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I've been writing about New York City's food scene for 14 years. Here are the 13 restaurants I recommend to first-time visitors.

I've been writing about New York City's food scene for 14 years. Here are the 13 restaurants I recommend to first-time visitors.
  • I've been writing about New York City's food scene for 14 years and always share my recommendations.

  • Some institutions, like Katz's and Peter Luger, live up to their reputations and are worth trying.

  • Other favorites include Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx and Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.

I've lived in New York City for 18 years and have been writing about its food scene for 14 of them. So when friends visit from out of town, I'm their go-to source for restaurant recommendations.

It's a lot of pressure! A person could dine out in New York every night for a year and still feel like they're missing something — they probably would be, and they have to make peace with that.

Trendy restaurants come and go, especially in popular areas with sky-high rents, so I tend to steer people toward neighborhood mainstays and staples that have been around for decades.

First, some general rules: Stay out of Times Square, don't waste meals by eating based on convenience, and know that a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich from a credible deli or breakfast cart is the greatest cheap breakfast in the world.

Though my list is nowhere near comprehensive (thousands of restaurants open each year across the five boroughs), these are the spots I always recommend to first-time visitors.

Visit the Little Italy of the Bronx and grab Sorrento-style pizza at Zero Otto Nove.

pizza from Zero Otto Nove in new york
Chef Roberto Paciullo created the Italian-American restaurant on Arthur Avenue over 20 years ago.Ted Berg

Many tourists flock to Lower Manhattan's Little Italy neighborhood in search of a classic Italian-American dining experience, but you can find better food at more reasonable prices on Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx.

It's not far from the Bronx Zoo, and you'll probably run into plenty of fellow tourists there as well.

When it comes to choosing where to eat, the brick-oven pizzeria Zero Otto Nove stands out for its Sorrento-style pies. The crispy, puffy, chewy crusts can barely withstand all the fresh mozzarella on top of them. If you can't make it to the Bronx, Zero Otto Nove has another location in the Flatiron District as well.

You really can't go wrong eating Italian on Arthur Avenue, unless you leave without picking up cannoli and rainbow cookies from one of the many Italian bakeries, especially Morrone Pastry Shop and Gino's Pastry Shop.

Order hand-pulled noodles from Xi'an Famous Foods, a budding empire with locations around the city.

Xi'an Famous Foods noodles on plate
Xi'an Famous Foods started in a Flushing shopping mall before expanding to three boroughs.Ted Berg

Xi'an Famous Foods is my go-to suggestion whenever I'm meeting someone for lunch, especially if they're coming from out of town.

David Shi started Xi'an Famous Foods in a tiny shopping-mall stall in Flushing, Queens. Now it's hard to miss, with 12 locations across Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. His son, Jason Wang, is the company's CEO and owner.

The local chain showcases the food of its namesake city, the first Chinese capital. Because Xi'an historically marked the beginning of the Silk Road, its bread-and-noodle-heavy cuisine was influenced by both Asian flavors and Middle Eastern spices.

The impossibly long, hand-pulled noodles are the stars of the menu. I usually opt for the spicy cumin lamb noodles, but everything I've ordered has been tasty.

Eat a delicious sandwich any hour of the day at Sunny and Annie's Deli.

sandwich from Sunny and Annie’s Deli
Sunny and Annie's Deli is a family-owned joint on the Lower East Side.Ted Berg

Much of my food writing has focused on sandwiches, and no place in New York City makes them better or more complex than Sunny and Annie's Deli on the corner of Avenue B and East 6th Street.

The humble-looking bodega stacks its heroes with both traditional and unusual ingredients, creating unlikely combinations. The best part? It's open around the clock.

Be warned: The array of handwritten sandwich specials can leave you feeling dazed, but even if you close your eyes and point, you'll probably come out OK. I like the P.H.O. 2017, which features bulgogi beef, bacon, cantaloupe, and avocado — among other things.

Sunny and Annie's Deli doesn't have any seating, but it's a short walk from the benches in Tompkins Square Park. Or, you can set up shop by the East River.

Wondee Siam serves fiery Thai dishes near the Theater District, making it the perfect stop before a show.

Wondee Siam in hell's kitchen restaurant exterior
The restaurant serves curries, noodles, fish dishes, and more.Ted Berg

There's a lot of great Thai food in New York, especially in Queens' Elmhurst and Jackson Heights neighborhoods.

But in Hell's Kitchen, just west of the Theater District, there's a stretch of Thai restaurants on 9th Avenue anchored by Wondee Siam.

The menu mixes familiar and specialty Thai dishes. The Thai-style Gra Praw sings with fresh spices, but be warned that ordering anything labeled "extra spicy" or "Thai spicy" at Wondee Siam is not for the faint of heart.

If there's not a long wait, it's a great place to grab a meal before a Broadway show.

Sample Serbian delights in a festive atmosphere at Kafana on Avenue C.

Kafana on Avenue C, pljeskvavica
My go-to order at Kafana is the pljeskavica.Ted Berg

If you're studying a subway map, Manhattan's Alphabet City, a neighborhood that extends south of 14th Street and east of 1st Avenue, may seem a bit out of the way.

But it's not a far walk from Lower East Side sights like the New Museum and Tenement Museum, and it offers one of the city's richest food scenes.

I especially like Kafana on Avenue C. The pub is cozy yet lively and focuses on Eastern European wines and Serbian fare. One of my favorite dishes is the pljeskavica, a big ball of seasoned, ground meat stuffed with ham and cheese.

