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11 Iconic NYC Restaurants

Pastrami Sandwich in Hands 3 at Katzs Deli in NYC
Image: ©2foodtrippers

New York City is the home to more than 20,000 restaurants. We’d like to say that we’ve eaten at them all but that claim would be untrue. While we’d like to eat every NYC restaurant, we could never do that in ten lifetimes.

To be clear, we ate out a lot when we lived and worked in Manhattan and still do when we return to the Big Apple multiple times a year. While we take pleasure by eating at our favorite restaurants again and again, we’re constantly on the lookout for new-to-us gems.

Braised Pork at Aquavit in NYC
There’s no shame in eating at one NYC’s 70+ Michelin starred restaurants like we did when we dined at two-starred Aquavit. But they’re not the only NYC restaurants worthy of merit. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Now, we’ve gone one step further by mapping out our picks for the classic NYC restaurants that you can’t miss on your first, second or third visit to the city. These restaurants have passed the test of time and should remain strong well into the future.

Discover our picks for the must-eat NYC foods.

Must Eat Restaurants In NYC

Hot Dog in front of Grays Papaya in New York
We like eating hot dogs as much as anybody but it’s not the only way to eat in NYC. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We get the temptation to wing it when it comes to dining in NYC. After all, the city has a plethora of bakeries, bagel shops and pizzerias not to mention a seemingly endless number of hot dog stands and donut shops. However, we don’t recommend this approach.

Instead, we recommend eating at as many iconic NYC restaurants as possible. These restaurants stand out for their culinary excellence – they’re the ones you’ll remember and recommend to your friends long after your trip. The challenge is how to narrow the options from those 20,000+ restaurants we mentioned above.

Feeling overwhelmed or worried about your budget? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered from dawn to dark with 11 iconic New York City restaurants that run the gamut from cheap eats to destination dining.

1. Katz’s Delicatessen – NYC’s Most Famous Deli

Katzs Deli in NYC
Since the queues at Katz’s Delicatessen often spill onto the sidewalk, it was our lucky day to encounter a light crowd at the popular restaurant after we crossed Delancey. And, yes, we did go inside. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Those of us of a certain age know that orgasmically funny scene in Harry Met Sally set inside Katz’s. But, thanks to social media, NYC’s most famous deli has achieved huge popularity with younger generations too. This popularity isn’t just with New Yorkers or even Americans. Food seekers from all over the world line up to eat Jewish deli specialties especially the infamous pastrami sandwich.

If there’s a singularly great pastrami sandwich on rye, Katz’s sells it. The alpha and omega of New York deli classics, the meat on this sandwich is served at the ideal warm temperature. It’s all part of a four step process that starts with a cure, goes to a long smoke and ends with a brief boil followed by a tenderizing steam. The meat doesn’t need to be sliced thin. In fact, it’s beyond tender with a magnificent fatty, melt-in-your-mouth texture and classic flavors of mild smoke, black pepper, mustard and coriander.

Lunch at Katzs Deli in NYC
This pastrami sandwich and a side of pickles easily filled both of our bellies. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Katz’s is a simple place where multiple service clerks slice meat by hand for each order. The clerks are nice if you behave but may get a little grouchy if you ask too many questions. (Daryl doesn’t always behave but he always gets his sandwich.)

The process is simple. You take a ticket which gets stamped with each ordered item and pay when you leave. The key is to not lose the ticket (even if you don’t order food) since the lost ticket fee is currently $50 – Ouch. Beyond pastrami sandwiches, Katz’s serves other great American sandwiches filled with corned beef, brisket, salami and turkey as well as classic Jewish dishes like knishes, blintzes and matzo ball soup.

Ideal Meal At Katz’s Delicatessen
Matzo Ball Soup, Pastrami Sandwich, Pickles and a Dr. Brown’s Soda

Katz’s Delicatessen is located 205 E Houston Street, New York, NY 10002, USA.

2. JG Melon – Upper East Side Burger Joint

JG Melon in NYC
JG Melon has been part of the Upper East Side cityscape for more than a half century. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Burgers are a local favorite and all New Yorkers (and New Yorker wannabes) seem to have their favorite burger joints. Located on an Upper East Side corner since 1972, JG Melon gets our vote for this particular honor.

