April 24th, 2018
New York Food Tours: The Ultimate Guide 2018
Ah, New York.
What can one say that hasn’t already been said?
The Empire City, The Big Apple, The City That Never Sleeps – in this town, clichés are commonplace.
Never is this more apparent than when discussing the city’s food. Yes, the term, ‘melting pot’, may well be overused, but how else d’you describe New York’s extraordinary concoction of cuisines?
Throughout its history, the city has welcomed immigrants from all over the world and, with them, their native culinary traditions. Over the years, these have developed alongside one another; intermingling to become something that’s quintessentially ‘New York’. Today, you can travel far and wide without ever leaving the five boroughs – savoring the authentic (and not-so-authentic) dishes of almost any people or region you care to think of.
And your options don’t end there.
This diversity of cuisines is matched only by the variety of establishments championing them. From Michelin-starred restaurants and historic culinary landmarks, to your local mom-and-pop joint, favorite food truck, and everything in between – in New York, ‘eating out’ can take many guises.
Of course, all this is great news for foodies. In fact, many New Yorkers will proudly declare theirs the greatest food city on earth – and who are we to argue?
However, with such an abundance of choice – in a place where the world’s best pizzeria can appear outwardly indistinguishable from the subpar imitator up the block – how does one decide what to eat?
For tourists – and plenty of locals even – navigating New York’s culinary scene can be tricky. No one wants to waste an appetite on bad food, especially if time’s short.
Well, that’s where food tours come in!
Why go it alone and risk a disappointing meal, when you could join an informed guide instead? They’ve done the hard work for you – seeking out the best bites a neighbourhood has to offer and no doubt sampling a few duds along the way!
Not only do tours guarantee you some seriously tasty food, they’re often an opportunity to mix with locals and learn more about an area’s unique history and culture. In New York, there are hundreds of different kinds available, so you’re once again spoilt for choice!
In this, our Ultimate Guide, we’ll highlight some of our favorite New York food tours while elaborating on what makes them such a welcome addition to any foodie’s to-do list.
The Rise of the Food Tour
New York’s Favorite Foods
Why Take a New York Food Tour?
Map of New York Food Tours
The Five Boroughs
Twenty of Our Favorite Food Tours by Borough
The Heart of the Village Food and Culture Walking Tour
Lower East Site with Nice Guy Tours
East Village Food Tour with Free Tours by Foot
Chinatown with Manhattan Walking Tour
A Taste of Mulberry Street with Ahoy NY Tours & Tastings
Chelsea & Flatiron Daytime Food Stroll with Hidden NYC Foodie Tours
Falling for Hell’s Thailand with Fun Foodie NYC
Brooklyn Neighbourhood Tour, with A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours
Williamsburg Bites: A Brooklyn Foodie Adventure, with Like a Local Tours
DUMBO Street Eats, with Fun Foodie NYC
Brooklyn Pizza & Italian American Food Adventure, with Levys’ Unique New York
Brooklyn Food Tours, with Noshwalks
Athens Next Door, with In Food We Trust
The United Kitchens, with Culinary Backstreets
Flushing Chinatown Food Tour, with Joe D.
Arthur Avenue Shopping & Tasting Tour, with Arthur Avenue Food Tours
The Bronx Food Tours, with Noshwalks
Staten Island Food Tours, with Noshwalks
Neighbourhood Guides: Richard Gibbs’ Staten Island, with Serious Eats
The Best Drinking Tours of New York City
New York Craft Cocktail Tour, with Urban Adventures
The Mad Men Cocktail Tour Experience (Evening Tour), with Mad Men Tour
Gay Village Bar Crawl, with Walk About New York
The New York Beer and Brewery Tour (Signature Tour), with Tour Guides of New York
Upper West Side Wine Tour, with City Wine Tours
Only in New York
The Fat Elvis Package, with Famous Fat Dave
A Food Tour of Seinfeld’s New York, from The New York Times
The 9th Avenue International Food Festival
The Rise of the Food Tour
As the above chart demonstrates, interest in food tours has risen steadily in recent years. This increase can be linked to the broader trend for food tourism which, in turn, stems from our ever-evolving relationship with food – not merely as sustenance, but as entertainment, identity, and popular obsession.
