Prepare to gain a few pounds
Whatever you're looking for, New York's got it: world-class museums, epic cityscapes, stunning art, encapsulating theater performances, all-night parties. But one of the best reasons to come to this urban playground is the food. This city has everything from Michelin-starred tasting menus for $500 a head to slices of pizza for $1 apiece. And if you're looking for the cuisine of virtually any country on earth, you can find it in New York.
The most delicious and most authentic global restaurants are generally outside Manhattan, in the far reaches of the outer boroughs where the first immigrants settled and formed little enclaves. So if you want the best, you'll likely have to travel. But expect to be rewarded with amazing food at insanely cheap prices (by New York standards).
Here's where to get the best global food in New York:
Just North of Williamsburg, the East Coast’s Hipster Mecca, this Brooklyn neighborhood is gentrifying as quickly as anywhere in New York. But third-wave coffee and artisanal everything aren’t the only reasons to go there. While not quite the Polish enclave it once was, Greenpoint is still home to a proud Polish community and the restaurants that serve food from the motherland.
Excellent pierogies (pillowy dumplings typically filled with potatoes, cheese or meat), kielbasa (sausage), and borscht can be found throughout the neighborhood.
Karczma, a rustic tavern reminiscent of the Old Country, cooks up the kind of comfort food that’s been served across the Atlantic for centuries: potato pancakes, hunter's stew and pork-stuffed cabbage. Don't miss the creamy white borscht served in a bread bowl.
Sister restaurant Krolewskie Jadlo (literally King’s Feast) has a menu that lives up to the name, going well beyond the classics with dishes like stuffed quail in morel wine sauce, and venison and walnut meatballs with wild mushroom truffle oil sauce. Just look for the knight in shining armor guarding the door.
Lower Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the best on Earth, but Flushing in Queens is more akin to China – and it's one of the city's best-kept secrets from tourists. Everything from the restaurant menus to the language spoken on the street to the street signs here are in Chinese, and yes, there is very much still a language barrier. Flushing has everything from the standard Chinese fare to the truly bizarre.
Most restaurants tend to specialize in one or, at most, a few things, so eating is best done as a binge-worthy restaurant tour – preferably while wearing elastic pants and with plans to spend several hours recovering.
Watch the noodle gurus at Sliced Noodles in the basement of New World Mall twist, slap and stretch the perfect hand-pulled and knife-cut noodles. Head to the claustrophobic basement of the Golden Shopping Mall to get the inventive lamb and squash or pork and pickled vegetable dumplings at Tianjin Dumpling House or go to its sister restaurant, the appropriately named Dumpling Galaxy, which serves a whopping 100 different dumplings.
Get to the tiny White Bear for the wontons in chili oil, go to Nan Xiao Long Bao for the soup dumplings, and finishing off at New Flushing Bakery with a decadent custard-filled Portugese egg tart. The options are endless.
Staten Island is more or less New York’s fifth borough – the one most tourists have never heard of and most New Yorkers avoid like Times Square, except for the purpose of eating. Better known for its myriad of good pizza joints, Staten Island is also home to the city’s biggest population of Sri Lankans, and its best Sri Lankan restaurants.
The Tompkinsville neighborhood, particularly Victory Boulevard, is home to spicy and sweet coconut milk-based curries as well as traditional dishes like hoppers (paper-thin fermented rice batter fried into the shape of a bowl and filled with a fried egg), as well as other starchy handheld snacks served with a variety of dips.
Among the best places to enjoy Sri Lankan quick eats is the tiny New Asha, which serves up fiery curries, roti, and dal vada (fried lentil patties) at outrageously inexpensive prices. The significantly larger San Rasa, offers equally delicious Sri Lankan staples in a space more conducive to sit-down meals.
Thai food in Manhattan and Brooklyn have made giant strides in recent years, but the city’s best Thai food is still in Elmhurst, Queens – and neighboring Woodside. Make the trip to Elmburst and you'll be rewarded with some of the most diverse, inventive, and spicy Thai food in the city. The cuisine here is regional, so different restaurants specialize in completely different dishes.
SriPraPhai in Woodside was the area's original destination restaurant, starting the Queens Thai food boom, and has since grown from a hole-in-the-wall to a huge-by-New-York-standards restaurant, with an even huger menu. You really can't go wrong here, but the green mango salad with shrimp, squid, chicken, crushed peanuts and cashew nuts, and the drunken noodles are particularly great.
Less than a mile away, Ayada has been wowing crowds for nearly a decade, with dishes hard to find elsewhere, like the raw shrimp salad topped with garlic, chili and lime; the whole fried snapper topped with papaya salad; and the frog legs in spicy basil sauce.
Everyone from Los Angeles complaining that New York has no good Mexican food simply doesn't know where to eat. The taco game has been greatly elevated throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn in recent years, but the secret is that New York has always had delicious Mexican – by anyone's standards – as long as you're willing to travel.
