The Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

Hell FoodUpdated: July 2nd, 2014

“One more block” is what I normally say to tourists who come to NYC to experience one of the best NY attractions (Broadway shows) along with one of the saddest NY attractions (Theater District Dining).  One more block and you are in the middle of ethnic galore 9th avenue.  To experience eating in NYC, one of the greatest food cities in the world, one should take advantage of one of its greatest strengths, ethnic dining.  From amazing Sri Lankan food to fiery Thai.  Most visitors don’t realize that you wont find any Theater District Restaurants on any “Best of” lists, but you WILL find some of the following.  And if you insist on fine dining, why not go to something like Ma Peche, Lincoln, Marea, Betony or The Nomad which are not in the district but a short cab ride away or a nice stroll on Broadway.  You already paid $300 to see Muppets having sex on stage, surely you can afford $5 more to make the night complete and eat at some of New York’s best.

With that said, here’s the best food in Hell…

Top Dishes – Round 1

Top Dishes – Round 2

Top Dishes – Round 3

Gotham West Market Top Eats

Ivan Ramen Whitefish Donburi

Falafel – Azuri Cafe.  Soup Nazi meets Oscar from the odd couple.  Ezra’s grouchiness is well documented, even on his menu.  A couple of weeks ago I saw him smile but I’m pretty sure it was gas.  But the falafel here is a piece of art.  Skip the 3 ball recession platter and go for the sandwich, or the excellent chicken Shawarma.

Middle Eastern – Gazala’s Place.  Fabulous Druze cooking.  Some of the best Hummus in town (I spent plenty of time in Israel including the druze village where Gazala came from so I know my Hummus).  Slightly larger than a shoe box.  More like a hers and hers closet (in my house at least.  I count my blessings to have 2 shelves left).  The only complaint is I wish for better bread than the paper thin lafa to scoop the stuff.  For more of a takeout middle eastern you may want to consider The Hummus Kitchen on 52nd.  Surprisingly all kinds of great hummus in the area.  Update: I’m not big of the Bourekas overall, but the cheese and sun dried tomato Bourekas here is the bomb.  The bomb I tell ya

Gourmet Middle Eastern – Taboon.  One of the top chefs in Israel help create the menu for Taboon, one of the most successful and popular restaurants in the area.  Try any of their bread specialties bakes in their Taboon oven, and the Silan, one of my favorites desserts in the city.

Doner Kebab/Turkish – Turco.   This is perhaps the closest thing we have to the German Doner Kebab (Turkish immigrants in Germany made it the most popular fast food snack since the invention of the Speckpfannkuchen and Zwiebelkuchen).  The main culprit is that thick, crispy tasty pita bread that holds its own for the most part.  I slightly prefer the chicken over the lamb but you should try both.  A second location on the same 9th ave, just a few blocks away is in the works if not open already.

Rotisserie Chicken – Poulette.  Little French Chickens invading Hell’s Kitchen.  Young French dude, quits his job in finance to follow his dream.. manufacture French style Rotisserie Chicken.  I tried the half with 2 sides which turned out to be a bit of a struggle to finish for a big eater like me, so a quarter chicken next time.  This thing was love at first bite — Moist, delicious, coated with plenty of herbs which was the difference.  Some of the best Rotisserie I’ve had.  This is more of a fast food place.  If you require more of a restaurant for your chicken needs, try Inti on 10th for Peruvian style Rotisserie chicken, and Ceviche.  Mrs Z wont allow me to quit my job and do what I do best… boil eggs

Ethiopian – Meske.  This is a fun place for groups.  Just order a bunch of plates and watch them create the magic below.  Use the sweet and spongy Injera bread below to scoop up all those goodies.  Queen of Sheba practically next door also worth considering

Meske

Ramen -Totto Ramen.  Shoe box setting and potential long waits adds to the charm.  Just write your name on the board outside (Not Seymore Butts – already done) and wait.  Order the spicy Ramen, add the egg and you are all set.   New bigger Totto location a block away 464 West 51s.  Less wait if any than the original

