Despite London technically being a fair bit bigger than New York City according to all resources, the latter is more than just a big apple to me – it’s a positively gargantuan piece of fruit. Perhaps it’s the wide avenues, towering buildings, generous portions and larger than life characters, but the five boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn & Staten Island feel utterly vast to me.
It also has that trait found in some of the greatest cities. It’s one big melting pot of an oxymoron – an excellent mash up of contradictions. A few trips on the subway will reveal the unique branch of humans that call it home – a whole separate species I’m almost certain. I saw a couple of fat rats down there too, slowly shuffling under their own weight from all that gourmet trash lining the tracks at their disposal – I’ve only ever seen cute mice on the London underground. The lingering aroma of urine occupies most stairwells and doorways, and as American author Fran Lebowitz once quipped, ‘When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is’.
And then there are places like Central Park, the lungs of Manhattan providing much needed oxygen and respite from the endless sirens and heavy air. Well maintained and lush, full of fit joggers and well groomed dog walkers. The glossy buildings of the Financial District. The skyline seen from Brooklyn at night twinkling like an arm of the Milky Way.
Not forgetting the heart and soul of New York, the people that live there. Just about every country in the world is represented, a mix of ethnicities and languages, faces and cultures, yet each of them New Yorkers in their own right and proud to declare themselves so. And you know what lots of people from different parts of the world concentrated in one space produces? Great things to eat, naturally.
Below are almost of all of the places I ate at during my six day visit. As is standard procedure before I go on holiday, they were all carefully researched establishments rather than places we happened to walk past on the off chance, hence the almost unanimous very good ratings I’ve given them.
Clinton St. Baking Company, Lower East Side
What: pancakes elevated to new heights
Where: 4 Clinton St, Manhattan, NY 10002
Tel: +1 646 602 6263
Good things come to those who wait. And the food here is really very good indeed, with an equally enthusiastic waiting time to get at it. Some reviews report 5 hours on weekend mornings. But they do handily take your mobile number and text once a table is available, meaning you are free to wander the streets of the Lower East Side until that glorious time comes.
There is a reason for the unparalleled popularity of their breakfast and brunch. These are just about the best pancakes I’ve ever had, with all sorts of press accolades to support such a claim. Banana and walnut with a side of crisp sugar cured bacon, maple butter and a cappuccino tasted even better than it looks below.
On the note of waiting, we arrived around 9.30 on a weekday morning and had a wait of just 20 minutes. So get there early and gloat from a window seat at the crowd quickly gathering outside.
My rating: 4.5/5
Amy Ruth’s, Harlem
What: Southern soul food requiring a defibrillator
Where: 113 West 116th St, Manhattan, NY 10026
Tel: +1 212 280 8779
A vast space situated six blocks from the north end of Central Park with a big following and warm service, walls adorned with murals of African American stars and political figures. Expect elderly southern matriarchs in full length fur coats with waists as large as Paraguay who, I suspect, have eaten there most days of its 17 year history.
It’s understandable why. Visit for the light waffles with your choice of meat, the majority of which are elevated to new heights by an exceptional deep fry. Utterly moreish quality battered chicken laced with what I can only imagine to be crack combined with a lick of sweet maple syrup is quite the trick. The wings are huge and excellent and don’t leave you feeling the aftermath of self-loathing experienced post KFC. It all comes with hunks of cornbread and fifteen packets of butter between two which are probably best avoided for the sake of functioning organs.
My rating: 4.5/5
City Sandwich, Midtown
What: creative and fresh Portuguese-Italian inspired sandwiches
Where: 649 Ninth Ave, Manhattan, NY 10036
Tel: +1 646 684 3943
Chef Guerrieri has laid claim to something he calls “ItaLisboNyorker” flavours, a mash-up forged from being born in Naples, raised in New York, cooking in Lisbon and returning back to the bright lights of the city.
There’s a thriving Portuguese community in New Jersey that Guerrieri worked with to retrace the ingredients he came to know and love during his stint in Portugal. A baker there also helped him to conquer the perfect light bread, the insides of which are removed are replaced by the interesting flavour combinations which he’s brought to the residents of New York.
The one to try first is the Nuno – Portuguese morcela (blood sausage), broccoli rabe (a pungent leafy green), tomato, collard greens, melted mozzarella and garlic. Strong and satisfying and a break from the norm with great texture combinations. Oh, and any mayo is swapped for healthier yogurt sauces and a splash of olive oil in order to wet the sandwiches. Much preferred.
My rating: 4/5
Found on Real Cheap Eats NYC – a supremely useful website.
