This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more
Buckle up for a culinary quest of mouthwatering proportions with these delicious foods to try in New York City, and see for yourself why the Big Apple is renowned all over the world for its incredible cuisine.
New York brings together influences from all over the world, fusing Asian, Latin American, European, and so many other cuisines with classic American cooking, making for some unapologetically gorge-worthy food that millions of New Yorkers enjoy every single day.
From the sizzle and aroma of the street corner carts to lavish rooftop restaurants with a view of Manhattan under starlight, great food can be found in abundance in this magical city. These twenty-two beloved dishes should be on your food list, and once you’ve tried them, there’s so much to discover and enjoy!
Foods to Try in New York City
1 – Honey Roasted Nuts
Walking the streets of New York City, you’ll likely smell sweet honey-roasting nuts wafting from carts on the corners. Honey-roasted nuts appeared in the city in the 1980s, but most of the carts you’ll see on street corners were brought to the city by Argentinian immigrants.
You can find honey-roasted peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and even sugar-coated coconut at these street carts. Both the scent and the snack are an unmissable New York City treat you simply have to try.
2 – Manhattan Clam Chowder
What makes Manhattan clam chowder different from the cream-based New England version? Well, a Manhattan Clam Chowder has a tomato base rather than cream.
The theory behind the tomato variation is that as New York welcomed large Italian and Portuguese immigrant populations to the city, they brought their love of tomatoes. Compared to the thick and creamy New England chowder, the Manhattan dish has a thinner broth and adds various vegetables and potatoes with the clams.
The dish was enshrined in cookbooks during the 1930s, but today you can find it in restaurants across the city.
3 – Baked Pretzels
It might be a forgotten history, but Dutch colonial settlers founded New York City. The Dutch transferred the colony to the British in 1664, but the original settlement was called New Amsterdam, in which the Dutch introduced the boiled-then-baked snack to the New York area.
Today, you can find a soft pretzel cart on any street in Manhattan. Grabbing a soft pretzel from the street cart is one of the cheapest dishes in NYC if you want to connect with the city’s storied past.
4 – Hot Dogs
The hot dog cart is truly synonymous with New York City. Sausages and bread are foods with a long history, and German immigrants likely brought the dish with them to New York. Over time, the dish evolved into the modern hot dog.
One of the first hot dog joints appeared in Coney Island, Brooklyn, in the late 19th century in a cart run by a German immigrant. While German sausages are made with various types of meat, the New York hot dog is known for being an all-beef sausage.
Today, it is a New York symbol. You can still make the trip out to Coney Island for hot dogs, but there are plenty of spots central to the city where you can find an authentic New York-style hot dog to binge on.
Related: 18 German Foods You Need to Try
5 – Waldorf Salad
The Waldorf Salad comes from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and was invented by the Hotel’s maître d’hôtel, Oscar Tschirky, for a charity ball honoring St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in 1896. Later that year, the salad recipe appeared in Tschirky’s cookbook The Cook Book by Oscar of the Waldorf.
The original version of the salad contained apples, celery, and mayonnaise on a bed of lettuce. Modern versions of the famous salad may have green grapes, walnuts, chicken or turkey, and dried fruit.
In 2017, the Waldorf Astoria closed temporarily to renovate and restore the historic New York location. But not to worry, you can find a Waldorf Salad at many other dining establishments across the city.
6 – Buffalo Wings
Buffalo wings are undisputedly from Buffalo, New York. Food history is usually vague, but the history surrounding buffalo wings is well-established. They were invented by a woman named Teressa Bellissimo in the mid-1960s. Bellissimo and her family owned and operated the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, where the first plate of buffalo wings was ever served.
Today they are a trendy dish, often eaten by American football fans. Yet, the buffalo wing is a truly unique New York dish. Visitors to New York will have no problem finding their pick of legendary buffalo wing restaurants.
7 – Street Corn
From the end of March to November, every weekend in New York City, there are many street fairs. Walking around the city, you’ll likely stumble on one because the locations change weekly. NYC street fairs usually consist of stalls selling jewelry, print art, an array of knick-knacks, and some classic street food.
Street corn is one of the standard food stalls you’ll see at most street fairs. New York street corn is cooked on an open-air grill, slathered in butter and seasonings, wrapped in a napkin, and handed to you to enjoy immediately.
