The 5 best things I ate in New York City

In this series, I round up the five best things I ate in a particular city or country. Click here to read previous 5BTIAs from Paris, London, and more.

Desser at Nomad, NYC by Expat Edna

This is one food post I’m both excited and nervous to share with you.

Excited because — it’s New York City! I ate so well there, thanks to friends who were born-and-raised New Yorkers, or had lived there so long I knew I could trust them to steer me in the right direction.

Nervous because I can hear the foodies sharpening their claws over keyboards already. My 5BTIA posts always gets someone’s cronuts in a twist — especially in large cities with equally large culinary scenes, like New York.

NoMad, NYC by Expat Edna

So, let me just preface with this:

I was only in NYC for eight days.

It was my first time in New York as an adult, so I claim zero expertise on the scene there.

And, as always (because I’m really tired of getting hate mail on this): these are by no means the five best things in the city. They are just the five best things I personally ate on an eight-day trip.

All clear? Cool. Onto the good stuff!

1. Mapo tofu chili cheese fries, King Noodle

King Noodle, NYC by Expat Edna

Think about everything you love about chili cheese fries. (I know, there’s a lot to love.) Now add the spicy kick of mapo tofu, complete with pork, chunks of firm tofu, and that addictively mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn.

The result may look like just a greasy bar snack, but this union of American fries with a classic Chinese dish divides and conquers your taste buds with a flavor combo that makes it jump to number one on this list (even over the much fancier #2 and #3).

The rest of dinner at King Noodle in Brooklyn was just as satisfying — the dark, funky joint serves up Southeast Asian street food-style plates and tropical cocktails till midnight, which also makes it the perfect place for post-bar munchies if you live in the neighborhood.

2. Omakase (chef’s choice), 1 or 8

1 or 8 Sushi, NYC by Expat Edna

One of Yoshida’s signatures: horse mackerel with shiso, scallions, ginger

This dinner ranks among the top five sushi experiences I’ve had. Not only is Kazuo Yoshida (pictured above) a skilled craftsman in the art of sushi, but the service at 1 or 8 is impeccable — one of those places where every motion is so smooth you never notice your plate being replaced or sake being topped up.

Speaking of which, that sake! The friend who brought us was known to the staff, so we got the last bottle of something that’s no longer in production, and drinking it made me feel like my entire being was being caressed by sake fairies. Whatever the sake version of a sommelier is, the one at 1 or 8 nails it.

I’d also recommend ordering a few more pieces after the dinner set (which starts at 10 pieces; we ordered 20) — the chef’s face lit up and he went on a roll (no pun intended) when we asked for more.

Tip: Call ahead if you want to be seated at the counter with Kazuo Yoshida.

(I only took iPhone photos because I didn’t want to be that blogger with a DSLR, but more photos and info here.)

3. Brunch, NoMad

Chicken burger, NoMad, New York City by Expat Edna

First, some background: The NoMad restaurant, part of the NoMad Hotel, is known for having this crazy decadent $89 roast chicken stuffed with black truffles and foie gras. Yeah, that exists.

If that’s too rich for your blood — and I mean that both financially and calorifically — for brunch they have smaller variations in the form of a chicken sandwich (pictured at the top of this post) and chicken burger (pictured above).

Joe’s brother-in-law works at the NoMad Bar, so on our last day in town we went for brunch and cocktails…and ended up staying four hours. That bar is really good, you guys.

For the food, if you have to choose just one, Joe and I both agreed the burger — with black-truffle pâté, truffle mayo, Gruyère, and foie gras on a brioche bun — is juicier and better than the sandwich. NoMad also has a custom Brooklyn Brewery beer called Le Poulet, a brown ale specifically made for pairing with the NoMad chicken. It wasn’t our style, but again: yeah, that exists.

Finally, for dessert Joe’s brother surprised us with the Milk & Honey (lead photo of this post), which isn’t something I would’ve ordered normally but it wasn’t cloyingly sweet, and had a light texture that was refreshing to finish.

4. Bagel, Ess-a-Bagel

Ess-a-Bagel, NYC by Expat Edna

I can’t write a food post about NYC without mentioning bagels: they’re a staple and I didn’t meet a single one I didn’t like (though I have to admit I only tried one in Manhattan and the rest were in *don’t hit me* Jersey).

I went to Ess-a-Bagel, which the New Yorkers I’ve spoken to seem to find respectable (or at the very least don’t give me crap about). Their deli on 3rd Ave was also exactly as I imagined a New York bagel shop to be — no fuss, unapologetically impatient — which was fun, if you’re into cultural experiences that live up to stereotype.

The bagels were as good as expected, with a soft, not-too-chewy texture (in Paris and Shanghai they always end up far too chewy, so your jaw hurts at the end of a meal) and slathered with so much cream cheese I wanted to cry. Just looking at that photo makes me want another one.

5. Pizza, Roberta’s

Roberta's Pizza, NYC by Expat Edna

If food offers insight into a city’s culture, then Roberta’s is the pizza joint to get a crash course in Bushwick. We only went because we were staying just around the corner; despite all the hype I didn’t find the pizza very memorable — I think a dollar slice anywhere else would have made me just as happy.