Furthermore, food tours’ popularity speaks to the modern appetite for authentic, ‘live-like-a-local’ travel experiences. Wherever they go, today’s tourists demand the real deal – a slice of life in a foreign land. Curious locals too, not content with the same old haunts, look to food tours as a handy means of gastronomic exploration.
Given New York’s foodie reputation, it’s no surprise you’ll find more food tours here than almost any other city. This story began in 1993, when Big Onion Walking Tours introduced their Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour of the Lower East Side. For $32, you can still join this journey through historic Jewish, Chinese and Italian neighbourhoods, which includes ten outdoor samples.
Foods of NY Tours was another early pioneer. As a teenager in the late 1970s, the company’s founder would roam the city in search of cheap and delicious eats. An idea was born when friends began asking for Todd Lefkovic’s dining itineraries, and – after an enthusiastic response to his first newspaper ad – he launched Foods of NY Tours in the Spring of 1998.
Twenty years later, the company’s success (Todd now offer six distinct tours and employs more than a dozen guides) is testament to the public’s embrace of the food tour formula. Meanwhile, more and more tour providers have sprung up – each, in their own way, showcasing the hidden tastes of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
New York’s Favorite Foods
From grasshopper croquettes to calf’s brain toothpaste – in New York, you’ll find dishes to satisfy any craving. Indeed, for adventurous diners, the city offers a smorgasbord of the weird and wonderful.
When it comes to New York’s must-try foods, however, most of our favorites are a lot more familiar. Listed below are the true tastes of the Big Apple, including original inventions and renowned interpretations of old country recipes.
Any worthwhile food tour will cover at least a few of them, so pay close attention…
Why Take a New York Food Tour?
We’ve already touched on the benefits of a professionally guided food tour, but – in case you still need convincing – here goes…
8 Reasons to Take a New York Food Tour
However painstaking your online research, it can’t beat the knowledge of an expert guide who may well have lived in the area for decades. They’ll take you to the places where locals like to eat, many of which are rarely frequented by tourists.
Most tours include stops at several food sellers, with multiple sampling opportunities. That means you get to try a whole variety of foods, often from very distinct cuisines/neighbourhoods – all for the price of a meal in a sit-down restaurant.
Tour routes are tried and tested. Opening times, distances and prices have already been worked out, so all you need to do is keep pace! Sure, you could plan ahead and devise your own itinerary, but is it worth the extra hassle?
Tour companies are often able to negotiate discounted prices from sellers. Whether you pay the company an all-in fee or make individual purchases at each stop, you’ll usually get a better deal than those going it alone.
History and Culture
Food tours aren’t just about eating! They also provide an insight into a neighbourhood’s history and culture. In fact, many of the establishments you’ll visit sit at the very heart of this. Ask questions, admire the architecture, and leave having learnt something new!
Beyond the glitz, glamour and towering skyscrapers, New York – like any city – is defined by those who call it home. Food tours grant you access to close-knit communities and offer a chance to meet some of their most welcoming characters.
If you opt for a walking tour, you can burn excess calories between stops – great news after all that cheesecake! Relatively few New Yorkers own a car, so walking’s not only an active way of getting between stops – it’s also an authentic local experience!
Tour guides work hard to ensure everyone has a great time on their watch. You’ll be entertained (as well as fed!) and can expect a great atmosphere among your fellow foodies. They’ll also be plenty of willing photographers – so you can leave the selfie stick at home!
Map of New York Food Tours
The Five Boroughs
For a little context, let’s now explore the five boroughs that make up this remarkable city. In this section, we’ll highlight some key neighbourhoods, before introducing a few of the best food tour options.
