20 Must-Try Dishes to Call Yourself a New Yorker

No Big Apple diet is complete without these items
January 23, 2018
by Zagat Staff

Given New York's extensive culinary history (a hub for Eastern European, Italian, Chinese and German cuisines) and thousands of restaurants, this list could be 100 items long; but we've managed to narrow it down to just 20 quintessential dishes. Think you know how to eat like a true New Yorker? Check out the list below to see how you measure up.

—Priya Krishna and Kelly Dobkin

Avocado dessert at Empellon Midtown

It looks like half an avocado — but it's really so much more! Chef and dessert wizard Alex Stupak made the ultimate in creative desserts with his avocado creation at his new Midtown outpost of Empellon. It features a frozen parfait that looks like half an avocado on a snowy bed of ice, made with lime, olive oil and eucalyptus yogurt. 

510 Madison Avenue; 212-858-9365

Clam toast at Hart's

The small and super-buzzy Bed-Stuy eatery has racked up all kinds of national acclaim since opening in late 2016. Known for its cozy bistro vibes and unpretentious, homey fare, you must order the über-buttery clam toast to start, which features steamed clams cooked with pancetta and white wine served simply over hearty toasted country bread. 

Bonus intel: On January 29, LA hot spot Kismet will be popping up at Hart's from 6 PM till close serving a menu filled with seafood mezze. 

506 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn; 718-636-6228

Ribbons of foie at The Pool

The iconic Four Seasons was revamped by Major Food Group last year, who turned the landmarked space into multiple concepts including The Pool which of course is stationed in the iconic pool room. Its most photographed dish is this starter, the ribbons of foie, which is a molded foie torchon served on a glass cube with housemade crackers for scooping. There's nothing more New York than snacking on this elegant dish inside this legendary space. Also check out the new Pool Lounge for pre-dinner cocktails.

99 E. 52nd Street; 212-375-9001

Jerusalem bagel at Nur

This perfectly Instagrammable take on a Jerusalem-style bagel from Israeli celebrity chef Meir Adoni is a must-order if you dine at his white-hot modern Middle Eastern restaurant, Nur. Soft, chewy and topped with sesame seeds, it's served with a side of za'atar spice and a lima bean messbaha dip. 

34 E. 20th Street; 212-505-3420

Chicken biscuit at Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Pies ‘n’ Thighs is a relative newcomer to the city’s ages-old fried chicken map; but the restaurant’s chicken biscuit has been a game-changer, with a flaky, freshly baked base stuffed with a spicy, crisp chicken tenders. The real key is the silky-sweet honey butter soaked into each side of the biscuit, which balances and cuts through the richness of the hearty fried bird.

166 S. 4th St., Brooklyn; 347-529-6090

Bialy at Kossar's
Never had a bialy? It's essentially a yeasty bread product akin to a bagel but isn't boiled. And it's also an NY classic. At LES institution Kossar's, you can order either a bagel or a bialy, but we recommend a garlic bialy for that true old-school NY feeling.

367 Grand St.; 212-473-4810

Emmy burger at Emily 
When Emily burst onto the Brooklyn pizza scene a few years ago, people quickly noticed the real star of the operation: the Emmy burger, whose secret sauce combines butter and tangy Korean gochujang paste. The burger comes encased in a salt-studded pretzel bun that’s sturdy yet squishy (and soaks in the sauce very nicely). Only a limited number of burgers are made each night, so be sure to come early. 

919 Fulton St., Brooklyn; 347-844-9588

Spicy Redneck at Crif Dogs
Forgo the generic dogs at Gray's Papaya or Nathan's for tube steaks at this East Village–based neo-classic. Choose from either the East Village or Williamsburg locations to get your Spicy Redneck fix: a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped dog, with chili, coleslaw and jalapeño (pictured). Or try any of its other bacon-wrapped varieties from the BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) to the Chihuahua with avocado and sour cream.

113 Saint Marks Place, 212-614-2728; 555 Driggs Ave., Brooklyn, 718-302-3200

Pork adobada taco at Los Tacos No. 1
New Yorkers always know where the best cheap tacos are, and right now, they're at the Tijuana-inspired taco stand inside Chelsea Market. Brave the lines for a taste of the handmade tortillas stuffed with spicy slow-cooked pork topped with chopped onion, cilantro and pineapple. P.S. Check out the new and larger Times Square location as well.

75 Ninth Ave.; 212-256-0343

Smoked fish at Russ and Daughters Cafe
You can't talk about NY dishes without mentioning the smoked fish at this 100-year-old LES institution. A few years back, the Russ and Daughters team opened its first-ever full-service restaurant that features sandwiches on toasts like the Super Heebster (pictured) and boards like the Yum Kippered (kippered salmon, cream cheese, bagel/bialy, onion and capers).

