Forget about its abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants and fine dining establishments, if there’s one thing New York does better than anywhere else on earth, it’s street food. Every cuisine imaginable is represented on the streets of the Big Apple thanks to the city’s famous multi-culturalism. Whilst many people will be aware that New York offers plenty of pretzel stands and hot dog vendors, many will be surprised at the sheer diversity on offer from the unassuming carts that can be found on just about every street. From classic Italian pasta dishes to American staples such as hot dogs and even avant-garde Asian foods, NYC is brimming with exciting street food vendors.
Of course, one of the best things about New York street food, in general, is discovering new flavours. With this in mind, visitors to the Big Apple are encouraged to find out their own favourite places, uncovering hidden gems and discovering new flavours and aromas. However, there are some places that have carved out a reputation that sees them serving to thousands of hungry New Yorkers every week. Below is a list of the top ten must-try New York street food vendors:
1: Wafels and Dinges
Waffles have been a popular European street food for decades, a trend which has quickly caught on in the USA. Wafels & Dinges was established in 2007 and quickly became a local favourite. Diners choose their basic waffle shape before adding a variety of dinges (toppings) like strawberries, whipped cream, fudge, and syrup. The Wafels & Dinges trucks move throughout the city, but there’s also a handy online tracker which details their location at any given time. There are also several sit-down locations, as well as kiosks. Visit the kiosk in Herald Square, an ideal spot where you can nab an outdoor seat to eat — it’s going to get messy. Wafels and Dinges restaurant can be found on Avenue B in Alphabet City, Manhattan.
2: The Cinnamon Snail
The Cinnamon Snail was one of America’s highest-rated food trucks before opening a stationary location in The Pennsy Food Hall, where it now serves a huge menu of vegan specialities. Whilst it is now a sit-down venue, the Cinnamon Snail has remained true to its street food roots and its range of snack foods appeal to both vegans and non-vegans alike. The Cinnamon Snail can be found on Southwest corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue and is open from 1100 – until 2100 daily.
3: Melt Bakery
The Melt Bakery pins its operation on the reality that everyone loves cookies and ice cream. As an ‘ice cream sandwich specialist’, this popular vendor has arguably hit upon the ultimate street food format. With specialities including the Lovelet (Red Velvet Meltcakes + Cream Cheese Ice Cream), the Cinnamax (Snickerdoodles + Cinnamon Ice Cream), and the Classic (Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies + Vanilla Ice Cream). Each dish is handmade on-site, using locally sourced ingredients. They’re open daily at their shop on the Lower East Side.
4: Uncle Gussy’s
Uncle Gussy’s started vending hot dogs and pretzels on 51st and Park Avenue in 1971. Since then it has expanded its offerings to become NYC’s go-to vendor for traditional Greek food and other speciality dishes. Uncle Gussy’s is a family-run business with plenty of secret recipes behind its delightful range of Kokkinisto, Keftedes, Gemista, Spanakopita, and other authentic Greek Cuisines. However, Uncle Gussy’s is best known for its incredible stuffed pita sandwiches, which start at just $6. You can find them each weekday at 51st Street and Park Avenue, Midtown Manhattan.
5: Korilla BBQ
Korrilla BBQ pride themselves on bringing the best Korean cooking in a street food format. The main staples of Korilla are Chosun rice bowls and Korean-style burritos, which diners customise as they order, adding from a huge range of fillings and sauces. There are sit down venues in Hells Kitchen, Midtown and Downtown Brooklyn, but the trucks change location daily. They can be tracked on the company website (https://korillabbq.com/locations) which also contains details of opening hours for the various outlets.
6: The Halal Guys
Beginning as a hot dog cart back in 1990, the Halal Guys is now a nationwide operation, with sit-down restaurants in various cities across the US. However, despite its huge success nothing compares to its original food cart on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. One of the most popular dishes offered is the chicken and gyro over rice platter. Other menu items include sandwiches, chicken, beef gyros, and falafel. You can mix and match your toppings, but be sure to try the savoury white and hot sauce — it’s famous for a reason. The Halal Guys are open every day from early morning into the late-night hours.
7: Delicioso Coco Helado
Amazing food places in New York aren’t confined to Manhattan. Bronx locals who enjoy their ice cream are likely to be familiar with the green-and-white-striped umbrella of Delicioso Coco Helado. Emblazoned with the words “Catch the Flava” Delicioso Coco Helado’s street carts appear throughout the summertime and have become the symbol of the season for many. While the name literally translates to “delicious coconut ice cream,” there are plenty of other flavours to choose from such as rainbow, mango, cherry, and lemon. (For real though, the coconut is where it’s at.) It is reminiscent of Italian ices, but the creamy texture and natural taste are completely different. Delicioso Coco Helado has vendors in all five of NYC’s districts, but the Bronx offers unbelievably low prices starting at just $1!
8: Nuts 4 Nuts, Manhattan
The Nuts 4 Nuts carts first appeared in 1993 and have since become a New York staple. Founder Alejandro Rad was influenced by the French introduction of roasted pralines to his home country of Argentina and decided that they would make a good addition to the New York street food scene. Nuts 4 Nuts carts can be found all over the city, but the best places to find them are in Manhattan’s busier areas like Columbus Circle or Herald Square. Choices include honey-roasted nuts like peanuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans, as well as coconut, priced between $3 and $5 for a bag.
9: The food trucks on 6th Avenue
The sidewalks of 6th Avenue are famous for their fantastic selection of street food vendors. The carts and trucks will change from day to day, so it is also a great opportunity to explore new flavours. The area is populated by tourists visiting sights like Rockefeller Center, but it’s also an important business area which means big business for street food vendors and inevitably attracts the best that NYC has to offer. Some regulars are Coney Shack, with Southeast Asian-style tacos; Phil’s Steaks, boasting authentic Philadelphia cheesesteaks; and Desi Food Truck, serving Indian fare. Websites like Roaming Hunger (https://roaminghunger.com/food-trucks/ny/new-york/) offer details on what will be available on any given day.
10: Sabrett hot dogs in Central Park
Hot Dogs are an American classic – not so much a food but a cultural icon and Sabrett hot dogs, particularly the Central Park vendor, is the quintessential vendor. Loved by both tourists and New York natives, this unassuming vendor is one of the top places for street food in New York, as well as being a classic photo opportunity for eager tourists. Prices for a basic hot dog start at around $3 and other vendors can be found across the city – identified by their blue and yellow umbrellas.
The list above represents some of the best-loved street food places in New York. Whilst they may not all offer the healthiest of dishes, they are an undeniable part of NYC culture and the city would not be the same without the various aromas drifting around and guiding tourists’ noses towards new and exciting flavours. Whilst New York also offers some of the best sit-down venues anywhere in the world, no trip to the Big Apple is complete without sampling some of the amazing street food on offer.