Forget the newest, hippest, and most stylish. For an only-in-New-York meal, swing by one of these stubbornly eccentric establishments (all past the 50-year mark), where the comforting food comes at prices to match.
Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop
Snapshots of celebrities posing with quirky owner Josh Konecky—often dressed in button-down shirts covered in duck and panda prints—are plastered on the walls of this revered delicatessen in the Flatiron District. Manhattan-trained chef and No Reservations TV-show host Anthony Bourdain isn't the only one raving about the Reubens. The colossal sandwich is piled high with unusually thick strips of corned beef, sauerkraut, and perfectly melted cheese, all pressed between toasted rye (the combo Reuben comes with bonus pastrami). Non-meat-eaters get their own signature nosh: vegetarian chopped liver. There's basic table seating in the back, but the red-vinyl swivel stools at the lunch counter are homier—and rare nowadays—plus you get to watch the deft line cooks in action. The tag line "Raising New York's Cholesterol Since 1929" also applies to the egg creams and milkshakes, which are deceptively light and delicious. 174 5th Ave., 212/675-5096, eisenbergsnyc.com, sandwiches from $3.
When La Nacional opened in 1868 on the ground floor of a Chelsea brownstone owned by the Spanish Benevolent Society, the social club counted poet Federico García Lorca and filmmaker Luis Buñuel as patrons. As La Nacional closes in on 150 years on the block, the kitchen still serves some of the most authentic, no-nonsense tapas and paella in the city. A small doorway divides the scrappy bar and TV room—where Spaniards debate soccer and current affairs—from the rustic dining room furnished with farm-style wooden tables and wrought-iron wall sconces. Chef and owner Jesus "Lolo" Manso prepares generous portions of albondigas morunas (pork and veal meatballs), pulpo a la gallega (octopus with sweet Spanish paprika), and thick slices of creamy tortilla, made with just the right balance of egg and finely diced potato. The traditional tapas accompaniment, sangria, is also plentiful and reasonably priced at $26 for a giant pitcher. 239 W. 14th St., 212/243-9308, lanacionaltapas.com, tapas from $6.
The East 86th Street stretch of Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, was once referred to as the "German Broadway" for its bevy of Bavarian restaurants and food emporiums. Most of these businesses have since shuttered, but Heidelberg, open since 1936, still dishes out schnitzel, smoked wursts, pig knuckles, and fresh sauerkraut, whose distinctive scent greets people practically at the front door. Servers dressed in lederhosen and dirndls deliver hearty sausage platters sized for up to six people and some of the finest crispy-yet-chewy potato pancakes in town. On most nights, owner Eva Matischak mills about the kitschy space adorned with lace curtains and needlepoint art, checking that patrons' beer mugs are refilled with one of eight German brews on draft. Big groups can opt for the two-liter glass boot for sharing, but a word of warning: A deposit is required for a boot mug, and if you break it, you own it. 1648 2nd Ave., 212/628-2332, heidelbergrestaurant.com, dinner entrées from $13.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Take a tally of the current restaurants in Grand Central Terminal and you'll be hard-pressed to find original establishments—except for the 96-year-old Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, appropriately built below sea level behind the dining concourse. On any given day, suited businessmen, tourists, couples, and families alike pack the main dining room and sit elbow-to-elbow at the more casual first-come, first-serve, U-shaped lunch counters. This is a quintessential New York City experience, from the harried servers who line up at the kitchen window and jostle for orders to the row of men clad in aprons and yellow gloves shucking shellfish pulled from plastic buckets behind the raw bar. As the name implies, the main attraction here is the 30-plus bivalves on the menu that hail from such salty waters as Northumberland in Nova Scotia and Willapa Bay, Wash. They're a deal at around $2 apiece. Grand Central Terminal, 87 E. 42nd St., 212/490-6650, oysterbarny.com, entrées from $10.
What started in 1954 as a tiny candy shop has expanded into what is today one of the most beloved around-the-clock comfort food restaurants in the East Village. It's typically packed in the chair-to-chair dining room and at its lunch counter. Run by various generations of the Darmochwal family since its inception, Veselka (Ukrainian for "rainbow") serves such Eastern European favorites as veal goulash, soul-warming borscht, blintzes stuffed with farmer's cheese and drizzled with raspberry sauce, and bigos, a hearty stew of kielbasa, pork, onions, and sauerkraut. Of course, no Ukrainian menu would be complete without pierogies, which are lovingly handmade in-house (up to 3,000 daily!). Veselka's come in six varieties of filling—potato, sweet potato, meat, old-fashioned cheese, spinach and cheese, and a combo of sauerkraut and mushroom—stuffed into a lightly sweet dough that's best when fried and accompanied with a dollop of sour cream and a swig of Ukrainian Obolon Lager. If space permits, order the kutya for dessert, a curious yet tasty pudding blended with raisins, walnuts, honey, poppy seeds, and whole-wheat berries. 144 Second Ave., 212/228-9682, veselka.com, entrees from $9.50.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Navigating the confounding warren of streets that make up Chinatown is good preparation for the experience of a traditional dim sum meal served at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. There is no menu to speak of at this 90-year-old spot that caters to locals. Non-Chinese-speaking diners simply nod yes for dim sum and patiently sip tea as the chef-cum-waiter brings out plate after plate of spring rolls, fried wonton, succulent dumplings, and sticky buns. (Vegetarians should speak up early, since most of the dough-covered fare is stuffed with pork, shrimp, and chicken.) Although the decor has seen better days—the last upgrade seems to date back to when the place opened, as evidenced by the timeworn booth seating and sloping flooring—look past the shabby surroundings and focus on the tasty, authentic morsels that run about $2 a dish. Lunch for two, including six plates of dim sum and a large metal pot of potent green tea, comes to a 1920s-era grand total of $16. 13 Doyers St., 212/962-6047.
Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery
Known affectionately as the Knishery, this tight-squeeze, 100-year-old establishment ascribes to a simple slogan: One World. One Taste. One Knish. And the rules here for making the ultimate New York knish are strict: round, not square; baked, not fried. Savory or sweet, you can't go wrong with such options as classic potato, broccoli ("a knish fit for presidents and kings," claims the menu), chocolate cheese, and apple strudel ("just like grandma made"). At $3.50 and $4 for ridiculously plump knishes that easily clock in at a pound each, grandma would approve of the prices, too. Even Barbra Streisand once waxed poetic about her affinity for the Knishery—while in concert at Madison Square Garden. 137 E. Houston St., 212/477-2858, knishery.com.