What is spectacular here, though, is seeing Hipster at full throttle. I have rarely experienced culture shock the way I did walking into Roberta’s — the way people dressed, talked, and drank beer out of mason jars (so many mason jars) rendered me speechless. “This isn’t real, right?” I kept asking Joe. “Are you sure we’re not on a movie set made to just look like Brooklyn?” Nope, this is real life, so enjoy your $17 pie and soak it all in.

What are your favorite places to eat in New York City? 

The 5 Best Things I ate in New York City - The 5 Best Things I ate in NYC -

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  1. Oh YUM. I love french fries, but I can tell you with absolute certainly I’ve never had anything like #1. I am so lucky I’m headed up to NYC next month, otherwise I’d be truly upset. I will be trying them for sure! Yum.

    As for bagels: I’m a Tompkin’s Square bagel girl through and through. Crazy cream cheese flavors suck me in, what can I say?

    • Do it! They are so worth the trek to Bushwick and the guy managing the place at night is pretty cool too. I dig flavored cream cheese too — Tompkin’s goes on the list for next time!

  2. Um, I can’t believe you get hate mail about these posts, which are obviously based on things you ate, not all things offered in the entire city.

    • Hahahaha that’s because you’re assuming people on the internet are rational and/or can read.

  3. Everything looks so good! As someone who is always on the lookout for a good bagel and lox, I’m definitely adding Ess-a-bagel to my ever-expanding NYC food list :)

  4. Do you seriously get hate mail for listing the five best things you ate in [whatever city]? If so, self-proclaimed foodies are truly THE WORST.

    Since I lived in NYC for over a thousand days it’s funny to me that I’ve never been to any of these places. I feel like NYC is the worst city for food I’ve lived in because the great majority of restaurants are bad to mediocre and supported by tourist money. The place I miss most is probably a place that sold greasy breakfast sandwiches on 56th and 6th, because Portland seems insistent on all breakfast sandwiches being artisanal.

    • Yeah, it’s usually locals (or expats) who claim I didn’t see the “real” city — most recently I had a troll write an essay on what a terrible blogger I am because how could I POSSIBLY have liked pho or iced coffee while in Vietnam?!

      That Portland statement doesn’t surprise me at all. If you ever get tired of ice skating and coding your new hobby could be greasy food trucking :)

  5. Ohmigoodness, everything look amazing! That sushi, yum!

  6. Wow all this food looks so good! I was in NYC for a few days last fall and did not have this good of luck with food. Some hits and some misses. Guess I didn’t do enough research. Next time I go, I want to find the best New York pizza! I’ll take your advice and try Roberta’s!

    Great post!

    • Thanks Clara! I feel very lucky that I had so many local friends guiding my way — I don’t think I would have found any of them on my own, except for Ess-a-Bagel (which I found via foursquare)!

  7. I was just in NYC for the first time in my life, and I ate like no other. Loved the bagels!! I also had a sushi burrito which was probably the best thing I ate.

    • Oh man, I could totally go for one of those right now. And yeah, NYC is up there when it comes to eating well!

  8. I visited NYC last fall – Ess-a-Bagel was AMAZING. I wish I had known about the other places!

  9. I can’t believe people actually give you hate over a blog post about food *insert laughing emoji here* Like honestly, don’t they have anything better to do?
    Funny thing, you posted this while I was in New York! I just read it now and never went to any of the places you mentioned. Oh well. Roberta’s I have heard of though, because people do say it is the best pizza place.
    I got nearly the exact same bagel at Russ & Daughters, and boy was it amazing. Salmon and cream cheese is one of those things that sounds weird but is actually SO GOOD. And I would totally recommend Basta Pasta too! I’m not a foodie but boy was their pasta amazing. And served in a huge parmesan cheese wheel! That was super exciting.

    • If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that there really are people with nothing better to do :/

      Maybe because I’m from Pennsylvania, but salmon and cream cheese always seemed totally natural to me! Haven’t heard of the other places but will have to check them out the next time I’m in town — pasta in a cheese wheel, yes please.

  10. Hate mail?? Over your 5BTIA posts? I know foodies are cray cray, but calm down folks!!

  11. This post is wonderful! Very solid choices. I’ve now added King Noodle to my radar :)

    • I’m glad the native New Yorker approves! And seriously, get down to King Noodle, especially later at night — it’s so good.

  12. What does it say about me when there’s gourmet sushi and all I can think of to say is ERMAHGERD THAT BAGEL?!?

    Seriously though, that bagel? And seriously, your first time as an adult? You’re sat right next to me now and I’m giving you the side eye.

    (seriously anyone reading the comments, Edna is literally next to me. I’m not THAT much of a creep)

    Also thnk should start typng wthout the letter to replcate a certan comment you got on a certan post about food n Vetnam.

    • It says we need better bagels in Taipei, tbh haha. And don’t you be giving me any side-eye or I’ll chuck Zenko onto your lap instead! :)