Delights of the Big Apple: the ultimate food guide

By Susan Elliot

Indulge in a 'Compost Cookie' at Milk Bar
Indulge in a 'Compost Cookie' at Milk Bar
New York City smothers you in the most delicious way. From sizzling sidewalk food trucks to smoked cocktails on rooftop bars, New York City feeds your tummy but also your heart. Here’s how to eat your way through the city like a local.

“New York pedestrian rule number one,” says Harry. “Cross only when a car is approaching.”

The advice from our Brooklyn foodie tour guide has a Hollywood punchline: “Just so you can shout ‘Hey! I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!’’

Dustin Hoffman’s famous line from the 1969 classic Midnight Cowboy sets the cheeky tone for a three-hour walk around Williamsburg’s favourite food spots with Like a Local Tours.

“Compost cookie, anyone?” the guide asks. Sounds irresistible, right? We’ve stopped at Milk Bar, the Williamsburg shop front of the New York bakery, its unique treats secrets behind a rather dull façade. Yet inside, there’s a counter of compost cookies – the creation of chef Christina Tosi, who took the ‘kitchen sink’ approach, tossing together anything and everything: oats, choc chips, potato chips, pretzels and coffee grounds to create a cookie that reads like a disastrous mess. Christina, they taste great. (Milk’s flagship store on Broadway is better for those after a ‘dine-in’ experience.)

Then there’s ‘cereal soft serve’, ice-cream that tastes like the leftover milk in your breakfast bowl – the dregs you slurped as a kid, sans spoon, the second mum’s back was turned. We get a toddler-sized tasting, but there are no tantrums. It’s delicious.

Pizza’s next and, woah! It’s a big, brave call claiming you’re the best! Best Pizza went there. And, hot out of its century-old brick oven, this joint delivers in scorching-hot slices. You won’t be the first to scald the roof of your mouth scoffing the first bite. (A whole pizza is called a ‘pie’ or you can order a single slice. Yeah, right.)

Hot pick: The White Pizza –topped with house-made mozzarella, creamy ricotta, pecorino, caramelised onions and a crust topped with sesame seeds. Free of charge: hours of entertainment working the seeds out of your teeth.

Harry trots us to more besties, such as Northside Bakery which claims it’s the best in NYC; Mable’s Smokehouse with the “best brisket outside of Oklahoma”; Kahkow starring the finest chocolate (love the clever name!); Tacombi’s red-hot Mexican; and bagel sandwiches from Angels Cafe that taste great and do good (40 per cent of profits go to North Brooklyn Angels, a charity that helps locals in need of a feed). A good aftertaste.

New York is the home of bagels; join the line at Lafayette Grand Cafe & Bakery

If there is a queue in New York City, join it!

An Instagram spike means real lines at doors. So, if you see a queue, something is going right.

If croissants, cruffins, cookies or bagels are involved it could be a long, mouth-watering wait. Two hours before they ‘drop’, I join the crowd of salivating, Insta-ready devotees at Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery in NoHo for the ‘Supreme’ – a round, cream-filled croissant that flakes apart in a ganache-y, gooey mess, most of it making it to my mouth. Other ‘must-do queues’ are outside Levain Bakery for its Two-Chip Chocolate Chip cookie, Clinton St. Baking Company for fluffy blueberry pancakes, and Los Tacos No.1 for all four of its taco meals.

“Bagel Tour rule number one,” says Sam Silverman. “Pace yourself!”

The advice comes from my next food guide, balanced on a one-wheeled electric skateboard that looks like a motorised bagel. I’m envious knowing the creator of NYC Bagel Tours will strengthen his core over the next three hours, while mine will be getting a different workout.

Sam Silverman is New York’s ‘Bagel King’. He created the city’s only bagel tour as well as BagelFest, an annual celebration of New York’s iconic food.

“Growing up, my parents called me a ‘bagel-tarian’ because I had one with every meal. It’s the classic New York food,” he says.

The ideal bagel? You will learn that authentic bagels must be boiled before baking, have to be shiny on the outside, doughy inside and of course, must be perfectly fresh (yes, look for those queues!). There are four stops on Silverman’s tour, which ends at Bagel Point for a hands-on lesson with bagel roller Angel Lucero. Lucero has been making bagels for 18 years and hand rolls 2,700 a day, often seven days a week. I’ve done the math for you – that’s 19,000 bagels a week, 982,000 a year and over his career, close to 18 million. This master craftsman says mine is actually good enough to make the shelf. But, which one?

