The 12 Best Things To Eat At New York's New Moynihan Food Hall, Ranked

Stepping into Moynihan Hall after exiting the subway in the old Penn Station is like the point in every Pixar movie where the doomed hero resolves to carry on no matter what. Suddenly the smoke clears, the sun streams in through the ceiling, and anything is possible. A world of rich opportunities awaits us, and the paths, obscure till now, suddenly are so clear. All of them are food.

In Moynihan Food Hall, New York has finally given Grand Central a counterpart in a rail station you might actually want to hang out at with no train to catch. While The Bar is not the Campbell Apartment — or even the Oyster Bar — and there's no incredible grocery market yet to bring your family tonight's meal, it handily beats the best recommendations across the street when eating at Penn Station. The New York Times even called it a hot meeting ground for socializing. Maybe we should add this to our list of best NYC date spots? At least all these choices would end the game of "I don't know, what do you want to eat?"

That's why we rode the rails to try as much food as we could fit into our gullets. While an exhaustive list would take several visits, we can save you from making any mistakes and losing time deliberating until you have to rush to catch the train. Nobody should have to ride with a belly empty of food and full of regret.

12. Honorable mention: Overstuffed pastrami sandwich at Pastrami Queen

Although Pastrami Queen hasn't set an opening date yet, we look forward to it so enthusiastically we had to include it on this list. New York pastrami is a special thing, even if all the best kosher delis serving it seem to have an unfortunately expensive awareness of that fact. Pastrami Queen is at least as good as Katz's and many would argue better, especially without the wait time and ticket system.

While you might be surrounded by just as many tourists at the Queen's takeaway counter and the shared tables surrounding The Bar, far fewer know what they're missing than at Katz's, and not one will fake an orgasm just because a movie scene did it 20 years ago. That said, this New York mainstay can't be held responsible for any genuine outbursts on a similar level from someone trying their overstuffed pastrami sandwich for the first time.

11. Shrimp bao at EAK

EAK came into this arena with half a dozen dishes that looked like they would block out the top of this list all by themselves. Somehow what we ended up with were three barely adequate dishes and one able one.

Regrettably, the fries came out steamed and crunchless, but were still eaten immediately. While their flavor was fantastic, particularly when dipped in mayo, it couldn't save these soggy fries. Similarly, while the presentation of the shishito peppers was beautiful, these were steamed limp and lacked salt and acidity. Do you know what it says about a ramen joint when it can't even saute some shishito peppers to satisfaction?

Ordering classic ramen with seasoned egg and wood ear left us pining for Ippudo and Totto Ramen nearby. Obviously, most people visiting Moynihan aren't venturing far for food, but Hell's Kitchen has become rich with ramen options, and there's really no excuse for EAK to arrive below the standards of a decent shop near so many good ones. The pork and chicken broth tasted like oily roast turkey. The egg was under-marinated and overcooked. Its noodles lacked chew despite being cooked al dente, devoid of ramen's springiness.

The shrimp bao, at least, satisfies the way you'd hope. Fried shrimp and a puffy bun combine to make this the order when you're craving Japanese. At least you have a much lower chance of staining that business suit you wore to your big Manhattan interview.

10. Everything bagel with cream cheese at H&H

We arrived at H&H with a wealth of recommendations for the best sandwich, but ultimately settled on the egg, avocado, and pepper jack brekkie sando. It was sadly missing something fundamental in the satisfying blend of salt, fat, and acid, but hey, good job on the heat. To better hit that bullseye next time we'll bet on the egg, lox, and tomato in the Nova sandwich.

As it is, we're forced to fall back to the order we always relied on when on a morning jog around the ended with weekend bagel foraging at the franchise's Upper East Side location. Get yourself a nice everything with a schmear of cream cheese — the lox flavor is again an excellent choice for those who like a salty, fishy taste but don't want to shell out for the big serving. New Yorkers are a little more divided on H&H's stature in the bagel pantheon than, say, Ess-a-Bagel or Orwasher's, but if nothing else, this is the unequivocal stop on your train trip to celebrate Festivus with family, owing to the store's appearance in that episode of "Seinfeld."

9. Pistachio ice cream at Davey's

We know what you're going to say: "Seven bucks for a scoop of ice cream? Why don't you serve it in hell, because I'll only pay $7 for a scoop of ice cream when it freezes over!" And hey, that's an understandable — if very specific — reaction. But it's not like Davey's is the only place serving $7 cones in this world of Van Leeuwens and Coolhauses.

