New York City

Best Tacos in Hell’s Kitchen

Alan's KitchenTacos, one of the four pillars of Hell’s Kitchen.  Thai, Ramen, and bars are the other three.  I cant think of many Hell’s Kitchen corners where you are not less than 5 minutes away from good tacos.  But try telling that to the 100 or so poor souls standing on a long line in freezing temps at Los Tacos #1 (or is it #2) in Times Square because their notes say so.  Oh its good alright.  But in this Little Puebla there are options.  Many options.

Carnitas at Alan’s Kitchen Mexican Cuisine – The newest kid on the block may very well be the best of all.  No alcohol license as of this writing, but the kitchen dishes out some of the juiciest pulled pork and Carne Asada (top pic) around.  Perhaps the closest you can get to Mission (San Francisco) quality.  339 W 44th St (8/9)    

Shrimp at Otto’s Tacos – Small shrimp but with a lot of Chutzpah.  Smartly seasoned, served with Serrano cream and onions.  Slightly inconsistent as of late, but when they are on they are on.  And when they are not, they are still one of the better shrimp tacos out there.  705 9th Ave (48/49)

Al Pastor at Tulcingo Del Valle – One of the old guards on 10th.  When neighbor Tehuitzingo unexpectedly shuttered, the other T became the king of Al Pastor.  You cant mix and match here, so bring friends, or a bigger appetite.  Or both.  665 10th Ave (46/47)

Carnitas at Tacuba – This is the entree, not the “tacos”.  Although the small designer tacos are good here as well.  Order the Carnitas main and manufacture your own tacos.  Its hard to screw up with that wonderfully greasy suckling pig featuring plenty of crispy Chicharron.  802 9th Ave (54/53)

Oyster Mushroom at La Palapa – While everyone else is offering just boring cactus, the newest taco joint in Gotham West Market has the most impressive array of Veggie tacos.  The mushroom here works very well with the Chihuahua cheese and Pasilla peppers.  Its like a Russian Mushroom Julienne taco.  600 11th Ave (44/45)

Tulcingo Del Valle

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Taladwat – The New Thai Sensation on 9th

Eating With Ziggy

taladwat - pompanoDecember 1st, 2019 Update:

Even with one of the most prominent Thai gone (Larb Ubal), Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen today is an embarrassment of riches.  They keep multiplying, making ugly babies.  On 9th they are more common than pharmacies or delis.  On 10th where its much tougher to survive, they are going strong.  But if I have to pick one name out of the bunch that has the best combination of food, comfort, and accessibility, its Taladwat.

Like a fine wine aging in dog years, Taladwat gets better every month.  David Bank (Pure Thai Cookhouse) and Brian Ghaw (Feast) essentially perfected the local formula by offering the most robust Thai flavors inside a mini beer garden setting.  The setting and concept is unlike anything else available on 9th, or pretty much the city for that matter.  While its not the prototypical pre-theater type, the location, and accessibility (at…

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Thankful!

Happy-Thanksgiving-1On Thanksgiving we give thanks to the things and people we take for granted.  This is perhaps the most meaningful Thanksgiving, and the first one I was not particularly looking forward to (first one without dad).  So I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks..

Thankful to the most important person in my life, my wife.  Don’t know where I’d be without her at this point in my life.  Probably having Thanksgiving at Pure Thai Cookhouse by myself staring at the wall.

Thankful to my mom who had a rough year.

Thankful to my daughters.  Couldn’t possibly be prouder.

Thankful for my lone black umbrella.  When you live with three women choosing a manly umbrella can be tough sometimes.

Thankful for my friends.

Thankful for Tacos.

These are mostly not in any particular order btw, otherwise tacos would have been much higher.

Thankful to live in such a multicultural city where I can say Bonjour in the morning patisserie, Shalom at lunch, and “Whoa, too spicy, where’s the hong nam man” (toilet in Thai) for dinner.

Thankful for Hockey and the NY Islanders, even though they stunk it up last night.

Thankful for Depeche Mode.  Greatest music gift in history.

Thankful to the person who invented Anti-Pervert Hairy Leg Stockings.  Makes holiday gift buying so easy for me.

Thankful to all the visitors who entrusted me on their precious vacation time and took my tours.

Thanks to the visitor who returned my black umbrella 6 months later.

Thankful to the Trip Advisor NY forum!  Not sure where I’d be without your support at this point.  Probably divorced, eating by myself at Pure Thai Cookhouse.

Thankful to the owner of Pure Thai Cookhouse!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Three to Consider in Brooklyn

Hometown BBQ PastramiEvery time I sneeze a new restaurant opens in Brooklyn.  Every time Mrs Z sneezes, a dove commits suicide.  Its the loudest sneeze on the planet, that comes without warning.  Think a samurai shout or a mother giving birth to triplets.  Some of the new restaurants generate hours long waits or impossible to reserve, but thankfully plenty of solid oldies around.  Today you get three for the price one.

