I've lived in New York City my entire life -- here are the best places to actually eat

Chinese foodYelp/Yin H.Soup dumplings and pan-fried pork dumplings at Shanghai Asian Manor in Chinatown.

As a kid growing up in New York City, I never ate Happy Meals.

Why would I when I could get a great bagel or slice of pizza for the same price?

New York has some of the best food in the world. Even neighbourhood takeout spots are top-notch eateries that people come from all over to try. So over my nearly three decades of living here — I spent four years living in Ithaca, NY, for college — I’ve refined my list of go-to places that I swear by.

These are the places that are dependable and also affordable. They’re the types of places you can go to on a whim and do not require hard-to-come-by reservations.

Some disclosures: This list is heavily weighted toward places in Brooklyn and Manhattan, because that’s where I’ve lived. I’ve also left off some of New York’s top restaurants like Blue Hill and Carbone because they’re special occasion spots and deserve their own separate list.

Here are my favourite places in New York City to eat.


Bagel with lox.

What it is: Appetizing counter and so much more. Every foodie's dream.

Where it is: Upper West Side, Manhattan

I grew up just block's away from this culinarian favourite. Zabar's was a mainstay in my childhood diet.

You enter Zabar's in the cheese department, which is an overwhelming place to start. Grab a basket -- you'll need it. And be sure to be on the lookout for samples. My favourite things to get at Zabar's are cheese, bagels, lox, cream cheese, herring and cream sauce, and whitefish salad. There's a great prepared foods department, and be sure to checkout the houseware on the second floor. I never walk by Zabar's without picking up a pound or two of fresh coffee beans.

Lhasa Fast Food

Beef and chive momos.

What it is: Takeout counter for momos (Himalayan dumplings).

Where it is: Jackson Heights, Queens

This place is a hidden gem. Literally.

It's located in the back of a shopping mall of sorts. To get there, you have to walk through a stall selling cell phone accessories. But don't be discouraged. Once you find Lhasa, only good things await.

Order the beef and chive dumplings. Beware they are made to order, so it might take 20 minutes or so for them to arrive.


Hibino's sushi plate.

What it is: Quaint Japanese restaurant on a quiet street in Brownstone Brooklyn.

Where it is: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

I was hesitant to include Hibino in this roundup because I'm selfishly wary of more people discovering its greatness. To be honest though, the place has already been discovered. And for good reason.

Hibino is top-notch Japanese food. Literally everything on the menu -- from homemade agedashi tofu, to sushi and dessert -- is exquisite. Don't overlook the obanzai menu of $US6 Japanese tapas, which changes daily and features unique things like curry potato salad. I'm not even a dessert person and I literally always order dessert here (the soy milk pudding, if you're wondering).

Finding excellent sushi at reasonable prices isn't easy. Hibino nails it.

Lloyd's Carrot Cake

Carrot cake with nuts and raisins.

What it is: Carrot cake! That's about it.

Where it is: Fieldston, The Bronx

Need motivation to go for a run or hike in Van Cortlandt Park? This is your answer. Floyd's is a no nonsense bakery that sells carrot cake 'made from scratch,' as advertised on the storefront's sign.

Don't like carrot cake? Try this one and get back to me.


Sri Lankan brunch.

What it is: Sri Lankan restaurant with an incredible brunch buffet on weekends.

Where it is: Stapleton, Staten Island

Staten Island might sound like the trek, but it's well worth it for a trip to this restaurant, which features an awe-inspiring all-you-can-eat brunch buffet on weekends that costs just $US13.95. Sri Lankan food features flavours you might find in Indonesian or Indian cuisine and lots of curry and rice dishes. Vegetarian options are plentiful.


Penne with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.

What it is: Cosy, neighbourhood Italian spot.

Where it is: Harlem, Manhattan

Cosy Italian spots are my jam -- and this one ranks high in my book. Everything is good especially the pasta dishes and wine.


Bulk nuts.

What it is: Middle-Eastern grocery store.

Where it is: Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

Like Zabar's, Sahadi's is a home chef's Disneyland. This place has everything from hard-to-get spices to world-class cheeses. Always be on the lookout for samples. And don't miss the prepared food counter -- the hummus, labne, and baba ganoush are incredible. The only downside is it isn't open on Sundays, when I often do my grocery shopping.


A bagel with nova, sable, pickled herring, and cream cheese.

What it is: Zabar's lite. Brooklyn's best appetizing store.

Where it is: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

I'm a bagels and lox snob, and I consider Shelsky's the real deal. The bagels are great (small with a crispy exterior, as bagels should be) and the smoked fish options are fantastic. A sandwich with lox, herring, and sable? That's innovation.