8 – Arepas
There are many excellent South American restaurants in the city. Still, one of the best places to find this Venezuelan and Colombian specialty, arepas, is at street fairs.
Almost every street fair in NYC will have an arepas stall, where you can order a ground maize cake stuffed with toppings such as chicken, cheese, beef, beans, and more. Arepas are an ideal option if you’re looking for a quick snack on the go.
9 – Pastrami on Rye Sandwich
Pastrami sandwiches on rye bread came to New York from Lithuanian Jewish immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In fact, one of the first New York delis, Katz’s on Houston Street, is still thriving and serving up pastrami. But pastrami sandwiches are a widespread New York love.
You can even find the sandwich, made simply with pastrami, mustard, and rye bread, outside the city, in Long Island. Plus, if you don’t want pastrami, most delis will serve a full menu of sandwiches and other traditional delicatessen dishes.
10 – Bagel with Cream Cheese and Lox
Ask a group of New Yorkers for their favorite bagel places, and they will debate for hours. Bagels might be the most classic New York food of all, and there is no shortage of good bagel shops in the city.
Bagels were brought to NYC by Polish immigrants. In the 17th century, the Catholic church banned Jewish bakeries and bread baking in Krakow. Jewish people made a hole in the bagel and boiled it to get around the rules. Therefore, it wasn’t technically bread.
Eastern European immigrants then brought the bagel with them to New York City. Since then, Scandinavian lox has become known as the ideal pairing for a fresh bagel. No one knows why New York has some of the best bagels in the world, though some say it’s the water.
Related: 16 Polish Foods You Should Try
11 – Pizza
Out of all the food on this list, New York City might be best known for its pizza. Pizza is another gift that Italian immigrants brought to the city. In fact, immigrant Gennuardo Lombardi opened New York’s first pizza restaurant in Little Italy in 1905. The 20th century brought a big wave of pizza restaurants to all corners of the five boroughs.
Today you can find everything from simple slice shops to artisanal pies across the city. In New York, there are endless pizza opportunities. Similarly to bagels, many New Yorkers claim the pizza is better because of the water used in the dough. Regardless, you’re guaranteed to find a good slice of pizza on a trip to NYC.
12 – Chopped Cheese
Chopped cheese sandwiches are an actual New York invention. The sandwich originated in Harlem bodegas, although social media has increased its popularity and national recognition.
The sandwich is made of ground beef, onions, and peppers cooked on a flat-top grill, then chopped up and topped with cheese. Then the sandwich is served hero-style with optional lettuce, tomato, and additional condiments.
The sandwich may remind you of a Philadelphia cheesesteak. Still, legend is that the chopped cheese draws from Yemeni and Dominican Republic cuisine. The local legend comes straight from the Blue Sky Deli in East Harlem, which many New Yorkers consider the original chopped cheese bodega.
While you could now walk into any New York bodega to get a chopped cheese, it’s worth a trip to Harlem to get an authentic chopped cheese.
13 – New York Strip Steak
The New York strip steak originated at one of New York City’s first restaurants, Delmonico’s. You might recognize a New York strip by its other names, like ambassador steak or steak loin. However, the NY name caught on.
Today, you can have a NY strip steak in virtually any restaurant. You can even buy New York strips at your local grocery store. But if you’re in NYC, why not get a classic New York strip steak?
14 – Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich
Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches are another iconic NYC food. You’ll find the best bacon, egg, and cheeses (or BEC) at bagel shops or bodegas.
The BEC is by no means new. British street vendors sold egg and meat sandwiches as early as the 1800s. However, as with every other food, New York City has added its style to the BEC. While it may not be a standout food on our list, it is quintessentially New York. Every new yorker has a BEC spot.
15 – Ramen
Like many of the dishes on this list, Japanese ramen is not a dish native to New York. However, New York City boasts a long list of excellent ramen shops. There were ramen shops across the United States for years. But the New York City ramen boom is primarily attributed to David Chang, chef of Momofuku Noodle Bar, which opened in 2004.
Since 2004, ramen has taken New York City by storm. Wherever you are in New York City, you’re sure to find an excellent ramen restaurant nearby. Additionally, there are several Japanese ramen houses that now have locations in NYC.
Related: 21 Japanese Foods You Need to Try
16 – General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s Chicken is inspired by Huanese cuisine. However, many food historians attribute the dish to New York City chef Tsung Ting Wang, owner of Shun Lee Palace. The sweet and sour dish was served on Shun Lee’s menu in the 1970s.
