New York places to eat: 10 old-fashioned restaurants still worth visiting (and two that aren't)

New Yorkers have never cared much for cooking at home. In the 19th century, when most people lived in boarding houses or cramped tenements without proper kitchens, eating out was the norm.

Today, there are a staggering 27,000 eateries luring residents from their shoebox-sized apartments and the turnover is brutally high. In a city of fast fads and revolving-door restaurants, however, an extraordinary number of places have stood the test of time, serving as a living archive of waves of immigration, changing food trends and everyday life in New York.

"You can actually track the growth of New York through the development of its different kinds of eateries and taverns and chophouses and cafes and then, eventually, restaurants ... a concept developed in Paris in the 1760s," says Victoria Flexner, a local food historian.

"Things change so quickly in this city so New Yorkers really hold onto institutions that do last, even if it's just a bagel shop."

Eat your way through the city's history at these enduring haunts.

STEAKHOUSE: KEENS STEAKHOUSE

From the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world to the legendary mutton chop, this 134-year-old chophouse is the real deal. Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein and Teddy Roosevelt were among the patrons who paid to keep their pipe here as they were too fragile to carry around. Now, 90,000 pipes hang from the roof in the multi-room establishment. When Herald Square was a theatre district, playwrights mixed with politicians. Now it has a more blokey-corporate-hunting-lodge vibe (ironic, given that Lillie Langtry, actor and lover of King Edward, sued for access to the men-only steakhouse in 1905), with huge steaks and an epic collection of single malts. See keens.com

IF IT'S BOOKED OUT

Try Delmonico's in the Financial District (delmonicos.com) or Peter Luger in Williamsburg (peterluger.com).

CHINESE: NOM WAH TEA PARLOR

The oldest Chinese restaurant in New York, a 1920 tea parlour and bakery turned dim sum stalwart, is as alluring for its ancient dining room as its location on Chinatown's Doyers Street, a tiny angular laneway that was once dubbed the Bloody Angle due to the amount of bloodshed between warring Asian gangs. Now, it's a movie set-like row of brightly-coloured stores and occasional street art projects. Nom Wah's shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings are great while the sweets – almond cookies, red bean buns – were the original drawcard decades ago. See nomwah.com

IF THE WAIT'S TOO LONG

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Wo Hop, down the road, is the second oldest Chinese joint. See wohopchinese.com

LATE-NIGHT BISTRO: MINETTA TAVERN

Bathed in red light and dark wood, this 1930s saloon in the hectic Greenwich Village was restored by hospitality czar Keith McNally into a Parisian-esque tavern that The New York Times called the city's best steakhouse in 2009. Ernest Hemingway and E.E. Cummings once lined the bar. Now it's swanky artist types who Instagram the heavenly Black Label burger with pomme frites or rich cote de boeuf and knock back dirty martinis past midnight.  See minettatavernny.com

IF IT'S BOOKED OUT

Try Chumley's, a nearby 1922 speakeasy. See chumleysnewyork.com

ITALIAN: JOHN'S OF 12TH STREET

"Red sauce" Italian joints are part of New York's identity and they don't get more quintessential than John's. Forget the kitsch of Midtown or the tourist trap that is Little Italy; this former speakeasy has been hiding out in the East Village since 1908, with cracking stucco walls and a back-room candelabra that's been burning since prohibition. In 1922, mobster Rocco Umberto Valenti was killed when he was called to John's for a peace offering. A mafia opponent who lived upstairs ate his last meal here before being assassinated. And it's not a bad one to go out on – the serves are so huge you can share a plate of meatballs and spaghetti with a bottle of red and be out the door for $US50. Skip dessert and walk a block to Veniero's, a pasticceria pumping out biscotti and tiramisu since 1894. See johnsof12thstreet.com

IF YOU'RE ALREADY IN LITTLE ITALY

Umberto's Clam House is old(ish) and has some mob history. See umbertosclamhouse.com

SOUL FOOD: SYLVIA'S

Sylvia Woods' 1962 Harlem lunch counter has morphed from a restaurant patronised by presidents to an empire consisting of a supermarket condiments line and a student scholarship fund. The Queen of Soul Food even owns the block – when Woods died in 2012 the street was named after her. Her children now run the homely restaurant, still with the original counter. The music oscillates between soothing blues and deafening Drake and the crowd is a mix of tourists and family birthday dinners. Try the fried chicken, collards, pillowy-soft cornbread and homemade iced tea.  See sylviasrestaurant.com

IF YOU'RE TOO FAR FROM HARLEM

​Mitchell's Soul Food, 617 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn.