Xixa – I dont know what took me so long to get to this Mexican fusion.  Maybe the inner Jewish guilt.  Xixa after all, and its sister Traif (where we ate before), are situated just outside of Hasidic Williamsburg.  Xixa, pronounced Shiksa, means gentile woman (not Jewish).  Traif means not Kosher.  Its like two bullies laughing while pointing fingers at a kid eating Gefilte Fish off a can.  But Xixa has been around for a while now, and still packs young folks nightly.  Its hard to pick favorites from the many small and large plates.  But give the Elote (corn or carrots), beets, duck or short rib Carnitas a try.  Playful menu, with playful drinks to match.  241 S 4th St (Williamsburg)

XixaOlivier Bistro – Its beginning to sound like another cliche, but Olivier Bistro is the type of place every neighborhood needs.  I’ve been frequenting Olivier for a few years now but for some reason never wrote about it.  Talented French born Olivier Verdier is constantly on his toes, offering a mix of specials and a plethora of French classics for the steady regulars.  Its the closest you’ll get to an authentic French Bistro in Brooklyn.  The burger is always solid.  As are the Shishito peppers, Cassoulet, Moules Frites, Hanger Steak, and make sure to ask about today’s poison! (fish).  I’ve never had a bad dish here.  469 4th Ave (Gowanus)

Hometown BBQ Industry City – I havent written much about Industry City because, well, I can never find parking.  And I havent had truly compelling reasons to keep going.  Until now.  The ultra flaky pastrami sandwich at this new Hometown branch may be as good as it gets in NYC today.  It borders too salty on the first few bites, but settles in beautifully.  Its a nice homage to the classic Jewish deli pastrami on rye.  Industry City (Sunset Park)

And talking about pastrami, I inform you with heavy heart and slightly elevated cholesterol that EWZ fave Harry and Ida’s in the East Village is closing this weekend.  I wish nothing but the best to Will and Julie.  There will never be anything like Harry and Ida’s.

Hometown BBQ

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Santina – Stays Fresh a Little Longer

Santina - CecinaRemember that old commercial.. “Stay Fresh a little longer… say goodbye a little longer..”,  The actual products dont stick, but the songs often do.  If you dont remember this one its probably because, well, it doesnt exist.  Its actually a Wrigley Big Red gum commercial that goes “So kiss a little longer…”, and the fresh part was only in my head.  But the idea of the commercial is that the gum will keep you fresh longer than normal so you could kiss longer, for some reason.  Why would anyone want to do it in public is beyond me.  Kissing in public for more than 3 seconds is rare, awkward and should be banned frankly for the safety of the individuals and motorists.  You practically asking for herpes.  And at home you have Listerine for that.

But last time I checked, this is not Hygiene With Ziggy.  Its a food blog.  Major Food Group’s Santina, five years later, still feels fresh and unique.  With the ever changing regional Italian scene on the island, Santina stays true to its concept – fun, inventive spin on coastal Italian.  Italians, like in many cultures around the world, generally live very close to their land.  On the coast of Sicily for example you may find beautiful sweet Gambero Rosso (red shrimp).  While 10 km inland, you find yourself wrapping Focaccia around sausage and ricotta.  Coincidentally, ever wonder why we have so many lobster/crab shacks, and various seafood joints by the water?  Its not like any of the seafood comes from the Hudson or Buttermilk Channel near Red Hook.

Santina Squash CarpaccioMuch of Santina’s originality is attributed to one item, Cecina.  While Santina bills itself as coastal Italian, mainly Liguria and Tuscany, this chickpea pancake is different than anything we had between Genoa and Lucca.  Its softer and spongier, but not in a bad way.  On recent visits I enjoyed it with tuna infused with Calabrian chili, and avocado thats essentially the best Guacamole within a two mile radius.  Once wrapped with the Cecina ‘slice’, you get four tasty snacks.  Add the accompanied red sauce to the second or third Cecina for a change of pace and maximum oomphness.  The Cecina is reason #365 why you should stop reading Infatuation.  Clearly I cant!

The only thing better than a restaurant with a signature dish is one with two.  The Squash Carpaccio is a brilliant combination of thinly sliced squash, pumpkin seeds, brown butter, pink peppercorn, and crème fraiche dropped like Hershey kisses.  Another recent discovery is the Capellini Blue Crab – simple but effective.  Perhaps a spoonful of crab shy from being VERY effective.  Avoid the boring wild rice calamari.  The spicy potatoes side is one of those dishes I’m seeing elsewhere nowadays, but rarely comes close to Santina’s version.  In previous visits we’ve also enjoyed the chicken, Shrimp Zingara, and Santina Fusilli that are menu staples.

