New York City is the largest and most ethnically diverse city in the United States. As the major port of entry into the country, the city has over the centuries become a melting pot, well-known for its eclectic food culture. So why travel around the world when you can experience a variety of international cuisines in the same city?
A true foodie would insist on an authentically “New York” experience by eating the most iconic foods as defined by veteran New York food critic Robert Sietsema, but the most famous restaurants in the city often have long queues and charge more. So here’s how to enjoy an international feast in New York City at value-for-money prices.
Pizza is well-known throughout the world, with many varieties. However, the modern pizza originated in Naples, Italy in the 19th century, and immigrants from Naples soon brought it over to New York, setting up shop in a neighbourhood now known as Little Italy. The first New York-style pizza appeared soon after, largely maintaining the tradition of the original Neapolitan pizza, which is topped with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
Foodies will be aware of popular tourist spots such as Lombardi’s and John’s of Bleecker Street, but there are many other opportunities to get a New York slice at a cheaper, just as authentic and historical location.
The best New York-style pizzas are cooked in a traditional coal-fired oven. There are only a handful of coal-fired ovens left in New York City.
Where to go:
Arturo’s (106 W Houston Street, Manhattan) has remained largely the same since opening in 1957 and retains much of its old-school charm with a live jazz band playing every night. Pizzas are cooked in a coal oven, which really brings out the flavour and gives the crust a distinct crispness compared to the regular wood-fired pizza ovens. Prices haven’t changed in years – it’s still $17 for a pizza for 2, or $20 for a larger pizza.
Arturo’s is in the centre of Greenwich Village, with many districts being preserved for their architectural and cultural significance. The Blue Man Group is the resident act at the Astor Place Theatre, while Washington Square Park, home of the iconic Washington Square Arch, is just a 5-minute walk away.
Origin: Poland’s Jewish communities
The humble bagel was brought to the United States by Polish Jews who settled in New York City in the early 1900s. The New York-style bagel is puffy with a moist crust and is traditionally eaten with lox (brined salmon fillet), cream cheese and capers.
Popular bagel shops include Ess-a-Bagel, Absolute Bagels and Tompkins Square Bagels. Bagels are an extremely popular and iconic food option in New York City, so you can definitely grab a bagel for a cheap, yet satisfying no-frills experience.
The traditional way to eat the puffy, moist bagel in New York is with lox, cream cheese and capers, but you can choose your own spreads and fillings.
Bagel Oasis (183-12 Horace Harding Expressway) has been open since 1961 and claims to have not changed their recipe since then. Bagels are $1.05, and their spreads go from $2.40 for a plain cream cheese, to $8.00 for cream cheese with cold-smoked salmon.
Bagel Oasis is located in Fresh Meadows in Queens, which is an hour’s drive out of Manhattan, but may be worth the visit, if you’re also planning to check out nearby Kissena Park and Flushing Meadows Park. The latter park is the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
David’s Bagels (273 1st Avenue) has been open for over two decades and is the ultimate no-frills experience. It’s completely unassuming and has dingy furniture, but you’re here for the food. Bagels are $1.25 or get a lox sandwich on a bagel for $9.00.
If Queens is too far out of the way for you, then David’s Bagels in Stuyvesant Square is a good alternative. Take a 5-minute walk to nearby Stuyvesant Square Park and see the recently restored cast-iron fence, built in 1847 and the oldest in the city.
Origin: Turkey, by way of Romania
The first pastrami sandwich was created in 1888 in New York City, using a pastrami recipe from a Romanian immigrant. Pastrami as a form of preserved meat originates from Turkey but came to the US via Jewish Romanians.
The best pastrami sandwich in New York is still found in Katz’s Delicatessen. Tell the cutters you want it juicy!
Where to go:
Katz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston Street) is said to have the best pastrami sandwich in New York City, and is also famous for appearing in several films, like When Harry Met Sally… and Enchanted. The generous portions are juicy and perfectly seasoned, and the pastrami slices are so tender they melt in your mouth. However, this means you’ll probably be fighting off both locals and tourists when you’re there. An average sandwich goes for $22.45.
Katz’s is a 5-minute walk from 2 Avenue Station.
