New York City is famous for several reasons, one of the most important to me being its diverse selection of foods and cuisines.
While there are many foods the city is famous for, such as pizza, sandwiches, and desserts, I believe it’s the huge variety of great foods that shape New York’s food scene.
These famous NYC foods vary greatly in price, ingredients, and cuisine. The best thing about NYC foods is that New York was one of the first destinations for people emigrating to the US, so new dishes and meals inspired by their homeland pop up all the time.
These include General Tso’s chicken, pork buns, pastrami, and more.
Check out some of the most iconic NYC foods that you have to try when you visit the Big Apple.
Bagels With Lox
Bagels with lox are some of New York City’s most iconic food products. Just like the name suggests, these are bagels with lox, a type of smoked salmon.
I love lox, and its smokiness offers a delicious, exotic property most bagel sandwiches only dream of.
I usually order mine on an everything bagel, but you can use any type of bagel.
Bagels and bagel sandwiches like this are eaten earlier in the day for breakfast or brunch. Many bagel shops offer bagels and lox, but this is a classic NYC food that you should order while you’re there!
In my opinion, few foods are more prolific and representative of New York City than the New York cheesecake.
These are not traditional cakes made with eggs and flour.
Instead, cheesecakes are made with cream cheese and other dairy products making up the bulk of the cake. Usually, this dairy-based bulk of the cake sits on top of a graham cracker-like crust.
New York cheesecake is different from other types of cheesecake, as it uses more cream cheese and is usually more dense and creamy.
There’s no way I can talk about New York City foods without mentioning pizza.
It’s a classic, and New York City has an abundance of eateries famous for their pizzas, specifically thin-crust New York style pizza.
Pizza comes in a huge variety of toppings, sauces, and even shapes; Sicilian square pizzas are all the rage with the people I hang out with.
Additionally, many more pizza parlors in the city have taken on the classic food I find unique.
For example, one establishment in New York City offers a cheeseburger pizza, while another offers a breakfast pizza.
General Tso’s Chicken
Another of the most famous NYC foods is the American Chinese classic, General Tso’s chicken.
It’s named after a Qing dynasty military leader, but the real General Tso predated this dish for several decades.
The General Tso’s chicken I’ve eaten consists of bite-size pieces of chicken, breaded and fried, then tossed and coated in a special sauce that’s typically spicy.
The sauce is made from soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch. I’ve seen the dish served with various kinds of rice, such as white or fried, and other appetizers.
Many New Yorkers enjoy General Tso’s chicken for lunch or dinner.
Pastrami on Rye
When thinking about New York City foods, one of the first things that come to mind is the pastrami on rye sandwich.
This name is self-explanatory, and there are only two ingredients: pastrami and rye bread.
Of course, you can include extra ingredients like condiments, sauces, and vegetables like pickles, but the core of the sandwich remains the same.
I like to pair mine with either spicy mustard or Russian dressing and pickles. In my experience, the rye bread’s smoothness balances with the pastrami’s saltiness for a truly delicious sandwich.
As a sandwich, a heaping helping of pastrami on rye is usually enjoyed for lunch.
The cronut is one of the more unusual classic New York City foods.
Its name, cronut, provides evidence about the food item itself.
It’s a combination of croissants and donuts, which describes the food item perfectly. It’s a donut made with croissant dough.
This gives cronuts the shape of donuts but with the lighter, flaky layers of a french croissant. Many of the cronuts I tasted in the city were also topped with icing or powdered sugar.
I was also surprised at the number of bakeries, donuts, and pastry shops that sell cronuts.
Black and White Cookie
Black and white cookies are a unique New York food with an iconic design. Like pastrami on rye, the name is self-explanatory.
It’s a cookie with black icing on one side and white icing on the other. The black icing is chocolate and the white is vanilla.
However, there’s more to black-and-white cookies than meets the eye in my experience.
First, the cookies are not traditional; they’re closer to cupcakes in batter consistency but slightly thicker.
I think this makes the cookies softer than most other cookies.
Hot dogs are a quintessential NYC street food.
My favorite place to get a hot dog in New York City is Gray’s Papaya, a famous hot dog hotspot since the 1970s.
