New York Food Trends Safari: Five inspirational takeaways from the Big Apple

Insights Lab by Egg Soldiers returns from another globe-trotting food safari, this time tackling the amazing food scene in New York, with the team somehow whittling things down to reveal five of its top food takeaways

Header collage of New York food safari photos
How much eating can you get done in just over two days in New York City? That was the question the Insights Lab team asked itself long before touching down at JFK for its latest and greatest food safari - The Big Apple.

Pizza, hotdogs, cheesecake, pastrami on rye - the list of iconic New York food options goes on and on, with our senior trends strategist, Tom Gatehouse, and new trends analyst, Hannah Atton, quickly ditching their bags at the hotel and heading out to seek out on-trend culinary treasures for NPD and menu inspiration.

"It was my first time in NYC, and I had a list as long as my arm of places I was desperate to try," Tom says.

"With such a short turnaround, I was lucky to have Hannah - who's been three times in the last year - to manoeuvre me round Manhattan and Brooklyn, saving me from wasting time getting completely lost in maps!"

In just over 48 hours, Tom and Hannah visited over 50 spots, capturing amazing learnings from some of the best in the business, with the pair putting their heads together to produce this free snapshot into their research trip, showcasing five inspirational takeaways with topline action areas and trend alignments for food teams across retail and foodservice.

Big BBQ: Bark BBQ
Timeout Market, Brooklyn
Chopped chicharron & brisket sandwich with pickled onion and bark sauce
New York has some brilliant BBQ spots, from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que just off the Hudson, to Pig Beach in Queens. None piqued our interest more, however, than Bark BBQ - the stunning Texas-Dominican style operation led by the cowboy hat-wearing pitmaster, Ruben Santana.

Santana has superbly married Texas-style cooking techniques with the rich, varied flavours of the Dominican Republic, with Bark BBQ offering a range of showstopping meats - from brisket and pulled pork, to Dominican-style chicharron - along with a medley of flavourful sides including an outrageous mac & cheese made with sour cream, achiote and smoked Gouda.

We found Santana in the Timeout Market outpost of Bark BBQ in Brooklyn, and ordered the chopped chicharron & brisket sandwich from the man himself. Served in a soft, squidgy bun with pickled onions and the signature, vinegar-based Bark sauce; the sandwich was a masterclass in meat-centric satisfaction, with Santana also giving us a taster selection of his pulled pork (a spicy, juicy little number) and rib tips (just pure crunchy goodness).

Grocery Heaven: Trader Joe's
Union Square, Manhattan
Trader Joe's 'New Items' shelf
Trader Joe's is a bit of a supermarket of dreams for foodies like us.

An innovative own-brand Mecca packed with on-trend (and trend-starting) food and drink products ripe for the plundering; we spent a good hour in its Union Square outpost, finding inspiration down every aisle.

A few of our many spots included:

  • 21 Seasoning Salute - a blend of onion, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander, garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato, lemon juice and lemon oil.
  • Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus - a puréed chickpea hummus with a blob of Crunchy Chilli Onion - a smoky, sweet-spicy condiment with red bell pepper, olive oil, chilli flakes, garlic and onion.
  • 'Bool Kogi' - Korean-inspired boneless beef ribs in a savoury sesame and soy marinade
  • 'Protein Palette' - on-the-go packs of Italian dry pepper-coated uncured salami, roasted salted almonds, and Parmesan cheese crisps.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Powerful Pizza: Angelo's / Di Fara
Pepperoni pizza pie from Di Fara Pizza by Wonder
It wouldn't be a food safari to New York without a slice (or five) of pizza. We hit two spots in Manhattan in the two days, both of which were exceptional, but also remarkably different.

The first was at Angelo's Pizza on Broadway - a humble spot found (at the time) swamped in scaffolding. It's said to have been making its coal oven-cooked pies since the 1930s, with its menu featuring a white, a square, a calzone, and the 'Old Fashioned Margherita', with toppings all extra.

We got the latter, and while it wasn't much to look at (third photo below), the tomato sauce was beautifully rich, with the considered amount of mozzarella really needing only to play textural backup, with the slice itself crisp, light and perfectly charred.

Our second shot came at Di Fara - a great recommendation from our Head of Projects, JJ. Another legacy NYC pizza name, Di Fara is actually a Brooklyn mainstay, but we managed to pick up a pie at Wonder - a dark kitchen-style operation just off Central Park on the Upper West Side.

Devoured in Central Park proper, this pie was thicker, cheesier, and altogether messier than Angelo's; a perfect pepperoni number cooked (we figure) in an electric oven - a change widely made by Di Fara HQ last year after a half-century of gas-oven pizza production.

Hand-Held Heroes: Katz's / Halal Guys
Pastrami on rye (with cheese) from Katz's Delicatessen
If you pushed us to say which spots delivered truly transformative food experiences during the New York food safari, our visit to the iconic Katz's in the Lower East Side would be a nailed-on top three.

The Jewish deli is the oldest in the city and is absolutely heaving every single day. The pastrami on rye is the hero offering, with the Insta-worthy titan worth every second in the queue.

Katz's has eight different ordering stations run by eight different sandwich makers, each of which relentlessly slice stunning chunks of pastrami beef navel from whole cuts while you wait (with samples).

The sandwich itself is 90% pastrami, two small slices of bread, and a dab of mustard. That's it (unless you add cheese like us). And the experience is one we'll never forget, with the pastrami almost softer than the bread, warm and unbelievably delicate in flavour.

Then there was Halal Guys - the original Halal Guys, we should say, on the corners of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue.

A brand that's spreading far and wide, away from its humble food cart roots; we visited late on day two, scoring a chicken gyro sandwich in warm pitta bread, covered in its famous white sauce.

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Premium Spots: Tin Building by Jean-Georges
Lower Manhattan
Jalapeno-infused extra virgin olive oil
Found in Lower Manhattan's historic Seaport, The Tin Building by Jean-Georges is a place for serious foodies.

Boasting an array of open kitchens, multiple retail concepts, and an impressive fresh food market; the two-story building is awash with gourmet options from all over the world.

Of our many spots, we found:

  • Jalapeño Olive Oil - Spanish olive oil infused with fresh jalapeños for a "deliciously spicy, fruity, and green heat".
  • OffLimits Pancake & Marshmallow Cereal - Pancake puffs made with real maple syrup and sprinkled with vegan vanilla marshmallows.
  • Xilli Salsa Macha Con Cacahuate - slow-fried chipotles and toasted peanuts in chilli oil.
  • Yuja Korean Jam - a yuja (Korean yuzu citron) jam, said to go well with yoghurt, ice cream or even melted in warm water as a citrus tea.
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