If you are new to Manhattan like me, there are plenty of food choices that you don’t know where to start! Thankfully, I had recommendations from local friends and experienced trevellers while trying out new places. Here are 10 Must Eat in Manhattan, especially if you are in New York City for the first time.
Soul Food: Sylvia’s Restaurant
What’s soul food, you ask? Soul food is food good for your soul. Imagine coming home after a long day of sitting down in the office, crunching numbers, sipping that cheap coffee and the air conditioning keeps blowing in your face. And after that long day, all you want to do is to lay down on your soft bed, sheets in 1000 thread-counts, the smell of freshly baked cookies, listening to good ole Jazz and a kiss from your loved one. That is what Sylvia’s is, on a plate. That food makes you alive. This is the best restaurant to eat if you’re in Manhattan for the first time. Hence, it’s #1 on the 10 Must Eat in Manhattan. We went back twice in one week!
Read full review of Sylvia’s Restaurant.
What to Order?
Recommended food: They have many great food options, but the most popular is fried chicken and waffles. It was so good that we went back again during our stay in New York. The waffles are thick and fluffy and the chicken is crispy. The chicken is the best fried chicken we ever had. Something else that’s great there is the corn bread that they give before your meal arrives.
Setting: It feels like going to your friend’s grandma’s home. That is exactly how it feels like.
Best Time To Go: 1pm is the best time as many people are ordering chicken and waffles, and yours will be super hot and freshly made.
Information of Sylvia’s
Name: Sylvia’s Restaurant
Address: 328 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027, USA
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 8am–10:30pm, Sun: 11am–8pm
Southern BBQ: Virgils & Blue Smoke
Argentina has the best barbecue but in US, the best barbecue is in Texas. Although you are in Manhattan, you can still have the taste of the south with Virgils & Blue Smoke. This barbecue joint started in Texas and has expanded all over the country. If you are in the US for the first time, you should indulge yourself in this Southern BBQ. This is one of the best Must Eat in Manhattan, especially if you are there for the first time.
You might think that “but it’s a chain and it’s right in Times Square. It’s probably not good,” then you are wrong. Their food is absolutely delicious. I recommend their meat platter with fries and mac and cheese. Do note that their portions are huge, so their platter for one is enough to fill 2 non-American adults.
Information of Virgils & Blue Smoke
Name: Virgil’s Read BBQ
Address: 152 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036, USA
Opening Hours: daily, 8am-11pm
Pizza: Artichoke Pizza
New York is also known for their “New York Pizza”, so that is the next on this 10 Must Eat in Manhattan list. Artichoke pizza opened in early 2008 and has expanded all over the city. The pieces are pretty large and they are delicious. It costs about $5 per slice and they do cash only. Although there is an ATM there, the fee is quite high and not worth paying.
Recommended flavor: They have 6 flavours now, but I recommend Artichoke Pizza and Vodka Sicilian Pizza. You can also order them online and they do delivery.
Setting: The interesting thing about this place is that they do not have any sitting. The shops are also very small and you only have a small standing area to finish your meal. You can buy the pizza in slices or the entire pizza (which they call “pie”).
Best Time To Go: Pizza is constantly being baked, so you always get a fresh slice. It gets quite busy during dinner time. The best is to have it for an early dinner or late night before partying!
Information of Artichoke Pizza
Name: Artichoke Pizza
Address: 321 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003, USA (they have multiple outlets)
Opening Hours: Daily, 11am-4am
American Chinese: Szechuan Gourmet
American Chinese is quite different from Asian Chinese (aka the Chinese food you eat in China/Taiwan/Hong Kong) but it’s authentic in its own way. Yet this Szechuan dish is absolutely delicious and worth a trip, especially if you are kinda missing home.
Szechuan Gourmet is in Midtown Manhattan, near the Rockefeller Center. If you know anything about Szechuan dish, it is 麻辣, which means numb-spicy. That spice is typical from the peppers/chili from Szechuan province. Hence, their dishes are obviously spicy.
What to Order?
Recommended dish: We went specifically for the Szechuan golden prawns. They are deep fried large prawns cooked in spicy Szechuan sauce and stir-fry broccoli. If you are familiar with the Singapore “salted egg prawn” or “cereal prawn”, it is cooked in a similar style but with spicy Szechuan chili. Absolutely delicious, worth all the burn on my tongue!
Setting: The staff spoke Cantonese, but I think they are from the Guangzhou province area (near Hong Kong). The setting is a typical Chinese restaurant: large circle tables for big groups, small rectangle tables for 2-4 people, chopsticks, beautiful menus and tea. All typical of a Chinese restaurant in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, etc. Pretty authentic, I would say. The owners/staff speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The menu is in English.