Santina
820 Washington St (under the begining of the High Line, south end)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Cecina, Squash Carpaccio, Capellini Blue Crab, Spicy Potatoes, Shrimp Zingara, Santina Fusilli

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The 16 Dishes that Define Hell’s Kitchen Today

Eating With Ziggy

Nano Ecuadorian Nano

15 years behind a desk deep inside Hell’s Kitchen introduced me to the wonderful world of car dealerships, construction machinery, and gay bars. I watched the neighborhood develop, grow and become one of the least appreciated food areas in NYC today.  It is a NYC neighborhood, full of personalities and stories.  9th ave has morphed into a little foodie paradise over the years, while 10th ave is full of destination gems.

Today I sit behind another desk, my own.  But I still visit Hell’s Kitchen about twice a week for work (so subtle) and research, and it still feels like a second home.  As with just about any Manhattan neighborhood, its nice to explore the area on your own.  But to bring some of these stories to life and understand what this neighborhood is all about, I recommend taking a tour (ok, not so subtle).  These are the dishes…

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Cremini’s – From Le Marche With Love

Cremini's CresciaIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may or may not have noticed a slow moving shift.  A shift in the type of establishments I frequent, and write about.  Gone are the days of the almost weekly expensive meals.  Hooray fast-casual!  There was a time when I would enthusiastically read the power rankings and hot lists on a regular basis, but these days it feels more like a monthly chore.  Among my other usual sources, I now concentrate on random openings instead.  Places that open with or without any buzz, offering something that gets my attention, in convenient areas.  

The shift began a few years ago when I finally understood what “buzz” and “hot” means.  I started to talk to owners and chefs about artificial hype, and the various techniques to achieve it.  The shift continued when we started to experience disappointing meals by some of the buzz elite, some of which I’ve never written about.  But the turning point may have been when a well respected hot list I follow included a restaurant that belonged to someone I know.  That restaurant was most definitely not hot, and most definitely shut three months later.  What made it hot?  Around 3k to a marketing firm.

Enter tiny Cremini in Carroll Gardens.  The type of mom/pop that wouldnt normally make much social media noise, and is more of a neighborhood hangout.  Although Eater’s Robert Sietsema did discover its Crescia flatbread (more on that soon).  Cremini’s opened a few months ago by a young couple offering specialties of their home region, Le Marche, the lost region of Italy.  While we dont have any other Le Marche dining options as far as I know, Cremini’s is also the type of place every neighborhood needs.

Cremini'sOwners Riccardo and Elena live upstairs, and the only thing missing in their little place on Court Street is a bell.  “Like eating in someones house” is a cliche these days, but there’s no better way to describe this one.  Perhaps one day they’ll get busy enough to hire more staff and function more like a regular restaurant.  But for the time being, its like walking into your neighbor’s house, grabbing a newspaper, pretending you can read Italian.  And after chatting about politics, and 80’s Eurotrash with the owners, about an hour later, maybe eat something.

The menu is unconventional but not too foreign.  There’s even a burger, and its a good one.  But its important to keep an open mind and not expect a full menu as so many restaurants all over Italy.  Although Cremini’s may refer to Elena’s fried cream custards, you get the sense that its the stuffed Ascolana olives that are closer to a specialty here.  There are six varieties, from classic, spicy, veggie and more.  Best plan of attack is mix and match the 9 pieces, 3 x 3.

Not too far from Cremini’s, people wait one hour for the “hottest” pizza at the moment, F&F Pizzeria (its good!).  And a bit further out some wait three hours for a red hot burger at Red Hook Tavern.  Meanwhile there’s zero wait at the moment for Elena’s steakhouse quality burger where she mixes three meats, and counters with Provolone, sweet caramelized onions, and.. bacon.  The only other main is Le March style “meatballs” of fried pasta with ragu.  You’ll enjoy them as long as you can convince the inner New Yorker in you not to expect, well, meatballs.

Cremini's MeatballsThe Crescia is like a cross between a Piadina and Laffa flatbread where you can mix and match various meats and cheeses.  The Mortadella and Gorgonzola settle nicely once the taste buds get over the initial Gorgonzola funkiness.  One thing about the new Italian immigrants is they dont mess around with the raw materials.  No need to bastardize much these days like the old Sicilian immigrants did.  Another such example here is the excellent Tiramisu.

Cremini’s is not the type you expect perfection.  Its the type you want to root for.  When you talk to restaurant owners these days you get the sense that its a brutal, survival of the fittest market.  A real estate market that erased virtually all such places in some neighborhoods across the river.  One just needs to step inside Cremini’s to remind ourselves why they are still needed.

