Every time people come to New York to visit and ask me where they should eat I rattle off my rehearsed list of deliciously pretentious, dimly-lit restaurants with their mason jar cocktail service and must, must, must have oysters. There’s nothing wrong with that–deep inside I’m a fancy princess that just wants to sit on a throne looking bored while lazily stroking my pet tiger, Beyonce, while the world’s finest chefs try in vain to impress me with dish after decadent dish. Yes, in my fantasy I’m just Bitchy Princess Jasmine. In reality however, I’m fairly sure I always look at least somewhat panicked, I named my cat after Die Hard, and I can’t even control my own hair, let alone my impulse to eat without discretion.
Any “best of” list can tell you what restaurants you need to indulge in while you’re in New York, but I’ve got some tips for the truly gluttonous: the ones who want to eat the part of New York that doesn’t come with a side of locally sourced kale. Here’s the most non-fancy, most New York City food you should eat while you’re in town. (Note: you can skip hotdogs, street felafel and warm pretzels all together. They’re the 2, 3 and 4 of the Fast & Furious franchise. Go straight to 5, the rest is filler).
1. Cream Cheese Bagels
I’m a bit biased when it comes to cream cheese bagels. They’re my weakness. My kryptonite. So much so that if I was in a middle of an apocalyptic battle to save the world and the bad guy threw down a cream cheese bagel, I would immediately take pause to scarf it down. Meanwhile, world explodes in the background.
You can get a cream cheese bagel almost anywhere, but there are rules that not every bagel purveyor will stick to. Firstly, I would recommend an everything bagel (I’ve tried them all, it’s the best one, I mean, it’s got EVERYTHING). Secondly, there should be a quarter to half inch of cream cheese in the middle of your bagel. Anything else and you can consider yourself ripped off by some blasphemous sandwich gypsy who may as well just have pissed into the bagel and given that to you instead.
If you’re ever in Bushwick, there’s a cafe called Central Cafe on Central Ave (between Troutman and Jefferson) that does not fuck around with cream cheese to bagel ratio. They basically just hurl cream cheese at you when you walk in the door. It’s incredible.
2. Sausage, Egg and Cheese on a Roll
I have traipsed the city searching for the perfect sausage, egg and cheese on a roll for nearly 4 years and I’ve discovered New York’s dirty little secret in the meantime: there are no bad sausage, egg and cheese rolls in New York City. Occasionally you get one that’s on the sloppy side, but ideally, your SECR will be lightly crispy on the crust, every bite will include a little of every ingredient (uneven distribution of ingredients is a rookie mistake), and will go heavy on the cheese, because the best part of a SECR is, naturally, scraping the excess melted cheese off the paper at the end. The best SECR I’ve ever had is, weirdly enough, at Times Square, at a place called Times Deli (158 W 44th St). There’s a lot of tourists that stand around at the sandwich counter looking characteristically lobotomized, unsure of sandwich counter etiquette and aimlessly milling about instead of actually trying to do anything, so you’ll have to elbow past them and shout your order to be heard over their whiny kids, but it will be SO worth it.
3. Vanessa’s Dumplings
It used to be that at Vanessa’s you could get 4 pork & chive fried dumplings for $1. It’s now $1.25, mirroring the extreme rate at which landlords raise rent in Brooklyn. Before you know it they’ll be $1.50. That aside, you can still get dinner for under $3, or you can go crazy, as I usually do, and drop a whole $5 note and treat yourself to some buns as well. And not only is the price right, the dumplings are delicious, the kind of delicious that makes you want to inject MSG straight into your veins and waste the rest of your life high on dumplings. There’s a Vanessa’s location on Bedford Ave now, and you should go there, get your dumplings, and take them across the road to Lucky Dog where they let you bring both dogs and outside food, which as I type, I realize how much of a poorly thought out that decision was. Dogs will try to eat your dumplings, but always remember, you are big and they are little (mostly), so you can pretty easily tell them to fuck off if one starts eyeing your dinner.
4. A Slice
Go anywhere. Fuck artisan wood fired pizza. Go to any shitty, oily, hole in the wall, dirty-counter pizza place in New York City. Go there, and get a slice of cheese pizza, or if you’re feeling lucky, pepperoni. Fold it in half and eat it on the street while bumping through crowds of people. Let the oil drip down your fingers and onto the shitty paper plate, which you will later attempt to use as a napkin. When you’re done, stop at the next crappy pizza place you see and get another slice. Eat that standing too. In fact, eat it standing, with your partner or your friend or your mom, and rant loudly at them about something you love or something you hate while your mouth is full of slice. Shower them with slice bits as you spit about something that no one but you cares about. Let them do the same. If they’re your lover, kiss them with oily pizza lips afterwards. Congratulations, you just had New York City’s best meal.
Polish is something a lot of people don’t expect to eat in New York, but I’ve got in the habit of taking visiting friends to Greenpoint to gorge on schnitzel and pierogi. The serving sizes are so big I’d suggest doing a Joey and stretching out your tummy with a bag of chips the day of, or alternately finding a way to splice the camel gene with human ones in order to evolve yourself into a hybrid beast that can store extra food for later. That, or just get the doggy bag. You can’t really go wrong with any of the Polish places up on Manhattan Ave–the one with the suits of armour out the front will literally serve you so much food you’ll swear it’s seeping out of your belly button–but my personal favorite is Lomzynianka (646 Manhattan Ave), because it’s tiny, the decor is weird, the staff don’t really give a shit, you can BYOB and they let you sit there for as long as you like.