Best Time To Go: It gets insanely crowded during dinner time. There is no way I would queue in the cold during winter. Hence, we went during tea time, at around 4pm. It was empty and quiet, except for the owner’s family. This is great for dinner time, but you will have to wait. I suggest that you visit during late afternoon/early evening before the crowd appears.
Bonus: you can visit the New York Public Library after your meal! It is such a gorgeous library with some amazing history. Book a tour with the New York Public Library.
Information of Szechuan Gourmet
Name: Szechuan Gourmet
Address: 21 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018, USA
Opening Hours: Daily, 12-10pm
Bagel: Absolute Bagels
If you watched Sex and the City, you are probably thinking of H&H Bagels that Carrie bought to cheer Miranda up. But in New York, the city of Bagels, there are other better bagel places to get your bagel fix! (H&H is closed.)
In New York City, if you don’t have a bagel, you are in the wrong city. There are plenty of bagel shops, literally at every corner. It’s like a Starbucks, bagel is quite a signature of the city. Try any bagel shop, although I would recommend Absolutely Bagel. They are hand-rolled and handmade, with some delicious cream-cheese toppings and other toppings.
What to Order?
Recommended Bagel: Plain bagel with Lox cream cheese with a cup of coffee. Simple, cheap and absolutely good. If you feel fancier: Everything Bagel.
Setting: This is where the locals eat. A small good ole fashion bagel store. You could possibly find a place to sit, but it is usually a more “grab-and-go” concept there.
Best Time To Go: It gets really crowded at around 9am. (Think Manhattan-ers grabbing a bagel and coffee before work.) So I would recommend 7am for a breakfast bagel before the crowd arrives. A bonus: if you buy them before they close, they give you extra bagels for free! 8.30pm is good.
Tip: Cash only. For every dozen you buy, you get one for free. Freeze them and enjoy them over the next few days! Very super long queue with poor service. The bagels are worth it.
Information of Absolute Bagel
Name: Absolute Bagel
Address: 2788 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, USA
Opening Hours: Daily, 6am-9pm
Sushi: Sushi Yasuda
I was sceptical about having sushi in New York, but I really miss eating good quality rice and a good Japanese place never disappoints. You can take an Asian out of Asia but never take Asia out of an Asian!
Sushi Yasuda excels in every single aspect: customer service, quality of food, quality of green tea and price. (Man, it’s really quite expensive. Then again, it’s really worth it.) As usual, they do not accept tips, which is classic of a Japanese restaurant. Upon entering, there was another door after entering the main door. Turns out, it was to insulate the restaurant. You have to close the first door before the next door will be opened for you. I love it! They took our coats before ushering us in. Luckily we had a place despite not making a reservation beforehand. The staff were so kind, helpful and friendly.
Silly me spilt burning hot green tea after they served us tea, and they promptly cleaned the place up and gave me a bag of ice to soothe the burn! They were also prompt in their service when it comes to serving, asking for any additional desserts after our meal and sending the bill. They also took time to explain each piece of fish on our sushi. Knowledgeable, professional and simply outstanding: this is the kind of service that all restaurants should have!
What to Order?
Recommended Meal: this is the first time in my life I had fresh wasabi. You usually only get them in Japan, because they are highly perishable. Fresh wasabi is the fresh root (wasabi) grated to your serving dish. The usual wasabi we eat are processed wasabi, because wasabi is highly perishable. As for my recommended dish, I would recommend the fresh sushi and sashimi bowl. Also, try the Matcha ice cream! Elliott swears by them.
Setting: A typical Japanese interior design; wooden furniture, rectangle tables and decent personal space. You can also choose to sit at the sashimi/sushi bar, where the master chef slice the fresh fish.
Best Time To Go: it’s more popular for dinner than lunch. However, going at lunch time, you are able to enjoy the lunch set menu, which is more affordable.
Information of Sushi Yasuda
Name: Sushi Yasuda
Address: 204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017, USA
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat, 12pm-2.15pm & 6pm-10.15pm
Cheesecake 1: Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
Find your classic New York cheesecake in New York! For this cheesecake section, I will recommend 2 great cheesecakes places. The first is Eileen Cheesecake and the other is Grand Central Terminal Cheesecake.
Eileen cheesecake is one of the best cheesecakes I have had, hands down. The cream cheese is light and fluffy, yet sweet and flavourful. The crust is crumbly yet stays firm enough to hold the cheesecake in place. Upon biting into one of the cheesecake, it melts in your mouth. The lightness of the cream cheese is absolutely unbelievable. The cheesecake are decent prices, but the serving is really tiny. You can finish it in 2-3 bites.
