Eating New York City – My Firsthand Experience

If you know anything about me, it’s that I love food. I look at, write about, and talk about food everyday at my day job. I plan meals I’m going to cook, meals that I’m going to eat and new restaurants to try. So it was natural that while in New York, I was going to eat as much as humanly possible. That said, given my small appetite, it’s a tough challenge! It has become a running joke among my friends, that I don’t eat very much and that they can have my leftovers. People know if they go traveling with me or go out to eat with me, they get to benefit from extra food!

I put together a humongous list of restaurants and places to eat, more than I could ever dream to eat in my one visit, but I was sure going to try! New York City, if anything, is food heaven. I mainly concentrated on places that were quick and on the inexpensive side. With many fabulously famous restaurants in the city, and no one to enjoy them with, I decided to save those for another visit. Plus, I can never bring myself to have a meal by myself in a restaurant. Maybe one day I will work up my courage to do it..

Here is the best of what I ate during my trip in NYC. Warning! This is a long post full of delicious bites! Stomachs, be warned.

The Pizza

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

When you say you’re going to New York, everyone tells you to you to have a slice of true New York pizza. When I think of NY style pizza I think of thin crusts, picking it up and folding it over, and lots of cheese oozing off of the slice. But once in the city, pizza is a sensitive topic in New York. Ask anyone and they will take you to the best slice in the city and each person will have a different opinion.

Outside Grimaldi's. You can sort of see the line in the shadows of the trees.
Outside Grimaldi’s. You can sort of see the line in the shadows of the trees.

My pick of choice was the famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn under the shadow of the Brooklyn bridge. It’s history is a story that could be the basis of a movie; like many other immigrant stories it told of an underdog overcoming challenges, coming out on top and headed off into retirement, but not for long.

Turns out, the original owners and creators of Grimaldi came out of retirement and opened up another pizza joint – right next to their former business and in their former space. So if you’re looking for the real authentic Grimaldi pizza you should be going to Juliana’s. Word on the street, at least according to the Gothamist and Serious Eats, is that they’re better too. Next time!

Love the checkered tablecloths.
Love the checkered tablecloths.

Even in the middle of the afternoon, between lunch and dinner, there was a long line to get in. They managed to turn tables fairly quickly and we only had to wait 30 minutes. We ordered a margarita with pepperoni and shared.

New York City Pizza Grimaldi

The pie that came out of the oven that day was superb. It was everything that I thought it would be. Cheesy, thin crusts and delicious. However, I found the overall pizza to be rather greasy which could be good or bad, depending on the individual. I wonder how the other institutions of the pizza world fare? Next time!

1 Front St, New York

The Hot Dog

Gray’s Papaya

Everyone has an image in their head of going to New York and picking up a hot dog or two from a city cart. You see it in movies and TV shows all the time.

Except you probably shouldn’t. The nicknames for these carts? Dirty water carts.

While I don’t know if the water is actually dirty, but I’m not taking chances. A little research and you’ll find there are two chains to grab a hot dog at: Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King. What papayas have to do with hot dogs? I’m not so sure.

Gray's Papaya | New York City, USA

I went with Gray’s Papaya because of their advertised “Recession Special”: two hot dogs and a drink for $5. Not a bad deal. For my drink I picked their namesake: the papaya drink. It didn’t taste very good and gave me an upset stomach. It was very bland and didn’t taste at all like the fruit (which I love).

Gray's Papaya | New York City, USA

The hot dogs were okay, but nothing spectacular. It can’t be missed. You can see the restaurant, if you can call it that, with its bright yellow with neon signs flashing every direction from a block away! Despite the average hot dog, this place is an institution and pretty popular in pop culture as well.

2090 Broadway (between 72nd St & 73rd St)

Ethnic Bites

Pocha 32

After a day wandering midtown, we wanted to try something different, and seeing as how we were close to Koreatown, we went with Korean food. After a quick search on Yelp, we settled on Pocha 32. Let’s just say the experience was interesting.

Through a small set of doors, you climb up a narrow staircase into a greenish, dark room with a low ceiling. All around you are fishing nets dangling from the ceiling and walls. Inside are slips of paper left from previous patrons. A very surreal experience.