You can also head over to Coney Island for a famous Coney Island hot dog, which includes meat chili, diced onions, and yellow mustard.
If those aren’t your favorite hot dog toppings, feel free to dress your hot dog as you prefer!
An egg cream is probably the most New York item on this list, mostly due to its unique properties.
Egg creams are cold drinks made with milk, carbonated water, and flavored syrup to resemble an ice cream float or milkshake.
Funnily enough, they don’t contain any eggs or cream. However, the egg creams I’ve had did taste like ice cream floats, and I was quite surprised to find no eggs or cream in them.
In fact, the origins of the name “egg cream” are heavily disputed, and there are several conflicting reports on it. Several people claim to have invented the dish.
Manhattan Clam Chowder
I’ve seen them both enjoyed with oyster crackers on top, but that’s where the similarities end. Manhattan clam chowder has a lighter, more tomatoey, and clear broth.
The Manhattan clam chowders I’ve had include more vegetables such as onions, celery, and garlic. This makes Manhattan clam chowder a lighter meal than its New England counterpart.
As such, Manhattan clam chowder is enjoyed by multitudes of New Yorkers as lunch or dinner.
Another famous New York food item is the classic eggs benedict. They consist of a poached egg on top of an English muffin and slathered in hollandaise sauce.
As it’s a heavily egg-based dish, most New Yorkers enjoy eggs benedict as breakfast or brunch.
In my experience, eggs benedict is certainly one of the more unique brunch foods, as the hollandaise sauce adds a tanginess to the classic eggs.
I think the sauce also makes eggs benedict a bit of a lighter dish than it would be otherwise.
Additionally, I’ve noticed they add sophistication and fanciness to more traditional brunches.
Lobster Newberg offers another unique New York spin on a classic food: lobster.
The dish consists of lobster chunks in a cream and egg yolk-based sauce.
The lobster Newburg I’ve had also contained sherry or cognac in the sauce to make it richer and delight those who order it.
While the name is a little strange, the reasoning behind it makes sense. According to legend, a sea captain named Ben Wenburg came up with the dish in the late 1870s.
Over time, and after a few disputes with the restaurant and managers serving it, the dish’s name evolved to become the lobster Newburg we know today.
A product of New York’s proximity to New England, lobster rolls provide a delicious seafood sandwich-like to multitudes of New Yorkers.
There are several types of lobster roll, each named for the place it originated.
The Manhattan style involves the lobster chunks being tossed and coated in a mayonnaise-based dressing, with crunchy vegetables like celery adding texture.
In my experience, this adds a creaminess to the lobster rolls, and the crunchy textures add a bite to a sandwich that’s otherwise soft all the way through.
Lobster rolls of all types are common lunches for lobster-loving New Yorkers.
Pork buns are another great example of the Chinese-American influence on New York’s cuisine.
They are soft, pillowy buns about the same size as a dinner roll, filled to the brim with barbecued pork.
Pork buns are a popular street food in New York City, and my favorite thing about them is their price; they’re quite cheap and usually come in individual servings.
Their low cost and per-bun basis make pork buns a staple New York snack food. Any New Yorkers who enjoy Chinese-American cuisine and cheap, single-serving street foods should give pork buns a try.
Finally, soup dumplings are the quintessential combination of Chinese and American cultures in New York City.
They originated in Shanghai, China, in the late 1800s and were popularized in New York City by establishments over the last few decades.
I saw them being cooked, and the general idea is that the dumplings have a gelatin-like filling inside that turns to liquid when it’s cooked.
I also learned the proper way to eat them. I had to rip the top of the dumpling off with my teeth, then suck out the broth.
In my opinion, these twenty famous NYC foods are the best the city has to offer. There’s such a huge variety of foods in all categories: regional cuisines, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and desserts.
Now, it’s up to you to get out into New York City and enjoy the best foods it has to offer. Be sure to try some of the things I’ve mentioned on this list, regardless of your palate.
I wish you safe travels to New York City, and I hope you get to taste some amazing foods!
Check out other famous East Coast foods to try while you’re visiting out East.