Ramen – Ippudo Westside.  Perhaps the most exciting HK opening in 2013.  One block away from Totto making HK a NYC Ramen powerhouse.  Just like Totto, this is an experience but quite a different one, starting with all the yelling in Japanese every time a new guest arrives, leaves, a dish on its way, or a guest going to the bathroom. I have no idea what they are yelling but its fun, and after a few minutes you start to yell as well.  Clearly my favorite here so far is the Akamaru Modern, but you must add the egg, and for a little more spice add the spicy miso paste.  Highly recommend this one

Thai – Pure Thai Cookhouse.  Not your average NYC Thai food among a plethora of all kinds of great Thai on 9th.  No drunken noodles,  no red curry, no green curry and not even purple curry on the menu.  What you do get is something a bit more authentic with all sorts of complex flavors and extra heat.  Read the post for what to order.  Update 12/3/13:  These days I really enjoy the ribs, Curry Paste with Pork, Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles, and the pumkin custard with coconut sticky rice off the board (not on the menu)

Thai – Larb Ubol.  My favorite is still Pure overall but this new kid on the block is quickly gaining traction.  Larb Ubol is an offshoot of Zabb Elee in the East Village, specializing in authentic Isan cooking.  Like Pure, some of these dishes not for the faint of heart.  Even more so here actually.  If you want your typical American Thai dishes this is not the place.  Go to something like Kare Thai on 10th or Wondee Siam 2 instead.  In Larb Ubol what you get is complex flavors like you never experienced before (unless you did!).  Try the Pad Ped Moo Crob – Crispy pork, thai eggplant, basil, peppercorn, ginger, and spicy curry paste

Sushi – Ageha Sushi - So I went on a Sushi Sabbatical of sorts in the neighborhood and discovered.. new Italian bars that I’m very excited about!  And yes, decent sushi can be found here indeed.  At Ageha I felt most comfortable alone, and with a group.  Sashimi is nice and fresh, and the Chirashi although not too traditional, was plentiful and very satisfying.  For something slightly higher end looking but just as affordable consider Shimizu which also has excellent lunch deals.

Chinese – Gourmet Szechuan 56.  By far the best Chinese in the area.  Like Pure Thai, Spice level significantly higher.  Update 12/3/13:  Loving the  Shredded Beef w/ Asian Spicy Green Chili (L37 lunch special) lately

Gourmet Szechuan 56 - Shredded beef

Indian – Basera Indian Bistro.  I keep changing favorites in the area like underwear (when my wife packs for a vacation and discovers my “Air-conditioned underwear” you know with little holes, it means its time to look for a new Indian restaurant).  This is your average American Indian, but done right.  Good Tikka masala, lamb Biryani, Chettinad and more.

Korean – Danji.  The best Korean Tapas in the area by far.  Ok, probably the only one but its still quite good.  You will be hard pressed to find better chicken wings in the area, and the sliders aren’t too shabby.  Michelin people agree, rewarding it a star soon after opening

Vietnamese – Co Ba 53.  About time we get some decent Vietnamese here.  Nice Pho (soups) and Bahn Mi and very affordable combinations for lunch. Try the Banh mi thit -
Assorted cold cuts, grilled honey plum glazed pork, house made pickles, cilantro, jalapenos, and mayo.  For something a bit more exotic but really exceptional try the Bun Co Ba – Crispy spring rolls with grilled tiger shrimp, and honey plum glazed pork over rice vermicelli with fresh herbs, served with a chili lime dressing and peanuts.

