“I sometimes feel like a drug dealer, pushing stuff on people,” my driver confessed as he weaved a white Checker taxi through New York City traffic. “Hey, wanna piece of pie?”
For Famous Fat Dave, aka David Freedenberg, this is his job: providing a mobile buffet featuring the best food you’ll never find near Times Square. Dave leads fun food tours made on the fly from hundreds of hand-picked sandwich shops, pizzerias, bakeries and noodle houses. Many are old-school dives in the boroughs, where accents run deep. How does he pick them?
“‘I’m not a foodie,” he admitted. “I just like food for its pure taste.”
I also like food for its pure taste, and on a recent tour of seven stops in several hours, I ate memorable meals at places that I hadn’t previously noticed on long-familiar streets. In SoHo, we started with a 90-year-old Italian butcher’s, picking up pepper sausage to snack on while criss-crossing Brooklyn’s back streets. At Defonte’s in nearby Red Hook, I wolfed down a delicious beef, aubergine and mozzarella sandwich. In Sunset Park – Brooklyn’s Chinatown – we squeezed into Yun Nan Flavour Snack, a cubbyhole serving an unreal cold noodle bowl of pork, peanuts and spicy chilli sauce.
Since going full-time in 2006, Dave’s happily gained 30 pounds seeking out new stuff to eat. His to-eat list begins with locals’ tips from when he drove a cab. “This tour could only work in New York,” he claimed. “It’s been the coolest place in the world for 400 years. And it will be for the next 400.”
Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US editor and co-author of Lonely Planet’s New York City guide. He lives in Queens, New York. This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.