How to Eat Like a New Yorker Wherever You Are
Just because you’re not in the greatest city in the world doesn’t mean you can’t eat like you are.
On one fabled night in October, the outgoing President of the United States demurely declared that New York City had morphed into a ghost town, not, as we had long suspected, the city that never sleeps. Upon this unfounded statement, New Yorkers tweeted and posted and shouted in the streets that New York was hardly dead. Instead, it remains a thundering city where dining reservations are impossible to seize and parks overflow with brass quartets and wine-sloshed picnics.
But if you do happen to be someone who escaped the city for the burbs or sold all your worldly possessions to roadtrip across the continental United States, it’s likely you’re pining for a charred slice of pizza, pooling with oil. Whether you’re thousands of miles away or merely across the Hudson River, we’ve culled together some of the most iconic New York foods available for nationwide shipping—from doughy bagels to cheese-stuffed pierogi—that are here to remind you that even a pandemic can’t knock New York City’s lights out.
For over 100 years, Katz’s has been carving fat hunks of spiced pastrami, tucked between slices of rye bread slathered with mustard. While a trip to the storied Lower East Side institution is certainly a must, Katz’s ships its pastrami anywhere in the United States. Reenact the deli experience at home by building your own sandwich with the Taste of New York package, complete with all the fixings: pastrami, corned beef, salami, sour pickles, mustard, sauerkraut, and rye bread.
What began as a neighborhood bagel shop has since evolved into a destination for stacked sandwiches and cheeky cream cheese flavors (think birthday cake cream cheese swirled with rainbow sprinkles). Here, bagels are hand-rolled and boiled in small batches, a process that makes for a chewy exterior and a soft dough inside. Nab a dozen bagels on Goldbelly, from sesame and poppy to cinnamon raisin and salt, then grab your favorite spread and revel in some weekend bagel glory at home.
In the Bronx, hundreds of carrots cakes — a week — are shepherded out of Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, an unassuming storefront whose cakes, muffins, and pastries have boarded planes, thanks to staunch international fans. The eponymous Lloyd Adams ran the shop until his death, and now his wife Betty Campbell-Adams is at the helm of the family business, swearing by the very same secret family recipe: one buoyed by cinnamon, raisins, nuts, and shredded carrots, of course. The neon orange cakes are slathered in cream cheese frosting, sold by the slice or in full cakes. Snag a cake — either with or without nuts and raisins — from Goldbelly, in time for the holidays or just because.
There’s a reason Levain Bakery’s walnut chocolate chip cookies have — at one point or another — overtaken your Instagram feed. The massive, gooey cookies, weighing in at six ounces apiece, were originally designed as a snack during the founders’ triathlon training. These days, though, the cookies have been woven into the tapestry of essential New York City desserts, found in a number of bakery locations and frozen at supermarkets. Those who want the just-baked version can order directly from Levain Bakery’s website for all four flavors.
Dollar slice shops and pizza institutions are sprawled across the five boroughs, but there’s one establishment that needs no introduction for the initiated New Yorker: Di Fara Pizza. Housed on a bustling corner of Avenue J in Midwood, Di Fara has been slinging pies since 1965, after founder Dom De Marco emigrated from Italy to Brooklyn. Dom, who’s well into his 80’s, still stretches out dough, layering shards of buffalo mozzarella cheese and snipping verdant basil — plucked from his own garden — over each pie. Now, the New York-Neapolitan pizzas can be shipped, thanks to Goldbelly; all that’s required of you is turning on the oven.
For the food-minded, a walk down Bleecker Street invariably leads to scanning the towering selection of cheeses and provisions at Murray’s Cheese. The lengthy case teems with soft wedges of truffle brie, wheels of pecorino, logs of goaty bucheron. Digging into any of these cheeses is a coveted balm for anyone who’s had to rely on the waxy, tasteless bricks from the local grocery store. That reality can simply be a thing of the past, thanks to Murray’s vast online business, replete with a host of cheeses, cured meats, pantry items, and gift collections all available for shipping.
At the Israeli Breads Bakery, babka is designed for chocolate lovers: the soft, sweet, braided dough is not only studded with chocolate chunks, but also swirled with sticky dollops of Nutella. The crust shatters when sliced — thanks to the drizzling of sugar syrup before it’s slipped into the oven — emerging with airy pockets of melted chocolate. Order a loaf (or two, or three) online, primed to be paired with a mug of hot coffee.
There’s no tangible evidence — yet — that a platter of plump pierogi at 3 a.m. has the power to thwart a hangover, but that certainly hasn’t stopped anyone in the East Village from visiting this Ukranian standby after a night out. The cavernous corner restaurant has been a destination for bowls of pink borscht and 24/7 breakfast since opening in 1954, long famed for shepherding out half-moon pierogi jammed with short ribs, cheese, and potatoes to hungry diners. To reminiscence, order three dozen pierogi of your choice — made to order, frozen, and shipped — pop them in boiling, salted water for a few minutes, and serve with a side of applesauce and sour cream.
Since 1914, the family-run Russ & Daughters has carved paper-thin sheaths of smoked salmon for the masses on Houston Street. Here, smoked fish goes beyond the prolific lox, with slicers offering up a slew of options from gravlax and pastrami-cured salmon to sable and peppered mackerel. If waiting on the inevitably long lines that curl out of the shop isn’t an option, Russ & Daughters happens to ship all of its smoked fish nationally — along with bagels, schmears, soups, and sweets.
Founder Jason Wang launched Xi’an Famous Foods out of a postage stamp-sized space in Flushing, Queens, where he’d stretch and slap dough into thin, chewy noodles. The restaurant has since been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and opened a number of locations, all known for bowls of spicy, lip-numbing noodles, often folded with hunks of pork and beef swimming in chili oil. Shop noodles kits through Goldbelly, choosing spicy pork belly, soy-vinegar beef, or hot oil-seared noodles flecked with ground red chili powder.
There are few establishments that elicit the same unadulterated joy as walking into Economy Candy. Here, rickety shelves crawl with boxes of candy bars; rainbow-hued lollipops; bags of neon sour rounds and licorice sticks; and chocolate-covered pretzels and nuts. The Lower East Side stalwart has been hawking hard-to-find and perennial favorites since 1937, with the business now well into its third-generation owner. And while we may not be able to as readily shop indoors, the candy cornucopia is dishing out care packages, aptly dubbed Candycare Packs, brimming with an assortment of gummies, chocolate, and hard candies.
At chef JJ Johnson’s Harlem restaurant Fieldtrip, the motto is “rice is culture.” The grain is the star of every dish — from seafood gumbo and crispy chicken to rice milk soft serve. However, when restaurants were forced to shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, JJ and his team quickly pivoted, preparing meals for nearby hospital workers. Since March, Fieldtrip has served more than 50,000 people, with more to come. Although anyone outside of the five boroughs can’t order directly from the restaurant, you can donate a meal — no matter where in the world you are — through Fieldtrip’s donation program.
Amy Schulman is a Brooklyn-based writer and eater.