Once upon a time in NYC, someone called the authorities because a man was “mistreating a squirrel.” When the police turned up, they found the “suspect”: an Ecuadorian man who was in the grilling area of the park cooking a cuy, or Guinea pig, on a long skewer. Cuys are a common snack in the Andean part of South America. The police went on their way, leaving the Ecuadorian man to his lunch.
It was just another day in New York City, a metropolis of nearly nine million people where nearly everything can be bought, sold, acquired, and, of course, eaten.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there are plenty of interesting dishes on menus of restaurants in the Big Apple: alligator, insects, and, of course, that Guinea pig—which is definitely not a squirrel.
Read along for 10 of the most unusual foods in NYC that you should try, and places where you can find them.
Octopus hot dogs
What do you get when you combine a hot dog and octopus? An octopus hot dog, indeed. La Pulpería has been serving up some outside-the-box (and incredibly delicious) creations like these since 2021. If you’re a fan of octopus, don’t miss their bacon wrapped octopus served on a brioche hotdog bun.
You might be hard pressed to find alligator meat on the menu of a New York restaurant, but at Los Paisanos butcher shop in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, you can find alligator (in the form of sirloin or tenderloin) to cook at home. They also sell antelope, rattlesnake, and caribou meat.
We tend to forget that eggs are actually unfertilized chickens. That is, until you try balut: a fertilized developing chicken embryo, a popular snack in some Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. Quite unusual in the USA, but if you’re into unusual foods, then this might be for you. If you’re curious, you can find balut at Tan Tin Hung in Chinatown, Changli supermarket in the Bronx, or Queens Night Market.
Macaroni and cheese ice cream
When it comes to ice cream, the safe bet is chocolate and/or vanilla and maybe some added parts thrown in to give it a twist. But at Van Leeuwen, an ice cream shop with locations in the West Village, the East Village, SoHo, and the Lower East Side, you can marry your love of ice cream and mac n’ cheese via their official Kraft Macaroni & Cheese flavor.
While they do have a wide range of other incredible other flavors (ahem, Peanut Butter Brownie Honeycomb, Earl Grey Tea, and Sicilian Pistachio), why not opt for one of the unusual foods in NYC?
Bopis is a popular spicy Filipino dish that consists of chopped pig and/or beef lungs that is sauteed in tomatoes, onions, and chilis. At Ihawan, in Woodside, Queens, finely chopped pork lungs are mixed with pork liver, onion, tomatoes, garlic, and hot peppers to create a spicy, gamey dish.
Curried lamb brain
Eating lamb brains, or the brains of any once-living being, won’t make you smarter. It might impress your waiter, but that’s about it. At Haandi, a Pakistani restaurant in Murray Hill (aka “Curry Hill”) that is very popular among taxi drivers, you can eat a bowl of lamb brain curry and live to tell about it.
You don’t need to go to Prospect Park or a pet store looking Guinea pigs to eat. You just have to go to the Peruvian restaurant Urubamba in Jackson Heights, Queens, where they can plate one for you and no one will call the cops. Be sure to call ahead and order it in advance, though.
In certain parts of Mexico, insects are not just some pesky unwelcome house guests that you kill with the nearest shoe. They’re also a snack. And if you’re in New York City and have a hankering to eat bugs —who doesn’t? —then point yourself to The Black Ant, a Mexican restaurant in the East Village. Here you can enjoy the Tierra de Insectos, a dip of grasshoppers, ants, hummus, cheese, and avocado. If you prefer your insects fried, order the grasshopper croquettes.
Brooklyn Heights may be the most aesthetically pleasing, easy-on-the-eyes neighborhood in New York, but it’s not a great dining destination. Except for, maybe, Henry’s End, where you can feast on exotic animals. Henry’s ostrich potstickers are a favorite. And it doesn’t stop there: you can slurp up turtle soup, feast on elk chops, antelope meat, or a stuffed quail.
Yak milk soup
You probably didn’t wake up today and think: I wonder if anyone has thought of taking some sour yak milk and turning it into a soup? But if you did, you’re in luck. The Tibetans have, in fact, had that same thought and it put it into action. At Phayul (37-65 74th Street at Roosevelt Avenue), a Sichuan-Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, you can slurp up sour yak milk soup while a portrait on the wall of the smiling Dalai Lama looks on approvingly in the distance.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.