JEWISH DELI: KATZ'S DELICATESSEN

Jewish delis once occupied every corner of the Lower East Side, bringing bagels, lox and matzo ball soup to the world. Katz's is hardly a hidden gem and, yes, the pastrami on rye is now an outrageous $US22.45 but the whole experience is a delight, from ordering hand-cut slices of steaming, 30-day cured meat from the counter to sitting in the noisy dining room, here since 1888, and devouring a monstrous-sized sandwich. See katzsdelicatessen.com

IF YOU'VE BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side (barneygreengrass.com) or Gottlieb's in Williamsburg (gottliebsrestaurant.com).

24-HOUR DINER: VESELKA

A 1954 mainstay from when this nook of the East Village was the Ukrainian Village, Veselka is beloved by night-owl students, drunken revellers, old Ukrainian dudes and, as it turns out, political hopefuls. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sued challenger Zephyr Teachout in 2014, claiming she didn't live in New York for the five years needed to be governor, Teachout dug up bank statements showing late-night visits to Veselka for borscht soup. Midnight perogis may be the speciality but weekend brunch is far more popular. See veselka.com

IF THE WAIT'S TOO LONG

B&H Dairy, a 1930s greasy spoon across the road (127 2nd Avenue), serves a mean tuna melt.

BAR/RESTAURANT: DANTE

You can picture the beatniks and bohemians enjoying espresso and cigarettes at the footpath tables of this 1915 Greenwich Village coffee house. Australian restaurateur Linden Pride, a Neil Perry alumnus, bought Caffe Dante in 2015 and gave it a facelift while keeping true to its Italian roots with classy pasta dishes and a Campari-driven cocktail menu that earned Dante the ninth spot in the World's 50 Best Bars. Baz Luhrmann is among the local regulars, adding to the line of creatives who've warmed the sidewalk seats, such as Al Pacino and Bob Dylan. See dante-nyc.com

IF IT'S BOOKED OUT

For people watching, wander to Caffe Reggio (facebook.com/caffereggionyc). For vintage cocktails, head uptown to Bemelman's Bar (rosewoodhotels.com).

PIZZA: ARTURO'S

New Yorkers could debate all day long over the best old-time pizzerias but Arturo's, an oft-overlooked underdog, earns a spot on this list for several reasons. There's nightly jazz in the front room, there's rarely a long wait (unlike nearby John's of Bleecker, which has the tourist trade cornered) and, most importantly, the pizza is good. Chewy crust charred in a 900-degree coal oven, simple toppings, no-fuss service and walls lined with celebrity headshots and bad paintings by the late founder Arturo Giunta have kept this place going since 1957. It's at 106 West Houston Street.

IF YOU'RE JUST AFTER A SLICE

Try Joe's Pizza (joespizzanyc.com), in the West Village since 1975 and now around the city.

MEXICAN: EL PARADOR

Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have made more of a mark on New York, and West Coast residents like to make it very well-known that Mexican food in New York is rubbish (true, nothing compares to California), but the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city is a charming relic with a "special night out" feel. Don't be perturbed by its location on a barren stretch of already-barren Murray Hill. Inside, it's white table cloths, warm lighting, classic dishes, wickedly strong Margaritas and relaxed locals. See elparadorcafe.com

IF MEXICO IS ON YOUR ITINERARY

Head to Cuchifritos in Harlem (168 East 116th Street) for a half-century of Puerto Rican fried goodness.

GIVE THEM A MISS

GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR

The art-deco tiled ceilings are a thing of beauty but there's not much else to savour in this clattery dining hall in the bowels of Grand Central station since 1913. The fish (often from Australia and NZ) is consistently over-cooked, the staff are jaded and while the oysters are freshly shucked they're over-priced. No local would waste their time.

LOMBARDI'S

It's often called the first pizzeria in New York and is therefore mobbed by tourists. In truth, Lombardi's closed for a few years and reopened after a new owner bought the rights to the name and the recipe. In a city of thousands of pizza joints, no pie is worth a two-hour wait.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/new-york

nycgo.com

FLY

Several airlines, including Qantas, Virgin and United, fly from Sydney and Melbourne to New York.

STAY

The Jane, one of New York's oldest hotels, is in a nautical boarding house, rooms from $US95. Rooms at the plush Washington Square Hotel start from $US247. See hejanenyc.comwashingtonsquarehotel.com

TOUR

Edible History, founded by Victoria Flexner, hosts dinners "focused on a specific era of history, bringing the past to life through food, drink and stories". See ediblehistorynyc.com

Rachel Olding lives in New York and dined at her own expense.

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