This native New Yorker is big on sending NYC food gifts this year around the country. That’s because I’m firmly on Team Stay At Home this holiday, hard though that may be.
Not only does Covid mean that New York won’t be receiving our annual share of holiday season visitors, but even we local denizens won’t be eating our way through the city in quite the same way and that may be a holiday tradition I’m going to miss most.
So with even the best-known NYC food institutions struggling right now, I wanted to put together some of my favorite New York food gifts to send this holiday from places that go beyond Magnolia Bakery, Zabar’s, Junior’s, and H&H Bagels.
(All good choices by the way! But I wanted to share a few ideas you might not have considered.)
Whether you’re shopping for an out-of-town family member who can’t visit you in NYC right now, a family that is sadly cancelling their annual Mecca to see the Christmas windows and Rock Center tree (don’t even get me started on Broadway, argh), or just a friend who’s really missing New York for any reason at all, I hope these NYC food gifts give you some wonderful ideas that also support terrific companies.
Thank goodness for mail order. Because we still want these businesses around after All This is over. And we still want you around too.
Top image: Veselka
10 of the Best Iconic NYC Food Gifts for Delivery
I recently sent an out-of-town friend a little “taste of New York” gift basket with a note telling her to consider it an IOU for an in-person brunch, as soon as it’s safe again. It went a long way, which is what inspired me to put together this list.
Plus, you might be surprised to know how much even the more “famous” places are struggling right now. With these NYC food gifts, you’re not only making someone’s belly very happy, you’re supporting independent restaurants and small businesses that can use plenty of that right now.
The big “food basket” chains you might usually turn to will be just fine.
Russ & Daughters
It may not have the name of say a Zabar’s or a Katz’s, but this 100 year-old family run business is tops for those in the know. The gift baskets range from the high end latkes and caviar basket that made our 10 Best Gifts for Hanukkah list, but there’s so much more as far as NYC food gifts go. The New York Brunch Basket is pretty perfect, especially for a family and was even an Oprah’s Favorite Thing a couple years ago. Should you need another recommendation besides mine.
Don’t miss more affordable NY treats, like their outrageous chocolate babka. You know, babka. from Seinfeld. The thing you’d fight to get the last one.
You really haven’t eaten your way through classic New York until you’ve eaten at East Village Ukrainian institution Veselka (also at top), a refugee-turned-business-owner NYC success story going back to 1954. If it doesn’t sound familiar, maybe you caught Anthony Bourdain eating there in one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown. Or perhaps you recognize it as the diner in Oceans 8 where Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett devoured latkes and pierogis while plotting their heist.
While it’s definitely a splurge to order delivery, it would be an indulgent treat to receive a gift box of 3 dozen Veselka pierogis through Goldbelly. This right here is NYC comfort food to the nth degree — for me it’s the potato or cheese stuffing. But you can also choose from sauerkraut & mushroom, arugula & goat, or for a few bucks more, their cult favorite short rib pierogis.
They also ship Eastern European comfort food staples like Beef Stroganoff, Goulash, or a sausage-packed grilling gift box, all of which would be a hit with plenty of grandparents, aunts, and uncles I know.
Besides, you’re supporting a restaurant that gives back to the community in huge ways, both by sourcing their ingredients locally and supporting the arts institutions, parks, and community organizations around the East Village — and now in 2022, they’re even donating their borscht profits to support the Ukrainian military defending against the Russian invasion.
If you have ever been to a high-end NYC wedding, you’ve probably had a cake from Greenberg’s, as the locals refer to it. They ship a big selection of their delicacies nationwide, and considering they’ve been voted New York’s favorite black and whites, I’d start there. (They taste nothing like the stale, crumbly things you find on deli counters around town, promise.) You can get gluten-free and red velvet varieties, as well as black and white cookies in Christmas-colors which is kind of hilarious and awesome.
I’d look at the Breads & Pastries category if you want to get authentic, with rugelach (shown above; I’m a chocolate or cinnamon fan but lots of preference for raspberry out there), babka, schnecken, apple strudel, and challah.
Little Pie Company
The Little Pie Company is another food purveyor that fortunately ships nationally via Goldbelly, should you not be in DoorDash range. This pie shop is a favorite with theater district visitors regulars since the 80s, since founder Arnold Wilkerson started it as a passion project while working on Broadway, and every item is still handmade from scratch in midtown. Plus, we know how much all the theater district businesses are suffering, without hordes of visitors there 7 days a week (and twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays).