Empanadas – Empanada Mama – Should be on everyone’s area walking tour.  Try the spicy chicken (empanadas are like patties), and before you try the terrific Viagra make sure there’s ample space between you and the person in front of you

Mexican – Tehuitzingo.  Skip the fine dining Mexican here and try a Bodega, a Mexican deli that also happen to serve some nasty stuff.  Some of the best bodegas in town just happened to be in Hell’s Kitchen.  Try tacos like the Al Pastor and tortas from any of the two convenient Tehuitzingo locations

Italian – Mercato.  This is quickly becoming not only my favorite Italian in the area but my favorite restaurant in the area.  I cant quite explain how I missed it all those years.  Truly flavorful, mostly authentic southern Italian dishes like the excellent homemade Trenette (below) with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil.  Check out the simple spaghetti, and the flavor rich gnocchi.  Owners from Sardinia, chef from day 1 from Sicily, good looking all Italian wait staff means I fit right in.  Update 12/3/13:  Pastas mentioned still the way to go, plus any pasta special they may have.  Skip the Tagliata (steak)

Mercato Trenette

Italian – Il Melograno.  A lot of mediocre Italian in the area.  This is not one of them.  No frills, small, cheap Trattoria sitting in a location where its almost impossible to survive unless you are doing something right.  Owner from Brescia, no stranger to Northern Italian cooking.  Try the Pappardelle with sausage and truffle oil, and check out his wine bar Il Baretto on 11th.

American/Farm to Table – The Marshal.  One of the most exciting additions to the neighborhood in the past few years.  They have a relationship with 14 local farms whose ingredients elevate much of the menu items.  Everything they do they well.  From the terrific warm bread, to the juicy burger, herby meatloaf and roast chicken, to the ice cream sundae. Ditch the diner for lunch/dinner and come here to experience American cuisine at its finest

Wine and Cheese bar – Casellula. Great wine and.. you guessed it.. Pork Ass sandwiches.  Not the prettiest bar but the food more than makes up for it.  Just leave it to them to make you a cheese and meat assortment with some vino and enjoy those those asses

Sandwiches – City Sandwich.  Sorry I have to use to use that “one of the cities best” again.  From Naples to Lisbon to the huge Portuguese community in Jersey, comes some of the best bread you will ever get, with some of the most unusual ingredients like blood pudding, sandwiches worthy of a run-on sentence.  Just try to study the huge menu ahead of time so you dont feel pressured or confused once there.  I like some of the egg sandwiches (egg based sandwiches got its own section).  The other day I got stopped by a group of tourists a block away from City Sandwich asking me where they can get a good sandwich around.  A no brainer

Bakery – Sullivan Street Bakery.  Talking about no brainers. Another “One of the best in town” and the source to many top restaurant’s bread baskets like Scarpetta and Maialino.  Try some of the bread, the spectacular Canottos (the sweet ones), Bombolonis (donuts on crack), and the chocolate almond croissants.  Many love their pizzas but its the other stuff that makes me go there almost weekly these days

Burger – Island Burger and shakes. Great burger, and you guessed it… Churrascos (chicken breast sandwiches).  I tried many burgers in the area and took many bad ones for the team, but those guys got it right.  There’s a huge menu of different combinations.  I like the Barzel’s but your best bet is to try what looks good to you, or ask the waiter.

Chicken Over Rice Guy – 11th and 51st (Northwest corner).  Every neighborhood has a favorite chicken over rice guy.  This one is mine.  Try the chicken over rice!

NY Slice – Sacco.  An old timer.  No 99 cent slices here (more like $2.50), but a NY slice as good as it gets

Neapolitan Pizza – Don Antonio.  Just a few years old, opened by a duo of Naples veterans who know a thing or 3 about pizza.  One of them also owns the popular Keste in the village.  I’ve tried quite a few pies here (no slices – good place for sharing) and my favorite is the Diavola

Somewhere in between – Merilu.  My kind of family.  Merilu from Torino dishes out great thin slices along with her kids while the dad just eats the stuff.  Come on Friday or Saturday to try Merilu’s excellent meatballs

Brick Oven Pies – Capizzi.  A solid alternative to the Don Antonio, John’s craziness and perhaps the closest thing to a pizza parlor you can only find in the outer boroughs.  The ingredients speak for themselves, like the bright fresh tomato sauce and the extra meaty pepperoni and sausages

