. If you find yourself in Williamsburg, as most Australians inevitably do, try the spicy salami at L’Industrie. Stepping a level up from street pizza, if you’re a fan of model Bella Hadid, word has it she’s a fan of the pizza at Lucali in Brooklyn, so if you’re up for a slice along with some people watching, give it a go.
Rounding out the Brooklyn faves, Roberta’s set the bar for Neapolitan-style pizza years ago, and is still, on good authority, a great place to share a pie and vino in this part of the city.
Katz’s is famous for a few things: that Meg Ryan scene from When Harry Met Sally, and for serving up pastrami on rye at a rate that will make your eyes, and mouth, water.
Pastrami on rye
Deli culture is huge in New York, and for good reason. A deli is the ultimate egalitarian place where you will find everyone from food fiends to celebrities alongside tourists and locals who don’t give a damn. Together you’ll all vie for a spot in the line and, a seat at the table and mind your own goddam business while you chow down. Katz’s, in the Lower East Side, is famous for a few things: that Meg Ryan scene from When Harry Met Sally, being the oldest continuously running deli in New York, and for serving up pastrami on rye at a rate that will make your eyes, and mouth, water.
Open the door, grab a ticket from your greeter and pick the shortest queue while you decide what to order. My forever go-to is a half pastrami on rye with mustard, a pickle on the side, and a half-bowl of matzoh ball soup. The former is a simple sandwich stacked with hot, juicy slices of house-made pastrami, a smear of mustard, and that’s it. Not that you need the additional carb load, but the matzoh balls here are light, perfectly perfumed with chicken schmaltz, and sitting in the kind of chickeny broth you know will cure you of anything. Stay for the sandwich, leave with all the merch.
Champagne and oysters
In a city with seemingly infinite options, sometimes it’s good to go back to the good old ways. A cheeseburger at Minetta Tavern, spicy vodka rigatoni at Carbone or oysters and Champagne at Balthazar in Manhattan. Restaurateur Keith McNally may be famous with a whole new generation of people for sharing his sometimes unhinged opinions on social media, but his venues remain the blueprint for many grand establishments that channel old-world French eateries through an American lens. Opening in 1997, its brasserie bustle and imposing bar continues to create an atmosphere you want to wrap yourself in. Perch at the bar or cosy into a banquette and people-watch, while you slurp oysters and Champagne into the night. You’ll feel like a local in no time.