Pocha 32 Korean Food NYC

Everyone was ordering the watermelon soju which comes in a giant watermelon. We didn’t get one as they require passports as a form of ID, but I totally would have had I been carrying my passport! We didn’t have to wait to get a table, but soon after we sat down a line started forming. It’s clear that this place is popular.

We ordered one of the most popular items on the menu: the budae jjigae. I had never had this before and was pretty surprised by what we received. It looked like a huge mess in a pot.

Budae jjigae developed as a result of the Korean war. Due to the lack of meat immediately after the war, Koreans took US Army food like hot dogs, and spam and put them into a spicy stew made with gochujang and kimchi. In this version, mixed in as well were ramen noodles, rice cakes, pork slices, a few veggies and to top it all off? Cheese! This dish is a true fusion of Asian and Western junk food. It was certainly a mix of really strange things that I wouldn’t normally put together in a pot.

Budae Jjigae Pocha 32 NYC

I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it weren’t mind-numbingly spicy. By the time I had one bowl of the stuff, my mouth was on fire. I also really didn’t enjoy the cheese in it, that was just a bit too strange for me.

15 W 32nd St #2

Nan Xiang Dumpling House

After reading and hearing all about the fantastic Chinese food available in Flushing Queens, of course I wanted to check it out. In Vancouver, we’re spoiled by how many great Chinese restaurants there are in the area. So much so that Chinese food anywhere else usually disappoints. I was determined to find something great in Flushing.

Did I? Sort of. We went to Nan Xiang Dumpling House which comes highly recommended on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Serious Eats proclaimed them possibly the best soup dumplings in the city. Maybe it was too hyped up or maybe I didn’t order the right things, but it was just okay. Nothing spectacular, but for my brother, who was starting school in the city, it was good to know that he had options.

Nan Xiang Dumpling House Flushing Queens

We ordered of course, the xiao long bao soup dumplings as well as an order of fried rice cakes. The dumplings themselves were pretty good. Very flavourful and the soup was just right. The rice cakes were okay, but didn’t have much flavour. My grandmother could make a better dish.

XLB @ Nan Xiang Dumpling House, Flushing | New York City, USA

There are so many places to eat in Flushing. I could really just go there for a month and just eat and eat and still not have tried every place!

38-12 Prince St

The Burgers

Shake Shack

Oh the things that I have heard about Shake Shack. I was really looking forward to this meal. Instead of fighting the crowds at their Madison Square Park location, I went to another one on the Upper West Side.

Shake Shack NYC

We picked up a concrete as well as a couple of burgers and fries. For our concrete we went with the Shack Road – chocolate custard, chocolate truffle cookie dough, marshmallow sauce and almonds. Each location has different combinations so it’s fun exploring all the options. I found the concrete to be overly sweet, but it was satisfying in the New York City heat! But it sure melted quickly. The burgers were good. I ordered the single ShackBurger while my brother got the SmokeShack which he really liked. The sauce on it was really good.

366 Columbus Ave

Burger Joint

Hidden inside a dark corner of Le Parker Meridien hotel, you will find this unassuming secret burger place: the Burger Joint.

The Burger Joint | New York City, USA

Except it’s not so secret because even though I was there in the middle of the afternoon, the line stretched out the door and almost into the lobby of the hotel. It can be easy to miss the unmistakable neon burger sign, but it’s there down a hallway on one side of the check in desk.

Burger Joint NYC

I ordered their hamburger with everything (except onions – ew) with a side of fries. I loved their fries – definitely better than Shake Shack. The burger was pretty decent as well, but I think Shake Shack had a slight edge on them. Either way, this was a tasty burger and I’d definitely go to this secret, not so secret, burger place again.

119 W 56th St

The Sandwiches

Num Pang Sandwich Shop

What I would do for a banh mi sandwich? There is something just so perfect about the slight tanginess of the pickled veggies (especially the daikon!) against the savory meats. This one that I picked up from Num Pang Sandwich Shop was no different.

Chelsea Market | New York City, USA

I grabbed their pulled pork banh mi from their location inside Chelsea Market. While it wasn’t the best pulled pork (I found it a bit on the dry side), the spicy honey sauce drizzled on it was tasty and soon had my mouth on fire. This is a great location to pick up something and enjoy along the Highline.

Pulled Pork Banh Mi | New York City, USA

Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave

Katz’s Deli

I wrote about this previously as well naming it the best thing I ate while in New York. I still stand by those words. At least until the next time I’m in the city!

