“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 a $5 cab ride to make the night complete and eat at some of New York’s finest.
With that said, here’s the best food in Hell…
Gotham West Market – Perhaps the coolest thing ever to open in Hell’s Kitchen. In a city suddenly flooded with all sorts of food halls, this is one of the more intimate, and less visited ones. Main reason being the tourist free zone of 11th and 45th, making it more of a neighborhood stop. Only about 9 high quality vendors, and a bicycle shop. Ramen, tapas, burgers, Mexican, health food, sushi burritos, meat purveyor, high end coffee, and to top it all, some of the best ice cream in town.
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). The place is 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. I’m not big of the Bourekas overall, but the cheese and sun dried tomato Bourekas here is solid. 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.
Gourmet Middle Eastern – Taboon. One of the most successful, hidden gems in the area. A creative menu created by a top Israeli chef coining the term Middleterranean. Try any of their bread specialties baked in their Taboon oven, and the Silan (below), 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.
Korean – Danji. The best Korean Tapas in the area by far. Ok, probably the only one but its still quite good, and not quite tapas. You will be hard pressed to find better chicken wings in the area, and the sliders aren’t too shabby. Michelin people agreed (initially), rewarding it a star soon after opening
Ramen -Totto Ramen. Shoe box setting and potential long waits adds to the charm at the original. 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. Newer, bigger Totto located a block away 464 West 51st. Less wait if any than the original
Ramen – Ippudo Westside. Perhaps the most exciting HK opening in 2013. One block away from Totto and others making HK a NYC Ramen powerhouse. Just like Totto, this is an experience, but a little different. Its bustling, noisy, energetic, and that’s just the wait inside and out. Clearly my favorite here so far is the Akamaru Modern, but you must add the egg, and for a little more spice the spicy miso paste. Highly recommend this one
Ramen – Mentoku. Three is a crowd you say? I disagree! The other two are now well known oldtimers, and these days you will most likely find me at this relaxing no-line, no hassle, newcomer. Start with the simple but the delicious fried chicken and finish with the spicy Yuzu-Kosho.
Japanese – Blue Ribbon Sushi. Not all chains are created equally. This is far from Applebee’s. And depending on who you ask, and the day of the week, this is not exactly in Hell’s Kitchen but close enough (Yelp thinks that it is). Its located in the SIXTY Hotel on Columbus Circle (on 58th st). Whether you are a sushi lover is irrelevant in this case. Good fried chicken, steaks, and the sick oxtail fried rice alone is worth the price of admission. And other goodies such as the excellent Ika Shoga (sautéed squid), and Kanpachi Usuzukuri (amberjack sushimi) worth detouring.
Japanese – Mocu Mocu (closed). More Japanese goodies in the hood, though there’s really nothing like this one. Artsy, nifty but very casual spot that is still trying to find its bearings. Essentially all sorts of Japanese street food and snacks. Takoyaki (octopus balls), Oshinko (homemade pickles), soups like the terrific white bean and Sausage Miso, Okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), Obanyaki (dessert pastries), decent wings. This project is a collaboration of two sisters with the help of Hiroko Shimbo, an acclaimed Japanese cookbook author. Unlike the atrocity across the street El Original, this place hasn’t spent a day on any hot list, while flying under everyone’s radar. Its all in the marketing.
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. 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, and the duck larb.
Thai – Pam Real Thai. I was hesitant to add this one for too long, partly due to having two Thai places on the list already. But.. a) Many EWZ readers have already been to Pure and/or Larb Ubol, b) The Oxtail Soup, and c) Just about everything else I’ve had here is pretty darn good. Setting redefines minimalistic, and the place could use some refreshing, but I dont go there for the decor. Try the Pad Kra Prow (w/shrimp), Pad Prik Khing, Khao Soi, best Kee Mao Seafood in the hood, and the Oxtail Soup which is just about my favorite soup on the planet.