Doughnut Plant, Chelsea
What: gourmet doughnuts with inventive flavours you could easily scoff five of
Where: Chelsea Hotel, 220 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 505 3700
Whilst I still struggle with the fact that many Americans regard doughnuts as acceptable breakfast items and all-day snacks, they don’t half do them well. Krispy Kreme made it onto UK shores back in 2003. Get to New York and you’ll find branches of Dunkin’ Donuts as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Be prepared to scrap all of those any day for a doughnut or seven from Doughnut Plant.
A huge array of frequently changing inventive flavours, sizes and shapes delivered in light and airy just-made fluffiness that are neither stodgy nor too sweet. I will occasionally entertain something as sugar laden as a doughnut (with a strong coffee), but these were so good I had several.
Organic ingredients are used when available, all jam fillings are made in house and doughnuts are split into three categories – yeast, cake and filled, the first being my favourite. Flavours are seasonal and include hazelnut chocolate, peanut butter and blackberry jam, pistachio, coconut cream, and many more. The coffee is also really good – what a gem.
Here is David Lebowitz gushing over Doughnut Plant, and he’s a man that knows his baked goods.
My rating: 5/5
Fatty Crab, West Village
What: Malaysian inspired fare in a lively setting
Where: 643 Hudson St, Manhattan, NY 10014
Tel: +1 212-352-3592
A funky south-east Asian joint with high spirits and loud banter serving robust and spicy flavours. Tea sandwiches had rich and fatty lamb nestled between white bread with sweet raisins, Vietnamese mint and a hint of chilli heat. Crispy pork belly came with pickled watermelon, fresh herbs and sweet ginger and had meat falling away at the hint of pressure; where the fat was crisp it was glorious, but too much of it was soft which I just can’t bring myself to enjoy.
The fatty duck was superb – skin dry rubbed with a spice mix and crisp, pink and exceedingly juicy meat, finely chopped hot chillies, piquant mustard greens, palm sugar and a wonderfully seasoned tamaki rice. We were encouraged to dive in with hands and teeth, advice duly followed and fully enjoyed, finishing with messy fingers and faces.
How I managed to sidestep the namesake dish I’m not sure – someone please try the crab for me and report back / rub it in.
Recommended by Zeren from Bitten and Written.
My rating: 4/5
Abraço Espresso, East Village
What: an espresso bar serving some of the best coffee in town
Where: 86 East 7th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003
With barely enough space to swing a city stray, Abraço (’embrace’ in Portuguese) is an espresso bar in its truest form. Join the queue (as the interior would struggle to accommodate more than four people at any one time, expect to do so outside), place your order, and take it away. If there’s space, there are a couple of stools inside with a ledge or two and further opportunities to remain stationary out the front with a wooden bar to lean on.
People visit not for the elbow-room or the chance to loiter over conversation and long lunches, but for the coffee because it is some of the best in town. And because of this, it’s become a neighbourhood institution. Not to mention the seasonal pastries and snacks – of which the olive oil cake was grand. Just leave the laptop at home.
My rating: 4.5/5
Gran Electrica, Brooklyn
What: really great Mexican
Where: 5 Front Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel: +1 718 852 2700
The menu at Gran Electrica offers dishes inspired by Mexican street food with a nod to authentic cooking techniques such hand-pressed tortillas, house-made queso fresco (Mexican cheese) and spicy chorizo made on site. And boy, do these guys know what they’re doing.
Chunky creamy mounds of piquant guacamole, thick and robust tortilla chips, zesty scallop ceviche with spicy herb salsas, huge black poblano peppers stuffed with melting cheeses, utterly hearty black beans easily devoured as a solo – it was all so pleasing.
And then there were the soft tacos and their fillings – chipotle braised chicken was quite something. But the slow cooked pork shoulder was stellar. Served with pots of salsa varying in heat, they were utterly glorious and everything you could want from a snack devoured in three bites. With all of the above, my Nueva York Sour cocktail contained even more lime and cachaça and the view of the New York skyline at night was just around the corner, and that’s about as good as life gets for me.
My rating: 5/5
Russ & Daughters, Lower East Side
What: quality smoked fish and caviar since 1914
Where: 179 East Houston Street, Manhattan, NY 10002Tel: +1 212 475 4880
With a bustling Jewish community, the Lower East Side is home to some serious eateries (Katz is a few doors down) selling all manner of cold-curing broths, matzo ball soups, sandwiches stacked with smoked brisket and pastrami, chopped liver, and a whole lot more. The institution that is Russ & Daughters is a great example serving quality smoked fish, caviar and speciality foods since 1914.
