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Jun 1, 2013 11:44 AM

Eats Unique to NY

Fellow Chowhounders: looking for suggested must try eateries unique to NY...travelling there in Sept for the first time and hoping to find true "flavors" unique to NY...from a food truck, small hole in the wall to fancy! Love it all...

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  1. I noticed this is your first post to CH. It is pretty short on details... The more info you can give us, the better.

    Is this your first trip to NYC?

    Are you dining solo? With another person? A Big group? Anything more than 4 people might be tricky given how small restaurants are in Manhattan.

    When are you coming? Where are you coming FROM?

    How long will you be here?

    Have you done any research already? Anything that interests you about NYC specifically?

    Most importantly: BUDGET! What's your budget, per person, before tax, tip, wine, drinks? Even if your budget is open, are you really, really up for Masa or Per Se level pricing?

    Here's an answer that I wrote for a different poster, maybe it will help you.


    We don't want to recommend food that you might do better at home, but we also may have some cuisines you can't find at home...

    I'd say we are pretty strong in a lot of different cuisines but not equally. Budget will makes BIG difference in where you can go.

    Are you willing to wait for a table at a no reservations restaurant? If so, for how long?

    What is your budget, per person, per meal, BEFORE tax, tip, wine/drinks/etc for your meals? It is much easier for us to help you if you give a pre-tax-and-tip figure.

    Feel free to break out your budget in terms of upscale/fancy meals (and number of them) and cheaper/everyday meals.

    Note that upscale/high end places tend to book about a month in advance. Most serve weekday lunch (but not weekend lunch), and serve dinner Monday through Saturday, and are usually closed Sundays, though there are a few exceptions to the "closed Sundays" rule (ex: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Jean George).

    What else are you doing while you are here? Planning around sightseeing, shopping, Broadway shows, etc?

    Check out some "Only in NY" type foods while you're here: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts.

    Russ & Daughters (takeout, busy on weekends), Katz's Deli (from When Harry Met Sally), Papaya King etc. (not gourmet but iconic), William Greenberg's black and whites, Junior's cheesecake, egg creams from Gem Spa or Ray's, Pickle Guys, the Halal Guys (53rd and 6th after sunset), are all iconic "NY" sorts of places that are worth a look.

    If you're interested in some of the places I listed above, you could do a LES food crawl.

    I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour but sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

    We also have some of the harder to find Chinese cuisines: Henan, Shaanxi (Xian Famous Foods) and Fuzhou in Manhattan, and many more in Queens and Brooklyn (Shangdong/Qingdao and Dongbei to name a few). scoopG's Chinatown list (dependent upon where you are coming from these may be exotic or not... most places don't have Henan or Xian style food though):

    You might also want to do a restaurant doing creative takes on Asian, like at Momofuku Ssam Bar, Wong, Fatty Cue, Takashi, RedFarm, Mission Chinese, Jungsik, Kin Shop, or Danji.

    My favorite unique places in NY serve Xian (Chinese) food, Issan (Thai) food, organic/local/sustainable Japanese BBQ, authentic Basque (Spanish) tapas, creative diner food, pretzels, hot dogs, halal food, steak, upscale rustic Italian, Italian subs, creative Italian-American, high end non-sushi Japanese (like kaiseki), creative desserts, molecular gastronomy, mixology/creative cocktails, and creative brunches (sometimes every day of the week).

    Some common tourist inquiries:

    Near MoMA:

    Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and Whitney and Guggenheim, ish):

    Near the American Museum of Natural History:

    Near Macy's/Herald Square:


    5th Avenue shopping:


    Notable food trucks/carts:

    Prix fixe lunch deals:

    Best breakfast/brunch in NYC:
    It is (IMO) at the Breslin, Locanda Verde, Shopsin's, Clinton St Baking Co., or Minetta Tavern.

    Best bagels in NYC:
    Summary: the freshest bagels are the best; bagels don't age well at all. Focus on the smoked salmon instead. Preferably at Russ & Daughters! Featured in shows such as No Reservations and Louie!

    I'm fond of red onion, capers, regular cream cheese, and tomato on mine. Try a few smoked salmons before you settle on one, they're surprisingly different (and lox is not the same as smoked salmon, because lox is salmon cured in salt brine, and most people actually prefer the more modern, Nova-style smoked salmon). You can get a mini-sized bagel sandwich at Russ & Daughters, too, if you wish. Takeout only.

