10 Great Handheld Foods in NYC, 2014


Although we’d much rather stay put with a comforting pot of stew, for folks forced to brave the elements while those clumsy weather gods accidentally drop their frozen cocaine stash all over our fair city, hot, portable snacks can act like edible hand warmers (ed. note — do not use on feet). Short of popping into a bathhouse for a schvitz, ingesting a steamy treat while walking these streets is the best defense city denizens can take against Old Man Winter. When a cup of coffee just won’t cut it, here are ten great options for staying toasty while eating something toasted, baked or fried.

Pork or lamb burgers from Xi’an Famous Foods, multiple locations Jason Wang’s Northern Chinese canteens satisfy many a New Yorker’s need for quick, filling, and cheap grub, and Xi’an’s pork and lamb “burgers” are two of the most popular items at the chain’s several locations. At $3 and $3.50 respectively, they also represent some of the best cheap eats this city has to offer. The sweet pork is stewed until tender, its juices soaking into the bun, while the lamb hits tastebuds with a wallop of cumin and jalapeño heat.

Tamales Oaxaquenos from El Paso Taqueria, 64 East 97th Street, 212-996-1739 East Harlem’s El Paso Taqueria dabbles in slightly upscale versions of popular Mexican staples like supple braised tongue and Baja fish tacos, guajillo chili-spiced lamb chops and roasted duck covered in Pipian sauce. The restaurant’s Oaxacan-style tamales radiate with heat and flavor from within their banana leaf swaddles. Covered in rust-colored mole sauce, cracking one open reveals a treasure trove of spiced chicken. If you’re in Yorkville or Manhattan Valley, be on the lookout for El Paso’s fire-engine-red truck, doling out a selections of tacos, and yes, tamales.

Warm cookies from Buttermilk Bakeshop, 339 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-689-4376 Pastry chef Katie Rosenhouse recently opened this Park Slope bakery, which serves a formidable array of quirky breakfast treats (spinach hashbrown quiche, monkey buns), cakes, cupcakes, and other sweets (purple velvet whoopie pie), but it’s her oven-warmed cookies — baked every hour — that soothe our souls while waiting for spring to arrive. Triple chocolate ‘chunkers’ get a comprehensive injection of white, milk, and dark chocolate, while the Nutella love bite finds a dark chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt and topped with a dollop of the beloved nut spread. There’s also a healthy take on oatmeal raisin, with flax and sunflower seeds and dried cranberries.

Arancini from Arancini Bros., 940 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-418-6347 The Sicilian rice balls known as arancini receive some atypical twists at this Bushwick shop devoted to the craft of deep-frying carbohydrate orbs. There are Philly cheesesteak balls stuffed with grilled steak and aged provolone; balls with corn, jalapeño peppers, and cheddar; and even a linguine with clam sauce-inspired number strewn through with parsley and peperoncini peppers. Hungry for dessert? The bros have your back with sugar-coated balls hiding strawberry mascarpone or chocolate with peanut butter mousse.

Patties from Jamaican Flavors, multiple locations Excellent Caribbean stews, jerk and fried chicken all cede the spotlight to the gloriously flaky patties proffered by this Queens-based chain of Jamaican fast-casual spots. The burnished savory pastries practically burst with fillings of callaloo with salt fish and four kinds of chicken (stewed, jerked, curried, or barbecued). Traditional ground beef is a foolproof option, though a pepper-spiked “hot” version brings us back to the sunny beaches of Montego Bay.

Samosas from Lahore Deli, 132 Crosby Street, 212-965-1777 A haven for taxi drivers and downtown shoppers looking for a cheap meal, Lahore’s cramped storefront is an instant escape from the tumult of SoHo. Paunchy and fried to a golden crisp, the vegetable samosas hold a seasoned mash of turmeric-inflected potatoes and peas. Diners can pick up the $1 snacks anytime, as this deli stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Pork buns from Mei Li Wah Bakery, 64 Bayard Street, 212-966-7866 A Chinatown destination for baked and steamed cha siu bao (roast pork buns) since opening in 1968, this venerable coffee shop has endured through downtown’s changing landscape and a panic-inducing DOH closure in 2008. Since reemerging with a slight name change (from “Mei Lai Wah” to “Mei Li Wah”), the fluffy pork buns are as marvelous as ever. And, at 80 cents each, an incredible bargain.

Arepas from Arepas Cafe, 33-07 36th Avenue, Queens; 718-937-3835 Although not as famous as the Sainted Arepa Lady of Jackson Heights or local mini-chain Caracas Arepa bar, this Astoria restaurant does the Venezuelan flatbread sandwich proud. Offering 21 suggested varieties, including combinations featuring roast pork, plantains, avocados, and less ubiquitous ingredients like sautéed mushrooms and baby shark, Arepas Cafe also allows customers to create their own versions. Make sure to ask for extra containers of both house sauces (green guasacaca and a habanero-tinged red) for all your dousing needs.

Calzone from House of Pizza & Calzones, 132 Union Street, Brooklyn; 718-624-9107 Look past the excellent albeit cheeky specialty pizzas at this paean to cheese, sauce, and dough and snag a puffy deep-fried calzone, whose ample crust bloats with its filling of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. A Red Hook original since 1952, the golden brown crescent is served with ham every day of the week except Friday, when — due to religious reasons — it sadly comes pork-less (though still just as satisfying).

French Fries from Pommes Frites, 123 2nd Avenue, 212-674-1234 This narrow East Village late-night legend traffics in highly-addictive Belgian-style french fries, dunked in bubbling oil twice for maximum crunch. While the fries are great on their own, with crisp exteriors and sturdy insides full of spud flavor, it’s the panoply of sauces that draws crowds into the wee hours. Potato fetishists and inebriated revelers dunk their frites into 16 flavors of mayonnaise, numerous ketchups, and well-traveled condiments like peanut satay and sambal oelek.