205 E Houston St

Absolute Bagel

I have already written about this place in my best meals of 2013 roundup, but as a refresher, this bagel was delicious. Freshly made, lightly toasted with a generous helping of salmon spread. The everything bagel had a perfect balance of poppy seed to sesame seed to salt to everything else ratio. With bagel places a dime a dozen in New York, this one was definitely worth the visit. I’ll have to try everything else next time!

2788 Broadway

The Worst Bite


Okay, I lied when I said I was only going to write about the best of what I ate. I thought this would be worth a mention. I did not enjoy my meal at Veselka I’ve had plenty of Ukrainian food before, but this didn’t live up to expectations.

Veselka NYC

From all the rave reviews it just was a major let down. The portions were small and the plates pricy. Not worth the hype in my opinion, but maybe we picked the wrong items off the menu. We ordered their pierogi and their blintzes.

Despite all that, this restaurant has a lot of history and is worth supporting.

The Desserts

Wafels and Dinges

Wafel and Dinges Cart

Anytime I see the opportunity to have a Belgium waffle I take it. I’m constantly in search of the perfect Liege waffle. I ate so many of these during my time in Maastricht in the southern Netherlands and so far nothing in my search has come close. So naturally when I stumbled upon the Wafels and Dinges cart, I made a beeline for it. I ordered a Liege wafel which comes with one topping or Dinges as they refer to them. I choose strawberries. The waffle was light and fluffy, slightly sticky. Not the exact the same as the ones I had in Europe, but it made for a great snack while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

194 E 2nd St
Follow them on Twitter for updates on their truck locations.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Company

Looking for the perfect way to end a meal? How about a scoop or two of ice cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company? That is exactly what we did after our pizza even though we were stuffed. Located a short walk away from Grimaldi’s, we picked up some ice cream before wandering around Brooklyn for a bit.

The Brooklyn Ice Cream Company churns their own ice cream on location in small batches. The original location, the one we visited, is located in a fireboat house, giving it a distinctive charm. They advertise as using only pure and natural ingredients which sounds good to me.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

Be prepared for a massive line! It went out the door and down the pier area. While scouting the area, we found a smaller cart that was also selling their ice cream. My brother opted to share a cup of ice cream with me. Our picks? Coffee and Vanilla Chocolate Chunk. This ice cream was rich! The coffee flavour was intense and I loved biting into the chunks of chocolate. Definitely worth making the trip across the Brooklyn bridge. Plus, you get a great view of Manhattan. Remember: they’re cash only!

The Corners of Old Fulton and Water Street
Sunday – Sunday 12 pm – 10pm

Good to Know

Posted on the windows of every restaurant are letter grades given by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. These letters are a result of annual inspections for food safety. It gives you some piece of mind knowing that the random restaurant you’re going into has a pretty good sanitation record. Find out more about it at Untapped Cities.

Have you been to New  York City? What are your favorite bites in the city?

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  1. says

    Ohhhhh my lord, that is SO.MUCH.FOOD to read about. I am sitting here with my coffee and toast, and I feel deeply inadequate. When ever we go to NYC, we stay with family and eat with them loads, I always feel so cheated. Next time we are there, I need to break free and head to one of these places.
    I have pinned this post, I do hope that’s okay.

    • says

      Thanks for pinning :) Yes! Time to try all of these places! They should know what’s good in the city too. There is just so much good food in this city. It’s crazy!

  2. says

    I traveled a bit in my 20s. My biggest regret from those days is that I didn’t appreciate the FOOD on my travels like I do now. I was too concerned with superficial things that didn’t matter. Today- nearing the end of my 30s food is the one thing I look forward to the most on our travels. Kudos to you for knowing what’s worth seeing :)

    • says

      Thanks Farrah :) I’ve only recently figured out this food thing. I use to be pretty lazy about it all – just eating whatever while on the road. Now it’s a priority. Before every trip, I’ve gotta figure out what to eat!

  3. says

    So you are my type of traveler. I travel to eat :-). And what a better place than NYC for our kind of traveler. And yes you were right to warm us at the beginning of your post that it contains lots of delicious bites. Bien sûr, I’m hungry now. And craving for a good hot dog!

