HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


Uniquely New York?

  • l

During my travels I make it a point to eat something that is unique to the city I'm visiting or that had originated in the city. For example my last trip was to New Orleans, I skipped the gumbo and cajun food and went straight for the Muffelatta Sandwich. I ate one at the origninal shop, Central Grocery, then I ate one at a small restaurant that added their own twist to it that the locals raved about. So my question is what is unique or originated in New York? Please don't say pizza because while I know that NY is famous for thin crust pizza I have gorged myself on pizza on a trip to Naples, Italy. This is my first trip to NYC and I'm more interested in eating where the locals eat and not at the "chef of the moment" overpriced eatery. Thanks for any guidance.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. everyone says pastrami on club bread at katz's deli for a reason.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sam1

      rye. not club. rye.

      and despite your request - pizza - there- i've said it

      1. re: thew

        I agree re thew's pizza suggestion -- Neapolitan pizza is a different beast than NY style.

        I also agree with the bagel suggestion -- my own favorite is Murray's. Just don't make the rookie mistake of asking them to toast your bagel.

        I'd also suggest some Israel-style falafel at Azuri, Olympic (get the laffa bread), or Taim. Still haven't found any places like these in the US outside of NYC.

    2. Russ and Daughter is the only appetizing store I've every seen, anywhere. It is a real slice of old New York and is unique to NYC and possibly unique to all of America.

      Russ & Daughters
      179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

      1 Reply
      1. re: KTinNYC

        My preferred appetizing store is Barney Greengrass. I think the smoked salmon and sturgeon are miles better, though Russ & Daughter does win points for their whitefish salad. Plus it comes with an H&H bagel! Down the street at Zabar's you can get your knishes before hopping on the 1 to get Junior's cheesecake in Midtown.

        Of course pastrami and rye is a classic along with the egg cream, but if you really want to eat how the locals eat, get a hot dog from Grey's Papaya and wait in line for 15 minutes at Duane Reade so a surly clerk can roll her eyes at you before ringing up your now warm Fresca. Snack on falafel from Ali Baba, and enjoy lamb on rice with white and hot sauce at the truck on 53rd and 6th. For extra authenticity, pay $11 for a sandwich, chips and soda in Midtown. Then walk around for 5 hours until you're exhausted and grab some Chinese takeaway that you paid $30 for. As you eat dinner, look in your empty wallet and wonder what on earth you spent all your money on. Then you'll really eat like a New Yorker!

        Barney Greengrass
        541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024

        H&H Bagels
        2239 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

      2. Smoked salmon and bagels (Russ and Daughters is awesome), maybe a bialy, pastrami on rye at Katz's Deli, an egg cream.

        Disagree about skipping pizza because NY pizza is distinctly different from Naples style pizza (coal burning vs. wood burning oven, etc).

        There are also tons of places that are interesting for historical or atmosphere reasons: McSorley's, Keens, 21 Club, etc.

        See also:

        1 Reply
        1. re: kathryn

          Speaking of lox, here's Mark of Russ & Daughter's on the different varieties:

        2. Egg and cheese sandwiches on a toasted roll, with or without bacon. - maybe people eat these mutant breakfast sandwiches elsewhere and i'm not aware of it....but it seems pretty New York to me.

          Kosar's Bialey - Everyone has bagels but...
          Zabar's Knishes - the last of a dying breed.
          Gray's Papaya hot dogs. Grilled by Filipinos, and served with foamy juices if you want them. The 'recession special' is classic New York at this point.
          Italian rice balls - probably not entirely unique to NY, but still.

          4 Replies
          1. re: sugartoof

            papaya king, not grays. gray's is a papaya king copy.

            1. re: thew

              No, I said Gray's. I could care less which one came first. There's a Papaya King at the airport. I send my friends to Gray's for a genuine New York experience.

              1. re: sugartoof

                I have to agree with Papaya King - and the original on 86th and Lex is still the best.

            2. re: sugartoof

              Ah, GREAT call on the egg-and-cheese sandwich, which apparently doesn't exist in LA, much to my annoyance.