Eating at JG Melon has its quirks. Diners usually need to wait in a queue and the popular saloon doesn’t take credit cards. However, those first world hardships are forgotten as soon as simple yet enormous burgers and chunky cottage fries hit the table.

Discover more great burgers to eat in NYC and beyond.

Cheeseburger at JG Melon in NYC
If there’s a better burger than JG Melon in NYC, we have yet to eat it. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Expect to eat a classic New York pub burger made tasty with plenty of fat and served simply with a pickle on a generic white plate. Beyond the food, you’ll also experience one of the classic bars of NYC – a tin-ceilinged saloon with wood floors and bartenders who may have worked there longer than the bar has been serving burgers.

Ideal Meal At JG Melon
Burger, Cottage Fries and Chocolate Cake

JG Melon is located at 1291 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.

3. Keens Steakhouse – Historic Midtown Steakhouse

In Front of at Keens Steakhouse in NYC
Opening the doors to Keens Steakhouse reveals more than a century of history and a whole lot of pipes. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Keens Steakhouse has fantastic art as well as the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. Many of that art and those pipes are displayed throughout the multi-floor restaurant. But, lets be real, most people go to the James Beard award winning restaurant’s to eat its famous mutton chop. This is nothing new. Both famous people as well as ordinary business people, tourists and steak lovers have been eating at the historic NYC restaurant since 1885.

Past patrons include Albert Einstein, Liza Minelli, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt and two iconic Ruths’s – Babe Ruth and Doctor Ruth. (There’s a bloodstained playbill allegedly held by Abraham Lincoln on the walls but Honest Abe obviously died 20 years too early to enjoy a steak at Keens.) However, Mindi did eat next to Dog the Bounty Hunter once so there’s that.

Mutton Chop at Keens Steakhouse in NYC
Eating a mutton chop is a must at Keens Steakhouse since it’s the restaurant’s signature dish. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Some people may be put off by the word mutton. But Keens’ mutton chop is actually a tender, steak-like cut of lamb saddle that’s quite unlike the old lambs that may come to your mind. It’s a ginormous cut of meat (we ordered ours medium rare) served with minty lamb jus and just enough greens to provide a semblance of healthiness. It’s also delicious.

Ideal Meal at Keens Steakhouse
Wedge Salad, Mutton Chop, Creamed Spinach and Key Lime Pie

Keens Steakhouse is located 72 W 36th Street., New York, NY 10018, USA.

4. Russ & Daughters Cafe – Lower East Side Brunch Classic

Russ and Daughters Bagel Board in New York City
We never get bored by the smoked fish boards at Russ & Daughters Cafe. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

A Lower East Side institution since it opened in 1914, Russ & Daughters transcended from ‘just’ an appetizing store to restaurant status in 2014. That’s the year that fourth generation family member Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper opened the original Russ & Daughters Cafe in the heart of the Lower East Side neighborhood.

Despite having table service, the cafe doesn’t take reservations and it doesn’t do take-away. But New Yorkers don’t care. Instead, they patiently queue unless they’d rather walk around the formerly poor, currently upscale neighborhood while waiting for a text that their table is ready.

Heebster Bagel at Russ and Daughters in NYC
This Super Heebster Bagel Toast made us super happy thanks to its generous dollop of whitefish and salmon salad and its equally generous wasabi-infused roe garnish. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We recommend that you commence your meal by sharing a nosh, the Super Heebster Bagel Toast – a toasted bagel slice topped with a generous amount of whitefish and salmon salad and garnished with wasabi-infused roe and horseradish dill. Don’t worry, you’ll still be hungry for the main event – a board topped with a colorful assortment of smoked fish and accoutrements like capers, onions and tomatoes. You can order blintzes or babka french toast if you’re not a fish eater.

Ideal Meal at Russ & Daughters Cafe
Super Heebster Bagel Toast, Smoked Fish Board, Chocolate Babka and an Egg Cream

Russ & Daughter Cafe is located 127 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002, USA.

5. Manhatta – Downtown Restaurant With A Stunning View

Brooklyn Cocktail at Manhatta in NYC
This panoramic view was reason enough for us to reserve a table at Manhatta. However, the restaurant’s excellent food is the reason why we’ll be happy to do it again. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Manhatta, Danny Meyer’s restaurant with an amazing view, received mixed reviews when it opened in 2018. Maybe that’s a good thing both for the restaurant, which has since revamped its kitchen after hiring Justin Bogle, one of the best chefs in New York, and for diners like us.