    If you like the idea of RGR's self-guided LES tour above, check these out, too.

    Maybe scoopG's self guided Chinatown tour:

    A West Village food crawl

    East Village:

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      This is the most amazing post I've ever seen on CH! So much info; so much detail. I've always admired your posts but this is simply the best. Congrats!

    2. Hot pastrami at Katz or Carnegie, Lox and bagels (used to be the lower east side, but long gone - so I would suggest Zabar's on UWS, NY style pizza (every true new yorker has their own place that they grew up on - so I wouldn't dream of trying to start a conversation about which pizza place is better that the others)

      4 Replies
      1. re: acssss

        They're on my list! Hungry already...

        1. re: acssss

          "Lox and bagels (used to be the lower east side, but long gone - so... )"

          Lower East Side - Russ and Daughters

          UWS - Barney Greengrass

          1. re: Chuck Lawrence

            I actually like to buy bagels at H&H or Absolute Bagels, then get my smoked salmon at Zabar's.

            1. re: Chuck Lawrence

              All I meant was that while before the 80's, the lower east side was populated with numerous (and I mean numerous) Jewish deli's where you could roam the streets of the area and smell the bagels, lox, pickles, pastrami, etc on the streets, and not walk but a block without finding a place to buy bagels... and since then, the neighborhood has changed, and most bagel places (not all, but almost all of them) are closed or under new ownership and the quality has dramatically dropped.

          2. Thanks for the tips. You are right, first post and love the info. it is great! Group of 5 women visiting from SF who have travelled and dined a good bit. Budget is not a concern. 20-40 age range, in town Sunday through Friday. We do plan to do some sight seeing, Broadway show of course but hope to find a couple of "local hangouts" with great food that represent NY.

            Thanks again!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Laaventurera

              It's good you're planning early since you have a group--some popular restaurants (like Babbo) have literally one table that can seat 5-6.

              Also keep in mind that our weather can mess up plans to eat outside or have a picnic in Central Park, etc. So always have a backup for anything that's outdoors.

              Here's a recent thread for an SF resident coming to Manhattan, focused on the mid range:

            2. Street vendor NYC classics are hot pretzels, hot dogs (more for the experience than the quality), Italian ices, and in colder weather, roasted chestnuts.

              If you get deli sandwiches and have the option of onion rye, by all means get it. It's interior is swirled with the type of dark roasted onion bits you see atop everything and onion bagels, and is not widely known (in the northeast US, anyway) outside the NYC metro area.

              2 Replies
              1. re: greygarious

                Sounds great, will look for the onion rye. Thank you!

                1. re: greygarious

                  Grey, I am most familiar with onion rye from Junior's in Brooklyn, but am curious if you have any recommendations for someone who makes it in Manhattan.

                2. Ooh ooh ooh, forgot... nathan's hot dogs! But you have to eat it at coney island - or it doesn't count! (by the way, hotdogs and pretzels sold in the carts on streetcorners are now owned by Halal and are all over the world - even in Rome - so not so NYC anymore - so stick with the Pastrami, Lox and Bagels, NYC pizza and Nathan's hot dogs - those are nowhere but NYC - even though many places try to copy us).

                  26 Replies
                    1. re: kathryn

                      Yes. But are not "eateries unique to NYC".
                      The issue is foods unique to NYC not excellent food in NYC. Pretzels didn't begin in, nor are they unique to, NYC... I wouldn't even say that they are even associated with NYC. One doesn't think NYC - Pretzels.. Pretzels - NYC. People do however think Katz's, Nathan's, Zabar's, NYC thin crust pizza

                      1. re: acssss

                        Not even associated with NYC?

                        While pretzels did not begin in NYC, immigrants brought them over and they are one of the original street foods of the city.

                        Pretzels have been sold on the streets of New York City for over a hundred years.


