Although the emphasis was on the “Hell” part initially, as in the only place potentially hotter than hell, Hell’s Kitchen today boasts some of the city’s most incredible array of kitchens. It wasnt always the case (hence the title) and there are plenty of naysayers out there that still live in that past. But the neighborhood is rapidly changing, and despite gentrification, 9th avenue and around is a food lover paradise. Its a beautiful mishmash of world cuisine, with Thai, Mexican, Ramen, and Korean dominating these days, pretty much in that order. After working in the area for 20 years, and running food tours during the last four, I’ve written a guide with a map to help you out…
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, Italian, Seafood, pizza, great ice cream and more.
Middle Eastern – Gazala’s Place. Fabulous Druze cooking. Some of the best Hummus in town (I’ve spent plenty of time in Israel including the druze village where Gazala Habibi came from). The place is slightly larger a hers and hers closet (in my house at least. I count my blessings to have 2 shelves left for myself). The Bourekas with goat cheese and sun dried tomato is always solid.
Gourmet Middle Eastern – Taboon. One of the most successful, long running hidden gems in the area. A fine “Middleterranean” menu created by Israeli chef Efi Nahon. 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 Berlin style 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. I slightly prefer the chicken over the lamb but you should try both.
Momofuku – Bang Bar. Leave it to David Chang to make lines fun, and for a $5 snack no less. Oddly situated in the Columbus Shops at the Warner Center, its worth the short trek for the spicy pork “U”. And for a price of a Halal cart lunch its… I’m saying it… a Bang for your buck. Get it? Because its called Bang.
Sushi – Uogashi. Perhaps the Holy Grail in Sushi deprived Hell’s Kitchen. An East Village import that shuttered in EV after a building fire in 2018. The space housed a different sushi place which explains why it took me 6 months to find it. From the freshness of the fish (Uogashi means fish market) to the quality of the rice, its not only the best in HK today but some of the best Sushi I’ve had in NYC.
Korean – Danji. One of the more reliable old guards, and best Korean in Hell’s Kitchen. Chef Hooni Kim can flat out cook. He travels to Korea multiple times a year to gather inspiration. Best Tofu dish in town. And you will be hard pressed to find better chicken wings and sliders in the area. Michelin people agreed (initially ta least), rewarding it a star soon after opening.Ramen – E.A.K. Cant decide between Chicken or Pork based broth? Why not try a blend of both. Its the first successful infiltration of IEKEI (pronounced EAK) style Ramen in NYC, albeit on tourist heavy restaurant row (46th) for some reason. So far I’ve enjoyed the Oh So Hot with spicy Miso so much that I’m having trouble ordering anything else. Skip the boring $3 extra appetizers they offer for lunch.
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
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.
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. Try the ribs, Pork with curry paste, Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles, and the pumpkin or Mango custard with coconut sticky rice off the board (may not be on the menu)
Thai – Taladwat. The new kid on the Thai block is a possibly the most important opening in Hell in the last few years. Thats because its the latest from David Bank and his wife, the owners of Pure Thai Cookhouse, and its three times bigger. The menu focuses on 20 or so small plates covering a wide array of protein. You have the option of getting two for $16 for lunch (a bit more for dinner). So far the Crabmeat Tom Turmeric is the winner
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.
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. Update Jan 30, 2020: Now Rong Cheng House. Still Szechuan(ish) but havent tried the new space
Chinese – Le Sia. Its one of those rare situations where I add a place to the guide before my first visit. I’m well too familiar with Le Sia in East Village and what these guys are capable of. Expect fiery Chinese style crawfish/crab boils, BBQ skewers, and the type of authenticity the neighborhood isnt used to. The most important Chinese opening in Hell’s Kitchen in a long time.
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 – Saar Indian Bistro – My little Indian rule of thumb – pay special attention to the latest from Indian master Hemant Mathur (Malai Marke, Chote Nawab and many more). The dude just knows how to cook and how to hire them. He finally opened one in the Kitchen in 2018, making Saar instantly the most important Indian in the area, and very different than the rest. Its a nice bridge between a curry house and gourmet Indian. Try the Chicken kebabs, Cauliflower Latkes, Butter Chicken, and Pepper chicken
Dell’anima – Italian is the one thing that is lacking in the area even though there are now three of them on this list. That makes this West Village import at Gotham West Market one of the most important openings of 2019. Try the signature Tajarin Carbonara, and the chicken
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. No joke! 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 – 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 – Farm to Burger. Good burger places come and go here. Ans this very hidden gem in the Aliz hotel just came. I’ve only tried one burger here so far and it was good enough to earn the crown. The not as sweet as it sounds Honey Bee might be the best burger in the kitchen.
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 – Corner Slice. Gotham West Market now serves delicious airy Sicilian squares by dough wizards backed by Ivan Ramen
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. 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. 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 – Tulcingo Del Valle. With all the fancy Mexican popping in the area during the last decade, this 20 year old Pueblan still feels like the last of the neighborhood bodegas. No shortcuts, fresh or bust approach is the reason people keep coming back. Its a very full and challenging menu but the tacos, especially best in the hood Al Pastor, are always solid. Veggie Publan specialties like Chile Relleno and Mole Poblano are fantastic, and dont leave without trying the flan.
Mexican – Alan’s Kitchen Mexican Cuisine. This one is a tentative addition as its new and I’ve only been once, but the Carnitas here are Mission-esque (Mission District is a Mexican paradise of sorts in SF). The tacos are so good I hear Los Tacos nearby are changing their name to #2.
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!
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
Diners. Westway Diner for a classic NY diner
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
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.
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 – 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. 🙄
Cupcakes – Huascar & Co. Bakeshop. Cupcake wars champion and one of the nicest, friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Pies – Little Pie Company. While everyone is obsessing with cheesecakes, those in the know come here for the insane Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie.
Fresh From Hell. Quite a few healthy places surprisingly closed the past few years like Mooncake Foods despite being popular. But tiny takeout FFH is a solid new alternative with fine sandwiches featuring Sullivan bread, and the best split pea soup this side of wherever they make the best split pea soup.