New York Street Food Guide: Exploring the Top 20 | Street Food Insights

nycLife | New York Street Food Guide - Top 20
nycLife | New York Street Food Guide - Top 20

New York, famously known as 'The Big Apple', is not just an iconic city for its magnificent skyline, bustling Times Square, or the artistic allure of Broadway. One of the city's most captivating facets is its New York street food culture. From hot dog carts at every corner to innovative food trucks, the city's food scene reflects its melting pot of cultures. In this article, we'll take you on a gastronomic journey, exploring the top 20 New York street foods that are as diverse and dynamic as the city itself.

New York Street Food: A Melting Pot of Flavors

The beauty of New York street food lies in its incredible diversity. With a city population as cosmopolitan as New York's, it's no surprise that the food carts and trucks mirror this variety. Whether it's a breakfast bagel, lunchtime tacos, or late-night falafel, New York has a street food for every time and every craving. Now let's unveil the top 20 that have won the hearts (and stomachs) of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

1. Hot Dogs

Kickstarting our list, the quintessential New York hot dog is a street food legend. Originating from the city's German immigrants in the 19th century, these juicy franks have been a city staple ever since. Served in a soft bun with a generous helping of mustard and sauerkraut, they're the perfect quick snack. For an authentic experience, grab one from a cart outside Central Park, like the renowned Sabrett’s hot dog stand.

2. Pretzels

Another German immigrant favorite, the pretzel, has stood the test of time in New York's food scene. These twisted treats are salty, soft, and satisfyingly chewy. Keep an eye out for vendors at street corners. The Pretzel carts around Times Square are particularly popular!

3. Bagels

Though not traditionally considered 'street food,' the bagel plays a vital role in New York's culinary identity. This doughy delight, first introduced by Polish-Jewish immigrants, is available at food carts throughout the city with an array of toppings like cream cheese, lox, or bacon and eggs. Try a classic New York bagel at Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.

4. Pizza Slices

New York and pizza go hand in hand. The city's Italian immigrants introduced pizza, and New Yorkers made it their own with the iconic thin-crust style. Numerous pizzerias, like the famed Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village, offer grab-and-go slices, making it a much-loved street food.

5. Chicken and Rice

The chicken and rice platter, often called Halal food, brings Middle Eastern flavors to the streets of New York. Introduced by the city's large Middle Eastern population, this flavorful dish consists of marinated grilled chicken, fragrant yellow rice, and a refreshing salad. The famous white and red sauces provide a final touch. No place does it better than the food cart of The Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th.

6. Falafel

Falafels have solidified their place in the New York street food repertoire. These deep-fried chickpea balls, served in a pita with salad and tahini sauce, have become a vegetarian favorite. Check out Mamoun’s Falafel in Greenwich Village for some of the best falafels in the city.

7. Tacos

The city's large Hispanic population has given rise to a flourishing taco scene. These tortilla-wrapped delights, filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, and fresh salsas, are a burst of flavor. For some authentic tacos, check out the Los Tacos No.1 stand in Chelsea Market.

8. Dumplings

Head to Chinatown and find vendors serving up steaming hot dumplings, perfect pockets of joy filled with pork, shrimp, or vegetables. This delightful import from China has found a home in New York's food scene. Try some at Vanessa’s Dumpling House on Eldridge Street.

9. Lobster Rolls

New York street food isn't just about affordable snacks. For a more upscale experience, try a succulent lobster roll, a specialty of the New England region. There are a few seafood trucks that serve this delicious treat, but Red Hook Lobster Pound in Brooklyn tops the list.

10. Knishes

Knishes, traditional Jewish pastries filled with potato, meat, or cheese, are a warm, satisfying snack. Introduced by Eastern European Jewish immigrants, they're perfect for New York's colder months. The Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery in Lower East Side has been serving these since 1910!

11. Arepas

Arepas are a mouthwatering import from Venezuela and Colombia. These savory cornmeal patties are often stuffed with cheese, meat, or beans. Arepas Cafe in Astoria, Queens, offers a delicious variety of this South American delicacy.

12. Kebabs

Reflecting the city's Middle Eastern and Turkish influences, kebabs are a popular street food choice in New York. These marinated and grilled chunks of meat, served with rice, salad, and tangy sauces, are flavorful and filling. For some of the best kebabs, head to Kebab King in Jackson Heights.

13. Italian Ices

A sweet respite during the city's hot summers, Italian ices are a frozen treat brought by Italian immigrants. With a smoother texture than regular ice cream, they come in a variety of fruity flavors. Lemon Ice King of Corona, Queens, has been serving up this refreshing dessert since 1944.

14. Dosas

An import from South India, dosas are thin, crispy pancakes made from fermented rice and lentil batter, usually served with spicy dipping sauces. A hidden gem for this delicacy is the famous NY Dosas food cart run by Thiru Kumar (NYC Dosa Man) in Washington Square Park. Payment only by Cash or Venmo.

15. Gyros

Another staple of New York street food, gyros are Greek sandwiches made with slices of marinated meat (often lamb), rolled into a pita with fresh veggies and tzatziki sauce. BZ Grill in Astoria, Queens, is renowned for its delectable gyros.

16. Empanadas

These Latin American pastries are a delightful street food option. Filled with meat, cheese, or veggies, and fried to golden perfection, empanadas are great on the go. For a delicious variety of empanadas, visit Empanada Mama in Hell's Kitchen.

17. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Grilled cheese sandwiches may be a simple dish, but they're a comforting classic. The food trucks in New York have elevated them with gourmet ingredients. Try the exciting menu at Gorilla Cheese NYC truck for a cheesy delight.

18. Shawarma

Shawarma, a flavorful Middle Eastern dish, has found a home in New York's food scene. Slow-roasted meat, wrapped in a warm pita with sauces and veggies, makes for a hearty meal. Check out Zaytoons in Brooklyn for some excellent shawarma.

19. Belgian Waffles

Belgian waffles, with their deep pockets and light texture, have become a breakfast favorite. Topped with fruits, syrup, or whipped cream, they're a sweet start to the day. The Wafels & Dinges food trucks around the city serve some of the best Belgian waffles.

20. Korean BBQ

Finally, the Korean BBQ is a delicious example of New York's vast Asian influences. Marinated meats grilled to perfection, paired with an array of sides, make for an exciting meal. Visit Korilla BBQ food trucks for this tasty experience.


Whether you're a tourist visiting for a week or a lifelong New Yorker, the street food scene in the city is a gastronomic adventure not to be missed. From the beloved hot dog to the international flavors of tacos and dumplings, New York street food encapsulates the city's diversity and vibrancy. Each food cart and truck tells a story, reflecting the cultures, traditions, and tastes that make New York the melting pot it is today.



NYC blogger sharing my adventures. I'm always looking for new things to do in New York, from discovering hidden treasures and attempting the current trends to finding the best food, drink, & shopping.
Manhattan, New York, United States