If you're looking for fish tacos, carnitas or elote, just stay in Manhattan or North Brooklyn. You come to Sunset Park for the stuff you can’t find (or at least can’t find done right) in more conveniently located locales: the costillas en salsa verde (pork ribs in a spicy tomatillo sauce) at El Tenampa and the birria (a potentially life-altering roasted goat consommé) at Tacos El Bronco.
And we'd be remiss not to mention the elusive tacos al pastor actually made the traditional way at Tacos Matamoros: spit-roasted and shaved after sitting in a spicy-sweet marinade.
Astoria isn’t just the Greek capital of New York. It’s the Greek capital of, well, everywhere outside of the Land of Zeus. At one point, this Queens neighborhood had more Greek inhabitants than anywhere outside of Greece. Astoria is no longer the insular Greek community it once was, but it still arguably has the best Greek food outside of Athens.
The neighborhood's longstanding crown jewel is Taverna Kyclades, a perpetually busy spot that specializes in seafood: deep-fried sardines, whole grilled fish, shrimp stuffed with crab, shark with garlic dip, and the list goes on. It's also got some of the best mezes (small appetizers – often dips) in town.
For something more unique, head to MP Taverna, where you can get dishes like dumplings with spicy lamb sausage, sundried tomato, pine nut, spinach, tomato, and feta, and Greek paella with shellfish, spicy lamb sausage and orzo.
Brighton Beach is less of an enclave and more of its own world. Little Odessa, as its known, is home not only to a staggering number of Russian, Ukrainian and Eastern European restaurants, but to a bizarre cultural mashup of The Old Country meets Brooklyn Jewish meets post-war America. There are plenty of track suits and knockoff jewelry and fur hats, not to mention a decent beach and arguably the best (and most interesting) boardwalk in the city.
If people-watching isn’t enough of a reason to come all the way to the southern tip of Brooklyn, the food should be. This is the land of kvass and vodka, caviar and smoked fish, and dumplings of all varieties. Street snacks like pirozhok (Russian savory or sweet pockets of deep-fried dough typically filled with meat, potatoes, or cabbage, or a variety of fruits) can be had all over the neighborhood. Varenyky, Ukraine’s boiled answer to pirozhok or pelmeni, which can be boiled or fried and are typically filled with meat (and occasionally topped with cheese) are also ubiquitous.
Skovorodka is a one-stop shop for all things Caucasus, from the aforementioned dishes to borscht to hearty stews to khachapuri, a pizza-like bread topped with bubbling cheese – Georgia’s most famous contribution to the culinary world.
For the full-on Brighton Beach experience, you have to visit Tatiana, a restaurant/nightclub/supper club that defies explanation, complete with the kind of kitsch and excess that can only be found here: flashing neon lights, absurd amounts of food and vodka, an over-the-top cabaret performance, and a party that rages until the wee hours of the morning.
If you’re in a pinch for time, the East Village has a few solid Indian restaurants, but if you’re looking to sample authentic fare from all across the subcontinent, Jackson Heights in Queens is the undisputed king of curries and pooris and all things Indian – from sari stores to mithai shops (Indian sweet shops).
Jackson Diner is the destination for most people traveling to “Little India,” where the lunch buffet of more than 20 dishes includes a variety of curries, tandoori chicken, kebabs, saag paneer, various biryanis (rice) and a whole bunch of fixings like raita (yogurt), chutney, and naan (bread).
The area also has an abundance of establishments specializing in one or a few items, like the pani puri (tiny fried spherical crepes filled with a mix of chickpeas, onions, herbs, and spices, and smothered in sauce) at Bombay Chat. Samudra's crispy vegetarian dosas – filled with paneer (cheese), potato, and other veg – are big enough to share, and the tandoori-grilled meat at carry-out-only Kababish might be the best in town.
With Manhattan's Little Italy (RIP) now little more than a tourist trap with overpriced and underwhelming food, the true epicenter of Italian cuisine is in the Bronx neighborhood of Arthur Avenue, named after the main street that cuts through this section of the city.
The beauty of Arthur Avenue is that you can get everything from the classics your Italian nonna used to make to inventive dishes coming from innovative chefs, all while getting a feeling you’re back in a New York that now mostly only exists in movies.
For many, the best part about coming to Arthur Avenue is shopping for food to take home or on a picnic: sweet or hot soppressata and fiery, spreadable ‘nduja from Calabria Pork Store; imported cheeses from Italy and house-made ricotta from Calandra Cheese; and fresh pasta from Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles.
But there’s plenty of good restaurants to eat at, as well. Family-run Mario’s has been dishing up excellent pizza and all the classic Italian-American favorites (think linguini with clam sauce and veal parm) for about a century. For something with a slightly more modern take, head to Roberto’s, which has a rotating menu focusing on fresh ingredients and daily specials. The owner also opened Zero Otto Nove, a brick-oven pizza joint that’s one of the best in the city.