    • says

      Food is the best way to discover a place and its culture in my opinion. There is so much of it in NYC and all of it seems to be tied to a good story or have heaps of history behind it. I hope you managed to find something for your hot dog craving!

  4. says

    Great post Adelina! I managed to get to New York a few years back with my dad and we both loved the food there – especially Katz’s Deli and Absolute Bagel (I’m pretty sure that was the one!). I’m lucky that my dad is possibly even more of a foodie than me so traveling with him is always an adventure! Safe travels.

    • says

      That sounds awesome! My parents haven’t picked up the foodie trend yet so they’re happy eating all kinds of random junk while on the road. I’m slowly converting them though :)

  5. says

    Oooh, you’re making me hungry! That’s a great post – I think it’s so important to get food right when you’re travelling, it can make or break a trip…and certainly hubbie is only happy when he knows where his next meal is coming from!

    • says

      Yes! Food is so important. No one wants to be racing around from point A to point B on an empty stomach and not eating. I get grumpy without food and I definitely like knowing when I’m getting food next! Especially if it is a meal worth looking forward to.

  6. says

    OK, I’m having lunch RIGHT NOW! NYC is a true foodie heaven, and you’ve highlighted some true pearls. I’m a bagel freak, so glad to seem them represented :) Seriously delectable post, congrats! Good luck and safe travels!

    • says

      Thanks! There are way too many choices in NYC it was so hard to narrow down what I was going to eat for each meal. Almost overwhelming. You should go on a bagel tour around NYC – so many places to try!

  7. says

    Food is one of the best ways to experience a place and I think you really experienced NYC. NYC is one of my favorite places ever and I can say I’ve never been to any of these places (which isn’t so hard considering all the choices). Great post…glad I read it on a full stomach haha :)

  8. says

    When the time comes and I make it to NYC, top of my list is pizza, hotdogs and sandwiches. It’s interesting how the city if famous for it! Sometimes I’m always focused on the travels; sightseeing and doing things, that I forget about food. Can’t really do that in NYC though now…

  9. says

    As a lifelong NYer, I am impressed! You did pretty well! I’m sorry Veselka let you down. I haven’t been there recently but it’s usually pretty good. For soup dumplings, I like Joe’s Shanghai or Joe’s Ginger. I want to try that Korean place you mention — I like Koreatown!

    • says

      Yay! I’m glad you approve. With so many places to choose from it was hard to narrow it down to a manageable number. I can’t wait to go back and keep on eating. Gotta try Joe’s Shanghai – heard good things about it.

  10. says

    Great round up. I haven’t tried Shake Shack, and even though I hear it’s great, I’m not sure I want to deal with those lines. But I’ve experienced several of these and agree with your recommendations.

    • says

      Thanks Lance! I actually didn’t have to wait too long for my food – maybe 5-10 minutes? There was virtually no line at the UWS location. I walked it and could walk right up to place my order. I would imagine that the Madison Square Park gets a lot busier though.

  11. says

    How did you try all these restaurant in such a short while??
    I would love to go to Ethnic Bites, better yet I would love to move to New York City!

    • says

      I had 8 days so it wasn’t too bad. One or two a day and I managed it all. There were other meals that didn’t warrant a mention too. Let’s go to NYC! So much to do!

  12. says

    Ohh man you are making me SO hungry. NYC was foodie heaven for us and I’d love to go back and spend a month just eating our way around the city.

    I find that papaya drinks are always a disappointment, incidentally.

    • says

      A month and you still wouldn’t have hit all the great places to eat in NYC. Foodie heaven indeed.

      I guess I’ll just stick to my fresh papayas then :)

  13. says

    Hey! Stopping by from the SITS Tribe :) You stopped by some of my favorite places in NYC! Next time you’re here be sure to try; SMAC, Cafeteria, Westville Chelsea, and Rice Thai Kitchen

  14. says

    Oh wow! I’m an expat too. I live in Italy, and this post made me miss New York terribly! I love, love, love Grimaldi’s and Brooklyn Ice Cream Works. One of my favorite things to do … walk over the bridge, then stop for pizza and ice cream.

  15. says

    Followed you back from your comment. How timely with my NYC post today!! Yum. Will have to trek out to Queens but that’s so hard because I hate leaving downtown Manhattan. Haha!

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