            3. Definitely an egg cream -- the quintessential NYC drink.

              1. Try a black and white cookie from a bakery - not one wrapped in cellophane. Quintessentially New York.

                4 Replies
                1. re: allen patrick

                  IMO, best one is from Greenberg's Bakery, 83rd and Madison....

                  1. re: dzop

                    No, best B&W is Rocco's on Bleecker Street, just west of 6th Avenue. And get one of their cannolis filled to order while you're at it ...

                    1. re: Amuse Bouches

                      didn't rocco's close? i was by there recently and it was gone. my favorites were at moishe's on 2nd and and 7th st.

                      1. re: lawyerlady

                        There were two pastry shops next to one another: Rocco and Bruno. Bruno was the one that closed but they had another location on La Guardia Place.


                2. "Locals" in New York eat at chef of the moment overpriced eateries. That's what we do. I'm born and raised, as is my parents, as is my grandparents, and whenever we want to go out to eat we scour the new restaurants for chefs and owners who's other/previous restaurants we enjoyed. So if you really want to be "authentic" like a "local", overpriced eateries are the way to go.

                  Now, on the other hand, you seem to be implying that you want food in the style of those "roadfood" people; eg, street food or local ethnic food. If you stick to that in New York you're really missing out, because while New York has great local food it's not really in the same league as Chicago and, to a lesser extent, Philly in that regard. Sure, you can get a hot dog at Grey's or (my preferred choice) Papaya King, and its a great dog, but I'd rather have Vienna Beef dogs in Chicago any time.

                  That being said, I'll offer my suggestions. Russ and Daughters is fine, but I think it more caters to a non-native-Manhattan-jew crowd. For my money, Barney Greengrass is a far superior option (on the UWS) and as said below, it puts you near all the other great UWS Jewish food institutions- Zabars (which you absolutely must go to), Murray's Sturgeon, H&H Bagels (which isn't what it once was, but, you won't make it far enough North to try Absolute Bagels on 105th, which are superior), as well as poking into Fairway and Citarella on 75th and Broadway to see what your standard NYC gourmet food stores are like (they're very distinctive from the Whole Foods-esque stores that dominate the rest of high-end shopping in this country). You should try an Egg Cream, but Juniors, which has branches in Grand Central and Times Square does a completely acceptable rendition with u-Bet syrup (the key ingredient) so there's no reason to go searching there.

                  As many said in this thread, you should also try Italian food, including pizza, since NYC style is unique and distinctive from that you'll get in Italy or Chicago. The problem you'll face is that with the fall of little Italy, the best Italian food has decamped to the outer boroughs or the 'burbs-I get my rice balls and sausage and peppers from a terrific deli in Bergen Co. about 25min by car from Manhattan. You could go get a Manganaro's hero on 9th avenue, but that's past its prime; you could go to the original Patsy's Pizzera on 114th? and 1st, that's excellent and serves superlative pizza and simple red-sauce type dishes but will involve a foray into a very iffy neighborhood. If you have a sense of adventure, the harlem Patsy's (not to be confused with the other Patsys around the city) is the way to go.

                  If it were me, I'd try NYC bread. NY bread is high-gluten, sourdough, burnt crust stuff, similar to that you'd find in SF but chewier and darker. Granddaisy bakery (one branch down near Soho, one on the UWS) is your best bet for that.

                  Now that I think of it, there are a bunch of fine-dining food that originated in New York, primarily from Delmonico's, the iconic restaurant from the 19th century that basically created American fine dining (though some of the restaurants in New Orleans might protest that statement). One of Delmonico's most successful concoctions, the Baked Alaska, is still served at a few restaurants in New York--I think Union Square Cafe has one, and they have a bar you could sit at.

                  If in New York, you absolutely must have oysters; sure its not what the "locals" eat, but that's because most "locals" are barbarians; oysters are to New York food as breathing is to life, but that tradition has slowly been dying out. Any decent casual seafood place in NYC sure have an assortment of raw oysters; I guess the iconic place would be the oyster bar in Grand Central but I've had too many disappointing meals there to recommend it. Similarly, New York is the king steakhouse city, despite what KC or Chicago might claim, and I wouldn't go to NYC without getting a good dry-aged prime steak at any one of the great steakhouses (each one has its detractors and supporters, and all the steakhouses are fundamentally limited restaurants). You may say, I'm coming to NYC and you send me to eat steak? But NYC steak is a unique and important part of the city's food heritage, and it's worth a lunch.