Any round-up of New York boroughs must surely begin with Manhattan. This slender island is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s iconic sites – familiar landmarks, like the Empire State Building, Wall Street and Times Square. Indeed, it’s hard to walk across Manhattan without at times feeling you’ve strayed onto a film set.
Tourist traps aside, it’s also home to some of Gotham’s most exciting neighbourhoods and – even more importantly for us – best cooking. As you’d expect, choices are endless and good food can be found almost everywhere. Nevertheless, key food tour destinations include the East Village, Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Nolita/Little Italy, and Chinatown.
Heading south of Manhattan and across the eponymous bridge, you’ll soon arrive in Brooklyn. Around 2.5 million people live here, giving New York’s hipster borough the feel of a city in its own right. Popular attractions include Prospect Park, Coney Island amusement parks, and views of the Manhattan skyline.
Brooklyn’s unique spirit, however, is perhaps its greatest appeal. The borough’s historic diversity is manifest in its distinct cultural neighbourhoods, including prominent Eastern European and Russian communities. Meanwhile, its more recent reputation as capital of ‘cool’ draws artists and innovators from far and wide.
Williamsburg, DUMBO, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach are all food tour stomping grounds.
Queens is New York’s largest borough and the first port of call for those arriving at LaGuardia and JFK airports. Here, tourists can admire architectural relics of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs (notably the ‘Unisphere’, as featured in Men in Black) and cheer on the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Ethnically, Queens is incredibly diverse, with large South Asian, Far Eastern, Latin American, African American and European populations. As a result, it’s a fantastic place to try authentic regional cuisine. Join a local food tour and sample the best of Flushing, Jackson Heights, and Astoria.
The Bronx is New York’s northernmost borough and home to hip hop, the New York Yankees, and the modern city’s true Little Italy. Sightseers head for the world-class Bronx Zoo, Botanical Gardens, and Yankee Stadium, before seeking out some of the city’s best red-sauce joints. Likewise, food tours here tend to focus on the Italian American offerings of Arthur Avenue, Belmont.
New York’s ‘forgotten borough’ is noticeably more suburban than its neighbours. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of reasons to catch the free passenger ferry to Staten Island. For one, the 25-minute crossing affords stunning views of Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. On dry land, you’ll find top-notch pizza, red-sauce, and Sri Lankan food in areas like St. George and Tompkinsville.
Phew! Now that we have our bearings, let’s discuss…
Twenty of Our Favorite Food Tours by Borough
New York’s first dedicated food tour company remains one of its best. They offer five different Manhattan tours, including trips to Chelsea, Chinatown and Nolita. Our favorite, however, is this culinary journey through the heart of Greenwich Village. Sample hand-made pasta, famous oatmeal cookies and Indian kati rolls as you explore the streets surrounding Washington Square Park – an area once frequented by the likes of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
The founder of Nice Guy Tours, Dante Mercadante, is a lifelong New Yorker and former stand-up comedian. During his tour of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, you’ll visit renowned Jewish eateries, like Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery, Russ & Daughters, and – of course – Katz’s Deli. Expect epic rugelach, bialys, and pastrami – not to mention fascinating history – in a neighbourhood that was once the most densely populated on earth!
This pay-what-you-like walking tour delves into the vibrant cuisine, history and culture of Manhattan’s East Village. Between food stops, you’ll pass an iconic rock venue, a legendary punk outfitter, and the site of a famous Abraham Lincoln speech. To eat, they’ll be Ukrainian pierogies, pizza, and vegan empanadas, plus nostalgic sweet treats from the hugely popular Milk Bar.
