You’re going to New York — and you’re hungry!!! We have good news — there are plenty of iconic NYC restaurants to choose from.
What are the essential New York foods you need to try? What makes for the best ‘gram-worthy treat? Where should you go to see and be seen eating New York’s favorite foods? We’ve got you covered.
While there is a nearly endless list of New York “classics”, we’ve distilled 25 of our favorites that definitively make up the taste of the Big Apple.
Some of the restaurants below have become so beloved that they have expanded to other locations, and other cities — in which case we’ve noted the original location as the must-try stop for a truly authentic experience.
Some eateries have movie-scene-worthy dining rooms, while others are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole-in-the-wall or corner cart. But whether high-wattage or low-key and a little gritty, each of our picks are guaranteed to give you true New York flavor.
Must Try Food in NYC
2788 Broadway, New York, NY
Why don’t we start with what might be the ultimate must-try food in NYC — the bagel. And if you’re going to get a real New York bagel, we can’t recommend Absolute Bagels enough!
Freshly baked in-house each day, Absolute is old-school, cash-only, and a crowd favorite for that crunchy-yet-chewy New York bagel standard.
Get a classic Plain Bagel with cream cheese — Absolute is so good that it doesn’t need gimmicks — or our personal favorite, an Everything Bagel toasted to perfection with butter. And for more Iconic New York food of the bagel variety, be sure to check out our guide to the best bagels in NYC.
80 Spring Street New York, NY
One of the most famous places to eat in New York City, Balthazar is a Soho standard for celebrity spotting, a top-notch raw bar, and owner Keith McNally’s never-ending wild takes. It’s a scene, it’s a steak frite heaven, and it’s one of our essential iconic NYC restaurants. Order their pomegranate martini and some moules frites and get ready to be entertained.
331 West 4th Street, New York, NY
If you’re looking for the most famous food from New York City, you must make time for a stop at Corner Bistro, the bar that time forgot with a grill that’s been seasoned since the dawn of time — and the secret to their irreplaceable, simply-dressed pub burgers that you’ll be thinking about for years to come. Get a Bistro Burger, a beer, and the fries, all served on paper plates with zero pretension and plenty of flavor.
Dominque Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street, New York, NY
The secret to trying the most iconic places to eat in New York? Patience. Almost every must-eat food in NYC comes with a line, and if you can brave it, you will be rewarded!! Believe us, the Dominique Ansel Bakery is worth the wait — take the opportunity to try their famous “cronut” (an innovative donut-croissant combo, often filled with cream or jelly) as well as their delicate macarons, savory brioche rolls, and madeleines.
324 1st Avenue New York, NY (original) & 831 3rd Avenue New York, NY
In addition to our friends at Absolute, we think the folks at Ess-a-Bagel also make some of the most iconic NYC food.
Family-run, open for almost 50 years and known for pillowy, hand-rolled bagels (we love their Egg or Cinnamon Raisin variety), whipped cream cheese, butter and jam spreads and bagel-centric sandwiches (we recommend the “Essa-BLT” made of crispy bacon, freshly sliced tomato, lettuce, avocado with mayo or Russian dressing), Ess-a-Bagel is one of the most iconic places to eat in NYC for simple breakfast and lunch done right.
They are so well-known and loved that you can even order these on Goldbelly if you are craving this must eat food from NYC from somewhere else in the states!
Grand Central Oyster Bar
89 E42nd Street New York, NY
Want to feel like you’re in a movie? Pull up to the Grand Central Oyster Bar, opened in 1913 and undoubtedly one of the most iconic NYC restaurants known for not only its seafood (we recommend the Clams Casino and the Linguine with White Wine Clam Sauce) but also it’s cinematic, tiled subterranean ambiance (featured in Mad Men and The Girl on the Train) and its famous “whispering arch” where you can chat with your dining companions from across the room is one of our favorite hidden gems in NYC! Throw in a perfectly mixed martini and you’ve got some of the must-try food in New York.
The Halal Guys
Corner of W53rd Street and 6th Avenue
Some of the most famous food from New York City comes from its street carts, and The Halal Guys are the best of the genre.
Originally founded by Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayedas as a single lunch cart stationed on West 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, the trio’s top-notch gyros and halal plates quickly attracted long lines and inspired the team to expand city and nationwide.
That said, the original is still located on W53rd and 6th Ave and is totally worth a stop for their signature falafel sandwich — a must-try food in NYC!
Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant
46 Bowery New York, NY
Open for nearly 30 years, Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant is one of the most famous places to eat in New York City if you’re looking for generously portioned, tasty Shanghai flavors in a friendly, casual setting. People line up (remember what we told you about those lines!) for their Soup Dumplings and Shanghai Noodles, and their Crispy Beef cannot be beat.
Joe’s is cash only and doesn’t take reservations, so come prepared!!
John’s of Bleecker Street Pizzeria
278 Bleecker Street New York, NY
We would be remiss not to include at least a few pizza places on our must-try food in NYC list — speed walk over to John’s of Bleecker Street, a New York landmark for coal-fired pies since 1929.
We love a classic Cheese or a Bianca (aged mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, fresh basil, no tomato sauce) and the lived-in booths full of celebrity photos (and hand-carved autographs!). And for more iconic New York restaurants of the pizza variety, check out our guide to the best pizza in NYC.
386 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn, NY (original), 1515 Broadway New York, NY, 1626 Broadway New York, NY
Even though their cheesecake is available worldwide, there’s nothing like the original Junior’s, opened in 1929 in Brooklyn and still one of the most iconic NYC restaurants for classic diner food and dessert.
Grab a Matzoh Ball Soup, Cheese Blintz, a Turkey Reuben or their famous Pastrami-Swiss Burger before diving into the star of the show — the creamy, unparalleled cheesecake. Not a cheesecake fan? The Junior’s Black and White Cookie is another must-eat food in New York City!
Check out more of the most iconic Brooklyn foods to try too!
205 E Houston Street New York, NY
Does Katz’s even need an introduction? Land of the piled-high corned beef sandwich and featured in legendary rom-com When Harry Met Sally and is one of the most famous filming locations in New York City and you can sit at the same table as they did in the film.
Katz’s Delicatessen is absolutely one of the most famous places to eat in NYC. We recommend the aforementioned corned beef, the Reuben or Pastrami sandwich and a to-go jar of their half-sour pickles on your must-try food in New York adventure!
72 W36th Street New York, NY
The minute you step into Keens, you know you’ve entered one of the most iconic NYC restaurants. Wood-paneled walls and the world’s largest collection of churchwarden pipes? Check. Gigantic shrimp cocktail and cooked-to-perfection filets? Check. Friendly service and a clubby, Old New York ambiance? Check. Order the Mutton Chop and don’t look back, there’s a reason why this is one of the best classic steakhouses in New York.
167 W74th Street (original), 340 Lafayette Street, 351 Amsterdam Ave, 2167 Frederick Douglass Blvd, 1484 3rd Ave, 164 North 4th Street (Brooklyn)
Ok, so Levain Bakery is so successful that you can now even snag their cookies from the grocery store! But hear us out — there’s nothing like checking out their original New York shop (on 74th Street) or one of their other city locations for a freshly baked, gigantic, scone-like cookie that is absolutely one of the must-eat foods in NYC.
Try a classic Chocolate Chip or their Oatmeal Raisin (it’s almost like breakfast!!) hot out of the oven for some of the sweetest and most famous food from New York City!
32 Spring Street New York NY
Want to see the original New York? Head to Lombardi’s, one of the most iconic places to eat in NYC and America’s oldest pizza parlor! Serving Neapolitan pies since 1905, the team at Lombardi’s has more than perfected their Double Pepperoni, Pesto, and Clam Pie Pizza. Order some cannolis to top off your meal and check one more place off your iconic NYC food journey!
Los Tacos No. 1
75 9th Ave, 340 Lafayette Street, 229 W43rd Street, 125 Park Ave, 136 Church Street
We may not be on the West Coast, but New York does have some absolutely top-notch Mexican cuisine — our favorite is Los Tacos No. 1, a series of casual counter joints where you can snag Carne Asada tacos for under $5 (the price alone makes it one of our must eat foods in NYC) and a refreshing Agua Fresca to keep you fueled and happy!
Many locations, original: 401 Bleecker Street New York NY
This choice may be controversial to some — Magnolia Bakery was so early 2000s! “It’s only famous because of Sex and the City!” You know what, you’re right.
It is very early 2000s. It is famous because of Sex and the City. And it’s still one of the most iconic places to eat in NYC! Get a cupcake of course, but don’t sleep on that banana pudding!! And in the fall, don’t miss their pumpkin flavored banana pudding and cheesecake too. Carrie Bradshaw approved!!
