Where Do Real New Yorkers Eat?
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Many guests ask me, “What is a really great local restaurant that only locals know about.”
The honest truth is, these don’t really exist. Our famous restaurants are famous for a reason - they are really good. If you want the best pastrami, in my opinion you do actually need to go Katz’s Deli because it is the best, and the lines seem to indicate that a lot of New Yorkers agree with me.
A sadder truth is, most locals are in a hurry as they scurry from one location to the next, and often just go to Chipotle, Pret a Manger, or a Taco Bell Cantina to shove food in their face. Despite the plethora of amazing pizza joints in the city, the majority of people in my neighborhood just order from Domino’s.
All of this being said, if you’re looking for local flavor, I do have some advice for you. You want to get away from Times Square! If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can even go to an outer borough! Here are some suggestions I have.
I’ve observed a lot of tourists do not like to venture west of Eighth Avenue. East of Eighth Avenue feels safe. You get the neon glow of Time Square, the buzz of Broadway theatre, and the safety of TGI Friday’s. However, if you venture one avenue further west, you’ll be on Ninth Avenue. Between 40th street and 59th Street, Ninth avenue is filled with literally every type of restaurant you can imagine. Rancho Tequileria offers up my favorite guacamole, Blossom Du Jour will offer you a vegan burger, Obao and Room Service offer incredible Thai food. You can also find fun themed restaurants here such as Bar Bacon (everything contains bacon!), Kashkeval Garden, has warm and delicious fondue, and Moms Midtown which has crazy concoctions such as fruity pebble pancakes topped with macaroni and cheese. Locals love this unofficial “restaurant row“ for their lunch deals and happy hour specials. Odds are high you’d see a broadway performer grabbing a quick bite before a show here on restaurant row. Also, just off of Ninth Avenue, on 45th street, you will find Schmackary’s cookies. They are the official cookie of Broadway and boy are they delicious.
I’m obsessed with SoHo. I consider it New York’s most magical neighborhood. Personally, I think it has the best shopping in NYC! It also has some of the best food. It’s going to have trendy places where trendy fashionistas eat, which is just my cup of tea! In terms of food, check out:
Pepolino (THIS is where you want to get Italian food in Manhattan!)
Every New Yorker knows the best deals on food are found in Chinatown. At Mosco Street Dumpling you can get five dumplings for a dollar! 99 Favor Taste is all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for $20 per person and offers a free meal on your birthday! It’s all great flavorful food that is great for those on a budget!
99 Favor Taste (all-you-can-eat Korean hot pot and BBQ.)
Fried Dumpling (AKA Mosco Street Dumpling or "Dollar Dumplings.")
Minus Celsius (rolled ice cream.)
ARTHUR AVENUE in THE BRONX
People often think Little Italy in Manhattan is THE place to get Italian food in New York City. They are mistaken. Little Italy food is fine, and if you go to place like Puglia you might find yourself dancing with a napkin on your chair, but the place ‘locals’ go for Italian is Arthur Avenue in The Bronx!
Italian immigrants started heading here as early as the 1850s, making it one of New York’s oldest and most established Italian Communities. It has been immortalized in popular culture in movies such as A BRONX TALE and music videos such as Lady Gaga’s "Eh Eh Nothing Else I Can Say."
WILLIAMSBURG and BUSHWICK
First of all - to be clear - Williamsburg and Bushwick are not the same neighborhood, but they are both in Brooklyn and just a few stops away from each other off of the L train, so I’m going to be sacrilegious and combine them for the sake of the blog entry.
It was only about a decade ago people were scared of Williamsburg and Bushwick. These were areas where most people would have felt unsafe. However through a strange combination of rezoning, artists moving to the neighborhoods, gentrification, and community activism, both neighborhoods have undergone massive transformations and now house an eccentric and vibrant mix of immigrants, artists, hipsters, and millionaires. As a result, there is some pretty fabulous cuisine to be found in both Williamsburg and Bushwick!
Motorino (order the pizza bread!)
(think fondue - only the bowl is an edible bread bowl.)
Queens is the most ethnically diverse borough in New York City, which means it is fabulous for food. There is a joke (though it is less of a joke and more of an awesome fact) that you can take the 7 train into Queens, get off at each stop, and find yourself in a totally different ethnic neighborhood, thus being able to give yourself a food tour of the world while staying in just one of New York City’s Boroughs.
Since I live in Harlem, I sadly don't make it out to Queens that often for a fine dining experience. I will let you know that my friends rave about Sugar Freak. There is also a beer garden that is extremely popular during warm weather. Queens is especially famous for exquisite Greek food which can be found at places such as Taverna Kyclades.
For the rest I shall leave you in the trusted hands of specialized food blogs.
I’m going to be honest, I truly don’t go out to Staten Island myself to eat because it is a bit o a trek from where I live. That being said, many friends claim that some of New York’s best restaurants are hidden there. You will also know the restaurants are truly for locals, as Staten Island isn’t an area where many tourists venture.
I will be honest and say that I rarely venture there, and when I do, it’s usually to perform in a show and I head back to Manhattan without getting to enjoy the borough. That being said, I will leave you in the good hands of other writers who can recommend tasty places in Staten Island.
GRAB BAG SUGGESTIONS OF PLACES I LOVE:
These are restaurants I love that are difficult to fit into the above categories. Any of them will provide deliciousness and happiness.
Donna Bell's (Incredible midtown bakery with wonderful scones.)
Stone Street (Stone Street is cobble stone street in Lower Manhattan lined with various restaurants, bars, and pubs. It has a lot of wonderful character, especially when it is warm enough to sit outside.)
Beecher's Cheese (the only cheese made in Manhattan and their Macaroni and Cheese is to die for! Also check out their red lentil soup.)
Grand Central Oyster Bar (Classic NYC dining that will make you feel the opulence of 1913 with modern day flavor.)
Estiatorio Milos (If you are looking for upscale, fancy, and super fresh seafood)
Sylvia's (soul food at its best)
Red Rooster (a modern twist on soul food)
TikTok Diner (traditional American diner)
Flip 'N Toss (my favorite burger joint.)
Los Tacos No. 1 (this "hole in the wall" will be the best tacos you ever eat!)
Ivan Ramen (so delicious)
Smith and Wollensky (my personal favorite steakhouse)
Also - I MUST push food tours here. It might seem counterintuitive to tell someone looking for “Non-touristy restaurants” to take a food tour. That being said, these guides work very hard to cultivate great relationships with the owners of the restaurants you visit with them, and they have also spent hours hunting down the best establishments in a given neighborhood. You will learn about the history behind the foods you taste and how something as simple as a pickle or slice of pizza may have shaped New York History. Here are some of my favorite food tours.