Recommend: Strawberry cheesecake
Setting: Like the bagel, it is a small place with limited indoor seating. Many people purchase takeaway instead, and consume them outside.
Best Time To Go: It is always crowded with a long queue. We went at 4pm, during tea time.
Information on Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
Name: Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
Address: 17 Cleveland Pl, New York, NY 10012, USA
Opening Hours: weekdays, 9am-9pm, weekends 10am-7pm
Cheesecake 2: Magnolia Bakery
Magnolia Bakery has some incredible cheesecake. The one above is about light and fluffy flavour. This is full on heavy cream and sweet cheesecake with graham crust and lots of sugar. It is very sweet and heavy, but great for a nice treat to end the day. It is quite expensive, to be honest, but the cake is too heavy/sweet to finish all in one seating. It’s good for 2 people to share one. I have to admit that it is way too sweet, but the richness is absolutely delicious.
Recommend: Blueberry cheesecake. Do not recommend caramel pecan cheesecake.
Setting: It is a takeaway/to-go bakery, famous for their cheesecakes and cupcakes. If there is a line, it goes really fast.
Best Time To Go: Anytime is a good time.
Information of Magnolia Bakery
Name: Magnolia Bakery
Address: 107 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, USA (Basement of Grand Central Terminal)
Opening Hours: Weekdays 7.30am-10pm, Weekends 9am-8pm
Mexican Tacos: Empellon Al Pastor (Happy Hour)
We found this on accident while trying the bars in the area. It was happy hour then, and the tacos were at a huge discount. Beers are also on discount and we were pretty tipsy from there. We bought 4 tacos and they gave us a taco free to try! Happy hour tacos plus one free! What a steal. The tacos were fantastic too.
Recommend: Happy hour tacos, 4-7pm
Setting: Great chill out bar with a large bar and high tables. Great place to have a casual meal and wind down for the night.
Best Time To Go: 4-7pm, when there is happy hour.
Information on Empellon Al Pastor
Name: Empellon Al Pastor
Address: 132 St Marks Pl, New York, NY, New York, NY 10009, USA
Opening Hours: Mon-Thu, 4pm-12am, Fri, 4pm-2am, Sat, 1pm-2am, Sun, 1pm-12am
Cuban: Café Habana
Trump may ban Americans from going to Cuba, but it doesn’t stop Cuban food from entering our bellies! There are many great Central-American food in Manhattan, so I figured I am going to recommend one in the 10 Must Eat in Manhattan.
The grilled corn on cob is great and something almost everyone ordered. It is pretty pricey, $4 per small cob, but great to eat in winter. They also added spicy powder, although it was too salty for us. We also tried the spicy sloppy joe, but it wasn’t mind-blowingly fantastic. It was great though.
Recommend: grilled corn on cob
Setting: Cute small café with some sitting by the window. And on the side. Quite a classical/retro style indoor and a bench outdoor, if you ordered to-go.
Best Time To Go: 12pm, during lunch time. People order more corn then, and you get your corn pipping hot! Also great as a nice snack.
Ps: this place is near Eileen’s Special Cheesecake! Have a cheesecake after your Cuban meal.
Information on Café Habana
Name: Café Habana
Address: 17 Prince St, New York, NY 10012, USA
Opening Hours: daily, 9am-12am
America Diner: Moonstuck Diner
You know how American teen movies always talk about working in a diner, eating in a diner, diner diner diner? So obviously “diner in Manhattan” will be in the 10 Must Eat in Manhattan. This is such a typical American place. We had it for our last lunch in New York.
Recommended meal: We had American pancakes with honey and baked potatoes. It was fatty, oily and a huge portion. Not there for the meal, but just the experience of a typical New York diner.
Setting: Firstly, the place is a small diner in the neighbourhood area. Inside, you have people of all races, typical of New York City. The staff are slow unhappy servers that bite their nails (seriously) while the customers’ raised hangs go unnoticed. Their serving portions are large and oily, full of fats. The coffee is only average and barely hot. But that is everything I wanted to experience in a typical American diner. Large portions of food, uninterested servers, fat food and average/low quality meals. It was perfect!
Best Time To Go: Weekend brunches are great as you have more people coming in, so your food is cooked fresh.
Information of Moonstuck Diner
Name: Moonstuck Diner
Address: 244 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, USA
Opening Hours: daily, 6.30am-12.30am
Trevellers is my way to change the world. Through my stories, tips and lessons learnt, I truly hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone, see the world and see who you truly are. Travel is more than just taking a selfie at beautiful destinations. Travel is an adventure, where you can truly become who you are, give you the time to reflect and grow to become the person you’ve always dreamt of.