Joe's Pizza and Patsy's Pizzeria sell the best slices in New York City, but they have stiff competition.

exterior shot of joe's pizza on Carmine Street
Joe's Pizza started on Carmine Street, but it has since expanded all over the city.Rob Kim/Getty Images

As a New Yorker, I am, of course, a zealous defender of the city's pizza. But New York's pizza scene isn't special because of a specific restaurant —  every US city has at least one great pizzeria — it's exceptional because of the ubiquity of excellent pizza here.

If you're seeking classic New York-style pizza in a slice-shop setting, head to the original Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street, or stop at own of its newer locations near Union Square, in the Financial District, or in Williamsburg.

For more of a sit-down experience, grab a slice at Patsy's Pizzeria at its original East Harlem location. The coal-oven pizzeria has been around since 1933 and takes credit for the idea of selling pizza by the slice. Now, it's expanded to Turtle Bay and the Upper West Side.

Even though I have my favorites, you can find a great slice in pretty much any New York neighborhood. Just look for a neon sign and a small crowd of locals inside. Don't fret too much about toppings — a cheese slice remains the standard.

Indulge in a meat-heavy lunch at Peter Luger, one of the city's most iconic steak houses.

burger from Peter Luger
The burger from Peter Luger is only available until 3:45 p.m. each day.Ted Berg

Peter Luger, an iconic Brooklyn steak house tucked in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, can be divisive among New Yorkers. But the stalwart steak house has been around since 1887 and has an old-world ambiance that carries a certain charm.

The best way to experience Peter Luger is to go for lunch and order the Luger Burger, which is a 1/2-pound cheeseburger, and a slice of thick-cut bacon. It's hardly a bargain, but it's a heck of a meal, and I find it way more reasonable than Porter House Bar and Grill.

After your meal at Peter Luger, let yourself digest during a walk north on Bedford Avenue to the heart of Williamsburg. If you wander all the way to Greenpoint, pick up a treat at Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop for dessert.

Taste Jamaican flavors at The Islands, a restaurant near the Brooklyn Museum.

The Islands exterior in Prospect Heights
The Islands moved locations in 2017.Ted Berg

I had one of my most satisfying New York meals to date at The Islands in Prospect Heights after a snowy walk through Prospect Park.

A long-standing neighborhood favorite, The Islands started out in a narrow space on Washington Avenue with ceilings so low in the upstairs dining area that patrons had to duck their heads to get to their tables.

It moved a few blocks north on Washington Avenue in 2017, and the new space gives diners plenty of room to stretch out as they enjoy curried goat, jerk chicken, and escovitch fish.

Harlem has countless culinary gems, and Le Baobab Gouygui is one of my favorites.

Le Baobab Gouygui in new york
Le Baobab Gouygui is six blocks north of Central Park and steps away from the 116th Street subway station.Ted Berg

Harlem has a ton of great food, including comfort food at celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster, the city's best smash burgers at Harlem Shake, and soul food at Sylvia's.

But while you're there, don't miss the stretch of African restaurants on 116th Street, and look out for a Senegalese spot called Le Baobab Gouygui.

The menu changes daily, but I'm partial to the lamb maafe — a peppery, garlicky tomato-based stew loaded with rich chunks of tender meat.

Katz's monstrous sandwiches are world-famous for good reason.

pastrami from Katz's deli in new york
Katz's has appeared in movies including "Donnie Brasco" (1997) and "When Harry Met Sally" (1989).Ted Berg

Katz's isn't an insider's spot. In fact, it's probably one of New York's most touristed restaurants. But I give all first-timers my blessing to enjoy the city's oldest deli (it dates back to 1888).

Try a pastrami sandwich while you're there and know that it comes with enough meat to feed a whole family — if not an orchestra. Share one and pair it with other dishes like cheesecake, knishes, and matzo-ball soup.

Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side sells the best bagels in the city.

Absolute Bagels everything bagel with cream cheese
Sam Thongkrieng founded Absolute Bagels after working at Ess-a-Bagel for years.Ted Berg

New Yorkers who are loyal to their local bagel shop might think it's crazy to trek across the city solely for some bagels and schmear.

But shopping for bagels can be a bit of a minefield, and if you want to make sure you get it right during your visit, you need one that's boiled and baked in-house. Absolute Bagels on 107th Street and Broadway offers just that.

Absolute seems perpetually busy, so be prepared to wait a bit to order and make sure you have cash (the store doesn't accept cards).

There's no need to toast your bagel here since they're always fresh. You can gussy it up with eggs or lox, but I usually opt for a simple shmear of plain cream cheese.

After you order, walk west to Riverside Park or north to the Columbia University campus to enjoy your bagels outside.

Casa Enrique in Long Island City serves Michelin-star Mexican food.

Casa Enrique tacos
Casa Enrique opened in 2012 and earned its first Michelin star two years later.Ted Berg

Across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City offers one of New York's most exciting dining scenes (along with some of the city's most compelling contemporary art at the architecturally gorgeous MoMA PS1).

You'll likely need a reservation to eat at Casa Enrique, an adorable, Michelin-star Mexican restaurant helmed by Chiapas-born chef Cosme Aguilar.

Prepare to share. The fish tacos, ceviche, mole de Piaxtla, and albondigas – meatballs stuffed with hard-boiled eggs in smoky chipotle sauce, one of Aguilar's family recipes – are all must-haves.

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