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My trip to the States was over all too soon, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t share all the things that made it wonderful for anyone going again to enjoy! One of the biggest joys by far – the food.

New York really is a foodie paradise, and anyone who visits the city and loves food will most definitely have their list of top eats. From fine dining options that need to be booked months in advance, to great gems tucked away in the streets and avenues, NY really does have it all. Here are my top picks from the last 5 years of visiting the city, ones that I have made a point to return to year after year.

1. Riki

We chanced upon Riki on my first trip to New York for the NY Salsa Congress in 2008. It’s a little Japanese restaurant hidden away almost underground on 45th, between 3rd and Lexington. The clientele is almost exclusively Japanese, which was a promising sign for us when we got there, and we weren’t disappointed. I’ve returned every year since for the Takenoko Curry Ramen, which is awesome comfort food on a cold day – with bits of onions, mushroom, bamboo shoots, beef and pork in a rich broth, as well as their awesome grilled skewers. My favourites are the tuna, beef tongue and chicken shio ones, but do ask them what’s on the special menu for the day as that really is one of the ways to try some amazing stuff.

Safely my favourite NYC food find, they’re super authentic, unpretentious and all around YUMMY. We went there twice this trip, and would have done more if we could!

Prices are about $10 and up for main dishes and around $6 for a small plate/side, which is really reasonable for New York. Best of all, this place opens LATE – till 1am if I remember right. Reservations are a must if you want a dinner slot on a weekend, unless you are prepared for a long wait. Restaurant Riki is at 141 E 45th St.

2. Carnegie Deli

What’s a visit to the Big Apple without a good pastrami sandwich at one of the city’s famous delis? We all know how much I love my meat, and Carnegie’s really is a meat-lover’s playground. Yes, yes, tell me its a tourist trap and all, but it’s that famous for a reason, and damn, this stuff is good! Dining at Carnegie’s is almost a visual spectacular. From the moment you step in, the walls are just COVERED with autographed photos of celebrities who have come to visit and enjoy the legendary sandwiches. I’m a creature of habit, and I love my beef. So I always order the Woody Allen, a half-corned beef, half-pastrami monstrosity that never fails to make these two hungry girls throw their hands up and surrender, even when we share.

Pretty much everything they serve at Carnegie’s will humble you the moment they set it down on your table. Their monstrous sandwiches have defeated us every single time.

Carnegie’s is at 854 7th Ave, at the corner of 55th, and often has a ridiculous queue outside. My tip is to make sure you’re going on a day where you’ve just slept in too late and arrive well after lunch time to beat the crowds.

3. Peter Luger

There’s loads of big name steakhouses in NY but this is by far one of my favourites. For a tourist, it’s a little bit of a hike out in Brooklyn, but totally worth the journey. While the walls of Carnegie’s are adorned with pictures of their famous guests, the ones at Peter Luger are covered with Zagats. Before making the journey, make sure you make a reservation. Tables for dinner need to be booked well in advance (think weeks). Even for lunch on a weekday, a reservation is highly recommended as walking in really won’t guarantee you a table. Our top recommendation would be without a doubt, the Porterhouse. They know their cuts, doneness is always perfect, and portions are very, very generous. As a general rule, order for one less than what you have in your party and that should fill you all up to the eyes. I’m a purist when it comes to steak, and believe it best served in its own juices, but they also do this tangy steak sauce that’s amazing appetising and helps especially as you get fuller towards the end of the meal. The bacon appetiser is also a must – it’s a half-inch thick piece of fat, greasy bacon grilled to salty, piggy perfection. To cut the grease, their broccoli side is really tasty (and I hate broccoli), washed down with a Brooklyn lager.

An absolute must-go if like me, you love your steak. Bring an empty stomach – you’ll need it!

Peter Luger is at 178 Broadway in Brooklyn. The nearest subway stop is Marcy Ave, accessible by the J, M and Z trains. Reservations are a must, so plan your visit in advance and give them a call at 718-387-7400. Weekday lunch is the best time to go, and remember to bring enough cash – they don’t take payment by card.

4. Halal Guys

My number one guilty pleasure when in NYC has to be street meat. You find them on just about any street corner in midtown Manhattan, and most of them are good. Staying at the Hilton for the NY Salsa Congress meant though, that we could never ignore the massive queue outside our hotel. There are numerous street meat joints around that particular street corner but only ONE is the famous one. Being Singaporean, we couldn’t resist the promise of what lay waiting at the front of that queue, and I must say, this stuff is pretty damn good! I always indulge when the line looks like its less than a dozen people.

53rd and 6th Hala Guys – definitely worth a wait and a try if the weather isn’t too cold. Beware of imitators – there are many that go by the same name and wear the same clothes. You want the one with the LONG QUEUE.

Now I will admit that most street meat around the area isn’t all that bad, and waiting outside in the cold really isn’t for everyone. BUT, I do find that because they cook in such large volumes, the food moves quick and is always hot, juicy and freshly cooked. These guys have also gotten it down to an exact science and the queue moves really quick. My favourites are lamb and chicken on rice. Watch out for the hot sauce – it’s got quite a kick! Halal Guys are at the corner of 53rd and 6th, right outside the Hilton. You can’t miss the long line.

5. Havana Central

This one is yet another discovery we made the very first visit I made to the Big Apple, where my love for Cuban food was born. Yes, it’s a little bit of a touristy place, seeing as how it is just steps away from Times Square, but DAMN they really do some of the best mojitos I have ever tasted! We always do a full jug and end up leaving very happy, with tummies full of their guava-glazed ribs and yummy black beans and yellow rice.

Ribs, rice, beans and mojitos. Top these with palm trees and live Latin music and you’ve got the makings of a great pre-dancing night!

Of course, plus points for them having a good live band that comes to play several nights a week. They actually play decent salsa, and I have been all spontaneous as one should be while on holiday, and done an impromptu pre-dinner dance or two there myself 🙂 Havana Central is at 151 West 46th, just off 7th Ave. Best for dinner, when you’re happy to get a little tipsy and roll out into Time Square in a bunch of giggles after.

You’ve seen the faves. Stay tuned for the finds – a bunch of new places that had me pleasantly surprised this trip.