NEW YORK CITY

Best Places to Eat in New York City

Discover the local flavors of New York's five boroughs.

WORDS RACHEL LEES

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If you were to play food bingo in New York City, the list of must-eats would be extensive. For first-timers, it might include icons like a hot dog at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a Reuben sandwich from Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan or a burger at one of the 20 or so Shake Shack outlets from Brooklyn to Queens and beyond. And then there’s pizza, of course, though naming just one is near impossible.

However, for those who know the city well, some of the city’s tastiest and most storied culinary delights can be found deep within the five boroughs, often where you least expect them. Here are our top picks.

Top of your list on a trip to Staten Island should be a Sri Lankan curry.

Staten Island

While Staten Island is best known for its ferry – arguably the finest way to see the Statue of Liberty – foodies take the 25-minute boat ride from Manhattan for another reason: superlative Sri Lankan fare. Victory Boulevard is home to half a dozen restaurants, and a few grocery stores, that specialise in the country’s spice-laden curries, chutneys and sambals. The original is Lakruwana, just five minutes from the ferry, on Bay Street.

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Credited with bringing Sri Lankan cuisine to New York, husband-and-wife team Lakruwana and Jayantha Wijesinghe run the popular restaurant, which is adorned with Buddhist statues and South Asian artifacts, and is famous for its weekend buffets offering dishes such as salty black pork curry and spicy, sticky eggplant. Back near the ferry terminal, Enoteca Maria also aims to preserve culture via food. What began as a restaurant where a rotating schedule of Italian nonnas cooked their regional cuisine soon expanded to include grandmothers from around the world. Though it’s temporarily closed due to the pandemic, it’s worth seeking out when it reopens.

The spectacular Queensboro Bridge that connects Manhattan to Queens over the East River.

Queens

“New York has always been a city of immigrants,” says Matt Levy, the mustachioed co-owner of bespoke tour operator Levy’s Unique New York. “Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, and the best way to experience it is through its food.” On a two-hour walking tour starting in Jackson Heights, we sample pani puri, a chickpea-based Mumbai street snack and visit an Indian grocery store, before making a beeline for local legend Arepa Lady. After fleeing Colombia in the 1980s, former judge Maria Cano sold arepas from a food cart.

Long Island City in Queens is one of city's fastest growing neighborhoods.

Today, her much-hyped cornmeal pancakes are served in her family’s restaurant on 37th Avenue, where they’re still made with shredded meats, cheese and lots of love.

“Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world, and the best way to experience it is through its food.”

Levy’s tour ends with a plate of pad prik pao in Little Thailand in Elmhurst, but there are plenty more eateries to discover. In Astoria, fresh, no-frills calamari and salmon await at the family-owned Astoria Seafood, followed by drinks at the open-air Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, run by descendants of Czech and Slovak immigrants.

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The Bronx's Arthur Avenue Retail Market provides a colorful array of food, and local personalities.

The Bronx

The ‘real’ Little Italy, according to locals, is on Arthur Avenue in Belmont. “This is one of my favorite places to take people,” says Dan Abatelli, who volunteers with Big Apple Greeter, a non-profit that connects visitors with New Yorkers, and will take you for a walk around a neighborhood for free. Red and green awnings are aplenty on the pretty, tree-lined street. While Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a one-stop food hall where sausage-makers and bakers sit alongside gourmet coffee houses beckons, we take a table at the nearby pizzeria and trattoria Zero Otto Nove. Its Salerno-style fare has lured Adam Sandler, and a handful of Real Housewives, to its dining room which looks like an Italian laneway. But for a truly unique local flavor, go 15 minutes across town to the residential neighborhood of Mott Haven, where you’ll find 'The Lit. Bar'. Crowdfunded into existence by savvy owner Noëlle Santos, wine and literature are the orders of the day in the only independent bookstore in The Bronx. Even Barack Obama is a fan.

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Williamsburg is a progressive and trendy neighborhood with a diverse food scene.

Brooklyn

The avant-garde neighborhood of Williamsburg has tangible energy; there are as many millennials sporting the next fashion trend as there are buildings splashed in brightly colored street art, and the food scene here is a fascinating mix of the traditional and the cutting edge. Hungry for Polish pierogies, or a New York-style pizza slice cooked in a century-old wood-burning oven? Sign up for Williamsburg Bites: A Brooklyn Foodie Adventure with Like A Local Tours. Its three-hour excursion stops everywhere from bakeries and breweries to chocolatiers and ice creameries.

Kings County Distillery is the city's oldest and largest whiskey distillery.

The 'Chocolate Whiskey' infuses Moonshine with cacao bean husks from a local chocolatier.

But like many of these hidden-in-plain-sight treasures, one of Brooklyn’s coolest icons is often overlooked by travelers. One neighbourhood over from Williamsburg, the city’s oldest and largest premier whiskey distillery sits in a 120-year-old building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Kings County Distillery is open for tours, and guided tastings are held in the historic 1896 entrance to the site, where naval vessels were once built.

Explore Brooklyn Moonshine

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SoHo in Manhattan is where you'll find high-end art galleries and fashion stores and some great restaurants including classic bistro 'Raoul's'.

Manhattan

Where to begin in a borough where ‘hottest restaurants’ lists are all but outdated by the time they’re printed or posted online? How about a SoHo institution, a French-American bistro that’s barely changed since it opened in 1975. Once a late-night hotspot, Raoul’s is now every bit as popular for its brunches. Slide into one of its black-and-cream booths and order crab beignets, escargot ragu or the signature, a thick medium-rare steak au poivre. Not historic enough? Try Dante, a Greenwich Village landmark since 1915. Everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Patti Smith has stopped by for an Italian meal, an espresso or a Negroni. Its current iteration is a love letter to the original, with a more globally inspired menu and cocktails so exceptional it landed at number one on the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2019.

Manhattan Bridge.

Midtown West, Manhattan.

For something a little more unusual, head to the vintage phone booth inside the Crif Dogs hot dog joint in East Village and you’ll enter the award-winning speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Please Don’t Tell. The drinks are world-class, innovative yet unpretentious – a label that could just as easily be applied to New York City itself. And now that you’ve checked off a ‘secret’ bar? Well, that’s bingo!

EXPERIENCE THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS

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