Of course, as you’d expect, Chinatown is home to some of New York’s most delicious Chinese food – soup dumplings anyone?! However, it’s also a diverse centre for many other Asian cuisines, including Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Japanese. This tasting tour is a chance to sample the neighbourhood’s essential flavors – from honey-glazed barbecue pork to moreish wasabi peas – while learning more about the experiences of those immigrants who shaped it.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mulberry Street was at the heart of Manhattan’s Little Italy. Back then, it was a lively thoroughfare crowded with pushcarts, market stalls and organ grinders. Today, this three-hour tour is a chance to explore the street’s rich history, plus darker tales of true crime and mafia plotting. Along the way, you’ll enjoy great pizza and pasta, Spanish churros and paella, Vietnamese springs rolls, and Chinese desserts.
There are several different stories of how Hell’s Kitchen came to be known thus. All agree, however, that this traditionally working class, Irish American neighbourhood was once among the city’s toughest. Fun Foodie’s tour highlights what’s changed since then – notably, through the influence of immigration and nearby Broadway. The recent influx of Thai restaurants is its focus, but you’ll also sample Greek, Irish and Cajun cooking.
‘Manhattan? FUHGETTABOUDIT!’ That’s the motto of this Brooklyn tour company. Their Neighbourhood Tour includes a full sit-down meal at the original Junior’s – a New York institution that’s been serving the city’s most beloved cheesecake since the 1950s. Before lunch, you’ll hop aboard the comfortable. air-conditioned bus and take in the many sights of Brooklyn – Prospect Park, Brooklyn Heights, and Green-Wood Cemetery to name a few.
Discover the old and new of Brooklyn’s hippest neighbourhood during this three-hour tour of Williamsburg. From traditional Polish pastries, to awesome BBQ, and even ‘cereal milk’ ice cream – there’s something to satisfy every craving! Between stops, you’ll follow in Henry Miller’s footsteps, pass amazing street art and admire the ultimate view of Manhattan’s skyline.
DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was once primarily an industrial area. In the 1990s, however, artists began to occupy its vacant warehouse spaces and, more recently, countless tech start-ups have made their base here. Today, the neighbourhood is also known for its awesome (often elusive) food trucks. During this Friday-afternoon stroll, you’ll visit some of the very best while learning more about street food culture and DUMBO’s unique history.
Want to discover some of the borough’s most underrated pizzerias? Well, this is the tour for you! Never mind Brooklyn’s tourist-trap slice joints – avoid the queues and check out a few hidden gems instead! Each tour is led by a passionate Brooklynite and covers three different pies, plus traditional Italian charcuterie, cheese, and baked goods.
Tours are custom-built. The above applies to a private, three-hour walking tour for 1 – 5 people.
Noshwalks offer an impressive selection of neighbourhood-specific food tours. They’re a great way to experience Brooklyn’s diversity, in areas like Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Flatbush, and Sunset Park. Whether you’re seeking homestyle Scandinavian delicacies or Caribbean finger foods – there’s a tour (or combination of tours) to delight any inquisitive appetite.
In Astoria, visitors can immerse themselves in the ‘Opa!’ lifestyle of the neighbourhood’s resident Greek population. Here, you’ll find Greek tavernas, supermarkets, coffeeshops, butchers, fishmongers, and bakers, all selling delicious authentic produce. This unique tour is a chance to sample everything from fresh octopus, souvlaki and gyros, to creamy Greek yogurt and the syrupiest baklava. Just don’t expect any plate smashing!
More than 150 different languages are spoken in Queens, with half of its residents born outside the US. The ‘United Kitchens’ full-day tour of Corona and Elmhurst captures this diversity – bringing together several of the neighbourhood’s best ethnic eateries. Whether serving up Pueblan cemitas or Tibetan momo, each establishment you visit represents a true American success story.
If you’re feeling confident, why not follow Serious Eats’ suggestions for a self-guided tour of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. Their proposed route begins with steamed Tibetan dumplings and – via Venezuela, South India, and Thailand – ends with a slab of Asian-style ‘honey toast’. Perfect if you prefer to set your own schedule, they’ve also published a tour of Flushing.