While it’s far from cheap, Manhatta is an affordable option for middle-end diners looking to splurge on a special meal and enjoy one of the city’s most spectacular views at the same time. 

Foie Gras and Duck Pie at Manhatta in NYC
This Foie Gras and Duck Pie wasn’t just a highlight of our Manhatta dinner. It was also one of the best dishes we ate all year. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Bogle has an incredible pedigree that includes a prior stint as the opening chef de cuisine at Le Coucou, Daniel Rose’s smash NYC debut. Now, he’s leading the charge at Manhatta’s 60th floor proscenium over the East River.

Viewing the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges while sipping a cocktail or slurping an oyster is a special thing. Following that with dishes like dry aged duck and foie gras pie makes for true event dining. Additionally, if you’re up for a major splurge and plan ahead, Manhatta offers a 10-course meal at its exclusive Chef’s Counter.

Ideal Meal At Manhatta
Tasting Menu, a Cocktail and one of the Best Views in NYC.

Manhatta is located 28 Liberty Street, 60th floor, New York, NY 10005, USA.

6. Joe’s Shanghai – Lower East Side Soup Dumpling Shop

Inside Joes Shanghai in NYC
Joe’s Shanghai’s new location may be fancier than the original spot but its soup dumplings are as juicy as ever. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Not long ago, if you uttered the words ‘soup dumplings’ in a sentence, the average New Yorker would give you mystifying look. Then, suddenly, in the mid to late nineties, soup dumplings or xiaolongbao as they’re commonly called in China, were all the rage and Joe’s Shanghai, which opened in 1994 in Flushing, was the place to eat them.

From 1995, when Joe’s opened its almost ‘hidden’ location in Chinatown, the world of Asian food in New York was permanently altered. Back then, when we wanted to eat soup dumplings in Chinatown, we had to patiently queue for a table.

That situation has changed dramatically. Joe’s Shanghai has moved to a bigger ‘unhidden’ location on Broadway and a quick search for soup dumplings in NYC reveals at least 10 results in Manhattan alone. One might think that Joe’s is past its prime and no longer justifies a special trip. We don’t agree with that sentiment.

Soup Dumplings in Basket at Joes Shanghai in NYC
Since each soup dumpling at Joe’s Shanghai is a little pillow filled with yumminess, maybe they should be called yummy pillows. Then again, maybe not. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Joe’s Shanghai represents a piece of New York history and its soup dumplings are made for Americans. Bite into a Joe’s dumpling and be prepared to slurp… a lot. On a recent visit, we ordered the classic pork and crab dumplings and they were full of broth and about as satisfying as soup dumplings can be.

We’ve eaten xiaolongbao all over the world including in their home city of Shanghai and at the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei where soup dumplings gained their fame. Dumplings in those global food cities are fantastic. However, to us, eating soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai is an experience that’s not only nostalgic but it’s also quintessential New York.

Ideal Meal At Joe’s Shanghai
Soup Dumplings and a Beverage of Your Choice

Joe’s Shanghai is located 46 Bowery, New York, NY 10013, USA.

7. Barney Greengrass – Classic Upper West Side Delicatessen

Smoked Fish Platter at Barney Greengrass in New York City
Barney Greengrass’ smoked smoked fish is both simple and sublime. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Barney Greengrass has come a long way since the original Harlem appetizing store opened in 1908, four years after Russ & Daughters (see above) opened in the Lower East Side. Barney Greengrass, the man, moved Barney Greengrass (the store) to the Upper West Side 21 years later which is where it is today.

Despite the neighborhood change, the self-annointed ‘sturgeon king’ deli continued to serve Jewish comfort foods like smoked and pickled fish, potato latkes, blintzes and babka over the ensuring decades. It also racked up numerous accolades from the likes of the James Beard Foundation and The New York Times.

Potato Latkes at Barney Greengrass in New York City
Sides of apple sauce and sour cream completed our potato latkes starter at Barney Greengrass. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The late Anthony Bourdain often paired a plain toasted bagel with a nova lox & egg scramble when he dined at Barney Greengrass – which is what he ate (plus a sturgeon platter) when he filmed his first season of his first show, A Cook’s Tour. While we never bumped into Bourdain at his favorite UWS deli, we did spot actress Amy Adams eating breakfast with her family there once.

