“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…
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.
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
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
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
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
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 – Bodegas. Skip the fine dining Mexican here and try a Bodega, a Mexican deli. Some of the best bodegas in town just happened to be in Hell’s Kitchen. Try tacos and tortas from Tehuitzingo and the spicy Chicken Burrito from Guelaguetza ranks among the best. Just enter the deli, go to the back, order, and watch Dora the Explorer with the owner’s kids on TV. If you lucky you may even get one of the good ones with Diego around. Update 12/3/13: Tacos from Guelaguetza kicking ass lately especially the Carnitas and the Chorizo with potatoes
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)
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
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
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.
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!