Sal & Carmine's

Plain cheese slice.

What it is: Pizza by the slice

Where it is: Upper West Side, Manhattan

This is obviously a very controversial area to wade into it, but I'm just going to come out and say it: Sal & Carmine's has one of the best slices of pizza in New York.

It's got a crispy crust and the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese. Sal & Carmine's is a classic NYC slice joint, and there's not much more to say.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Soup dumplings, egg rolls, scallion pancake, pork and shrimp dumplings.

What it is: Classic New York dim sum, with no carts.

Where it is: Chinatown, Manhattan

Nom Wah dates back to 1920, and its interior looks like it hasn't been updated since. That said, the food is some of the freshest you'll find in Chinatown.

Lemon Ice King of Corona

Watermelon Italian ice.

What it is: Italian ice stand.

Where it is: Corona, Queens

I'm a big fan of Italian ices, and these are the best. Flavours are incredibly varied, with everything from rum raisin to peanut butter, but do note the strict rule: No mixing allowed. I go with the vanilla chocolate chip.

Amy Ruth's

Chicken and waffles.

What it is: Soul food restaurant that named its fried chicken after Barack Obama and serves a Kool-aid of the day.

Where it is: Harlem, Manhattan

I've been here a handful of times and I've only ever ordered one thing: The Rev. Al Sharpton (fried or smothered chicken atop a giant waffle). The dish is everything you've ever wanted from chicken and waffles, and I find it impossible to go with anything else on the restaurant's expansive menu.


Eggplant napoleon.

What it is: Middle Eastern restaurant.

Where it is: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

It might not look like it from the outside, but Tanoreen has long been considered one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in New York City. Don't even think about the long trek (it's about an hour-long subway ride from lower Manhattan) -- just go. You'll thank me later.

Flor de Mayo

Pollo a la Brasa aka rotisserie chicken.

What it is: Chinese/Peruvian restaurant that delivers at lightening speeds.

Where it is: Upper West Side, Manhattan

With two distinct menus (one Peruvian and one Chinese), Flor de Mayo prides itself as 'one of the few remaining Chino-Latino restaurants in NYC.' And I'm very thankful it's still around. The restaurant serves what I consider to be one of the best rotisserie chickens in the city. My go-to order is pollo la brassa with plantains, rice, and beans. The signature hot sauce is not to be missed.

Flor de Mayo also has a full Chinese menu, but I've never gotten to it because the chicken is that good.


Large pizza with pepperoni and basil.

What it is: Sit-down restaurant that serves two things: pizza and calzones.

Where it is: Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

For a restaurant with such basic offerings, there's a lot to know before you make a trip to Lucali. The first is, be prepared to wait. The restaurant doesn't take reservations so you have to show up and put your name down if you want a table. Get there before it opens because there will be a line.

The second thing to know is that it's BYOB.

You should also know here's no menu -- you just need to choose pizza or calzone (or both) and what toppings you want. Go for the basil and garlic toppings, which come for free.

If you're too hungry to wait, visit Lucali's sister restaurant, Giuseppina's, in South Slope. The space is larger and they serve beer and wine. Pizza is excellent.


Lunch buffet bounty.

What it is: Indian restaurant in Curry Hill.

Where it is: Kips Bay, Manhattan

I never really knew where to go in Curry Hill until I found Dhaba. And now that I've discovered this Punjabi restaurant, I don't know why I'd choose to go anywhere else.

The menu is totally overwhelming, but don't be turned off. Branch out and order what you might not be able to get from your regular delivery spot. And if you want to sample a little bit of everything, check out Dhaba's lunch and brunch buffet.

Ample Hills Creamery

Salted crack caramel and peppermint pattie ice cream in a pretzel cone.

What it is: Ice cream shop with various locations.

Where it is: Multiple locations in Brooklyn, and a few outposts in Manhattan and Queens.

I live a few blocks away from the original Ample Hills on Vanderbilt Ave., in Prospect Heights, and I consider it to be one of the main attractions of my neighbourhood.

Ample Hills is the ice cream shop you dreamed of as a child -- and probably still do as an adult. It has dozens of wacky flavours like The Munchies ('pretzel-infused ice cream with clusters of Ritz crackers, potato chips, pretzels and mini M&Ms') and my personal favourite, Goey Gooey Butter Cake ('vanilla ice cream with hunks of St. Louis-style Ooey Gooey Butter Cake'). I'm always struck by how genuinely friendly that staff is -- they are always eager to let you taste as many flavours as you'd like, so don't be shy!