Joe DiStefano is a Queens-based food writer who’s spent years exploring the borough’s extraordinary range of cuisines. According to the New York Times, he’s an ‘invaluable food sleuth’ and the perfect person to guide you through Flushing’s Chinatown – widely considered the most diverse in New York. Bring your chopsticks and sample the regional specialities of Sichuan, Shanghai, Henan, Xjinjiang, Yanbian, and more!
While its Manhattan equivalent suffers from rising rents and shifting demographics, The Bronx’s Little Italy remains a thriving, vibrant community. Here, you’ll find dozens of family-run food shops, many of which have been in business for over a hundred years. Arthur Avenue Food Tours are unique in that they allow shopkeepers to share their own stories. This personal touch – combined with quality samples, shopping tips, and local history – makes their tour a cut above the rest.
With Noshwalks, you’ll discover there’s more to The Bronx’s food scene than just great Italian. They offer several tours that go deeper – revealing some of the borough’s most popular West African and Caribbean hotspots. Many neighbourhoods here are undergoing a significant revival and there’ve never been more exciting options for adventurous diners. Noshwalks help you to navigate this ever-changing culinary landscape.
Of the five boroughs, Staten Island has perhaps the fewest food tour operators. Nevertheless, Noshwalks have put together a tour that’s well worth the ferry journey. Its focus is Tompkinsville – a fascinating neighbourhood where Sri Lankan, Albanian, Mexican, Jamaican, Polish, Honduran, and Nigerian communities rub shoulders. Don’t dismiss New York’s ‘forgotten borough’ just yet!
Though not a conventional guided tour, this Serious Eats article contains some great recommendations for those planning their own Staten Island food crawl. Richard Gibbs has made the borough his home for nearly 16 years, despite working as an executive chef in faraway Williamsburg. Here, he offers his top tips for finding the island’s best pizza, breakfast, burger, ice cream, and more!
Well, there you have it! Twenty of our absolute favorite New York food tours. Of course, there are countless others worth mentioning – and we’ll come to a few of them later – but we think that’s plenty to sink your teeth into for now.
Instead, let’s now consider…
The Best Drinking Tours of New York City
That’s right! Not only is the Big Apple a glorious place to eat – it’s also a world-class drinking destination.
The nightlife here is legendary, and – wherever you look – the city’s past is bound up with its drinking establishments. Glitzy hotels, historic taverns, former speakeasies, and countercultural hubs – over the years, these late-night spots have all witnessed their share of extraordinary events and noted patrons.
Today, they’re joined by more and more innovative bars, serving everything from locally-brewed craft beers to natural and biodynamic wines. Indeed, these scenes have undergone a recent boom as New Yorkers’ demand for quality booze increases.
It’s during cocktail hour that New York really shines, however, and your visit wouldn’t be complete without ordering at least one of the following…
Feeling thirsty yet?
Happily, there’s a great selection of New York drinking tours designed to help you navigate the city’s eclectic watering holes. From the rowdy to the refined – check out some of our top picks below!
This happy hour tour is a fabulous introduction to the East Village’s thriving craft cocktail scene. Guests will visit some of the neighbourhood’s best bars combining locally-distilled spirits and fresh, artisanal ingredients. Along the way, you’ll hear how prohibition shaped nightlife in the city; with stops at former speakeasies and tales of the notorious gangsters who supplied them. Finally, you’ll swing by Astor Wines, where your guides will offer tips for choosing the perfect quaffable souvenir.
The Mad Men Cocktail Tour Experience (Evening Tour) with Mad Men Tour
Fans of the multi-award winning TV series will love this themed tour of Manhattan. Come dressed in your sharpest 60s attire and prepare for a cocktail crawl, Don Draper-style! You’ll visit several familiar locations from the show – including the Grand Central Oyster Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, and PJ Clarke’s – while learning more about the real-life admen and women of Madison Avenue. Whatever your poison – be it a Martini, Manhattan, or Old-fashioned – you’d be mad to miss it!
