New York City cuisine is a reflection of its past and rich migrant culture. From Jewish delicatessen to Italian cannolis and pizza, modern food trucks, dim sums in Chinatown and to Michelin-rated restaurants, you could discover Manhattan through your taste-buds.
Lower East Side, West Village and Greenwich Village
In Lower East Side, West Village or even Greenwich Village, streets are filled with restaurants and coffee shops, nestled among residential areas and away from the touristy icons. You will find mum & pop corner shops and ethnic eateries all across these historic neighborhoods, with a feel and glimpse into the real life of New Yorkers, off-the-beaten path from trendy Lower Manhattan.
Our first NYC taste of NYC food was at a local bagel shop, Heaven’s Hot Bagels, small with 3 tables but frequented by locals, even by the local police squads. This was a real piece of NYC life! Later on in the week, we had very fresh dumplings at the Bao and tasty mezze and in Mamouns in St Marks Place, and had a late sweet tooth craving with excellent crepes at the Creperie (French person talking!) in MacDougal Street, all in tiny shops holding a dozen customers at most. Bruno was pretty please with the espresso scene too, checking out different locals.
Yes, there is such a thing as espresso tasting! Let’s be honest – with all its “best of the world” (almost) everything, there are still elements for which the US are not the master of, and good espresso is one of these. The pioneers of the late 19th-century crossing the vast plains did not have endless provision of the black beans, and had to make-do with their stock. What they were aiming for what a hot drink to keep them warm, not necessarily the best tasting drink. As such today in our modern world, part of our urban discovery entails finding great espresso…
Tasted, vetted and approved by Bruno:
In Lower East Side, the Coffee Vita is a nice little store, with basically 3 stools, but tasty beans. We were there on their 20th anniversary and drinks were on the house! Can’t get better than that, and it worked, as we went there for a second time later on in the week.
Ninth Street Espresso in Chelsea Market is rather busy, and has less of an intimate setting. No seating available, just standing by the counter – after a day walking in NYC streets, we would definitely have welcome a seat but I guess that keep the customers moving, bringing in more patrons.
Enjoy your dinner while watching a show, cruising past Manhattan skyline, listening to Jazz, walking through different neighborhoods. Some are buffet dining, others a 4-course gourmet meal, with optional guaranteed window table – all geared towards your own expectation. The skyline is really magic, and you can admire the illuminated Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge and more as you cruise. We enjoyed our dinner cruise for New Year Eve – adding gourmet food to fantastic view and amazing fireworks – yes, an experience of a lifetime!
We had a start in our quest for a brunch. Everyone seemed to have the same idea and each restaurant had a long queue of people waiting for a way to feed themselves. Some places even had a 2-hour long wait! Crazy! We finally found a place, still packed but with a table that was just waiting for us! We splurged in yummy omelet and hot sausage, famished by the time we got our table AND our food. So book early if you want a seat at your preferred brunch joint!
Russian Tea Room
A New York icon from the 1920s, the Russian Tea Room is a refined European restaurant featuring Russian elegance. Serving lunch and dinner menus, a fun option is to stop for some tea and desserts in the afternoon. The actual Tea version can be on the pricey side, but ordering a hot tea and warm blintzes will allow you to soak in the ambiance at a more affordable fashion. That’s what we went for, after an afternoon walk in nearby Central Park – since it was the end of December and on the chilly side, stopping for a warming tea in a wonderful setting was all we could ask for.
With cobblestone streets, amazing views of New York skyline, Brooklyn is no longer the forgotten are of NYC but saw an up and coming transformation, with coffee houses, famed restaurants and small boutiques. Williamsburg, in the heart of Brooklyn, is especially a must-stop in your foodie tasting list and watching locals at night. A
Aureole – One-star Michelin Experience
On our last night in town, we had reserved a table for dinner at Aureole, a Michelin one-star restaurant close to Time Square, ready to test NYC’s famous culinary scene. It was delightful, top-notch service and gourmet food, exquisitely prepared and presented.
Sunday Jazz Brunch
Our culinary experience carried on the next and final day with a jazz brunch at Smoke, an Upper East Side club – great performance and hearty food! I splurged on lobster egg benedicts, very reach but delicious – food for soul while listening to jazz! Sundays’ shows are usually performed by vocalist Annette St. John and her trio, totally amazing.
We had hesitated with two other great jazz clubs, West Village’s Smalls, and Greenwich Village’s Fat Cat. Some of their concert dates did not work with our schedule – Smoke was definitely a great choice!
There is not such a thing as a New York Pizza… You can find chewy Neapolitan rounds, or look for Sicilian squares, with thin crust, heavy on cheese, and perfume with garlic or basil, each pizzaiolo brings unique flavor and taste! Some of the top recommendations from NYC friends and colleagues included Lombardi’s Pizza in Nolita, Patzeria Perfect Pizza in Midtown West, Artichocke Basille Pizza in East Village or Sallugi’s in TriBeCa.
A New York staple, Jewish delis offer you to step into history while you satisfy your cravings for pastrami sandwiches and hot matzo ball soups. Famous Katz’s (remember When Harry Met Sally?) is busy night and day, with patrons piling hot dogs, rye bread or other savory items on their Formica tables from the 1930s.
Other suggested delis by local NYers include Liebmans in the Bronx, Sarge’s Deli on Murray Hill, Ess-A-Bagel on Midtown East, and Russ and Daughters on LES.
Street Snacks & Food Trucks
No stay in New York with a taste of NYC food trucks. As we were walking our way through the City, we had hot dogs and fries by Broadway, hot walnuts by Rockefeller Center. Other major Food Trucks events are Smorgasburg – open since May 2011 as indoor-outdoor flood flea markets every weekend from April to November, one can splurge on over 100 local food vendors, from Korean tacos, Georgian dumplings, chicken satay and more in the Williamsburg location on Saturdays, and Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sundays.
Ice Cream & Cupcakes
From the mid-90s when Magnolia introduced cupcakes in New York, the demand for the velvety dessert has not stopped and the trend has become a permanent staple of NYC food scene. Now NYC has several bakeries worth trying – Molly’s Cupcakes in West Village, Butter Lane in East Village, Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery in Lower East side, and Two Little Red Hens in Upper East Side.
Another sweet treat would be a nice cold gelato – originating from the shores of Italy, gelato comes in different shapes and flavors, all sure to please your taste-buds. Il Laboratorio del Gelato in LES is a NYC’s favorite, Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights and West Village’s Grom are also top choices. An interesting option is Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, offering exotic flavors and toppings like black sesame or lychee.