Harry and Ida’s Meat and Supply Co. (189 Avenue A) is a great alternative to get value-for-money pastrami sandwiches without worrying about the queue. You can get a large sandwich for $17.50 or a smaller one for $13.50. That’s almost $10 cheaper than the more popular options!
Harry and Ida’s is based in the hipster haven that is the East Village, where you can also find shops that sell all kinds of retro chic, from eyewear to vintage t-shirts as well as vinyl records and turntables.
New York-style cheesecakes
Origin: Greece, by way of England
The cheesecake is a classic dish from ancient Greece. However, the modern cheesecake as we know it was invented in England. The typical New York-style cheesecakes are rich and dense and big on heavy cream.
The cheesecake was popularised by restaurants Junior’s and Lindy’s, but the latter has since gone out of business. Junior’s claims to have made the original New York-style cheesecake, but if you think $7.95 for a single slice is a tad pricey, there’s no lack of cheesecakes by other makers in New York to savour.
A New York-style cheesecake is made with heavy cream and are rich, dense, smooth and have a creamy consistency.
Where to go:
Eileen’s Cheesecake (17 Cleveland Place) is where you get true value-for-money. At just $4.95 for a mini cheesecake (regardless of flavour!) you get to enjoy one of the best cakes in New York. The lighter, fluffier cakes are the right balance of tangy and sweet, compared to the denser, overwhelming flavour of regular cheesecake. Unfortunately, the titular Eileen passed away in November last year, but the shop is now run by her daughters to ensure her legacy continues.
Eileen’s is based in the neighbourhood known as NoLIta, which is an abbreviation for “North of Little Italy”, near to the more famous SoHo neighbourhood – a shopper’s paradise. Walk over and check out the large indoor bazaar that is Canal Street Market for indie wares.
You can’t talk about American food without including the hamburger. Burgers are quintessentially USA, as the growth of cattle ranching made beef a popular and inexpensive food. It is not known exactly when the first hamburger was invented, but one possible origin traces it to the 1885 “Hamburg Fair” outside of Buffalo, New York.
We all know the famous ShackBurger from Shake Shack, and you can already get one of those at Jewel Changi Airport, so time to look for a cheeseburger that’s just as good in New York City!
You haven’t truly tried a cheeseburger till you’ve had one in New York City.
Where to go:
J.G. Melon (1291 3rd Avenue) has been open since 1972, and is known for its iconic, juicy hamburger, which you can get for $11.50. It takes cash only, and customers are zipping in and out all the time, so there shouldn’t be much of a wait. Get a cheeseburger for $12.25 and cottage fries for $6.25 and you’re all set. J.G. Melon has two other satellite outlets in New York City that share the name but not the owner.
The original J.G. Melon is located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which is famous for the “Museum Mile”, a row of some of the most famous museums in the world. Start at The Guggenheim, then visit the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art then end your day with a much-deserved burger.
Bonus mention: Food Trucks
Food trucks are a common sight in New York City, with over 300 spread across the five boroughs.
The food truck is an international phenomenon today, but it started in the United States. The best food trucks represent the value-for-money ethos of New York food – cheap and great on the go. Be sure to check out:
Tacos El Bronco (860 5th Avenue, Brooklyn) – If you’re looking for the best tacos in New York, look no further than this food truck in Brooklyn. Don’t worry about the crowd as the service is fast and you’ll get your fill for less than $2 a taco. Find them on the west side of Sunset Park.
Lechonera La Piraña (766 E 152nd St, The Bronx) – Lechon (suckling pig) is the national dish of Puerto Rico and this food truck is the best place to enjoy it. It’s only open on the weekends though!
Cesar’s Empanadas (16-32 Hanson Place, Brooklyn) – Empanadas are Spanish stuffed pastries that are deep fried. At $3 per huge empanada, this truck truly epitomises value for money.
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Best time to visit
Shoulder season in New York City runs from April to June during spring and September to November during autumn. During these periods, the weather is not too warm or too cold — perfect for exploring the city on foot.
The public train system, known as the Subway, is the best way to explore New York City. Get the 7-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard, US$33 (S$45.59) per ticket, for unlimited trips on the subway and bus services.
SIA operates the world’s longest non-stop flight from Singapore to Newark — a flight lasting almost 19 hours. Otherwise, most major international airlines do offer flights to any one of the three major international airports in and around the state – LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport. You can search for airfares and book your tickets here.