Pizza and Beer – Annabel.  Just tried it a few hours ago (the things I do for you people.  And for what?).  Just opened last week.  Kinda striking, woodsy space.  Great Neapolitan like wood oven pizza with nifty toppings like ricotta, duck prosciutto, blueberry chutney, an even better looking craft beer menu on tap, fresh pasta and more.  Cant wait to explore the rest of this menu.  Behind the name is another cow story

Peruvian – Inti.  10th ave is the new 9th ave.  Can someone go here please? Anyone?  Bueller?  Its always empty for some reason and it would be a real shame if it closes.  A Pio Pio alumni with a twist.  And the twist being empty ceviche.  Great looking and tasting Ceviche Mixto (below), Fresh fish chunks, shrimp, octopus and calamari with red onions, cilantro and rocoto hot pepper.  Add sweet potatoes for much needed contrast and baby corn and you got yourself a heck of a dish.  Or try the always reliable Rotisserie chicken which I’ve had so many times prior to snapping the streak finally

Inti Ceviche

Dominican – Lali.    Read this while listening to this.  Ready? Lets go.  Love this new discovery.  Home cooking cant get any more homey than this.  Small, Diner-ish, Reggaeton music blasting in the background to help you chew.  And the 2 nonnas serving including Lali,  well you just want to take one of them home.  You get whats available today which will normally include some sort of beef stew, chicken, ribs.  Go for the braised chicken if available, or the beef stew, with rice and beans of course.

BBQ – Daisy Mays.  After a 5 year hiatus I’ve decided to check it out again to see if its HKSG worthy and looks like it is.  Well, barely.  Not so much of an endorsement I know but if you are looking for delicious ribs, while its not the best BBQ in town, its satisfying.  And as is the case with everything in life, Dry Rub over Wet.

Mexican – Toloache.  I realize that there’s a better chance seeing Lindsay Lohan win an Oscar than seeing tourists (without guides) in one of those bodegas I’ve recommended.  So another option is needed.  Try to sit downstairs (a chili’s atmosphere otherwise).  Good tacos (lobster yum!) but on the small side.  You can make an argument that its not considered to be in Hells Kitchen, but its close enough.

Korean Fried Chicken – Hell’s Chicken.  Or “Hell’s Kitchen” as I read it in my head 100 times while passing by, mumbling “how can another restaurant call itself Hell’s Kitchen” until I finally looked closer and its CHICKEN, not Kitchen.  The wings are glossy, meaty and tasty.  Try the Garlic Soy.  This is a very tentative addition to this list as I’ve only been here once and reports out of Yelp hint on some inconsistency.

Farmer’s Markets – Stiles on 52nd is a tiny market with a big heart and Outer Boroughs prices.  You also have the 57th st Greenmarket on 57th and 9th open Wednesdays and Saturdays from about mid April to December.  What fantastic timing on my part, eh?

Café/Bakery - Bis.Co.Latte.  How did I miss this spot the past 10 years.  50 shades of Biscottis baked in the back of this colorful cheerful Café.  GREAT daily Risottos, soups like the Tuscan inspired Ribollita, and the Tuscan inspired Tuscan White Bean soup.

BisColate Risotto

Café – Café Ole.  Click on the Reggaeton link for this one as well.  This hole in the wall has been here for some time now and the place I probably frequent the most.  Simple, delicious sandwiches, paninis, soups and my go to place for fresh salads.  And then you have Anna the owner who will teach you how to salsa by the time your order is ready.

Café – Rex.  The new kid on the block and by kid I mean Rex, the hardest working baker in HK.  And only 3 years old!  Ok, not really, he’s 4 now!  Ok, not really again, his father helps out a little but still.  Nice muffins here – Try the Morning Glory.

