The New York City hot dog, best served street side doused in ketchup and mustard, is both gritty and served quickly—indeed an emblem of the city itself. Each urban space and culture around the world develops its own street food, from currywurst in Berlin to porchetta sandwiches in Rome. In many instances, street food is one of the most authentic and accessible foods one can eat in a foreign country, presenting culinary traditions adopted to modern urban centers.
Below we have a curated selection of our favorite authentic international street foods in New York City, most of which can be found in brick and mortar shops. Only a select number of cities and nations are represented so please do add your favorites in the comments!
1. Japanese Takoyaki at Otafuku
Takoyaki—a traditional street food from the Kansai region of Japan (the region home to Kyoto)—are balls of octopus breaded and fried in a special takoyaki pan. The best and most authentic in New York City are sold at Otafuku in the East Village. As you enter this tiny cramped shop, you are greeted by the hurried sounds of chefs preparing the next batch of takoyaki or other traditional Japanese dishes, such as okonomiyaki.
When ordered, the takoyaki are covered in toppings such as kewpie, aonorio, konomi sauce, and bonito. With chopsticks in hand, you then take a seat on the small bench in front—the only seating available in this tiny restaurant.
2. Taiwanese Gua Bao at Rai Rai Ken
In the past couple of years, there has been a rise in interest in the steamed pork roll—or Gua Bao—spurred by David Chang of Momofuku’s pork bun. Gua Bao is a traditional street food of Taiwan, comprised of pork belly, a mix of mustard greens, crushed peanuts and cilantro in a steamed bun.
Our favorite is at Rai Rai Ken, a fourteen seat ramen spot, in the East Village. The Tokyo-style eatery and noodle bar also serves other Japanese fare, such as ramen and dumplings.
3. Grilled Corn Mexican Style at Café Habana
The grilled, Mexican-style corn of Café Habana—a restaurant “inspired by a storied Mexico City lunch joint where legend has it Che and Fidel plotted the Cuban Revolution”—is perhaps our favorite dish on this list. Charred, smothered in cheese, and placed on a stick, it has all of the grit necessary of great street food. Served in the cramped storied location, one can either eat it with sit down service or grab the corn to go.
To quote chef and television host Tyler Florence of the Food Network: “It’s everything your mouth loves, it’s spicy sour salty and sweet”.
4. French Crepes at Bar Suzette
As one walks through the streets of Paris, a crepe store or stand is spotted around every turn. This French classic from Brittany is replicated—though often with a New York twist—on the streets of the city. There are many great crepe shops in the city, but for this list, we chose Bar Suzette, the cash-only crêperie in Chelsea Market.
Slightly crispy on the edges, thin, and served with classic fillings or unique twists, its savory and sweet crepes never disappoint.
5. Arepas at Arepa Lady
Arepa Lady, the “crown jewel of Colombian street food,” rose to fame as a tiny street food stand at 79th Street & Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Under the expert hand of owner Maria Cano, the cart eventually gained a trove of loyal followers, prompting Cano to open a brick-and-mortar shop located just two blocks away.
Unfortunately, permits to tear down the restaurant have been approved, but you can still find Arepa Lady at its new home in the recently opened DeKalb Market.
6. Tianjin Dumplings at Tianjin Xianbing
For an authentic Chinese street food experience, take a trip to Tianjin Xianbing in Flushing’s Golden Mall. From the Tianjin pancakes to the selection of dumplings, the offerings are bountiful.
Tianjin, sharing a name with a city in northern China, offers a true street food experience: it is simply a stand buried in the basement of the mall. It is an adventure trekking through the stalls, but the food is surely worth the trip.
7. Halal Street Food at Sammy’s Halal
Though this option lacks authenticity, we felt a list on international street food in the city would be incomplete without at least a mention of the midnight or quick lunch staple. For our list, we chose Sammy’s Halal, the winner of the 2006 Vendy Cup. From the original location in Jackson Heights, new locations have been opened in both the East Village and West Village. The sauces used in the food of the carts are particularly standout.
Next, check out the 10 Best Authentic European Restaurants in NYC.