Since then, it has become a staple on most Chinese restaurant menus. While you can still eat at the original Shun Lee Palace, there are plenty of incredible Chinese restaurants around the city to try the storied New York dish.
17 – Black and White Cookies
Black and white cookies are another famous New York food. The cookie, which has a cake texture, is topped half and half with vanilla and chocolate fondant.
One of the first recorded bakeries serving black and white cookies was in 1902, in the New York City Yorkville neighborhood, opened by two Bavarian immigrants. Be sure to head into an NYC bakery to grab a classic black and white cookie before you leave the city.
18 – New York Style Italian Ice
A New York City summer isn’t complete without Italian ice. Italian ice is another superb dish brought to the United States by Italian immigrants. Italian ice became widely popular in the Eastern U.S. in the mid-20th century. Today, New York City is home to Italian ice purveyors such as Gino’s and Ralphs, who hail from Brooklyn and Staten Island.
There are old Italian ice spots all over the city, with many in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island, as well as Manhattan. The simple treat is made from sugar, water, and flavoring such as juice or syrups. While they are definitely a summer favorite, their popularity means you can enjoy them year-round in NYC.
19 – New York Style Cheesecake
Cheesecake does not hail from New York, but immigrant bakers created a unique NY-style over the years. The sweeter style came from a restaurant called Reubens, which, unfortunately, is now closed. The new style included a sweeter cream cheese base than was previously used in Europe.
From there, the popularity of sweet cheesecake spread, and more delis and restaurants started to adopt the style. Today, you can find New York-style cheesecake in hundreds of NYC restaurants.
20 – Egg Cream
If you’re looking for a throwback with your meals, try an egg cream. Egg creams were famous and exclusive to New York City during the era of soda fountains, also known as soda shops, or sometimes ice cream parlors.
A soda fountain was your typical neighborhood hangout, serving malts, milkshakes, and sodas from behind the counter. Egg creams were popular drinks at soda fountains in the 20th century.
Contrary to popular belief, they don’t have eggs or cream. Instead, an egg cream is made from soda water, whole milk, and chocolate syrup. You can find egg creams at old-school diners, sweet shops, and luncheonettes in New York.
21 – Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery
One of New York City’s most famous bakeries opened on Bleecker Street in the West Village in 1996. The bakery, seen in television shows such as Sex and the City, is renowned for its cupcakes and legendary banana pudding.
It is not an exaggeration to say that people line up on the weekends to buy baked goods at Magnolia. But luckily, since 1996, the bakery has expanded to multiple locations across nearly every significant New York City neighborhood. So, don’t worry; you will be able to find banana pudding with relative ease.
The pudding is made from fresh bananas, vanilla wafers, and vanilla pudding. All in all, it’s a rich, decadent treat and an essential dessert to try in New York City.
22 – Chocolate Chip Cookies from Levain
You might recognize the Instagram-famous Levain cookie, which has become a must-eat for New Yorkers and tourists. The original bakery opened over 20 years ago on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Still, with its massive popularity, they now have several locations in NYC.
The bakery has four signature flavors, the most famous being the Chocolate Chip Walnut, but closely followed by Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip, and Oatmeal Raisin. Levain’s cookies are a massive and well-deserved treat in New York City.
Foods to Try in New York City Summary
If I’m being truly honest, you can find any type of food you desire if you look hard enough in New York. Such is the vastness and diversity of its eight and a half million inhabitants, there really is no need to the dishes and cuisines you can try across the city and its broader boundaries.
If you want to be truly iconic about things, these beloved New York staples absolutely need to be on your must-try list. They fill the stomachs, fuel the bodies, and feed the minds of New Yorkers from all walks of life, every minute of every day.
I am so proud that the cuisine of New York is a true reflection of the city’s population, and shows that no matter who you are or where you’ve come from, there’s always a part of the city that will always feel like home to you.
You Might Also Like to Read
Save and Pin for Later
Planning a trip to the Big Apple soon? Keep these delicious foods for safekeeping by saving this article to one of your foodie travel Pinterest boards.
Contributor: S. Arnold is a freelance writer and native New Yorker who deeply appreciates her city’s diverse foods and cultures, and is a veteran of the New York City restaurant scene.