The 9 Most Overrated NYC Food Icons

By James Mulcahy  |  February 7, 2013

There are plenty of foods and neighborhoods associated with the NYC food world, and many of them don't have such a stellar reputation. The below slideshow chronicles culinary icons that certainly garner a lot of attention, but we have to ask - is their reputation deserved in today's diverse culinary scene? Take a look, and let us know if you think they are overrated in the comments.

  • The New York Street Pretzel

    Why People Love It: It's second only to the hot dog as the food most people associate with New York street vendors. Hot off the coals, brimming with Kosher salt and dabbed with just the right amount of mustard, there's no better snack to enjoy when you're walking around the canyons of NYC.

    Why It's Overrated: Um, have you ordered a pretzel from a street vendor lately? "Hot off the coals" usually means reheated and lukewarm - we're not sure what the turnover is on those things, but it seems like the good majority of them were sitting around since the snack's heyday in the 1970s. Let's be honest - the mustard is there to mask the cardboard like flavor of the street food. If you want to hit up a good New York-style pretzel, get off the streets and check out the ones they serve at restaurants like The Cannibal or Ardesia.

    Image: smgee via Flickr

  • Restaurant Row

    Why People Love It: Because there are so many options! 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues is packed to the brim withrestaurants - making it very easy if you want to hop around and hit multiple places in a single evening. There are some choice eateries on the strip, including Becco, Joe Allen and the hidden lounge Bar Centrale, which was on our list of the city's secret bars.

    Why It's Overrated: It's a total tourist trap! A general rule of restaurant-going is that if there's someone outside begging you to come in, it probably isn't so popular with the locals. Restaurant Row is full of these sidewalk carnival barkers, who yell, joke and flirt to get people into otherwise underpopulated restaurants. While there are a few good options, most of the run-down eateries on the strip could use a paint job and a menu spruce up.

  • Ray's Pizza

    Why People Love It: Because there's nothing like a New York slice (it's an NYC food icon, after all!), and Ray's may be the name most associated with the institution. There are Ray's all around the city, waiting to dish out a hot and gooey piece of pepperoni at pretty much any time of day.

    Why It's Overrated: It's impossible to navigate the trove of "Ray's Pizza" available in the city these days. You have to be a very savvy pie-lover to figure out the difference between places like Famous Ray's, Famous Original Ray's and just plain Ray's, as many second-rate pizza joints have used the moniker to piggyback on the success of the name. At many of the locations, you'll have to sop the grease off your slice with a paper towel (or three). In the age of wood-burning ovens and artisanal pies, New York Pizza is evolving. Either get it from a stellar slice shop like Joe's or try the upscale versions from a joint like Co.

    Photo: Laughing Squid via Flickr

  • Arthur Avenue

    Why People Love It: Mangia! Is there a higher concentration of Italian restaurants outside of Little Italy? Probably not. This area of the Bronx is smothered in red sauce, so it's not surprising that they refer to themselves as "the real Little Italy." If you head here, open the Chianti and prepare to be stuffed with spaghetti.

    Why It's Overrated: There is a red-sauce renaissance going on in New York City, but it hasn't hit this nabe, which still seems like an old-school throwback. Restaurants like Parm and Torrisi have revitalized the area around Little Italy, making perfect versions of classic dishes that would make everyone from Tony Soprano to a modern foodie proud. While Arthur Avenue may be fine for diners from Westchester who don't want to make the trek into Manhattan, it may be time for some new-school inspiration for it to stay relevant.

    Photo: ChrisGoldNY via Flickr

  • Vanessa's Dumpling

    Why People Love It: Three words. Cheap. As. Hell. If you're hungry and only have a few bucks left in your pocket (or if you've gone to college in NYC) you've likely found your way to this Chinatown dumpling joint, where $1 will score you a plate full of the signature dish. It's a bargain that can't be beat.

    Why It's Overrated: You get what you pay for. Our surveyors agree that this isn't the best place in town, awarding it a 20 for Food. And it's beyond casual - with scores of 7 for Decor and 11 for Service, it's no wonder that many people grab these dumplings and go instead of squeezing into one of the few tables and eating alongside a perfect stranger. The iconic dumplings at Joe's Shanghai are nearby, and if you are ok spending a premium to get your dim sum on, check out the offerings at Chinatown Brasserie or RedFarm.

    Photo: Star5112 via Flickr

  • Magnolia West Village

    Why People Love It: Because - cupcakes!!!! While there are plenty of sweet options around town in the cupcake department, this West Village location is perhaps the most associated with NYC, if only because of the infamous association with Carrie and friends on Sex and the City.

    Why It's Overrated: When we asked you last week for overrated nominees, everyone pretty much pointed toward this cupcake seller (one commenter said their offerings are "so sweet that they give you a cavity just looking at them"). Their signature treat failed to make our list of NYC's Best Cupcakes, which was featured in our 2011/12 New York City Food Lover's Guide. Even so - there is frequently a line outside the door on Bleecker Street, but is the wait in line really worth it? There are other locations of this Bakery (that sell plenty of tasty things other than cupcakes). If you're looking for a sweet fix, skip the "iconic" Village location and head to the bakery's UWS or Midtown locations.

    Photo: Roboppy via Flickr

  • Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen

    Why People Love It: It's no surprise that this neighborhood has "kitchen" in the name - there are dozens of restaurants packed into Ninth Avenue between 42nd and 60th Streets. Many of them are reasonably priced too - which is sweet for those looking for a break from the expensive options that appeal to the tourists in Midtown.

    Why It's Overrated: It's good - if you only like to eat Thai and Italian. There is a real lack of diversity on this strip, which is supposed to be a melting pot of New York's culinary offerings. Many of the restaurants are also owned by the same few companies - and you'll find similar dishes on the menus again and again. While none of the restaurants are horrible, few of them really stand out as excellent. Forget "Clinton" - perhaps the neighborhood should be renamed "Mediocre Kitchen."

    Photo: tubby NJ via Flickr

  • Rao's

    Why People Love It: This East Harlem Italian may be the city's hardest to get reservation. Surveyors cite the "melt-in-your-mouth Italian cooking" as the draw here, and the homey, classic Italian vibe makes those who can get in feel like family.

    Why It's Overrated: When it's easier to get a reservation at Per Se, Eleven Madison Park or Daniel, can an old-school Italian joint really be worth the hassle? Our surveyors say that the place is "harder to get into than skull and bones" and the restaurant got a 23 Food score. Compare that to some other well-respected Italian joints around town. Locanda Verde has a 25, Osteria Morini has a 24, and Il Mulino has a 27 - all of them did better in the Food category, and all of them have reservations regularly available.

  • Brighton Beach

    Why People Love It: In the summer, is there anything better than taking the F train out to Brighton Beach, kicking back on the boardwalk and enjoying some vodka, grub and a cheesy floor show at one of the area's classic Russian restaurants?

    Why It's Overrated: You can't argue with the vodka, but the food - you better have another shot before you dig in. Two of the area's mainstays, Tatiana and National, scored a 21 and 20 for Food, respectively. But maybe you just like to dance on tables - hey, we don't judge.

    Photo: Kilgub via Flickr