American food may not be the most sophisticated and recognised cuisine in the World; however, the mix of cultures, the high ratio of immigrants and the size of the country produce a diverse offer in terms of food.
In particular New York, as one of the world’s major commercial, financial and cultural centres, hosts a great variety of restaurants. This post includes a list of the most iconic places in New York, plus some relatively new ones that we enjoyed very much on our trips.
Katz is probably the most iconic place of all. Google’s definition sounds interesting: “No-frills deli with theatrically cranky service serving mile-high sandwiches since 1888.”
It is located in Manhattan’s Lower East and has been serving delicious Jewish-style food since 1888. It is very popular so it is common to queue for at least 20 or 30 minutes outside, plus another 15 inside. The must-try is their traditional pastrami sandwich with rye bread, and mustard pickles (with the option to add melted cheese).
Once you make it inside, there are 5 or 6 cutters where you will also need to queue. Those are the ones cutting the meat and making the sandwich for you. There are other things to order such as the pea soap and additional sides, but most people go with the pastrami. They also have a few interesting beers on draught, such as their own brand made in collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery.
It is not that hard to find a table, and after you eat you finally pay at the exit. Your bill will be with you as it is updated any time you order something. The front cashier does not take cards so you normally pay in cash, although there is another cashier at the end who takes cards.
Peter Luger Steak House
Peter Luger is a traditional and very expensive steakhouse located in Williamsburg Brooklyn, with an additional branch in Greatneck Long Island. Very old-school waiters serve aged beef in a German beer hall setting. This is because the restaurant was opened in 1887 in a neighbourhood that was predominantly German.
It is considered the best steak house in the city, and they a rigorous process to keep that title. The only meat that even comes into consideration for them is USDA Prime, which often represents less than 2% of graded beef cattle. If selected, the short loins and shells are then brought to the on-site dry ageing facilities, where they are kept under carefully regulated conditions that are controlled for temperature, humidity and air circulation.
It is a very popular restaurant that needs reservations in advance. The price for a rib eye is $60 and a stake for 2 is $103.90. Besides the steak which is their signature dish, the burger has become very popular as well.
Sylvia’s Restaurant, the “The Queen of Soul Food”, was founded by Sylvia Woods, in 1962. Established in the historic village of Harlem, Sylvia’s is a community favourite, known as the world’s kitchen. Serving authentic soul food for over 55 years, this icon remains a culinary must-visit for foodies.
Gospel brunch Sundays, Live Music Wednesdays, and Daily Specials scream home-style cooking, within an at-home environment. Their signature dishes are the BBQ Pork Ribs drizzled in their original Sassy Sauce (normally served with mac and cheese and/or salad), and also fried chicken with waffles. And they also offer seafood and other sides and dishes (see menu).
Reservations are also required, in particular for weekends. The Gospel brunch Sundays is the most popular event.
Red Rooster Harlem
Red Rooster, also located in Harlem, and 20 metres away from Sylvia, serves comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine and the diverse culinary traditions of the neighbourhood.
The Rooster, Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s first Harlem eatery, features a take-out market, welcoming bar and restaurant. The restaurant was named for the legendary Harlem speakeasy located on 138th and 7th Ave where neighbourhood folk, jazz greats, authors, politicians and some of the most noteworthy figures of the 20th Century would come together to enjoy drinks and live music.
We tried the fried chicken with waffle (see picture above) and Ms Lana’s lobster roll and they were both delicious. The full menu is available online.
Red Hook is one of our favourite areas in New York. It’s normally quiet, as not many tourists get there, and hosts many great places, some of them by the river with great views of Manhattan.
Hometown BBQ is, arguably, the most popular eatery in the area. They offer delicious slow-smoked meats which are sold by the weight. The brisket served with buttered corn bread and mac and cheese (see picture above) seems to be the most popular dish. But they also have other things on the menu such as ribs, turkey and pulled pork sandwiches.
They don’t take reservations, the service is over the counter, and there is seating space indoor and outdoor. They also have a good selection of craft beers and there is live music on weekends.
Brooklyn Crab, right next to Hometown BBQ in Red Hook, may not be as iconic as the rest of the restaurants on the list, but I still think it deserves to be highlighted.
With a very relaxed atmosphere, decoration and staff, and 3 floors with plenty of seating area, this restaurant is ideal to go with friends or family in good weather. The last floor is the main one, fresher and overlooking the river. And they are also adding a beer back garden with minigolf!
They have a good selection of craft beers, cocktails (including some frozen daily options such as Mango Margaritas) and seafood. Their menu is mostly based on crab, shrimp and oysters.
Di Fara Pizza
Di Fara Pizza was opened in 1965 by Domenico De Marco, or “Dom”, who emigrated to Brooklyn from the Province of Caserta in Italy. Before Di Fara Pizza, Dom spent time working on a Huntington farm until someone told him about a “good spot” on Avenue J in Brooklyn. That “good spot” has been regularly cited as one of the best pizzerias in New York City by food critics and bloggers.