                        1. re: kathryn

                          ...and are sold on many streets throughout the U.S. and Europe as well. All I meant was that when someone returns from NYC and says "I had a NYC pretzel" most people won't understand the connection. Yet, if they say "Went to NYC and had a hot pastrami at Katz/Carnegie or a dog at Nathan's on Coney Island or Bagels and Lox at Zabar's - everyone will understand and their mouths will begin to water:)

                          1. re: acssss

                            We'll have to agree to disagree I guess? You personally may not associate pretzels with NYC but a fair number of people do, given these past topics on CH:

                            1. re: acssss

                              Carnegie's? Maybe the tourists go, but I don't know the last time I was ever sitting around with friends and someone said "let's go to Carnegie's." Katz sure. Second Ave Deli, ok. But Carnegie? Never.

                              Nathan's I guess if you're from Coney Island, but most of the born and breed NYer's I know are far more likely to eat a dirty water Sabrett's dog (which as far as I know isn't halal) and get a pretzel or knish from a cart than go to Nathan's. I won't say its good, but its everywhere in NYC. If you want a real NY everyday hotdog experience as opposed to a trek, go to Grey's Papaya.

                              If you want halal, then try the chicken/lamb and rice from a halal cart on 6th Ave and 53rd. People argue about which one is better. I've had both at the same time and honestly, they're pretty much the same. Both are good, but not worth arguing over.

                              You should sample some ME food. Don't recall much in the way of ME food in SF.

                              And if budget really isn't a concern, then you need to put one of the food temples on your list. I like many others am a fan of EMP. The food, atmosphere and service at places like that aren't easy to find elsewhere.

                              1. re: Bkeats

                                I haven't been for a few years, but Nathan's coney island used to be among the best in the city, imo on par with gray's papaya/papaya king.

                                Dirty water dogs don't even come close.

                                1. re: lexismore

                                  The hot dogs at the Nathan's in Coney Island are identical to the ones served at all the other Nathan's outlets around the city. Now I love Coney Island enormously, I've been to the Mermaid Parade for 15 years running, but in terms of what's on the plate, the hot dogs are the same as the ones served at all the other Nathan's outlets.

                                  By all means, the OP should head out to Coney Island on a sunny Saturday and wander around if they like that kind of thing. I know I do. But if they're just interested in a hot dog I'd look at this map and pick the closest location.


                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                    You really think all Nathan's are interchangeable?

                                    Whether it's the water they're cooked in, or just eating them on the boardwalk, fans of Nathan's usually insist they taste better. Even the most processed fast food chains taste better out of certain locations even if their product is identical. Unless you're going to buy a Nathan's at Coney Island itself, you might as well buy the package and make it at home.

                                    I'm partial to Gray's instead, but they're not that great anymore.

                                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                                      Do you have a source that indicates they're identical? My (and many others) taste buds say they're not the same. Gothamist agrees:

                                      "Because only the original location's dogs have long been known to be actually different and better than what you get elsewhere (all about the casing)."


                                      1. re: lexismore

                                        The spicing of Nathan's natural casing dogs is different than their skinless variety. It's more garlicky, more assertive. The natural casing gives them their distinctive "snap" when you bite into them. Those are the ones they sell at many of their outlets, not just the one at Coney Island. I think they're terrific.

                                        (A correction - I originally said that the skinless franks are served at all Nathan's outlets. It turns out that some outlets sell the inferior skinless variety. At Nathan's outlets in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey I've always been served the natural casing dogs. See the link at the end of this post for more info.)

                                        In supermarkets the skinless dogs ones tend to predominate but if you look around you can sometimes find the natural casing dogs as well. They're great on a frying pan or a backyard grill. The skinless dogs have much less character.

                                        There's a long time CH poster called Hotdoglover who is a true expert. Here's a link to a post where he discusses all of this.


                                        FWIW, Nathan's itself doesn't claim the dogs in Coney Island are a special blend. That's not to say that they're not very good and it's certainly great to go to Coney Island for the day. But if I was a tourist with a limited amount of time and I mainly cared about the hot dog itself I'd look for a Nathan's outlet selling the natural casing dogs.

                                        1. re: Bob Martinez

                                          Interesting - the few times I've had Nathan's outside of the Coney Island location, they've definitely been of the skinless variety, so I assumed all the chains were.

                                          Any idea which locations in the city serve the good kind?

                                          1. re: lexismore

                                            Great question. I wish I had a better answer.

                                            I've had the natural casing kind in the Bronx at an outlet on Bruckner Blvd, in Times Square, and at a mini Nathan's outlet attached to a Home Depot near the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn. I also had the natural casing dogs at the Monmouth Mall in NJ.