Authentic Tacos at Tacombi and Los Tacos No. 1 in the city that never sleeps

Come in: New York City fun

Flash façades, revolving doors, gleaming floors, valet and concierge –walking into a beautiful hotel makes you feel special. But the savvy ones know you’re not the only special guest.

Local communities are now part of hotel life, with neighbours welcomed to use spaces that were once the exclusive realm of in-house guests.

In Brooklyn, two hotels have nailed it. The Ace Hotel in Boerum Hill, on the edge of downtown Brooklyn, buzzes with locals. Most are at their laptops on long timber tables, re-interpreting the ‘work from home’ model, and with a restaurant, bakery, coffee shop and bar all within metres, who’d want to be at home? As You Are is Ace Hotel’s all-day bakery and restaurant, and every day the hungry gather to feast, starting at 7am for hot pastries (go the cinnamon bun!) and coffee.

At night, Executive Chef Michael King has ‘best in show’ prepared for your plate. I start with Maplebrook Burrata from Vermont, with fresh peas, nduja (a spicy pork sausage spread) and a slab of focaccia. Next, exquisite New England oysters with a cherry mignonette and to crown the meal – Painted Hills Grass-fed strip sourced from a ranch in Oregon, where the cattle have only had one bad day in their life.

At Moxy Williamsburg the heartbeat of the community couldn’t be louder. “We call our guests ‘fun hunters’,” says General Manager Mike Hoover. The hotel heaves with energy. Locals eat breakfast alongside guests before cocooning in one of the communal co-working workspaces for the free WiFi and drip coffee. When the day’s over, all reunite at Bar Bedford where the Pornstar Martini flies off the bar. It’s served as a DIY cocktail, so you can decide how to measure and mix the coconut- vanilla vodka, champagne and passionfruit caviar. Give yourself a 25% tip if it works out.

Dining is at Mesiba restaurant, which has a menu that celebrates the Levant: Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Palestine and Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps I looked hungry, but my Nishnushim, Yalla, Gadal and Mesiba courses arrive together. There’s everything, everywhere, all at once! The bread, Baba Ganoush, Salmon with roasted fennel and Lamb Neck fight for space and I worry the table won’t hold it all. It does, and so does my tummy.

Top off the night at LilliStar, New York’s fabulous new rooftop bar. There’s an Indo-Aussie theme seen in the carved timber chairs and comfy lounges, small dishes like Ayam Goreng (Indonesian fried chicken wings) and cocktails like the ‘Uluwatu’ – sherry, rhum, pineapple sea moss and toasted coconut. The view of Williamsburg Bridge is extraordinary.

Enjoy a Porn Star Martini or two at Moxy; and watch the sunset at LiliStar

Hot in New York City

“Knickerbocker Hotel rule number one,” says no-one. Even if they did, at St. Cloud Rooftop Bar at ‘The Knick’, you could be excused for not hearing.

Towering over Times Square, the view is so impressive it mutes all other senses.

Why not toast the occasion with a martini! This glorious landmark hotel is rumoured to be the birthplace of the drink – British writer John Doxat interviewed a writer who visited in 1912 and was served an ‘unfamiliar cocktail’ by the bartender supposedly named Martini di Arma di Taggia. I order one. But at $36, just one!

Macbeth calls, from The McKittrick Hotel – the home of Sleep No More. It’s an eclectic interactive theatre experience based (very loosely) on Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy.

Patrons are masked for anonymity, sworn to silence and left to follow actors, at will, in near darkness, up and down a five-storey labyrinth. There’s nudity, lasers, fog, strobe lights, loud sound effects and scenes that can’t be unseen. It’s three hours long, but you can sneak out to Manderley Bar for a breather – aka cocktail. ‘Sleep No More’ is the specialty made with Vodka, Elderflower, Butterfly-pea flowers and cider. After the show, take your encore at The Hideout at Gallow Green, a whimsical rooftop garden and treat yourself – you’ve just done at least 30,000 steps! I replenish with a platter of Beau Soleil oysters from New Brunswick, Canada and a cheeseburger with hand-cut, double-cooked fries. Macbeth’s three witches would probably say: “Double, double, toil and trouble!”



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