Bagels – Pick-A-Bagel.  Ess got nothing on these guys.  This is by far my favorite bagel place in the area, and trust me I’ve looked.  A good place to try the walnut raisin spread but I normally go for a simple bagel with butter.  Muffins are great in size and taste, and the only place that has Ziggy’s fave banana nut.  Its a great concept:  You say “Bagel” and they pick one for you.  :roll:

Chocolates – Kee’s.  What happens when you leave your corporate job (Mrs Ziggy are you reading?) to follow your dream and open what eventually becomes one of NY’s finest chocolate shops?  You open another one, and another one, and on 39th st in Hell’s Kitchen.  Creamy explosion, the words that come to mind once you chew on one of the 50 or so truffles and chocolates.  Top notch craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap.  But still, a good option after lunch at Mercato, Larb Ubol, or Capizzi.  Or before dinner.

Dessert – Little Pie Company.  While everyone is obsessing with cheesecakes, those in the know come here for the insane Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie.  When I was walking home on my birthday earlier this year, guess what I picked up on the way.  Laundry!  But then…

Diners.  Westway is the classic, Georgio’s Country Grill the not so classic, and Renaissance is somewhere in between.  All 3 offer your no frill basic diner fare.

Best HK dining that’s not actually in HK – A new category for theater goers and those who want to experience some of NY’s finest that happened to be just outside the area.  Consider Lincoln, Ma Peche, Marea, The NoMad, Betony

There are more slightly less desirable options which I will not include but there you have it.  Stay hungry my friends!Mercato

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “The Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

  1. Susan

    Thanks so much for this guide to great restaurants in proximity to the theater district. Definitely appreciated! Maybe send it in the the NYC TA forum? I followed your adventures in Israel last year, and I enjoyed our meaningful discussions about hummus! I don’t think that you will find too much hummus in Italy, but rest assured that there are other fine things to eat there. I look forward to following your travels on the Italy forum. Have a great trip!

    • Thanks for the comment Susan. I did actually post this on the NYC forum this morning. Most of the places listed I should mention are far from fancy, so not only alternative to theater district, but also alternative to white cloth dining.
      And Susan, hummus will be the last thing on mind in Italy ;) But I miss Israel.

  2. Tanya

    Are reservations necessary at Il Melograno? We would like to try it!

    • I would recommend to do so just to be on the safe side. Its not a big place and they would close it from time to time for big parties so you would at least to make sure they are open that night

  3. Tanya

    Thanks for the recommendation! Minus the no a/c on a VERY hot evening we loved Il Melograno!

    • Its all by design to make the Italian staff sweat. Weird I know.
      Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the feedback. I’m surprised about the AC since they just renovated.
      Actually, I just called them and the owner said they got the AC situation sorted out

  4. Pingback: Hell’s Kitchen Survival Update | Eating With Ziggy

  5. Amy

    great list of food places in Hell’s kitchen…would love to hear your take on places in the Upper West Side. Our son just moved to West 85th between Columbus and Amsterdam and would like to know of some good foodie places.
    Thanks, Amy

    • Hi Amy, that area although not too far from me is still sort of foreign food wise. We New Yorkers tend to look south. With that said, some places mentioned above opened branches in that area. Island Burger and Gazala. Other than that I would like to visit Barney Greengrass and Lincoln some day.

      • Amy

        Thanks, Ziggy….I think you’re correct when you say foodie places..Upper West Side, are not too visible…however, whenever we visit our son (we live in NJ) we try to scout out places that offer good food. Barney Greengrass is great…very small but wonderful black/white cookies and a delish bagel and lox platter. We’ve been to Island Burger…son’s rec…very good’
        If you find or hear about UWS places, let me know…Also really enjoyed reading your LV blog.
        Thanks, again
        Amy

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  7. Oh….wow….gotta save up the coins and get to NYC. Sheesh.

  8. Richard

    Thanks for writing this. Heading to HK on the 18th. One clarification: Under diners you mention Westside Diner… did you mean Westway Diner? (I couldn’t find Westside Diner except on the upper West Side). Based on Yelp reviews, I may just go to Market Diner. Thoughts on that, compared to say Giorgio’s Country Grill

    • Yes, I meant Westway diner – I probably had Ippudo on my mind. Havent ventured out to Market diner yet but I suggest to swing by Gotham West next door first just to see if anything there catching your fancy more. Georgios is basic and service normally reliable depending on which important soccer game happened the night before

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