                                            Unfortunately the first 2 locations were years ago. The other 2 were within the last 2 years. Since I've *always* gotten the natural casing dogs at every outlet I tried I assumed they all served them. It was only when I read Hotdoglover's post that I found out that some locations serve the mediocre sklinless variety.

                                            I may be able to contact him and get him to post on this thread. He knows this stuff better than anyone.

                                            As far as finding the natural casing dogs in the supermarket, the packages are clearly labeled. I'm attaching a picture. I like to serve them on a lightly toasted Martin's hot dog roll.

                                  2. re: Bkeats

                                    Carnegie's? I suggested it because she IS a tourist - and most tourists go there, because it is a unique NYC experience (whether it is good or not is not the issue).
                                    Nathan's? I am not from Coney Island. I am a born and bred NY'er (7 generations) - and I go there all the time - LOVE IT - as do all of my friends - who are all born and bred NY'ers.
                                    Halal - is NOT a NYC staple anymore - you can get the exact same Halal food anywhere - even in Rome - no longer special for NYC.
                                    ...and I personally would never consider ME food unique to NYC - and don't know any born and bred NY'ers who would

                                    1. re: acssss

                                      Does ME food = Middle Eastern Food??
                                      Please help out this born and bred NYer figure out what you are talking about.

                                      Even if a food is not 100% completely unique to NYC, there is something about the way it is served, sold, or presented to make the experience worthwhile. When I was a kid, I'd go to midtown with my parents during the holidays. Getting a pretzel from the street cart was a treat, a fun experience--walk around and eat it while looking at the holiday windows? Sure!! Maybe those who are kids today will say the same about cupcakes.

                                      1. re: iluvcookies

                                        To best understand what I was talking about read the comment of the person to whom I was replying :)

                                        1. re: acssss

                                          I read the previous comment--the whole thread actually. I'm asking what ME food is since I'm not familiar with this term.

                                          1. re: iluvcookies

                                            I had to reread it a couple of times and the secretive poster mentioned halal, thus Middle Eastern. I hate abbreviations and don't use them.

                                            1. re: James Cristinian

                                              Ah, as I suspected. I wanted to be sure there wasn't some new-fangled food that I was missing. Thanks :)

                                2. re: kathryn

                                  Well, I would argue that the NYC pretzel tends to be pretty generic, with the best part of the pretzel being that it is sometimes heated over charcoal and giving it a slight char or smokey flavor.

                                  Unique pretzels in the US, I would suggest the sweet pretzel that is out of Amish Country, (think authentic Auntie Anns) as well as the Philadelphia variant, which is doughier, and is more traditionally served with mustard as being unique

                              2. re: kathryn

                                It might be handy for a future tourist reading this to note that Sigmund's pretzels are a special breed of NY Pretzel compared to the typical bready NY cart ones.

                              3. re: acssss

                                I live in N.J. and most supermarkets and stores sell the skinless version. Some carry the natural casing. See the post that Bob Martinez provided a link to for more info. As for the restaurants (Nathan's) they are hit or miss as I posted previously. Some use the skinless franks and prepare them on a roller grill. The better ones use the natural casing and griddle them. Both are the same recipe although the skinless franks are produced in Chicago by a company called SMG Meats. The natural casing franks are made by John Morrell.

                                1. re: hotdoglover

                                  Always great to hear from the expert. Thanks for weighing in.

                                  Are the Nathan's hot dogs sold in Coney Island a special blend or are they their standard natural casing variety?

                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                    The Nathan's at the Coney Island location are the same natural casing dogs you can get at the few places that carry them. This was confirmed to me by someone at Nathans as well as the grandson of Nathan Handwerker.

                                  2. re: hotdoglover

                                    More importantly, Hotdoglover... 1) where would you send a visiting tourist for a Nathan's, looking for unique NY, and 2) what's your pick for best hot dog to suggest to a NY visitor?

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      I know a few places that serve the natural casing Nathan's in New Jersey, but the only ones I know of in New York is the original Coney Island Nathan's and one on the Boardalk. There are others; I just don't know N.Y. that well. I love Nathans but I prefer Papaya King, Gray's, or Katz's. All use the same recipe Sabrett beef dog. The Papaya places use a 10/1 or 10 to a pound. Katz's is larger at 7 to a pound.