Each pie of pizza was handcrafted by the master himself, Dom, who spent over 53 years perfecting his pizza. With several of his children supporting him in the kitchen, this legend cooked until the age of 82. Many of the ingredients are imported from Italy and form a taste that can’t be replicated. In his piping hot retro oven, Dom’s team has each mouthwatering pie ready to be devoured in just minutes.
Today, both the Midwood and Williamsburg locations continue to be family owned and operated.
Los Tacos No 1
Los Tacos No 1 was created after three close friends from Tijuana, Mexico, and Brawley, California, decided to bring the authentic Mexican taco to the east coast. The authentic taste comes from family recipes and from fresh, simple and tasteful ingredients straight from home.
What started as a simple taqueria in Chelsea Market is now an acclaimed Mexican taqueria with 5 shops around Manhattan.
Good prices, fast service and a short but great menu made this taqueria an iconic place in New York. Tacos, tostadas, quesadillas and mulas are part of their menu.
Keens Steakhouse is another popular and expensive traditional steak house. They specialised in enormous steaks with the mutton chop (see picture above) being their signature and most acclaimed dish.
Prior to 1885, Keens was a part of the Lambs Club, a famous theatre and literary group founded in London. In 1885 Keens Chophouse opened independently under the ownership of Albert Keen, by then a noted figure in the Herald Square Theatre District, and soon became the lively and accepted rendezvous of the famous. Today, Keens is the only survivor of the Herald Square Theatre District.
Nowadays, their clubby, wood-panelled rooms keep the atmosphere of its most glorious days.
Their menu is available online, with a cost of $65 for their legendary mutton chop. But they also have other types of steak, chicken and even fish.
The original Papaya King was opened in 1932 on the corner of 86th St. and Third Ave. on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Although the restaurant originally only served drinks made from fresh tropical fruits, it soon expanded to serving hot dogs due to the influence of its neighbourhood, which at the time was populated predominantly by German-American immigrants.
Their hot dogs have become iconic in New York City, and their “traditional combo” is ordered by thousands of people every year.
It now also serves crispy curly fries, onion rings, fried pickles, fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, tater tots, knishes, cheese steaks and corn dogs.
Shuko is the most expensive and sophisticated restaurant on the list. Their set menu (Seasonal Omakese) cost $250 per person with an extra $150 for a beverage pairing.
Chefs Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau met in 2005 at Masa Columbus Circle and the restaurant received numerous accolades including three Michelin stars and a four-star review from the New York Times. Nearly a decade later Chefs Nick and Lau partnered on their first project and soon after that Chefs Nick and Lau announced their focus on their own restaurant, Shuko.
Atoboy is a modern restaurant which builds on innovative Korean-inspired cuisine. The food is delicious and not as expensive as it could be. The set menu costs $48 and you get to select 3 dished and sides. The selection of beverages is focused on wines.
Borrowing its name from the ancient Korean word ‘Ato’ meaning gift, Atoboy first opened its doors in July of 2016, inspired by the concept of banchan: small side dishes served with every Korean meal. It has since been recognized by New York Times, the Michelin Guide, and OAD alongside global dining destinations.
Emily is a small, cosy, gourmet eatery that serves wood-fired pizzas, and rustic small plates and pasta.
With one branch in West Village and one in Brooklyn, what started as a pizza and pasta restaurant has become a classic with many New Yorkers and tourists. Besides their delicious plates and pizzas (red, pink and white), their offer one burger that is considered by many the best one in the city (see picture above). This has caused its limited availability per night.
The Emmy burger consists of Pat LaFrieda dry-aged beef, EMMY sauce, caramelized onion, Grafton cheddar, on a pretzel bun with cornichon and fries. Simply delicious.
Situated in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City, Mamoun’s Falafel has been serving high-quality, authentic Middle Eastern food since 1971. It is the oldest falafel restaurant in New York and one of the first Middle Eastern establishments in the United States. They now have 3 shops in New York, 4 in New Jersey, 1 in Atlanta and 1 in New Heaven.
Their signature dish is the falafel sandwich consisting of finely ground chickpeas, onions, parsley, garlic, and spices mixed with deep-fried falafel served in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and tahini sauce.
Best Bagel & Coffee
Best Bagel & Coffee was a great surprise, and maybe it is not an iconic place but it still deserves a place on this list. Located on the 35th between 8th and 7th, it is a straightforward neighbourhood bakery and beigel shop offering all sorts of beigel sandwiches, coffee and coffee.
The variety, size and taste of the beigels are impressive. They offer at least 5 types of beigel, which could be toasted or not, and many combinations of filling, which all come in more than generous quantities. One of the most popular ones is the salmon and cheese, which we also enjoyed. The one in the picture above is chicken pesto.
The shop is small, with only a few tables inside and 2 outside, but the service is quite efficient.
Additional: Rudy’s Bar & Grill
Rudy’s Bar & Grill is not considered an iconic place by probably anyone. But I am adding it as an additional place because it is unique for a simple reason:
It serves cheap beer and free hot dogs. Yes! You can get a pint of lager for $3, and a hotdog for free. It was founded in 1933 and opens its doors every day from 12 pm to 4 am.