And look what gourmet stuff you get: whereas other ice creams use pistachio flavor and a few chewy chunks, this scoop has so much blitzed pistachio mixed in, you may actually be saving money on what you would pay for the nuts by themselves. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but the entire scoop was pistachio chunks, pistachio crumbles, and pistachio dust held together in sweet cream. It was delicious in the way you want ice cream to be, and will make the perfect treat for entering/exiting the abysmal NYC steamy heat. Either it's your shield against the gross New York summers or a reward for surviving a sweaty race to make the train.

Also, don't forget: You are at a train station. You accept a little premium markup the same way airports charge you $14 for a soggy tuna fish sandwich because they know you can't wander too far to get a real meal at a decent price. Do you want a soggy tuna fish sandwich? No, you do not. Enjoy your ice cream.

8. Late Afternoon cocktail at The Bar

We hadn't even intended to make The Bar at Moynihan a pit stop in a lunch full of food-binging, but eventually you just need a breather, you know? And good thing we did, because our bartender was a wealthy resource in our food hunt. But first, he provided an able addition to this list. He sized us up before we had so much as glanced at the menu, and half-asked, half-stated, "You like bourbon." Knowing us as well as we know ourselves, he poured Old Forester into a glass, mixing the Late Afternoon cocktail (though it was barely noon at the time). It was a very fine beverage to just sit and be with.

Essentially a Manhattan with tea and using bourbon instead of rye, the lightly embittered drink passed as much less heavy fare than the generous pour of bourbon suggested. If you like Long Island iced tea, here's a similarly stealthy pour. (That the name change mentions neither Manhattan nor Long Island may be taken as a bit of détente here at the departure point between the two.) Those who want to try bourbon without suffering a grimace at first taste will find this smooth sipping, almost like a soft drink.

7. Chocolate NOLA at Blue Bottle Coffee

We've been to Café du Monde. We've sipped the house coffee while trying not to wear the remnants of a beignet like mime makeup. It's lovely. It's great. It's fine. Chicory is rather astringent, though, isn't it? It's not like you can't acquire the taste, just that it never seems to enhance a cup as much as the coffee would do by itself.

Okay, enough questioning, because there's live music to go enjoy when you're in New Orleans. But here in New York, you're just trying to catch a train and be awake when you get there. So what a great surprise to learn that Blue Bottle uses chicory to actually enhance the chocolate here. Half coffee, half chocolate, and nothing like mocha, really, all of that nutty bitterness turns into a really intriguing walk across familiar tastes, bringing the gorgeous dark chocolate down to Earth.

To put it this way, your humble table taster tipped the cup 180 degrees and waited without self-consciousness past all hope for the last bits of foam to trickle down. Around him, the people laughed. But soon enough, they would all know the glories of the Chocolate NOLA after reading this article.

6. Olive and rosemary loaf at Vesuvio

Vesuvio spoils you for choice. You could get an affogato if we flooded this list with coffee. You could get a salumi sandwich if Alidoro wasn't enough for you. The baked goods are plentiful: special occasion pies, cheesecakes, and nobody ever went wrong with an Italian cookie. But for all that, let's focus on what Vesuvio does better than anyone else in the Food Hall: bread.

Deliciously baked bread is almost like a plucked tomato in terms of transient taste that's life-changing if you catch it fresh enough. Just get a loaf here. They know what they're doing. And while the basic stirato will serve you well with any accompaniment, the olive and rosemary needs no enhancement. You can take it anywhere you're traveling and it's the right call: the beach, the hiking trails, or dinner at a friend's. It's simple and wonderful: salty, herbaceous taste in stretchy strands of carbohydrate with not a drop of oil or pat of butter.

5. Italian cheesesteak at Alidoro

The eponymous Alidoro sandwich on semolina was great, but you have to love spice; red peppers dominate a great combination of cured pork and mushroom paste, and maybe even keep it from manifesting its talent in enough harmony to win this pick.

Instead, get yourself an Italian cheesesteak on soft and pillowy focaccia. Though technically accurate, its name is a functional misnomer: the tender and juicy roast beef here bears no resemblance to the oozing indulgence of Philly's best contribution to America since the Constitution. (Yes, Philadelphians, we know you consider the roast pork sandwich your true hero, and sorry, but broccoli rabe atop provolone is a taste so bitter, you can only acquire it by watching Patrick Mahomes crush your Super Bowl dreams.)

Anyway, back to this killer sandwich. Though not huge, it's so rich — thanks to truffle cream and black garlic mustard — that it's definitely one to share. You have your choice of bread, but no you don't, because it's focaccia all the way. Focaccia is the perfect bread for this split wedge.

Now with those out of the way, we do have to reveal a secret sandwich. When we couldn't fit another bite in, our favorite bartender revealed his favorite order, created by one of the sandwich artisans. So if you want to do some field work for yourself, order Fantaysha's Special: smoked turkey, provolone, white cheddar, black garlic mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, pesto crème, bel pase, and, according to its creator herself, lots of love.

