20 Must-Try Dishes to Call Yourself a New Yorker

By Kelly Dobkin  |  September 17, 2014

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.

  • General Tso's sweetbreads at élan

    This dish knocks out two New York culinary legacies in one shot. One, General Tso's chicken, a Chinese-American classic that was debatably invented right here in NYC, and two, remembering chef David Waltuck's Chanterelle, a Downtown institution before shuttering in 2009. You can celebrate this pioneering eatery as well as the iconic take-out dish with Waltuck's newest restaurant, élan, which gives the General Tso's treatment to sweetbreads.

    43 E. 20th St.; 646-682-7105

  • Bialy from 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

  • 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 instiution. Recently, the Russ and Daughters team opened their 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, caper).

    127 Orchard St.; 212-475-4881

  • Bistro Burger from Corner Bistro

    There are dozens of quintessential NY burgers (Spotted Pig, Shake ShackBurger Joint) and dozens more less conspicuous favorites like the off-menu burger at Brindle Room. But there's just something about the barroom burger at West Village classic dive Corner Bistro that seems imperative to the New York dining consciousness. Served on a paper plate, the bistro burger with bacon is no frills, but all flavor. Plus, where else can you still order up a $3 tap beer in the West Village?

    331 W. Fourth St.; 212-242-9502

  • Credit: Cherie Cincilla

    Spicy Redneck from Crif Dogs

    Forgo the ubiquitous 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 their 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.

    75 Ninth Ave.; 212-256-0343

  • Square slice at L&B Spumoni Gardens

    Every true New Yorker must complete the pilgrimage to Gravesend, Brooklyn, to this mecca of Sicilian-style pie at least once before attaining a complete mastery of the NYC pizza landscape. Follow it up with spumoni for dessert and you've got the perfect summer afternoon meal.

    2725 86th Ave., Brooklyn; 718-449-1230 

  • 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 their team imports daily to NYC, a process that co-owner Luke Holden oversees personally. Their lobster roll doesn't go crazy with mayo like some of its competitors; in fact, it's barely even detectable upon tasting. Instead, they top it with warm butter and celery salt and serve it atop a perfectly toasted buttered roll. For $15, this superbly juicy and flavorful lobster roll is not only a steal, it's also one of the best in town.

    Multiple locations

  • Egg cream from Brooklyn Farmacy

    An egg cream is an NYC classic that represents city's soda fountain/diner heritage. The drink contains neither egg nor cream but is made with milk and soda water with chocolate or vanilla syrup, almost a poor man's fizzy milkshake. Brooklyn Farmacy is a relatively new establishment in Carroll Gardens devoted to honoring NYC's hallowed soda-culture past and makes a superlative version of the drink along with malts, milkshakes and more. 

    513 Henry St., Brooklyn; 718-522-6260

  • Mussels escabeche at Estela

    ​The trendiest dish at arguably the trendiest Downtown restaurant = so NYC. If you haven't hit up this sexy Houston Street eatery from chef Ignacio Mattos, you're truly missing out. The mussels escabeche is the must-try small plate of the moment that pairs vinegar-splashed mollusk atop aïoli-slathered toasts.

    47 E. Houston St.; 212-219-7693

  • Egg, challah and latke sandwich at B&H Dairy

    Next door to egg cream mecca Gem Spa you'll find this sliver of a Jewish vegetarian diner that's famed for its personal service and challah-focused menu (note the advertising on staff T-shirts). If you ask nicely, they'll make you an egg and cheese sandwich on their famed bread with a potato latke stacked in between the bread as well.

    127 Second Ave.; 212-505-8065

  • Arepas from 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 Mario Cano, aka The Arepa Lady. And now, you can enjoy her creations either at her storefront or her cart, both very close to 77th and Roosevelt Avenue. 

    Restaurant: 77-02AA Roosevelt Ave., Queens

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Pastrami egg roll at RedFarm

    This dish brings together two of New York's most important dishes: Katz's pastrami and a classic Chinese-American egg roll. At this West Village eatery, you'll find elevated versions of traditional Chinese classics with American twists. The egg rolls themselves are twice fried and served with a side of Chinese mustard. It's no doubt one of the tastiest appetizers you can put in your mouth right now.

    529 Hudson St.; 212-792-9700

  • Gnudi at The Spotted Pig

    There are only five ingredients in this carb-laden starter at April Bloomfield's gastropub institution, but it's worth the nearly two-hour waits at the reservation-less West Village classic to try them all together. The brown butter- and sage-tossed orbs of ricotta should be any New Yorker's desert-island pasta dish.

    314 W. 11th St.; 212-620-0393

  • Brussels sprouts at Momofuku Ssam Bar

    David Chang has made eating your vegetables as exciting as eating your bacon. His Brussels sprouts, which are fried and tossed in fish sauce, kimchi and puffed rice, are complete game-changers that have inspired countless other chefs around the country. Note: check before heading over, because they're not always on the menu.

    207 Second Ave.; 212-254-3500

  • Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

    An homage to the street-roving ice cream trucks that are 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 

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Mutton chop from 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

  • Dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling

    Dumplings are another important staple, and the cheap and tasty ones at this zero-ambiance LES dive are one of the best deals in town. Waiting in line here is practically a rite of passage for their $2 chive and pork boiled dumplings and/or the $1 fried variety.

    46 Eldridge St.; 212-343-0683

  • Falafel from Taim

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

    222 Waverly Place; 212-691-1287