Little Pie Company pies are already selling out like crazy (I hope they restock!) so order soon. But you can still find Sour Cream Apple Walnut, Mississippi Mud Pie, a gorgeous Three-Berry Pie, and a Pecan Pie that rivals anything you’d find in the south.
Really. Send me one now. I won’t complain.
While you can now find what’s arguably the best pasta sauce in America in plenty of grocers outside of their original East Harlem location, that doesn’t make it any less of a treat to get a Rao’s gift basket as a food gift for the holidays. (Especially considering you still won’t be able get a table there.)
For big indulgent gifts. they offer food baskets like The Grand Collection which includes pasta, sauces, and soups plus a few other goodies. There’s also a fairly affordable pasta gift set for $50. But if you’re going for practical, I’d ship an entire case of Rao’s sauces. You can stick with marinara, roasted garlic, arrabbiata — or put together your own mixed case. In which case I beg you to include their addictive vodka sauce. Oof.
Could there be a more quintessential NYC food than pizza? So why not make it a gift!
Another place we used to wait hours for a table is Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and for good reason. I still have eyes-roll-back-in-my-head memories of the time I devoured my first Cheeses Christ Pizza — and hey, wouldn’t that be the perfect irreverent Christmas food gift from New York? Ha. Unfortunately they don’t deliver that particular pizza, but they are shipping Roberta’s wood-fired pizza packs, with your choice of their classic Margarita or Baby Sinclair pizzas. They’re carefully frozen, packed in dry ice, and shipped.
It may not be quite the same as eating one in person, accompanied by one of their amazing cocktails, but I heating up a Roberta’s pie is still better than any slice in any other city in the world. That goes for you twice, Chicago! (Image @robertaspizza)
Peter Luger Steakhouse
I mean sure you may get the shrimp cocktail or the iceberg wedge to start, maybe a side of onion rings or creamed spinach, but Luger’s is about the steak, the whole steak, and nothing but the steak. Don’t even think about asking for sauces. And their top-notch cuts are all available for shipping nationwide making it perhaps the ultimate NYC food gift idea
If you’ve never eaten here — or you tend to buy your meat on sale in bulk like I do — prepare for sticker shock. But hey, think of what you’ll save on an Uber back to Manhattan.
Sylvia’s Soul Food
While sadly, they don’t ship their world-famous chicken and waffles or their World Famous Talked About Bar-B-Que Ribs, you can send someone high on your gift list an affordable food gift from beloved 58-year-old Harlem institution, Sylvia’s, and totally make their holiday.
The Queen of Soul Food ships her trademark fry mixes, sauces, and spice blends right from the web shop. While a lot of the spice blend gift packs are sold out right now (and good for them, but I hope they restock) I wouldn’t complain about a 3-pack of Sylvia’s Triple Strength Hot Sauce or a bottle of all-natural Sweet Cookin’, Dippin’, Moppin’ Sauce showing up at my door. Neither would the Obamas, by the way, who are big fans.
You know, should they be on your gift list this year.
X’ian Famous Foods
If you have a family member who can’t get good, authentic Chinese food where they live — and I don’t mean General Tso’s — X’ian Famous Foods should help them with those cravings. Don’t be deterred by the fact that “New York’s favorite noodle shop” now has ten locations spread across Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan — it’s definitely a small business, and locals revere their hand-ripped noodles.
X’ian delivers meal kits featuring their hand-ripped noodles up and down the northeast coast fairly affordably. (CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT — sorry ME!) and they’re entirely addictive. If you’re going to get your carbo-loading in for the winter, this is a delicious way to do it. And if you’re ordering anywhere else in the US, no worries; you can spend a little more and order their hand-ripped noodle kits for four through Goldbelly.
You can order packs of their small-batch chili oil (above), which are personally made by hand to order by the owner. Maybe throw In a copy of Jason Wang’s new X’ian Famous Foods Cookbook, which has won basically every cookbook accolade this fall.
My favorite local coffee spot started carrying New York-based Devoción Coffee, and now I buy the beans by the bag. Founded by a Steven Sutton, whose family escaped Columbia and came to the US looking for a better life, his is one of the many immigrant success stories that makes New York the special melting pot it is.
They have quite an extensive online gift shop featuring all kinds of coffees and accessories from some wonderful house blend coffees by the bag, to limited edition coffees — check out the La Libia / Women in Coffee beans for an awesome backstory — to a high-end Devoición x Jono Pandolf ceramic mug gift set shown above. You’d have to be sending it to a serious coffee fan!
Another cool option: I love the cold brew and coffee cocktail kit, created with James Beard-award winning NYC mixologist Leo Robitschek. One more excuse to stay safely at home and brew your own.