For decades, bars have been at the heart of New York’s vibrant LGBTQ culture. Today, they continue to play an important role within the community – and many historic institutions are still going strong. During this lively tour of Greenwich Village, you’ll visit a few of them – including Ty’s, Julius’, and Stonewall – while exploring the history of gay life in the neighbourhood. From an iconic Keith Haring mural, to a pioneering lesbian nightclub – it’s a tour guaranteed to entertain and enlighten.
The New York Beer and Brewery Tour (Signature Tour) with Tour Guides of New York
Gotham’s beer scene has exploded in recent years, and it’s now home to over thirty breweries. It seems the craft movement is here to stay as the city’s thirst for new and interesting flavors shows no sign of disappearing. For beer-lovers, this minibus tour is a chance to visit four trailblazing breweries – Birreria, Brooklyn, Spuyten Duyvil, and Singlecut. It’ll take you from Manhattan, to Brooklyn, to Queens, and include samples of the best local brews.
Head for the Upper West Side to enjoy fine wine and food pairings, in the company of a knowledgeable ‘wine ambassador’. During this private tour, you’ll spend time in two upscale establishments – Burke & Wills and the Spring Natural Kitchen – sampling several of their cellar highlights alongside freshly-prepared small plates. Your guide will talk you through each tasting and offer tips for buying and serving better wine at home.
As with their foodie equivalents, there’s also plenty of self-guided drinking tours for those who’d prefer to go it alone. Nomadic Matt’s Prohibition Bar Crawl, for example, is a must for fellow Jazz Age nostalgists.
Finally, and on another note, this Departures article is your go-to guide for finding good ‘cawfee’. Trust us - in The City that Never Sleeps – you might just need it.
Only in New York
We’re almost ready to wrap up our guide to food (and drink) tours of the Big Apple. However, before bidding you adieu, there are just a few more we must squeeze in.
The following tours are proof – if further proof were needed – that there’s nowhere else quite like NYC.
It’s safe to say Dave knows a thing or two about New York’s abundant eateries. The former pickle man, cheesemonger, hot dog vendor, bread truck driver and cabbie is now a successful food writer and licensed tour guide. Follow the example of Anthony Bourdain and Rachael Ray, and hail his classic Checker Cab for a food tour par excellence. The private Fat Elvis Package can be adapted to suit your personal tastes and includes 12+ stops over 6+ hours. With a guide who knows the city streets (and eats) like the back of his hand, there’s no better way to explore New York’s culinary underbelly!
The city’s greatest sitcom (sorry, Friends) is famous for its dissections of life’s trivialities – many of which involve food. In this article, the Times’ Justin Sablich sets out to visit several eating establishments that inspired said ruminations. His recommended tour covers Tom’s Restaurant, the Original Soup Man, Mendy’s, La Boîte en Bois, and Gray’s Papaya. For fans of the show, it’s a chance to eat like your favorite characters and perhaps ask yourself: is soup a meal?
Okay, so it’s not technically a food tour. Then again, this is our guide – and New York’s oldest, largest food festival is certainly worth mentioning! Now in its 44th year, the event is a glorious, two-day celebration of cultural diversity in the city, where international food merchants line the streets from 43rd to 57th. If you’re around in May, grab yourself a ticket and prepare to travel the world in the space of a few blocks. Typical New York, really.
Well, that about concludes our ultimate guide to New York food tours. We hope we’ve stirred your appetite and inspired your next foodie adventure.
Of course, there are plenty of other exciting tours out there, and new ones can appear in a New York minute. Therefore, if there’s something you think we’ve overlooked, please get in touch!
Maybe you’ve just visited the most incredible hole-in-the-wall, or perhaps created an unusual food tour all of your own – whatever it is, let us know in the comments section below!