The city that never sleeps is also brimming with must-eats: in New York City, immigration and ingenuity combine to deliver some of the most authentic, unique and mouth-watering menus you’ll find in one place. If you’re thinking the hottest tables are only located in Manhattan, there’s more to the scene than just Momofuku Ko and Gramercy Tavern. From delicious Peruvian tamales to a delectable ham bar (yes, you read that correctly), our borough-by-borough guide takes you to some of the food spots locals swear by.
The Bronx: Best of Italy
New York City’s best pizza is a hotly contested title and while the answer differs depending on who you ask, most Bronxites will point you in the direction of Louie & Ernie’s. Since 1959, they have served up famously reliable, large yet thin slices from the laid-back, more residential neighbourhood of Pelham Bay. The plain cheese is perfect, though many swear by the sausage.
Great Italian cuisine is in high concentration all around the Bronx but especially in Belmont around Arthur Avenue – an area often referred to as “The Real Little Italy”. Inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, Mike’s Deli is the go-to for fine prosciutto di parma or parmigiano reggiano, plus an extensive menu of appetisers, sandwiches and mains. Fine meats and cheese feature in the Big Mike Combo, loaded with mortadella, ham, salami, soppressata and provolone; ask for it served on the house-made focaccia. Right next door to the market, Madonia Bakery has been baking traditional crusty breads since 1918. Culinary website Eater has dubbed their freshly filled cannoli the city’s best.
Queens: Latin American and Asian gems
Antojitos Doña Fela translates to “Boss Fela’s little cravings” – and boss certainly describes owner Felicitas Vargas. Originally from Peru and now in her eighties, Vargas runs this popular cart with her daughters and granddaughters on a bustling strip of Roosevelt near 90th in Jackson Heights, an area with a large Latin American population. You’ll experience big cravings after taking one bite of her rich pork tamales (a recipe she’s been perfecting for decades), freshly prepared ceviches or sweet fried picarones (Peruvian doughnuts).
South of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst is referred to as New York City’s Thai Town and Pata Paplean is a small Thai bar and restaurant that, legend has it, was set up mainly to accommodate workers leaving shifts from other restaurants. Here, it’s all about the noodles: try the creamy tom yum for something familiar or go for the complex and rich nam tok (flavoured with pork blood, fish sauce, lime and chilli) to order as the regulars do.
New York City has nine Chinatowns – and one of the most popular ones is east of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, in Flushing. If you have time for only one stop here, we highly recommend the house-made wontons with hot chilli oil at White Bear. There will be line-ups on weekends but they’re worth the wait.
Brooklyn: Cool comfort food
Brooklyn is effortlessly cool and the food here is no exception. Prospect Heights, an area best known for sprawling Prospect Park (home to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden) and Barclays Center (home to the Brooklyn Nets NBA team) is a hotbed of low-key, locally loved eateries.
Patti Ann’s, a 10-minute walk away from sprawling Prospect Park, serves a mash-up of nostalgic American comfort food and inventive cocktails. It’s a bit like a high-school hangout but here you’re allowed to drink (if you’re of age). Start with PA Spiced Fried Chicken, follow it up with a Banana Split and wash both down with a Homecoming cocktail. Just six blocks south, right on the edge of the park, Cheryl’s Global Soul is another fried-chicken wonder that’s worth a visit. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, your must-try here is the Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Walk through Prospect Park to the other side, passing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden along Flatbush Avenue, and you’ll discover a concept you probably haven’t experienced before but will leave you wondering where it’s been all your life – the ham bar at &Sons. Pull up a seat in the intimate, 20-person-only space and eye up a rotating selection of American aged hams before they’re finely sliced and served up alongside warm cornbread madeleines and gherkins. And yes, this bar also does wine, with a list leaning towards California and Oregon vintages.
Staten Island: Little Sri Lanka
More than 5000 Sri Lankans call Staten Island home, with many living in Tompkinsville, aka Little Sri Lanka. The restaurants and shops on and around Victory Boulevard, a breezy 15-minute walk from the ferry terminal, have some of the tastiest and most genuine menus you’ll find outside of Colombo. New Asha, visited and praised by Anthony Bourdain in an episode of No Reservations, is revered for its bold and hot curries and fried roti. Be sure to try the hoppers, a popular dish of thin, savoury rice pancakes served plain or with a sunny-side-up egg.
Sagara Food City is both a small grocery store, where you can pick up fine teas and spices, and a Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded eatery. Lamprais – banana-leaf-wrapped pockets filled with rice, a deep-fried boiled egg, veg and a choice of protein – is the dish on many critics’ lips. Further south on Bay Street, Lakruwana is a feast for the eyes and the belly. Local foodies flock here for the walls covered in statues, colourful masks and painted panels, and weekend buffets, where all-you-can-eat curry is the name of the game – and not just one curry but a spread of 15 that includes pineapple, eggplant kale and coconut and devilled chicken.
Manhattan: Nosh in and around NoHo
The tiny neighbourhood of NoHo – flanked by SoHo to the south, Bowery to the east and Greenwich Village to the west – is not only a great place to see a cutting-edge theatre show, but it is also the ideal jumping-off point to some of Manhattan’s culinary treasures. On Lafayette just before Bleecker, Los Tacos No. 1 serves fresh, no-fuss street tacos that are, as the name suggests, the number one in the city. They’re beloved for their succulent meats (the adobada marinated pork melts in your mouth) and nopal tacos of grilled cactus smothered in the signature creamy guac.
Two blocks over on 2nd Avenue, where NoHo meets Bowery meets the Ukrainian Village, Frank is a cosy spot to order a plate of comforting pasta and a bottle of fine Italian red. The pastas are house-made, the portions are generous and the prices are nice by Manhattan standards. For fine dining, head up to 8th Street to Wicked Jane where chef Zod Arifai is crafting inventive, playful and artfully presented modern fusion cuisine that won’t fly under the tourist radar for much longer. The seven-course tasting menu changes daily and can be paired with fine wines; think foie gras tart and onion truffle custard served with a French Grand Cru Champagne.