I'm always asked, "Where should I take my friend/relative who's visiting from out of town?" And my first response is to ask, "What's your budget?"
Indeed, few other cities in the world can rival New York City in terms of extravagance, and this definitely extends to food. One can find two slices and a soda for three dollars at almost any pizza place in Manhattan, and then there's Masa that charges $500 per person (not including the drinks).
There are the obvious tourist traps, such as Grimaldi's pizza, Shake Shack burgers (although I would recommend them anyway), and Papaya dogs, but if you have the money to spare I'd say go for Eleven Madison Park, the third best restaurant in the WORLD for 2016.
Before I continue, I should write a disclaimer. New York is full of food, what with over 24,000 eateries. Because of this, everyone has his or her own preference, which is usually dictated by the area in which she lives. There are also five boroughs, all with their own flavors, but tourists usually stick to Manhattan, and lately Brooklyn. Then there's the issue of what kind of food do you want? Italian? Korean? Chinese? American? Indian? Filipino? Mediterranean? Japanese? And so on.
So I'll begin with cheap eats. Tacos are always best from the taco trucks, but Empellon is a nice fancy taco place. I've gone back time and again for their queso fundido (melted cheese with different things like shishito peppers in them). The halal chicken over rice is always a winner, and if you're with a tourist Halal Guys is a safe bet. They even have multiple locations throughout the city. For hot dogs, I'd stick to Papaya Dogs, although I love Shake Shack's shackago dogs. There's Chinese dim sum, and the best are in Flushing, Queens. But if you're sticking to Chinatown in Manhattan, I prefer Shanghai Asian Cuisine on Elizabeth Street for their incredible soup dumplings, or Nom Wah Tea Parlor just because it's cute. A surprisingly authentic but cheap Italian place is my favorite Spaghetti Incident. You can tell the authenticity of any place if people of that nationality eat there. Italians come here in droves, probably to visit their friend, the owner. I love the chitarra with homemade mozzarella, and it goes for just $13.
If you'd prefer to find these cheaper eats all in one place, you can always visit the Plaza Food Hall across from Central Park on 5th ave and 59th st. My favorite lobster rolls of all time can be found at Luke's Lobster in the food hall. Lady M, famous for their mille feuille (thin crepe layered cakes) is there. And even Francois Payard is there! Anything that comes from Payard is a winner. The last time I went, I had this raspberry mousse cake that I'd kill to have again. It was that good.
Speaking of dessert, there's also the famous cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery in the West Village, and Grom's gelato (my favorite flavor is the Crema di Grom). Laduree is an upscale tea and pastry place, and I love their rose macarons. Magnolia Bakery has a wonderful banana pudding.
In terms of pizza, there's lower end pizza and real restaurant-style pizza. I'd recommend Joe's pizza on Carmine street in the West Village or Artichoke pizza with multiple sites in the city for the lower end. My favorite ever mid-range pizza place is John's Pizzeria of Bleecker Street, also in the West Village. They've been there forever, and still serve real brick oven-baked pizzas. The crust on the pizza is thin and to die for.
Speaking of Italian, tourists love Eataly, which is a real marketplace with restaurants throughout and a restaurant bar on the roof. We ordered soft shell crab at the seafood restaurant downstairs, and they gave us one crab for $26, if I remember correctly. The next night we went to Birreria, the rooftop restaurant bar, ordered the softshell crabs, and got two for the same price. Birreria also has excellent bar food. I've run into Chef Daniel Humm at Eataly a few times (I'm always too star-struck to ask for a selfie).
Some of my favorite mid-range restaurants are Benoit NYC by Chef Alain Ducasse for French bistro fare, Kunjip in Koreatown for traditional Korean food, The Boil for Cajun fusion seafood on Chrystie Street, and Danji in midtown for Korean fusion.
For those who love oysters, the best oyster happy hour is definitely at Cull and Pistol at Chelsea Market. Most places offer one or two choices of oysters, but Cull and Pistol goes all out and offers around ten different types, all at a happy hour price. Be sure to get there early because the lines are long.
For ramen, there's a little place on 14th st and 1st ave in Manhattan I'm fond of called Kambi. I used to live in the area, and it was my go-to place. Tourists usually stick to Hell's Kitchen spots, like Totto Ramen and Ippudo. They rank the same in my book.
For higher end sushi, I prefer Sushi Inoue in Harlem, because they serve this incredible shiroebi (sweet, white shrimp that can only be found in one prefecture in Japan). If you have the budget, Sushi Yasuda is quite nice.
For Mediterranean food, you can never go wrong with Taboon in Hell's Kitchen. It's been there for over 15 years for a reason.
If you want Indian food or Filipino food, please go to Queens.
For vegetarians and vegans, I'll have to write a separate blog entry.