Ideal Meal At Barney Greengrass
Nova Lox & Egg Scramble, Potato Latkes and a Smoked Fish Platter

Barney Greengrass is located 541 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10024, USA.

8. S&P Lunch – Flatiron Lunch Counter

Queue at S and P Lunch in NYC
Everything old is new again at S&P Lunch, the reincarnation of NYC’s beloved Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

When Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop shuttered its doors, it was a dark day for Daryl and his brother Lou who had been eating at the Flatiron lunch counter for years. As for Mindi, she was simply bummed that her favorite NYC tuna melt would be no more.

The sky brightened and New Yorkers rejoiced when Eisenberg’s re-opened in 2023. Now called S&P Lunch (the lunch counter’s original name back in 1928), much is the same including the restaurant’s long counter and its row of shabby-chic red vinyl stools. The same goes for the food. Especially the food.

Lunch at S and P Lunch in NYC
Our meal at S&P Lunch filled our bellies without breaking our bank. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

The tuna melt made with rye bread and and a whole lot of mayo is still the star of the show. Other familiar favorites, like the egg cream we always used to order, are on the menu too.

We ordered both during our most recent visit as well as a pastrami sandwich, fries and a cherry lime rickey. And guess what? We’ll probably order the same exact things when we return though we may switch out the pastrami sandwich for a Dinkelburger if for no other reason than the name. Plus, we like burgers.

Ideal Meal At S&P Lunch
Tuna Melt, French Fries and an Egg Cream

S&P Lunch is located 174 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010, USA.

9. Xi’an Famous Foods – Shanxii Street Food

Inside Xian Famous Foods in NYC
We had a front row view of this festive wall mural when we slurped spicy lamb noodles at the Xi’an Famous Foods in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

For years, the only Chinese food served in American cities like NYC was a Cantonese amalgamation that was modified and packaged for American tastes. Spices like cumin and proteins like lamb rarely made their way on menus and the only wheat noodles were lo mein and chow mein. Northern Chinese provinces like Shaanxi and cities like Xi’an were about as familiar to New Yorkers as the planet Mars.

That all changed with the emergence of the Chinese food scene in Flushing, Queens.

Now, with classic food courts like the Golden Mall at its genesis, Northern Chinese food has become a fixture in the Big Apple. Xi’an Famous Foods has been at the center of that emergence thanks to the popularity of its hand ripped noodles and spicy cumin lamb burgers.

Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles at Xian Famous Foods
The Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles served at Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC is a classic Northern Chinese dish. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

We’ve been to Xi’an, the city. While we didn’t eat hand ripped noodles while there, we ate plenty of spicy cumin-flavored specialties on sticks and in bowls. The Silk Road begins in that ancient Chinese city where food is marked by the convergence of cultures not normally associated with China. (Hence the prevalence of lamb and cumin spices.)

The hand ripped noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods are rustic, filling and hugely flavorful. They’re served with a variety of toppings like cumin lamb, stewed pork and tingly beef. While its original Golden Mall location is now closed, you and we can slurp spicy dishes at a variety of stylish locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. The noodles taste good in all three boroughs.

Ideal Meal At Xi’an Famous Foods
Spicy Cucumber Salad, Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles and a Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger

Xi’an Famous Foods has multiple NYC locations.

10. L’Industrie Pizzeria – Amazing Pizza In Brooklyn And The West Village

Massimo Laveglia at L Industrie Pizzeria in Brooklyn New York.jpg
Massimo Laveglia shook up the NYC pizza scene when he opened the original L’Industrie Pizzeria in Williamsburg. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Finding good pizza is easy to do in all five boroughs, both at famous spots and in hole-in-the wall joints. We’ve eaten at dozens of New York pizzerias and have rarely left disappointed. However, when pressed to choose a favorite NYC pizzeria, L’Industrie pops into our minds first.

Originally opened in Williamsburg in 2017 when Massimo Laveglia acquired the French name along with a lease, L’Industrie uses premium ingredients like burrata, tartufo and fig jam to create slices that stand out in NYC’s buzzing pizza scene.