Take a ticket and find a scrap of floor space to stand your ground until your number gets called. Watch regulars park up in huge 4×4’s to jump in and pick up whole smoked sturgeons for the family dinner table.
With cream cheeses every which way possible (with horseradish, with tofu, with caviar etc), order a bagel or two with a few choice cuts of glistening salmon flirting from behind the glass for a great lunch on the move.
My rating: 4.5/5
What: charming southern comfort home cooking
Where: 1272 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10027
Tel: +1 212 531 7600
Head to this cute diner for home-cooked southern comfort. Go for breakfast and try some of the typically southern menu entries such as grits (ground corn similar to polenta) and biscuits (buttermilk bread similar to scones).
If you want to indulge your sweet tooth, they have a counter creaking under the weight of fresh baked goods including layer cakes, flaky fruit pies and cupcakes. Southerners in New York seek out this place for a reason.
My rating: 4/5
Luke’s Lobster, Upper West Side
What: simple, fresh New England-style seafood
Where: 426 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10024
Tel: +1 212 877 8800
A small chain with eleven locations – if you’re going somewhere called Luke’s Lobster, you want to get the lobster roll. Handsome chilled chunks of fresh meat nestled in a New England-style split top bun with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter, a dash of their secret spices and a fat pickle. Hits the spot like a homing missile.
Order at the counter and when you’re done, kindly stack your tray and basket. I tried the spicy crab bisque too – it was good but nowhere close to what I had at the Sea Baron in Iceland.
Recommended in Top 10 NYC Foods You’ll Miss by Young and Foodish.
My rating: 4/5
Takashi, West Village
What: Japanese restaurant for adventurous cow worshippers
Where: 456 Hudson Street, Manhattan, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 414 2929
Not for the faint-hearted, Takashi is a no holds barred celebration of all things cow. And by all things cow, I mean all things cow. Think liver and nama-senmai (third stomach) sashimi, cow balls escargot style with garlic butter, and calves brain cream in a tube with blinis and caviar (you heard). Then there’s the range of offal available to BBQ yourself at your table. Pardon me for saying so, but if I’ve plucked up the courage to order cow aorta and premium super thick tongue, I’d quite like the chef to cook it with the expertise he has to make it taste a damn site better than it sounds.
Because of this (but mostly because I’m a wimp), the most adventurous plate we ordered was the beef tendon stew with fatty flaky meat that was really rather good. Also a well spiced oxtail and tripe curry encased in a delicate pastry; hand cut chuck eye tartare with raw quails egg and lemon that was fresh and appetising; and crab and bone marrow doused in molten hot peanut oil which was very good. As was the egg cocotte with runny yolk and salty beef and caviar.
The last ditch attempt at bravey by the other half came in the the form of a bowl of flash boiled shredded achilles tendon which felt like chewing through a baby’s finger. It wasn’t finished, or really started.
They do also offer ‘normal’ dishes for us cowards like rib-eye and short ribs and foie gras stuffed mini kobe burgers (I only notice this on the menu now?). So don’t allow me to put you off entirely.
Fortune favours the brave and a lot of them can be found in Takashi.
My rating: 3.5/5
(Chosen as it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s favourite restaurants in NYC, but then he’s an offal fiend.)
Dominique Ansel Bakery, SoHo
What: neighbourhood bakery shot to international fame by inventing the Cronut
Where: 189 Spring Street, Manhattan, NY 10012
Tel: +1 212 219 2773
Those who wish to join the exclusive Cronut club by eating and Instagram-ing the most talked about pastry in history can seek their thrills by queueing outside Dominique Ansel’s at 7 in the morning for at least 2 hours for the privilege of doing so. For the rest of us, we can pop-by at any other business hour and sample the rest of their equally inventive and skilled menu – pastries, cakes, macaroons, patisseries, as well as savoury lunches.
Breakfast that day consisted of a flaky, croissant-like dough with a caramelized crunchy crust called a DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), a salted caramel éclair, an intensely chocolatey soft-middled cookie and no less than 40 miniature and magnificent madeleines, freshly piped and baked to order.
There was still a queue, but no less than one would expect from a favoured establishment and we found a table to enjoy our sugared wares with ease. As bakeries go, this place is up there with the best. Incidentally, I spotted Dominique himself dining at Takashi (see above) the same night I was. Dominique, the brave.
My rating: 4.5/5
Like so many other cities with endless offerings to those seeking new culinary experiences, a good year or three are needed to really make a dent in the dining scene of New York. But if you need somewhere to start, you won’t go far wrong with the above.