New York City is vast, busy, and multicultural. The mix of the three can be overwhelming for visitors, especially when it comes time to decide on where to go to eat. Whether it’s amazing breakfast spots, juicy burgers, or vegan- and vegetarian-friendly locales, NYC has it all. Food is an important part of the culture in this city, and you can’t visit without trying some of the places it’s known for. But while John’s Pizza and Levain Bakery are amazing in their own right, it’s worth getting off the beaten path and eating like a local. From a bakery in the Bronx to brunch in Staten Island, here are eight food spots only locals know about.
1. Johnny’s Reef
If you want good, greasy food along with a great view, there’s no better place than Johnny’s Reef in the Bronx. Located right on the edge of City Island, this fast-casual, cash-only joint’s mission is to “serve the freshest and most delicious seafood City Island has to offer,” though it also has burgers, hot dogs, and fries. It’s been in operation since 1950, and while there is indoor seating, you’ll want to head outside to the vast number of picnic tables overlooking the water to you feel the sea breeze while you eat. There are a number of boating clubs along the island’s sides, so you can look into day sailing or fishing as additional activities to do.
Where: 2 City Island Ave, Bronx, NY 10464
Bronxites rave about Lloyd’s, and once you have a slice of cake from this local bakery, you’ll see why. It all started when the late owner, Lloyd, starting messing around with a recipe his mother gave him. Then he set up shop in Riverdale in 1985, and business boomed from there. We recommend the carrot cake with nuts and raisins, but if you’re allergic or not a fan of carrot cake, there’s other flavors including red velvet, pineapple coconut, strawberry coconut, chocolate, and pecan. Slices are either $2.75 or $3 depending on what you get, but you can’t go wrong here.
Where: 6087 Broadway, Bronx, NY 10471
3. Dollar Pizza
Sure, there’s John’s and Ray’s. They’re all great and taste fine, but nothing can compare to dollar pizza. In true New York fashion — cheap and greasy — these pizza slices cost just one dollar. An entire pie costs just $8, and there are not many other places where you can get a gigantic pie for such a low price. Of course, the cost goes up if you add toppings, but not by much. Locations are all over the five boroughs, and some have varying names, but you’ll know a dollar pizza location when you see it by the “99 cent pizza” signs plastered all over the storefront or through a quick internet search.
Where: Multiple locations around NYC
4. Patacon Pisao
We love our sandwiches in NYC, from revered deli sandwiches to burgers. But a lesser-known option is a patacon, where flattened fried plantains are used to hold delicious fillings within. Patacon Pisao is the best place to try one, and there are two locations in Manhattan that you can visit. It started as a food truck offering authentic Venezuelan cuisine in the Inwood neighborhood back in 2005, and true to its roots, one of its permanent homes is still there — there’s no seating at this location, but it’s a short walk to Fort Tryon Park where you can also visit the Met Cloisters.
At Patacon Pisao, you’ll have the option to choose a sandwich in the style of a patacon, cachapa (sweet corn crepes), tacucho (burrito), or an arepa (cornmeal patty). Then you’ll pick what fillings you want, such as beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, or cheese, though the sandwiches already come with fried cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and salsa verde. There are also extras like a fried egg, black beans, avocado, and sweet plantains. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
Where: Two locations in Manhattan
5. Absolute Bagels
Bagels are about as New York as you can get, and if you’re able to, you have to try one before your trip is over. Skip the Starbucks bagel and head over to Absolute Bagels, a cash-only spot on the Upper West Side. The bagels are made fresh every morning, and you can choose from virtually every type imaginable, from cinnamon raisin to pumpernickel. The only thing rivaling Absolute’s bagel variety is the number of cream cheese and tofutti spreads it has available. There are over 10 kinds of spreads, from scallion tofutti to bacon and cream cheese. Prices start at around $1.45 and go up to $3.45.
Where: 2788 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
6. Tierras Colombianas
For giant portions and getting your money’s worth, head to Astoria in Queens. There, Tierras Colombianas serves up some of the best Colombian food around. Most dishes come with rice and beans, and we recommend the carne asada, a steak dish that also comes with salad, potatoes, and cassava. It costs $20, but once you see how much food you’re getting, there’ll be no question that it’s worth it — you’ll be lucky if you can even finish it all. Be sure to bring cash as it’s cash only.
Where: 3301 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11106
7. Butter & Scotch
Pastries and cocktails are two of any New Yorker’s favorite things, and Butter & Scotch combines both. This bakery-bar hybrid will stir your sweet tooth with pies, cakes, ice cream, and boozy shakes. Even if it’s not your birthday, make sure to try its ever-popular birthday cake, a moist, three-layer vanilla cake with pink frosting and sprinkles. You’ll also want to try one of the cocktails; every season has a new menu designed after well-known women. This season’s theme is underrepresented artists in the art world, such as the Viva La Vida, a frozen drink with hibiscus-infused Milagro Reposado tequila, prickly pear, tamarind, citrus, and Ancho-Reyes Chile Liqueur in honor of Frida Kahlo. All drinks are $15, and $1 from each drink purchase goes toward Planned Parenthood.
Where: 818 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
8. Project Brunch
Most New Yorkers from any borough other than Staten Island don’t normally make a habit of visiting there, but it definitely has a bunch of food spots well worth checking out. One of these is Project Brunch, a local place serving up breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Opened in 2016, it’s known for its loaded hot chocolate with topping upon topping, but it also has an extensive menu with hearty options like shrimp and grits, s’mores French toast, and fried Oreo pancakes. If you’re looking to err on the healthier side, there’s a “sensible selections” menu with veggie burgers and salads. After your meal, there are several parks, a botanical garden, and a golf course nearby.
Where: 616 Forest Ave, Staten Island, NY 10310