4. Honey chicken and pickles at Jacob's Pickles

Yes, the pickles really are that good at Jacob's Pickles. Get yourself the scallion-chili okra and you'll scarf a whole jar before you even think about touching your brunch. Similarly, the biscuits can't be missed, and the fried chicken will please all but the most nostalgic Southerner, who will probably enjoy it anyway while their equally qualified partner judges it up to deep-fried standards. With so much to order, how do you pick one thing to get?

Easy: grab a sandwich that marries all three. The honey chicken and pickles on a biscuit is a tour of Jacob's strengths that's over too soon only because you'll enter a fugue in the three bites it takes you to enjoy it. You could slow your roll with the Nashville Hot Chicken for a similar combination, but we like the pure indulgence of the sticky chicky. The Southern BLT would have given our pick tough competition for the honor of representing District Jacob at the Hunger Games, but alas, it's not available here at the Moynihan location. The good news is the choice just got a lot easier for you at a restaurant where you can't place a bad order.

3. Honey lavender latte at Maman

Maman's bucolic décor and quiche-forward menu marries French provincialism to a hip café, but succeeds more on the latter — or rather, the latte. While an order of an egg salad sandwich with a hard-boiled egg in the middle had a lot of good flavor, the almost-lovely poppyseed brioche underwhelmed and danced around going stale. The salad itself was so chilly it muted its own tastes, but maybe we detected tarragon? The crunchy bits were pleasant, as we debated onion or celery, and now you see what we mean about the taste being nearly muted. (Our money's on onion, at any rate.) If you know you can get it on fresh bread, it might be worth revisiting after letting it come up to temp a bit.

Instead, make Maman your coffee plug with the honey lavender latte, a perfectly novel concoction that goes — gang, trust us — so well with pistachio milk. The honey at the bottom is thick and strong, generously poured to a level comfortably short of cloying, and after an indulgent sip, we suggest pulling the straw back a bit to compare with the lavender and coffee mix. Now stir the whole thing up and you're on cloud nine. We recommend it iced, and don't worry about it watering down: you'll drink it too fast. Besides, as rich as this drink is, it can afford to spread the wealth out.

2. Classic banana pudding cup at Magnolia Bakery

It really says something that a brand made famous by "Sex & the City" for its deservedly beloved cupcakes (and the long lines attending them) still prospers on the pudding product that's only nominally baked. The world-famous Magnolia Bakery banana pudding actually is world-famous, unlike the fries at every no-name bar you've ever been to that make the same claim. It's one of those menu items where every time you taste it feels like the first time, like a Shake Shack burger or a pour of Guinness in Dublin. It's something so fundamentally, primarily satisfying that your senses can never get inured to it.

Now, you may not want to carry around a cup of pudding and the trash it generates if you're getting a snack for later — say, one of the many people visiting Moynihan on their way to a nature hike. But we have good news for you: these days you not only can get your Magnolia Bakery banana pudding in cookie form but also with the red velvet flavor to boot. It won't be quite the same thing as that perfect pudding, but it will vanish without the potential to stain your clothes if you can't resist eating it on the train. As for the rest of us, we'll risk a double-vanilla dollop on our clothes just to revisit heaven. Petition to replace the black-and-white cookie with this pudding cup on the iconic NYC foods list? We'll be the first to sign it.

1. BJ bomb at Burger Joint

For those not in the know, Burger Joint is the hidden hole in the wall at the Parker Meridien-turned-Parker New York Hotel-turned-Thompson Central Park. It was literally hidden in the wall, was an early pioneer of the hidden hotspot idea, and served quite possibly New York's best classic burger, depending with whom you're arguing. It was very similar in timing and theme to Eleven Madison Park's hot dog cart, which makes this overt outlay a counterpart to Shake Shack's emergence in Madison Square Park. (There's also a location in Sunset Park's Industry City.)

While the flagship location —  as a hidden venue can also be the flagship — still focuses on burgers and fries, you've got additional options downtown in the form of breakfast sammies and burritos. One of these, the BJ bomb, marries the brand's famous beef to an egg and cheese (another New York icon in itself) with tater tots and burrito-wraps the whole thing. You know what it is: This is hangover repair after whatever you got up to Saturday night that has you taking the train home this bleary dawn. Might as well eat two New York gems while you're at it. Save the cheeseburger for those Friday nights pregaming with a bellyful of burger and the illicit thrill of sneaking behind a curtain to enjoy it. At Moynihan, we choose to eat the carb bomb.