Pizza Slices at L Industrie Pizzeria in Brooklyn New York
Burrata and charred pepperoni cup toppings are must-order toppings at L’Industrie. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Laveglia’s splendidly flavored and textured dough goes through a three-day cold fermentation. It’s worth it. You can taste the results in every crunchy, lightly charred slice that retains enough thickness and heft to carry top quality ingredients like Liuzzi low moisture mozzarella, zesty sauce, pepperoni charred into tiny little cups and gorgeous green basil.

Ideal Meal At L’Industrie Pizzeria
Two Pizza Slices topped with Burrata and/or Pepperoni and a cup of Soft Serve Ice Cream

L’Industrie Pizzeria has multiple NYC locations. The original pizzeria is located at 254 S 2nd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA.

11. Mariscos El Submarino – Outstanding Aguachile In Jackson Heights

Aguachile at Mariscos El Submarino in Jackson Heights
This over-the-top serving of aguachile negro at Mariscos El Submarino transformed us from aguachile novices to aguachile fans. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

If you have the time, a trip to Jackson Heights in Queens will give you a true taste of some of the best international cuisine in New York. Restaurants like Mariscos El Submarino anchor that scene. Not only is the neighborhood one of the city’s most culturally diverse, but this ultra-casual Jackson Heights eatery is a treasure trove for diners seeking tongue-tingling Mexican seafood dishes north of the border.

We discovered Mariscos El Submarino during our quest to try authentic aguachile while we were stateside. And, while the barebones dining room was even more casual than we had expected, any momentary doubts were washed away by the first sips of our spicy michelado cocktail. That refreshing cocktail was a precursor to the main event – the Sinaloan classic called aguachile.

Coctel Camarone at Mariscos el Submarino in Jackson Heights NYC
This cóctel de camarón raised our bar for judging all future shrimp cocktails including the ones we eat at home. | Image: ©2foodtrippers

Served in a heavy-as-heck mocajete made from volcanic stone, the aguachile negro we ordered was everything we had hoped Mexico’s answer to ceviche could be. Loaded with octopus and shrimp, it was both shockingly good, super piquant and big enough to share. As for the cóctel de camarón (i.e. Mexican shrimp cocktail), it was so tasty that we were inspired to create a tribute version at home.

Ideal Meal At Mariscos El Submarino
Shrimp Cocktail, Aguachile and a Michelado

Mariscos El Submarino is located 8805 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, NY 11372, USA.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top foods to eat at NYC restaurants?

Top NYC foods include bagels, pizza hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches and burgers.

Are NYC restaurants expensive?

NYC restaurants run the gamut from cheap to ultra-expensive.

Is tipping necessary in NYC?

Tipping is necessary at NYC restaurants with table service. Average tips range from 15 to 20 percent. Tipping is discretionary at NYC restaurants with counter service.

Where did Anthony Bourdain eat in NYC?

Anthony Bourdain visited Baohaus (permanently closed), Bemelmans Bar, Big Gay Ice Cream, Burger Joint, Crif Dogs, M. Wells, Papaya King, Please Don’t Tell, Subway Inn and Takashi (permanently closed) while filming the first season of The Layover.

Where did Phil Rosenthal eat in New York?

Phil Rosenthal visited Central Park, Chef’s Club, Di Fara, Ganesh Temple, Ice and Vice (permanently closed), Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Peter Luger Steak House, Pilot, Russ & Daughters Cafe, Totonno’s, White Gold Butchers (permanently closed) and Zabar’s while filming the second season of Somebody Feed Phil.

What time do people eat dinner in NYC?

Although NYC is famous for its late night activities, most New Yorkers eat dinner between 6pm and 9pm.

Are restaurant reservations necessary in NYC?

Reservations are absolutely necessary at the the best NYC restaurants.

How many NYC restaurants have Michelin stars?

Seventy one NYC restaurants currently have Michelin stars.

NYC Planning Checklist

Hungry For More In NYC?

Bagel Sandwich at Black Seed Bagels in New York City
Bagels
Hibiscus Donut at Dough Doughnuts in New York City
Donuts
Slices at Marios Pizzeria in the Bronx
Pizza
About The Authors

About The Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.

Disclosures

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Funding
We self-funded our multiple trips to NYC and paid for the food featured in this guide.

Original Publication Date: December 3, 2023

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