Sushi – Han Sushi. Newcomer on 10th and 56th trounces all area sushi with its freshness and flavor. Once you overlook the heart shaped rice on the Chirashi plate, you will see the best raw value in the area
Chinese – Gourmet Szechuan 56. By far the best Chinese in the area. Like Pure Thai, Spice level significantly higher. Loving the Shredded Beef w/ Asian Spicy Green Chili especially
Chinese – Chaan Teng. One of the newest kids on the block (9th ave). American Chinese with a twist… as in dildos. Yes, its decorated in a way that forces fathers to have that talk with son while sharing Chaan Teng’s take on General Tso’s Chicken. Perhaps the most inventive and daring (Chicken Skin Dumplings) menu and decor on the block
Chinese/Dumplings – Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen. A little piece of Chinatown on the border of Hell’s Kitchen, steps away from Times Square. Contrary to what the name suggests, this place isnt known for its ramen, but for its soup dumplings. The place is tiny, and at peak hours there could be a line but it moves quickly. Communal tables add to the fun, but try not to squirt that dumpling soup juice on your neighbor. Unless its a Broadway actor
Indian – Basera Indian Bistro. I tried every single Indian in the area, and keep going back to this one. Friendly, big, and best lunch specials by far. This is your average American Indian, but done right. Good Tikka masala, lamb Biryani, but its just about a Chicken Chettinad fest for me as of late.
Indian Lunch Buffet – Benares. I’m not normally into lunch buffets these days, but this is one that my co-workers and I enjoy lately. What I like about it is that they dont offer the usual conventional Tikka and Chana Masalas, but various shrimp and lamb dishes with proper Unamerican degrees of heat and flavor
Italian – Mercato. This is quickly becoming not only my favorite Italian in the area but my favorite restaurant in the area. Truly flavorful, mostly authentic southern Italian (from south Italy, not south Staten Island) dishes like the excellent homemade Trenette (below) with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil. A cozy Trattoria, with an all Italian staff. Check out the simple spaghetti, the meaty gnocchi, Sardinian specialties, and look for any specials like the excellent Cavatelli
Italian – Il Melograno. A lot of mediocre Italian in the area. This is not one of them. No frills, small, cheap(er) 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. In the warmer months locals flock to their sidewalk wine bar Il Baretto on 11th.
Wine and Cheese bar – Casellula. Great wine and.. you guessed it.. Pork Ass sandwiches. Small, 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 asses
Bar/Gastropub – Brickyard. “Bout bloody time” says a random Irish site visitor. Dont know why it took me so long to add this to the list. To me this is more of a true Gastropub than the Spotted Pig, the mother of the NYC Gastropub scene. A bar first, restaurant second. Claire, the perky (I mean personality wise, not…) bartender will take good care of your drinking and Sports needs. Over 20 craft beers on tap, wall to wall screens, and food that is pretty darn good for a bar. Build your own burger, includes a leaner but deadly Bison patty. And the truffle fries here are more addictive than at the popular Umami downtown
Bar/Gastropub – Shorty’s. Calling this a Gastropub may be a stretch, but you do come here for the Philly Cheesesteak. I’ve had it in Philadelphia, and I can assure you that this is the real deal. Same bread (arrives daily from “Le Bus” in Philly and finish baked in house), same steaks, same Whiz, same style, same everything. Owner apparently was part owner of the great Tony Luke’s in Philly. If you never had one, you are in for a messy treat.
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 always do 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.
Farm to Table – The Marshal. One of the most exciting additions to the neighborhood in recent years. They have a relationship with 14 local farms whose ingredients fill much of the seasonal menu. Just about everything they do, they do well. From the terrific french loaf, to the meatloaf and roast chicken, to the ice cream sundae. Ditch the diner and go to this neighborhood spot to experience American cuisine at its finest
NY Slice – Sacco. An old timer. No 99 cent slices here (more like $2.50), but a NY slice as good as it gets
Slices – 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
Neapolitan Pizza – Don Antonio. Opened by two Naples veterans who know a thing or 3 about pizza. One of them also owns the popular Keste in the village. Try the slightly fried Montanara that no one else does, and my fave Diavola boasting the best sopressata in town.
