New York foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
From bagels laden with smoked salmon at Manhattan Jewish delis to bloody marys pepped up with homemade lemon vodka in the East Village, these are the best places to eat and drink in the city that never sleeps
Looking for the best New York deli? Want to know the best restaurants in Manhattan? New York City local author and recipe writer Alison Roman shares her favourite foodie spots in the city. Listen to our podcast with Alison Roman here about about how she became an internationally acclaimed recipe writer and cookbook author:
Where to eat and drink in Manhattan
Russ & Daughters – for pumpernickel bagels and smoked fish
One of the most iconic spots in town, Russ & Daughters has been a champion of Jewish food in America for more than 100 years. Immigrant Joel Russ kick-started the empire in 1907 by selling herring from a barrel, eventually working his way up to a bricks-and-mortar store. The business is still in the family, and it’s great to sit at the counter for a breakfast of lots of smoked fish – including yellowfin tuna, sturgeon and chubs – and black coffee.
There are also seven types of smoked salmon to try, even more varieties of herring (try rollmops or fillets in curry sauce), pumpernickel bagels baked in-house, and cinnamon babka. Joel’s great-grandchildren, Josh and Niki Russ, opened sibling business, the Russ & Daughters Café, on Orchard Street in 2014 – head there for whitefish croquettes, matzo ball soup, baked kippers and a Lower East Side cocktail (gin, dill, lime and cucumber).
Café Altro Paradiso – for classic New York vibes
If you’re after fun, classic New York restaurant vibes, make your way to Café Altro Paradiso. It's not very old (it launched on Spring Street in 2016), but it feels like this Italian restaurant has been around for years. It's open for lunch and dinner, and has the best lighting in town – plus a shiny brass bar and huge windows that offer a view of Hudson Square. The pasta is incredible, including simple classics such as pasta pomodoro, but for lunch try the chicken milanese. They serve it with a little dish of mustard for dipping, plus rocket leaves and pine nuts, and it's perfect with a glass of wine, picked from a menu that focuses on natural and small Italian producers.
Grand Central Oyster Bar – for shellfish
If you happen to find yourself in Midtown make the most of it by treating yourself to a plate of oysters and clams. Grand Central Oyster Bar, established in 1913 on the lower level of Grand Central Terminal, is about as old-school New York as it gets. With a capacity for more than 400 diners, it's wonderfully loud and crowded, and elegant marble columns and an illuminated tiled ceiling make it an atmospheric place to spend an evening. The oysters – there are more than 20 American types to choose from, including those from Rhode Island and Maine – are super-fresh, but if you don’t like shellfish try fried coconut jumbo shrimp, smoked Idaho rainbow trout, or barbecued swordfish instead. There’s old-fashioned pumpkin pie and classic New York cheesecake for dessert, too.
Sardi’s – for stiff martinis served by bow-tied waiters
The theatre district is touristy and packed with people but if you’re there to see a Broadway show it’s worth staying on to check out the area’s classic restaurants, and watch waiters in bow ties make very stiff martinis. Sardi’s, on West Street, counts Kevin Bacon, Whoopi Gholdberg and Lucille Ball among its fans, and is the place to go for post-Broadway pigs in blankets, jumbo crab cakes and cannelloni au gratin.
Where to eat and drink in Brooklyn
Sahadi’s – for Middle Eastern grocery shopping
The staff at Sahadi's Middle Eastern market are the best and it stocks almost every single pantry item you could think of. It’s the place to go for hot pepper paste, cardamom tea, pistachio butter, truffle burrata, natural rose water, guava juice, fresh baba ganoush, baby octopus, dark chocolate pretzel nuggets…the list is endless. The original store is on Atlantic Avenue, but another, more modern, branch has recently opened in Industry City.
Where to eat and drink in Queens
Szechuan House – for spicy Sichuan hot pot
If you love spicy food, you’ll love Sichuan food, especially spicy Sichuan hot pot. There are great hot pot spots all around NYC, but some of the best are in the Flushing neighbourhood. Try Szechuan House, open since 1985, for everything from sour cabbage fish hot pot to tomato hot pot and lobster hot pot.
Where to eat and drink in the East Village
Prune – for bistro dining
Open since 1999, this New York restaurant is still going strong to this day. Chef and owner Gabrielle Hamilton introduced locals to the delights of sweet butter and radishes (found on the bar snacks menu) and other bar nibbles, including fried anchovies with aioli, and roast-your-own Turkish ‘disco’ pistachios, which are doused in anise-flavoured brandy and set on fire at the table. Separate lunch and dinner menus typically include gems such as swiss chard and leek gratin, lamb neck stew with green sauce zhug, and, for dessert, fresh fig clafoutis. Check out the dedicated bloody mary menu, too – the Mariner is a blend of homemade lemon vodka, clam juice and olives.
Where to eat and drink in the West Village
Via Carota – for Italian comfort food
It’s almost impossible to get a table at Via Carota, a walk-in-only Italian restaurant on Grove Street. Every New Yorker and every tourist wants to eat there. A tip for success: arrive as close to 5pm or 5:30pm as possible, and eat at the bar. The service is better, the vibe is perfect and you can people-watch as the dining room fills up. Waiters in cream-coloured jackets deliver negronis, svizzerina (salt-crusted chopped rare steak, served with tender cloves of roast garlic), charred artichokes, and, best of all, incredibly rich and cheesy cacio e pepe.
Photographs by Alison Roman and Getty Images