Beware: This ice cream is more decadent than anything else I've tried. I get a kid's size and I always leave feeling stuffed.

Arepa Lady

Chocolo arepa made with fresh ground corn, stuffed with chicken and cheese.

What it is: Tiny place serving up incredible Colombian food.

Where it is: Jackson Heights, Queens

There are four types of arepas on the menu here. They all involve corn and cheese so you really can't go wrong. Come with friends so you can order one of everything on the menu. And if you're not up for making the trek to Queens, there's a new outpost of the Arepa Lady in the Dekalb Market Hall in downtown Brooklyn.

Locanda Vini e Olii

Tagliatelle al ragu,

What it is: Authentic Florentine restaurant in an old pharmacy.

Where it is: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Most people just refer to this restaurant as the 'pharamacy place' because of the vintage sign above its doorway that reads, 'Lewis Drug Store.' The sign is a relic from the actual apothecary that resided in the space previously, dating back to 1896. Much of the interior space looks like it hasn't changed a bit, except for the addition of a lots of tables and chairs.

But it's not just the interior that's notable about this place. It's also the food, the wine, and the overall ambiance. It's a perfect date spot.

Pizza Suprema

Plain slice.

What it is: Extremely good slice joint across the street from Penn Station.

Where it is: Chelsea, Manhattan

Before coming here, if you had told me one of the best slices of pizza in New York was across the street from Penn Station, I would have thought you probably didn't know much about pizza. But my brother is the person who told me about this place and he does know a lot about pizza, so I trusted his judgment and tried it myself. I'm so glad I did.

This is a great place to grab a slice before heading out of town or seeing something at Madison Square Garden.


Cinnamon roll pancakes.

What it is: Old-fashioned diner.

Where it is: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

This isn't your typical Brooklyn/Queens diner. Its menu isn't the length of an encyclopedia and it's not open 24/7. In fact, it's not even open for dinner. This diner is more like the old-fashioned soda shops that used to be plentiful in New York City and have been lost to banks, Starbucks, and fancy cupcake shops.

Don't be discouraged by the line that snakes out the front door on weekends. They often serve up coffee and sausage for patrons who have to wait, and the line moves pretty quickly. Order a lime rickey or an egg cream (or both!) because where else can you do that these days? The pancakes are excellent but my personal favourite dish is the huevos racheros, which is a heaping pile of tortillas, rice, refried beans, eggs, cheese, and meat. Don't skimp on the chipotle sauce that's on the table.

Shanghai Asian Manor

Soup dumplings and pan-fried pork dumplings.

What it is: Shanghainese restaurant.

Where it is: Chinatown, Manhattan

I've been coming to Chinatown my entire life and somehow only discovered this gem a few years ago. I'd venture to say it's one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city. This isn't a strictly dim sum restaurant, but there's a fairly extensive dim sum menu. I like to start with the steamed tiny buns with crab and pork (aka soup dumplings) and the pan-fried pork dumplings. For entrees, I love the bean curd Szechuan style with pork and then pan-fried noodles.

Vinegar Hill House

Vinegar Hill House.

What it is: Rustic place that's perfect for a special occasion dinner or brunch.

Where it is: Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn

This restaurant is located in a somewhat hidden neighbourhood that's nestled between DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, right on the waterfront. It's impossible to come here and not feel like you've just discovered one of New York's best kept secrets.

While Vinegar Hill House is somewhat of a trek from the nearest subway, it's worth it. The space itself will transport you back in time, and the menu will make you want to come back time and time again.

Brunch and dinner are both great. Come when it's nice out, and enjoy the beautiful backyard garden.

Fun fact: I came here with my husband the night we got engaged!

Awash Brooklyn

Veggie platter.

What it is: Ethiopian restaurant.

Where it is: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Injera, or Ethiopian bread, is your most used utensil here. The spongy pancake made with teff flour is the perfect vehicle to sop up the meats and stews you'll be served, rendering forks and knives useless. This is a perfect place for vegetarians or vegans, as many of the best stews on the menu are meat-free.

Hometown Bar-B-Que

A spread of meats and sides.

What it is: Massive BBQ restaurant with counter service and live music.

Where it is: Red Hook, Brooklyn

Insider tip: Don't come here starving. Come prepared to work up an appetite waiting in line because the wait will be long, but that's all part of the fun.

Come with a big group so you can sample everything. And be sure to spend some time in Red Hook walking off your food coma after. The views from the pier are incomparable.

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