I spent my summer in what is undeniably the food capital of America: New York City. As a Chicago native, I was excited to see how food from the two cities compare – if there was a huge difference in certain foods or if they were generally on the same level. With that being said, while one city may edge out the other in terms of these carb-y foods, I wouldn’t mind getting food from both of these amazing cities.
Bagels: New York City
This, I have to say, was a no-contest win for NYC. Chicago bagels just don’t compare. New York is famous for its bagels, though the myth that it is the softer New York water that makes its bagels fantastic has been disproved. Instead, it’s really just the fact that New York has so many bagel shops; more competition equals better bagels.
While there are bagels shops on practically every street corner in New York, I set out to find some of the best in the city. I came across Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, a small shop with baskets of bagels lining the walls and buckets of cream cheese and lox in deli cases. When I went around 10:30 am on a Friday, it was packed.
I ordered a two-egg breakfast sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel, while my friend got the same sandwich on an egg bagel. Both were delicious; the bagels were warm, fresh, and soft. Nothing like the stiff bagels I needed to toast in order to make edible, courtesy of many Chicago grocery stores.
Other honorable mentions in NYC: Best Bagel & Coffee, Absolute Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel, and Russ & Daughters.
As for the best bagel shop in Chicago, I’d say go for Brobagel, Chicago Bagel Authority, or The Bagelers Coffeehouse, though by no means are these extremely well-known.
I really wanted to like NYC donuts. I really did. I walked a few miles in the summer heat to get to Doughnut Plant, one of my bucket list places to try. I got the matcha cake donut and the blackberry jam and vanilla creme donut, both of which impressed me with their unique flavor combos but disappointed in terms of taste and texture.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard to mess up a donut, but they just weren’t as good as the ones I had in Chicago. The matcha donut wasn’t as flavorful as I wanted it to be, and I could tell it would dry it pretty fast if I didn’t eat it quickly. The blackberry and vanilla donut wasn’t as airy and light as a yeast donut should be, and as far as I could tell, there was barely any vanilla creme in it.
In Chicago, there are a plethora of donut shops (and even some donut food trucks) to try, and all of them are incredibly fantastic. From Doughnut Vault’s creamy and dense buttermilk old-fashioned donuts to Glazed and Infused’s maple bacon long john, there’s a flavor and style for everyone.
Some recommendations for Chicago: Doughnut Vault (old-fashioned donuts), Glazed and Infused (specialty flavors), Firecakes (yeast donuts), Do-Rite Donuts, and Stan’s Donuts & Coffee.
I knew this had been a source of tension between many New Yorkers and Chicagoans for years, possibly centuries, so I was anxious to finally compare the two. Thin crust or deep dish? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not fair to pit one against the other; they’re basically different species.
New York thin crust is pretty fantastic. The dough is fresh, springy, and chewy, and the cheese and toppings are perfectly layered across the pie. I tried both a white slice and a traditional Margherita, and they were incredibly delicious, way better than any thin crust I could find in Chicago. My favorite was the breakfast pizza from Lilly’s in White Plains, NY. It had potatoes, corned beef strips, fontina cheese, and truffle oil. Absolutely amazing.
But then you look at Chicago deep dish. It’s basically a three-inch thick monstrosity of a flaky crust filled with melted cheese and whatever your heart desires, all topped with tomato sauce. It’s the mother of all comfort foods. A single slice can put you in a food coma for the night, whether you get it from Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s. But, oh man, is it good.
If thin crust and deep dish are both in the pizza family, they’re definitely distant relatives. That being said, they’re both insanely delicious in their own way. Call me a wimp for not taking a side, but I think both of these beautiful pies should live in harmony.
Bubble Tea: New York City
I was pleasantly surprised when I looked up bubble tea places in NYC and found out that there’s basically one every two blocks or so. Yeah. You could imagine how much bubble tea I drank this summer. From Boba Guys to Hawa Bubble Tea to CoCo Juice & Tea, there was an amazing selection of teas to choose from, and none of them disappointed.
From my experience, it’s much harder trying to find a bubble tea shop outside of Chinatown. I end up going to the same spot (Kung Fu Tea in Chinatown) over and over again because the other places don’t have a good variety of flavors or don’t specialize in the drink.
#SpoonTip: Don’t be discouraged if you’re in Chi-town! Here are some tried-and-true spots for bubble tea in Chicago.
Michelin Dining: New York City
Many or even most chefs dream of opening up a restaurant in New York City; it’s considered the culinary capital of the country where the greatest and most talented chefs showcase their cuisine. Thus, it comes as no surprise that NYC is the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the country and is in the top ten internationally.
Chicago, on the other hand, is not as well-known for its Michelin dining. The two most famous Michelin restaurants in the city are Grace and Alinea, whereas in New York there’s Daniel, Le Bernardin, Per Se, and countless others.
While it’s somewhat unfair to compare based purely on number of Michelin restaurants in each city, I can’t argue that having more competition and prestige doesn’t lead to a higher standard.
Ice Cream and Other Frozen Desserts: Draw
This really boils down to your frozen dessert preferences. If you like innovative and creative flavors, head to New York City, where you’ll find unique treats from the black ice cream at Morgenstern’s to rolled ice cream at 10Below Ice Cream. However, if you’re looking for Italian ice, you can’t beat Chicago’s Mario’s Italian Lemonade, which has been making the dessert since 1954.
Other recommendations: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Black Dog Gelato, and Eataly in Chicago. Big Gay Ice Cream, Ice & Vice, L’Arte del Gelato in NYC.