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
Empanadas – Empanada Mama (Closed for now due to fire) – Empanadas are like little patties, and should be on everyone’s area walking tour. Try the spicy chicken, the meaty Brazil, and before you try the Viagra make sure there’s ample space between you and the person in front of you. Hmmm, this sounded much funnier in my head.
Ecuadorian – Nano. This hole in the wall on 10th has some serious “nona” action going for it. An “I cant believe this is not Peruvian” Ecuadorian has joined Lali and the rest of the growing latin gang in the immediate area. Try the homey Caldo de Bola soup which made the Best Soups in HK cut. For lunch you got various deals that include the Seco de Pollo, chicken strips in a mild but pleasant gravy, and Sango de Res, beef in a soup like green plantain sauce, among all kinds of other surprises
Peruvian – Inti. 10th ave is the new 9th ave. Can someone go here please? Anyone? Bueller? Its always empty during lunch 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 the traditional baby corn and you got yourself a winner. Or try the always reliable Rotisserie chicken
Peruvian/Large Groups – Pio Pio. Ok, I give up. Pio Pio is a chain. In fact I think the official name for this one is Pio Pio 8, or something like that. It’s also not the best Peruvian in the area (Inti gets my vote), and it wont win any James Beard or Z-List awards any time soon. But whenever I’m asked the question I loath the most by my employer. A last minute place for a large group that is not only affordable but will make everyone happy, this is the first place that comes to mind. Good drinks, rotisserie chickens, and much more.
Dominican – Lali. Read this while listening to this. Ready? Lets go. Home cooking cant get any more homey than this. Small, Diner-ish, Reggaeton music blasting in the background to help you chew and move, and the two lovely nonnas serving including Mrs Lali herself. You get what’s available today which will normally include some sort of stew, chicken, or ribs. Go for the braised chicken if available, or the beef stew, with rice and beans of course. Breakfast and lunch only
Mexican – Tacuba. I realize that there’s a better chance seeing Lindsay Lohan win an Oscar than seeing tourists (without guides) in one of those last remaining bodegas/hole in the walls deeper in the area. This is the latest from Julian Medina of Toloache fame. And everything I’ve tried so far from the octopus sandwich for lunch to the Carnitas for dinner suggests GO!
Tacos – 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. Update: Recent renovations has made this one less bodegaish
Tacos – Otto’s Tacos. The first addition I didn’t even need to try. I’m well too familiar with their East Village spot, and those shrimp tacos (hmmm, how you doing!). But I did of course had my fix on day two of this most important Hell’s Kitchen opening since Gotham West.
Ethiopian – Meske. This is a fun place for groups. Just order a bunch of plates and watch them create the plate of dreams. Use the spongy Injera bread below to scoop up all those goodies. Queen of Sheba practically next door also worth considering
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.
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!
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?
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.
Sandwiches – City Sandwich. Sorry I have to use that “one of the city’s best” again. From Naples to Lisbon to the huge Portuguese community in Jersey, comes some of the best bread in the area, 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) like Bench Girl, and of course the only on Tuesday, porky Roberto
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
Café/Bakery – Bibble & Sip. One of the new kids on the wrong side of the block. Technically just outside of HK but deliciousness sees no borders! A place where you can unwind and BS all you want (it says so right on their logo). The Earl Grey Banana Bread is quickly gaining neighborhood fame. Add the Earl Grey Panna Cotta (notice a theme?), Matcha Cream puffs, scones, the morning egg sliders and all sorts of rotating daily goodies.
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 for quick simple lunch. 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. Great coffee, scones, and muffins like 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. 🙄
Chocolates – Kee’s. What happens when you leave your corporate job 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, whatever takes.
Pies – 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…
Healthy Fast Food – Reviver. Delicious seasonal, low calorie items in a fast food setting.
Healthy – Mooncake Foods – The Asian version of Reviver, and more. Exceptional sandwiches, bowls, and soups like the award winning Shanghai Pork & Shrimp Wonton
Just a Bit Outside
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!