The Best Food in New York City

Sure, you can talk about Delmonico’s and Le Cirque, but the best food in New York is at Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street.

Katz's Deli, home of the best food in New York City.
Katz’s Delicatessen, home of the best food in New York City.

Judy just got back from a trip to New York. For her job she gets to travel to places like New York and Los Angeles, while I get to travel to places like Springfield or Rockford, Illinois. Not that I’m complaining.

Waiting for a table.
Waiting for a table.

While she was there she visited Katz’s for a meal. Katz’s is not trendy, in fact it seems to be in a time warp where it is forever 1947. It serves Jewish comfort food, food that resonates powerfully with people whose grandmothers served them home made blintzes and kugel (as mine did). Judy’s background is actually German Lutheran, but the fare at Katz’s can strike a chord with anyone whose grandmother came from central or eastern Europe. ย Both of us have a soft spot (so to speak) for this type of food.

Matzoh Ball soup. Yum!
Matzoh Ball soup. Yum!

So a meal at Katz’s was mandatory. And what harm could there be in a bowl of matzoh ball soup, especially when it’s just one matzoh ball? Sure, it’s as big as a softball, but so fluffy!

Just a little nosh.
Just a little nosh.

Actually, I think Judy showed admirable restraint, limiting herself to the soup and half of a chopped chicken liver on rye. And some dill pickles, of course. And me? Well, she brought me a t-shirt.

Russ and Daughters. Motto: "Appetizing Since 1914".
Russ and Daughters. Motto: “Appetizing Since 1914”.

As long as she was on Houston Street, it made sense to visit Russ and Daughter’s, or as I call it, the Fort Knox of Lox. By the way, both of these establishments are covered in Calvin Trillin’s classic book, American Fried, one of the most entertaining books about food ever written.

Russ and Daughters: now, that's a fish counter!
Russ and Daughters: now, that’s a fish counter!


The Fort Knox of Lox
The Fort Knox of Lox

Russ and Daughters is a Mecca for people who grew up associating smoked fish with special occasions.

Cream cheese that's better than ice cream.
Cream cheese that’s better than ice cream.

Russ and Daughters makes their own cream cheese. It is laid out in its many variations, looking as luscious as gelatto. Judy had to have a taste to affirm that it is still miles beyond the cream cheese we buy in the supermarket. It still is. Oh, and she brought me a coffee mug.

Yonah Shimmel's Knish Bakery.
Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery.

Sadly, Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Bakery, another Houston Street institution, was closed when Judy came by. What is a knish, you ask? A knish is kind of like a Jewish samosa. Tragically, knishes are becoming increasingly hard to find so Yonah Shimmel’s serves as an important bulwark against knish oblivion.

What is your favorite childhood comfort food?

39 Comments on “The Best Food in New York City”

  1. I love Katz’s! It’s one of the places we always visit in New York mostly because we don’t have real bagels out west. Out here they’re more like doughnut shaped bread. When my aunts and uncles from Connecticut (big polish family) would come to visit us country hicks in Vermont, they’d bring goodies from a Jewish Deli (don’t remember which one as I was just a kid.) Always cheescake and lots of bagels. To this day, the flavor and texture of a great bagel takes me back. I’ve considered having Katz’s send bagels as they same day air deliver them. Hmmm. Really only a t shirt and a mug? That’s torture but it’s nice that she was thinking of you! My favorite childhood comfort food is oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar.

    • Why is it that there are so few good bagel bakeries outside of NY? Even in the whole Chicago metro area I’d say there are really only three decent bagel bakeries. (Fortunately, two are an easy drive from my house.) I think most people really don’t know what a bagel is. They see Dunkin Donuts or Einstein’s selling something called “bagels” and they reasonably conclude that those are actual bagels, not suspecting how tragically wrong they are.

  2. Wow! Really makes me want to go there. My comfort food – probably mac & cheese. Although my grandmother’s knephfli (I’m taking a stab at the spelling) is right up there. A simple mix of flour and egg made into a dough and cut into sauerkraut as it is heated. Kind of dumpling-like. My mouth is watering just writing about it!

  3. Jason, you have NO idea how excited I was when I saw the title of this post. If I ever get my butt going, I’m planning a trip to NYC in late June (probably July now because my butt has not got going in time!) I went there with my friend last May and want to take my husband there. We will try at least a few of these, if we can!

  4. What a fun post. Katz’s is stuck in 1947, except the prices, of course, which are very 2014. What I loved about Katz’s was the sight of New York’s multi-ethnic population chowing down on Jewish comfort food. The last time I was there was with some friends who are originally from Thailand but who have lived in NY for ages. One ordered corned beef, the other had salami. Now that’s America.

    • True, the prices are very contemporary, even ahead of their time. I also enjoy the ethnic mishmash you get around food in this country, especially in big cities. There’s a Croatian and an Indian restaurant near us and both have Mexican cooks and owners.

  5. What a smashin’ post! You do make me smile, so….bit unhappy with the T shirt and mug eh? Lol. This brought back happy memories of my time in New York, what a wonderful place it is. For me as a kid it was always curry and chips, from the chippy!xxx

  6. If I had been anywhere remotely near Houston Street on my last day in NYC, I would of course have brought Jason an entire care package of fish and cream cheese and chopped liver. But sadly, my last day was in Brooklyn and the upper east side of Manhattan, and I couldn’t see how to get back to the lower east side enroute to Laguardia. Let me just say, that chopped liver at Katz’s was probably the best I ever had. The cream cheese from Russ and Daughters was absolutely the best ever – I didn’t even know cream cheese could be that good. Major thanks to Calvin Trillin. I wouldn’t have know about it except for reading his essays – but his description was such that even 20 years after reading it, I remembered and knew I had to have some.

  7. There is something about those old restaurants that just appeals to me! The history and the nostalgia are what I crave as well as the food and that restaurant looks like it has it all! When I was a kid my grandparents would bring us to this old pizza shop…it was a dive. But the feeling and the food were top notch! Comfort food for us is usually Italian food as my pop has done a good job teaching us about the foods he grew up with. Happy weekend to you!! Oh and I was going to ask you if you were going to attend any of the open garden days in Lake Forest on June 22nd…I got the schedule from the tribune and plan on taking my mom to a few!

  8. I don’t know any of those dishes! Glad you at least got to see the photos. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You got me thinking…. my favourite childhood food was possibly my Nanna’s macaroni pudding…. like rice pudding but made with macaroni noodles. She couldn’t cook at all, except for this!

  9. Oh sorry, but Jewish food and my stomach don’t get along at all. Being married to a Jewish guy (first marriage) I had to eat it for holidays and I have to say I am glad not to ever again. Seeing even the photos of matzoh and lox made my stomach quiver. Being German Lutheran I am not too fond of any German food either.

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