The food in New York – the hot dog carts, the pretzels, the pastrami on rye – are as much at the heart of the place as the the Empire State Building.
Here are my go-to restaurants - from top spots for bagel breakfasts to the pizzeria in an urban desert you simply must seek out.
113 MacDougal St, NY 10012
When you pull back the heavy curtain behind the door you enter a complete world and a different era, a clubby, chaotic stage set filled with real people. You’re Alice, falling down the rabbit hole.
This, says New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, is what New York is brilliant at: artifice. It just so happens that the food is great too.
Restaurateur Russell Norman’s favourite hang-out, this Brooklyn-based bar, restaurant, Oyster House and, as they themselves describe it, ‘Cocktail Den’ (the bar is award-winning and they’re big on absinthe) feels like New York, Paris and New Orleans rolled into one.
As Norman says, the attention to detail in the styling is outstanding. It’s another ‘down the rabbit hole’ destination. The food is uncomplicated – shellfish, chowder, steaks, venison tartare, lobster rolls – and excellent. Open all day for every kind of meal.
659 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238
The current hot ticket in Prospect Heights and much loved by Eater New York’s Helen Rosner, Olmsted offers food which is almost high end (the chef has worked at Alinea, Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) but rather more accessible, both for your palate and your pocket (and the dining room has a bare-brick, bistro feel).
It’s market-driven, and much of the produce comes from the restaurant’s garden (the co-owner is a horticulturalist).
Think radish top gazpacho with smoked roe, scallops with green garlic and creamed corn and frozen yogurt with lavender and honey.
463 W Broadway, NY 10012
A great place for a bagel-based breakfast (chef Melissa Weller is known at ‘the bagel whisperer’), and a glamorous one as the lox is served, fruits-de-mer style, in tiers (though this does come at a price).
In the evening – when there’s a gear change and the candelabras come out – the food becomes more luxurious with a short menu inspired by czarist Russia.
16 W 29th St, NY 10001
To know the New York food scene, you have to see what the British chef April Bloomfield is doing. She created this place with her business partner, the restaurateur Ken Friedman, and I much prefer it to her more famous cousin, The Spotted Pig (which is no more a Brit gastropub than I am Kate Moss).
The food at the Breslin is British with touches of American and dollops of provincial France: Scotch eggs and beef and stilton pie rub shoulders with boiled peanuts fried in pork fat and old-fashioned terrines. It’s a meat-lover’s heaven (particularly for those partial to all things porcine – the stuffed trotter is legendary).
The feel is old-fashioned British pub meets saloon bar (there are pictures of cows on the walls, green leather banquettes and the tables are covered with butcher’s paper). There are no reservations and it’s always packed so get there early. As The New York Times said, it’s ‘Hogwarts for hipsters.’
Rustic, woody, market-driven, this is another laid-back Brooklyn star (that will no doubt soon spawn imitations here).
It’s part of the group that owns Diner and The Wythe Hotel (check them out too). There’s a café at the front (great coffee and pastries) and a dining room at the back (serving oysters, brick chicken, house pickles and cured meats).
261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Set in an urban desert – surrounded by walls scrawled with graffiti – you’ll think you’ve arrived at the wrong place (and may have trouble even finding the entrance), but you need to go here for the quintessential Brooklyn vibe.
The pizzas are great and the vegetable dishes – much of the produce is grown in their garden (you can go on a garden ‘tour’) – are excellent too.
268 Clinton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
A New York version of Moro in London (though the food presentation is a little less rustic). The dishes are Spanish, Moorish and Mediterranean-Jewish. Fantastic fideua with aioli, suckling pig with quince and rose puree, shrimps with preserved lemon. This food sings.
567 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
A much-loved newish Italian in Brooklyn, though its clean lines and pale grey banquettes make it feel rather Scandi.
Chef Missy Robbins has made pasta utterly desirable again (Pete Wells in the New York Times simply wrote ‘Pasta made by Ms. Robbins is a direct route to happiness’).
People like the soft-serve gelato too; it’s offered in tumblers and finished with a topping of your choice (the kind of quirky touch New Yorkers love).
47 E Houston St, NY 10012
This was my favourite restaurant on my last trip and will be at the top of my list on the next. A cramped, energetic joint with bare-brick walls and marble-topped tables, it feels like a fusion of Paris and New York.
There’s a great wine list – the place is increasingly popular with oenophiles – and an eclectic collection of dishes that have people returning again and again (mussels escabeche on toast, ricotta dumplings and beef tartare are among the regulars).
A trademark is smothering dishes in leaves so you have to forage for what is underneath (which is more delightful and less pretentious than it sounds).
55 E Houston St, NY 10012
Right next to Estela, this is a fantasy American Italian restaurant. You love it first because of the font in the window (it looks mysterious, from another age), then for its clubby atmosphere. The cooking is careful rather than outstanding, but you don’t come here just for the food. You come here because it feels as if Robert de Niro will be sitting in the corner.
142 Orchard St, NY 10002
An off-beat restaurant on the Lower East Side that is loved by critics and diners who want their boundaries pushed. It serves interesting (but not achingly modish) food that doesn’t hail from any one culinary tradition but still hangs together.
The wine list – with quite a few natural bottles – is original too. Expect pork rillettes, Southern-style white shrimp, persimmon with burrata and jalapeno seeds. The place is reminiscent of small restaurants in Copenhagen.