127 Orchard St.; 212-475-4881

Square pizza at Di Fara Pizza 
There is perhaps no type of restaurant in New York more ubiquitous than the pizza joint, yet Di Fara still manages to stand out as the best slice experience in the city. This is probably due to the fact that owner Dom DeMarco still makes practically every pizza by hand. The square pies are a fan favorite — visitors love watching DeMarco drizzle slices with a glug of olive oil from Italy and hand-chop basil over the top. The waits can extend up to three hours on weekends, but out of all the food-related lines in New York, this is easily the most worthwhile. 

1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn; 718-258-1367

Smoked meat sandwich at Mile End Deli 
Sure, it's inspired by the deli food of Montreal, but Mile End is the modern-day Katz's to the next generation of New Yorkers. The sandwich features Montreal smoked meat, which is like a pastrami-corned beef hybrid. The brisket is dry cured with a heavy dose of spices, then smoked low and slow, steamed and then served thickly cut on slices of mustard-slathered Orwasher's rye. 

97A Hoyt St., Brooklyn, 718-852-7510; 53 Bond St., 212-529-2990

Lobster roll at Luke's Lobster
One of NYC's gold-standard lobster rolls, Luke's starts with the very freshest Maine lobster that its team imports daily, a process that co-owner Luke Holden oversees personally. His lobster roll doesn't go crazy with mayo like some of his competitors; in fact, it's barely even detectable upon tasting. Instead, it's topped with warm butter and house seasoning and served atop a perfectly toasted buttered roll. For $17, this superbly juicy and flavorful roll is not only a steal, it's also one of the best in town.

Multiple locations

Mussels escabèche at Estela
​The trendiest dish at one of the trendiest Downtown restaurants = so NYC. If you haven't hit up this sexy Houston Street eatery from chef Ignacio Mattos, you're truly missing out. The mussels escabèche is a must-try small plate that pairs vinegar-splashed mollusk atop aïoli-slathered toasts. The group's newer spots Cafe Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar are also generating buzz.

47 E. Houston St.; 212-219-7693

Arepas at The Arepa Lady
No list of essential New Yorker foods would be complete without an arepa, nor a nod to the street food that makes this city great. It's worth the schlep to Elmhurst, Queens, to try the corn and mozzarella pancakes from Maria Cano, aka The Arepa Lady. And now, you can enjoy her creations either at her storefront or cart, both very close to 77th and Roosevelt Avenue. 

77-02AA Roosevelt Ave., Queens

Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
An homage to the street-roving ice cream trucks found on nearly every corner, Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff began this humble concept in one of those ubiquitous-looking trucks, but jazzed up classics like the basic chocolate-dipped soft serve cone with dulce de leche and sea salt (aka the Salty Pimp). Now you can find their creations at brick-and-mortar shops in both the East and West Village.

61 Grove St., 212-414-0222; 125 E. Seventh St., 212-533-9333 

Mutton chop at Keens
Steak is a critical part of the real New York diet, vegetarians notwithstanding. With so many legendary steakhouses to choose from, and plenty of new entries as well, it's hard to decide on just one cut of meat as the ultimate must-try. Keens' mutton chop is completely overindulgent, and the cut is reflective of NY's dining past. Plus, glimpsing the vintage pipe-laden walls of this 130-year-old NY institution is a requisite cultural excursion.

7 W. 36th St.; 212-947-3636

Lamb and squash dumplings at Dumpling Galaxy
There is perhaps no New York dumpling spot more intriguing — or comprehensive — than Dumpling Galaxy. At this Flushing resto, chef-owner Helen You carefully crafts 100 varieties of dumplings inspired by her upbringing in Tianjin. The one that’s not to miss is the lamb and squash, a classic Chinese preparation that You elevates with fresh spices and a bold, juicy filling that nicely pairs rich (lamb) with sweet and delicate (squash). 

42-35 Main St., Flushing; 718-461-080

Falafel at Taim
Chef Einat Admony has built a mini empire based on the cuisine of her Israeli homeland (including Balaboosta and Bar Bolonat), but her superlative falafel at Taim, available in three delicious flavors, is not to be missed.

222 Waverly Place; 212-691-1287

Corn husk meringue at Cosme
One of the most Instagrammable desserts of all time, the corn husk meringue at famed chef Enrique Olvera’s Cosme celebrates Mexico’s most beloved ingredient, using a classic French preparation. A giant meringue is flavored with smoky corn husk powder, and then piped with a sweet corn cream. It’s a sweet, salty, luxurious treat that exemplifies why the restaurant is a must-visit Mexican fine-dining destination. Also check out the group's sibling concept, Atla in NoHo.

35 E. 21st St.; 212-913-9659

essential dishes