                  Just my $0.02.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: dzop

                    H&H is fine but it annoys me that they won't make you sandwiches or anything. Just a bagel in a bag. They're also on the big side. The best thing to do is to buy a bagel from H&H (put your hand against the plastic to feel which ones are warmest), get some cream cheese and smoked salmon from Zabar's and get a knife, and make your own sandwich, sitting in the median on Broadway.

                    The Harlem Patsy's is on 2287 First Avenue between 117th and 118th streets. It's an easy walk from the 6 train.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Strongly second the Patsy's East Harlem rec. I also really enjoy Arturo's in the Village and had an excellent pizza recently at Angelo's in midtown.

                    2. re: dzop

                      I agree with the Paty's rec, but I've never encountered a sourdough in NYC that's remotely comparable to what you get in SF. You can also do much better than H&H for bagels (I prefer Murray's) and Union Square Cafe for dining at the bar (Babbo, Apizz, and Blue Hill leap to mind). Finally, your advice to ignore the locals is just bad -- New Yorkers know food and demand the best.

                      1. re: dzop

                        You're right on with the NYC steak...
                        but not sure about the whole New York bread thing with the sourdough While I think Acme in SF and Amy's in NY are similar, neither make a unique authentic version of a sourdough to begin with, especially if you're talking about burnt crust, and dark chewy bakes. When I think of New York bread I think of boring Italian bread in the way of Vesuvio bakery or a challah neither of which are remarkable, so much as just that they fit the requirement of unique to the city.

                      2. Caban Sandwich at Cafe Habana...7 bucks.

                        1. Excellent ideas, Thank you! A couple people have brought up Gray's Papaya/Papaya King, it just so happens that today on Yahoo Travel a writer did a Top 10 places to eat before you die and #10 was the hot dog vendor at Paley Park. Has anyone eaten the Dogs at Paley park and wish to discuss/compare with the Papaya's?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Lost

                            That's a very random recommendation. Paley Park is a tiny niche in between two buildings and I have never seen a hot dog vendor there.

                          2. there is no signature dish. new york is the largest melting pot on the planet. kick back, explore the neighborhoods and have a good time.

                            1. Hi Folks--since this is the Manhattan board, please keep your responses focused on specific restaurants, etc. where people can pick up New York specialties rather than having a general discussion about New York food trends.

                              1. Part of New York is the atmosphere as well as what you're consuming there. In that vein, I'd go to two places which are uniquely New York and which I miss. One -- the Oyster Bar at Grand Central for the oyster pan roast. Is it the best seafood ever? No, but it's an institution and the pan roast is pretty darn good. Don't get anything else. (except some bread and a beer or a glass of white wine). Two -- the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlisle Hotel for cocktails. The cocktails are excellent (for true verisimilitude, I'd get a Manhattan, made with rye) but the room is unparalleled and it's a New York experience that's worth having.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                  the carlisle for old school new york cocktails.

                                  someplace like little branch, angel's share, or tailor for modern NY cocktail culture

                                2. Chocolate babka from Zabar's
                                  Blintzes or lox and egg scramble from Barney Greengrass
                                  Cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens (forget Magnolia Bakery)

                                  1. i replied to your other post with some of my ny favorites. gelato at cafe dante on macdougal near bleecker. knishes at yonah schimmel's on houston. (don't buy them from street carts--really bad--same thing goes for pretzels.) i'd avoid little italy for italian food but if you do go, go to ferrara's. bruno bakery for italian pastries. massimo al ponte vecchio on bleecker/thompson for northern italian. fraunces tavern all the way downtown is the oldest tavern in nyc--it's got a museum--don't know how the food is. bagels--H&H, Murray's, Bagels on the Square. pizza is a ny thing so if you want it--lombardi's in little italy and john's on bleecker. zabar's and dean and deluca. i forgot to add guss pickles on the lower east side.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lawyerlady

                                      the pickles are a great addition!

                                      (yonah schimmel's wouldn't be my first choice of a knish, but the struedel there is pretty okay)