Cremini’s
521 Court St, Carroll Garden
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Fried Olives, Burger, Crescia, Meatballs, Tiramisu

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Z-List Update – Fall 2019

tone cafe - ajaruli khachapuriIts been 8 months since the last update.  5 in, 5 out this time.  The Z-List is essentially my favorite 50 restaurants in NYC today.  I try to conduct surprise inspections as frequently as I can.  I show up wearing a hat and fake mustache.  Even though they dont know what I look like, you can never be too careful these days.  Rumors out there that I look like Tom Branson from Downton Abbey are unfounded.  I know because I founded them.  Anyway here are the changes…

In:  Wayan, Rezdora, 19 Cleveland, Kawi, Tone Cafe

Out: 

Pasquale Jones – Just getting a sense that its getting a little too touristy these days.  The group keeps opening restaurants and sometimes they lose focus.  Besides I needed to sacrifice one Italian as I have too many

Totto Ramen – Too many Tottos out there lost in the shuffle of too many great Ramen joints these days.

Oiji – Just not strong enough for me to keep coming back.  All sorts of great Korean on this list

Bombay Bread Bar, Timna – Closed

The full list with map

Congrats to the new members.  Happy eating!

Tom

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EV Bites – Of Foxes, Pizza, and Smores in Paradise

Smor - Potato SaladEV Bites is a [whenever I feel like it] feature that showcases five places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to surrounding hoods and maybe even mention a name more than once.  The neighborhood of East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Previously on EV Bites:  The Dumplings Belt

Smør –  Want to see the saddest looking McDonalds in the city?  Head to East Village.  No matter how many places like Smør open in this area, you never have enough fast food, or fast casual spots around.  Smør specializes in exactly that, Smørrebrød, Nordic open faced toasts.  It starts and ends with the high quality bread from Union Square market.  The Potato salad will just about be the best potato salad you’ll ever have.  Fantastic Smoked Salmon is a given.  But the best item on the menu might be the Hangover (Roast Beef) Sandwich, best enjoyed with a light headache or morning after guilt.

Mister Paradise – I only write about bars if they happen to have exceptional burger food.  Mister Paradise has at the very least, some of the best bar burgers in the city.  The patty is of good quality, perfectly cooked meat, topped with bacon-infused american cheese and caramelized onions.  And for $12 good value to boot (fries are separate and good).  Add a not too shabby, if slightly on the dry side, fried chicken that comes with truffle and Habanero honey duo.  For drinks, for something refreshing try the Party Lobster – blanco tequila, mezcal, campari, watermelon, lime, fermented habanero, garlic

Mister Paradise Burger886 – Sometimes new places “expire” in my head, and I forget all about them, before they resurface somehow out of their hiding.  This Taiwanese was hiding in plain sight right on the busy, glitzy side of St Marks.  886 offers one of the better lunch specials in the area where you can choose dishes like the visually pleasing sweet Taiwanese Sausage and Fried Rice, and the absolute best Popcorn Chicken I’ve ever had.

886 - Taiwanese Sausage and riceVillage Square Pizza – Pizza joints in all shapes and sizes come and go in that part of the island.  The intense competition in the area created a survival of the fittest environment, except that its almost impossible to determine the fittest.  Sometimes I try new pizza and can pretty much pinpoint the month they’ll close (Rolio Pizza), but then there’s the curious case of Martina.  Village Square is run by former employees of the famed Prince Street pizza in Soho.  This is where you can get the famous Pepperoni Sicilian (square) without the hoopla (meaning tourists), and their signature white (fresh ricotta, garlic, mozzarella, honey).

Village Square PizzaFoxface – I told you about this ‘Hers and Hers Closet’ sandwich gem inside the William Barnacle speakeasy.  Well now that the NYT discovered it as well, you’ll need to take a number and wait for your sandwich just a little longer.  But its well worth it.

Foxface

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The Pizza Map

best-pizza

Eating With Ziggy

September 20th, 2019 Update

Added a bunch of places including my favorites in Staten Island (nothing near the ferry however so not really for tourists).  I also marked the type of pizza for each one (slices, pies, Neapolitan, etc)

Drop:  Bruno Pizza, Martina.  Bruno was dishing out creative pies, but struggled with staff pay and filling the room, and some of the most uncomfortable bar stools on NYC.  Martina on the other hand was the most painful pizza closing in NYC history.  Perhaps the most unique pizza parlor in a city that wasnt quite ready or understood it.

Add:  Three places in Staten Island (Joe and Pat’s, Lee’s Tavern, Giove’s).  While none of them are near the ferry, you can get to Lee’s Tavern fairly quickly with the train.  It a dive bar with one of the best bar pizzas in NYC.  Village Square Pizza is run…

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