Parked on many corners from spring to late-fall
Ok — if you’re going to get one iconic NYC food in the summer, make it a Mister Softee ice cream (we recommend a classic vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles). “How will I find the truck?” you ask. The sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” will guide you. As long as it’s over 50 degrees, there is a Mister Softee truck parked somewhere near you, ready to serve up some of the most famous food from New York City.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs
1310 Surf Ave Brooklyn & Riegelmann Boardwalk
Still looking for summer treats? One of the most iconic NYC restaurants is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Known for their yearly 4th of July hot dog eating contest and of course, their franks, Nathan’s offers classic hot dogs, burgers, milkshakes, and onion rings that make you feel like you’re on vacation even if you only have time for a quick trip (but if you can spend the day, here are all the best things to do at Coney Island!).
And if you’re visiting around the 4th of July you won’t want to miss one of the most exciting New York City summer activities, the annual hot dog eating competition!
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers Street New York NY (original) & 10 Kenmare Street New York, NY
New York’s incredible legacy of Chinese-American cuisine lives on in the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, traditional Dim Sum eatery open since 1920 on Doyers Street and undoubtedly one of the most iconic NYC restaurants and the oldest continiously operating restaurant in Chinatown.
Order the Roast Pork Bun, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, and the Rice Roll with Fried Dough and know happiness.
801 2nd Ave New York NY, 61 W74th Street New York NY
Known for coal-fired Sicilian-style pies, Patsy’s is one of the most famous places to eat in New York City. Head over to their Upper East or Upper West Side locations, order the classic round or the robiola cheese and truffle-topped White Pie, a Fettucini Carbonara and a glass of the house red wine and you have yourself an iconic NYC restaurant experience.
Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston Street (original), 129 Orchard Street, 141 Flushing Ave (Brooklyn)
One of the most famous places to eat in New York City for over a century, the family-run Russ & Daughters is a must-try spot for classic Jewish deli cuisine. Stop by for a Bialy, Babka, Bagel with Lox, Matzoh Ball Soup or Whitefish Salad and enjoy one of the Lower East Side’s and the city’s most iconic NYC restaurants.
Russian Tea Room
150 W57th Street New York, NY
A “bastion of delicious, decadent, glamorous fun,” the 96-year old Russian Tea Room feels like stepping into a time machine. Founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927, the Tea Room is a lavish choice for everything from Borscht to Caviar (and of course, vodka).
It’s frequently the site of star-studded opening night parties and impromptu celebrity gatherings and the perfect place to stop after a concert at Carnegie Hall!
328 Malcolm X Blvd New York, NY
A trip to New York is not complete without a meal at Sylvia’s — one of Harlem’s most well-loved soul food restaurants and one of the most famous places to eat in NYC. Named after founder Sylvia Woods, the eponymous eatery serves up some of the most incredible BBQ ribs, signature fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie.
144 2nd Ave New York, NY
Known for its legendary Ukrainian food, the East Village’s Veselka is one of our top picks for iconic NYC restaurants you can’t leave town without trying. Order every single pierogi (braised beef, potato, cheese, arugula and goat cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom, bacon/egg/cheese), the borscht and the Veselka Reuben and book your return trip ASAP.
2245 Broadway New York, NY
Is there anything more New York than fighting it out at the deli counter at Zabar’s? I think not. But if shouting “I need roast beef sliced thin!” isn’t your thing, fear not — there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the Upper West Side stalwart’s rugelach, babka, and freshly ground coffee at their grocery store adjacent cafe.
Iconic NYC Restaurants Summary:
- Absolute Bagels
- Corner Bistro
- Dominque Ansel Bakery
- Grand Central Oyster Bar
- The Halal Guys
- Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant
- John’s of Bleecker Street
- Kat’z Delicatessen
- Levain Bakery
- Lombardi’s Pizza
- Los Tacos No. 1
- Magnolia Bakery
- Mister Softee
- Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs
- Nom Wah Tea Parlor
- Russ & Daughters
- Russian Tea Room
About the Author:
Sarah Beling is a playwright, New Yorker, and passionate food enthusiast who is always looking for her next meal. You can find her in an NYC park, enjoying a chopped cheese sandwich and reading about NYC’s best new places to eat.
Did we miss any of your must try food in NYC? Let us know in the comments below!