The first time I visited New York I was 21 years old, had just finished university and was living off my credit card and bank overdraft. I still managed to have a great time but the most gourmet food I tasted on that trip was probably a $2 hot dog. I had a pretty set routine of waking up early, taking advantage of my hostel’s free bagel and coffee for breakfast (thank you Jazz on the Park) then making do on pretzels and hot dogs with the aim of getting through the day on less than a $5 food budget. Needless to say, this time around was going to be a bit different and our food budget was bumped up a bit.
Dayna’s going to talk about what we actually did in our time in New York so I’ll just cover the important stuff: the food we ate.
Before we got to New York we took our usual approach and put in a lot of effort on researching food and getting tips on the best places to eat (we may not be foodies at home but definitely are once we’re travelling). One thing we wished we had was just a simple list of some of the best places to eat in New York in one place. So…I made us a list for next time. Feel free to add to it for when we go back!
Food on Foot tour (perfect for any aspiring Foodies)
We picked up a NY Pass for 3 days and one of the tours included in that made us pretty excited: the Food on Foot tour. We knew nothing about it but the idea of strolling around suburbs and being taken to the best places to eat sounded perfect for us. We booked on to a “Meat to Eat” tour for our first afternoon in New York and it was the best thing we could of done.
Food on Foot is a one man operation with a philosophy of showing you real New York food. We got a great tour of the East Village and the surrounding area and got to eat at a few amazing places along the way. A few of those places are mentioned below but besides the food, one of the highlights was getting tips on all the other places to eat (which we put to good use over the next few days).
The best Montreal smoked beef sandwich – Mile End
This was a Food on Foot stop and made a great start to the tour. The cost of the sandwich was the only put off ($14 is a little steep) but when you factor all the work that goes in to slowly smoking the beef and how amazing it tastes, an extra few dollars doesn’t seem so bad.
The best Burger – Paul’s
The best burger we had was actually the only burger we had but Paul’s did not disappoint. The flavour of the meat was worth the fact that the bun ended up a bit soggy with all the juices flowing but it was slightly hard to eat standing up. I’d recommend eating in.
The best BBQ – Mighty Quinn’s
This is my top recommendation for New York. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you need to go there. Even if you’re a vegetarian you should go just to see what you’re missing out on. We were tipped off about Mighty Quinn’s by a colleague of mine and ended up going there on our tour anyway. The Brisket and ribs are both amazing and worth a visit to either the East Village restaurant or the stall at the Smorgasburg markets.
The best Cheesecake – Junior’s at Times Square
One of the many items from a tip from our Food on Foot tour. We headed to Junior’s late in the evening so got a table straight away. We had already eaten a decent sized dinner but thought there’s always room for dessert. That was before we saw the size of the cheesecake – they were huge. I didn’t give up though and made it through an amazing slice of red velvet cheesecake while Dayna had a traditional strawberry New York cheesecake.
The best cookies – Levain bakery
This place was a tip from Trip Advisor (any place that finds itself near the top of New York’s food list must be good). It turned out to be the perfect side trip from our visit to the Natural History museum. We just jumped back on our bikes and rode around the corner and there we were. Besides the Natural History Museum and Central Park there isn’t much around Levain bakery which was actually a bonus since it meant the crowds of midtown weren’t there and we could get in and out quickly. It’s a pretty unassuming place but we picked up an amazing roast beef sandwich and several cookies. The cookies tasted like they had just come out of the oven and will be hard to beat – I could have kept eating them all day.
The best slice of Pizza – Pizza Suprema
Another tip from our tour, Pizza Suprema is just by Penn Station and is cheap and cheerful. The range of slices is great and it was definitely the best pizza I’ve had in a long time.
The best Mac ‘n’ Cheese – S’Mac
S’Mac (actually Serita’s but everyone calls it S’Mac) is now a bit of a chain with a couple of restaurants but it started from a simple idea and it still does that simple idea well: really good comfort food at a cheap price.
The best Mexican – Los Tacos in the Chelsea markets
The Chelsea Markets (right by the High Line footpath) are worth a visit anyway but we went especially for the top ranked Mexican in New York (per Trip Advisor) and we were not disappointed. This is simple street food style Mexican but done really well so definitely worth a visit for the tacos or quesadillas (we tried both).
The best Markets
If you love markets with lots of options then our two favourites were Smorgasburg over on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn bridge in East River State Park and the Chelsea Markets in the Meatpacking district.
We went a bit crazy trying everything at both of these and the choices are endless. The Smorgasburg setting alone is worth a trip – you get a great view of the NY skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge in front but you need to make sure you’re there on a Saturday (its not on everyday unfortunately) and are prepared for crowds. We’re used to bigger crowds in London so had no qualms about joining a 20 deep queue for some BBQ meat but its always better to know how long of a wait you’re in for. The crowds aren’t too much of issue anyway as there are so many stalls that a lot of them don’t have much of a wait at all. The ice cream sandwiches (ice cream between two cookies) were one of the items worth the wait.
Chelsea Markets is another great option especially if the weather isn’t great since you are inside an old converted biscuit factory safe from the weather. As well as the best Mexican food there’s a ton of cool little bakeries and other restaurant stalls.
Other Notable mentions
We had read and heard a lot about Shake Shack before visiting so we headed straight to the Times Square branch on our first night in New York. The queue was crazy and we had to fight for a seat so it’s not the most pleasant environment to eat in (even if you get a seat you have to settle for people staring you down waiting for you to leave and crushing around you.
We both tried one of the hot dogs and thought they were pretty overrated (SO salty). Maybe the burgers and shakes are worth it though?
We were in the area already so we had to make a stop at the famous Magnolia bakery. The queues weren’t actually that bad and the cupcakes were pretty good. I suspect there are better ones out there now in NY but we were happy with ours. I had to do a thorough check on the bakery and check out the cookies as well – they were good but the Levain Bakery one’s definitely are still the best, and they keep them fresh using cheap cupcake boxes UK.
Milk and Honey
Not exactly the exclusive bar with an unlisted address like the original but we were keen to see what Milk and Honey was like and were not disappointed. It was still slightly hard to find given there’s no signage outside and it is behind some nondescript metal doors. Once inside we were pleasantly surprised at how nice the drinks were and they were actually fair prices as well (or we’re now really used to London prices which makes everything else seem cheap). There’s no menu to order from so we got to explain what we felt like with the waitress bouncing ideas off us before we agreed on some drinks. We only stayed for a couple but I did finally get to tick something off: drinking a Manhattan in Manhattan.
What better way to end a day of eating great New York food than with a Manhattan?