Posts Tagged With: The Z-List

The Z-List

Annisa Squid

Updated: November, 2022

First post pandemic update, and a complete overhaul really.  I reduced the number from 50 to 30, and now sorting by neighborhood.  30 is just easier for me to update and keep tabs on.  Still sticking to Brooklyn and Manhattan as these are the two boroughs tourists and I mostly frequent.  Only rule as usual is $10-100 per person.  Meaning nothing that should cost over $100 or under $10 per person.  That eliminates cheap eats like pizza, and pretty much covers 99% of sit downs in NYC.  An affordable list for the people, by the people (Ok, by one person, but you get the idea).  Big Mazal Tov to the winners!

Hell’s Kitchen

Dell’anima

My new favorite Italian in HK, replacing Mercato.  A tricky recommendation as its quite far from your traditional Italian in every sense.  Its far from the theaters, though that didnt stop us doing it pre-theater a few times.  Its inside a food hall with the best seats being at the bar facing pasta virtuoso Andrew Whitney.  The pastas here, especially the menu staple Tajarin are very strong, and more along the lines of traditional Italy Italian as opposed to the typical Theater District red sauce American/Italian.  But I wouldnt overlook the sick Pollo al Diavolo, and the small but potent octopus.  Really just about every dish I had here in many visit was faultless.  600 11th Ave (44th)

dellanima-tajarin

Danji

When chef Hooni Kim is not busy judging cooking competitions in South Korea, or writing cookbooks, you may find him at this HK Korean staple.  Once you find the menu (hint: its in the drawer on your lap), go with the classics like the sliders, wings, and arguably the best tofu dish in NYC.  And then cautiously proceed to the Bibim-bap, fried rice with egg, and whatever else chef Kim got in store that day.  346 W 52nd (Hell’s Kitchen)

Pure Thai Cookhouse

LumLum may be giving it a run for its money as the top Thai in “Little Bangkok” 9th ave, but I still think Pure Thai is the best one.  Its tiny.  If you blink you may miss it.  I used to go here when they were called Pure Thai Shophouse until two lawyers from Chipotle showed up demanding a name change (long story with a happy ending).  There is no curry of every color on this menu like its competitors, but a nice selection of regional specialties like the Ratchaburi with pork, crab and dry handmade noodles made in the “shophouse” like corner inside.  The ribs are usually a hit.  Papaya salad, jungle curry fried rice, and the always reliable fiery pork with curry paste.  And as with any place, if there’s one dessert on the menu, get it.  Coconut sticky rice with pumpkin custard is the bomb (and better than LumLum’s version).  766 9th Avenue (51st) 

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Capizzi

Don Antonio may be the top Neapolitan in the area, Sacco the best slice, but I feel more at home at Capizzi.  It feels like an old fashioned Staten Island/Brooklyn style pizza parlor with high quality pies.  Raw materials is top priority here.  The pepperoni for instance is cut thick and has an extra oomph to it.  Same attention to detail with the rest of the ingredients.  Pretty close to Times Square though the immediate area by Port Authority is not super attractive these days.  547 Ninth ave (41st)

Chelsea

Jun-Men Ramen

A tiny fast-casual with a surprisingly potent full menu.  Every time I eat here, I discover something new.  Last time I discovered my Achilles Tendon, as it started to bother me.  Before that some of the best chicken wings I’ve had in memory (two weeks these days give or take).  Before that it was the fried rice, and before that the mesmerizing Uni Mushroom Mazeman.  And the ramen here, not too shabby.  I’m partial to the Kimchi Ramen with bits of juicy Pork Shoulder.  From the outside the place looks like a nail saloon, but from the inside it looks like a modern nail saloon with an open kitchen.  249 Ninth Ave (26th)

Jun-Men Ramen Uni

Tia Pol

West Chelsea is known for some of the city’s best Spanish Tapas for some reason, and Tia Pol, one of the originals, is leading the pack.  You can probably play Six Degrees of Tia Pol with the number of related Tapas spots in the area and all over town.  This is the perfect spot to bring your mother in law as its dark and noisy.  Especially if you MIL is into squid ink rice, best I’ve had in this city.  Octopus salad, Patatas Bravas, shrimp with garlic are all dependable, and so are the Bocadillos (sandwiches) for lunch.  This is as fun as it can get in Little Barcelona (it will catch on)  The excellent Salinas is another good one in the area.  205 10th Ave (23rd)

Cull & Pistol

I put on my helmet and designer protective cup and brave the crowds to eat in this Chelsea Market boat to table.  The seafood menu constantly changes.  But the high level cooking and freshness is constant, partly due to the seafood short commute, sister Lobster Place next door.  Try the lobster roll (done with a lot more love than next door), Spanish or Portuguese octopus however they make it that day.  Whole Daurade is fried to Thai style perfection.  And if they have it, you must try the insanely good Ecuadorian prawns.  The oyster bar, and its happy hour is another draw. (Chelsea Market)

Cull & Pistol Lobster

Flatiron/Nomad

Rezdora

This list is heavy on the Italian for a reason, but if I have to pick just one, it would probably be Rezdora.  Its the closest we have to Emilia Romagna cooking, arguably the tastiest of the 20 regions (though Piedmont may want a word).  More specifically much of the inspiration comes from Modena, perhaps the most underrated Italian gem as far as food goes.  It didnt take long for Rezdora to earn a Michelin Star, so its a bit more popular than when I first recommended it.  No point for me to recommend specific dishes here as you cant really go wrong, especially with the pastas.  27 E 20th St (Broadway)

Milu

A good and refreshing example of what happens when students of fine dining open a fast-casual place instead of another pricy joint.  Essentially an Eleven Madison Park and Shake Sack love child created by ex EMP chefs.  The draw is cleverly crafted Asian bowls that includes quality rice, greens and a protein.  I sort of settled on the Szechuan style chicken, but everything else I tried except for the duck last time was solid.  As far the cheap eats go it doenst get much better than this.  333 Park Ave S (25th)

milu-chicken

Marta

There has been a wave of fancy pizzas openings in NYC over the years but none I feel are quite like Marta specializing in cracker thin Roman pies.  As with many of them you can have a fine meal without even touching the pies.  The rabbit meatballs, chicken are standouts.  But skipping the pizza would be a mistake.  I sat there when they first opened and watched then boss Nick Anderer throw out pie after pie until they got it right, and the Patate Carbonara is one of the glorious products of that hard work.  Although after the pandemic they revamped the pizza lineup, and now include a killer Calzone.  29 East 29th Street (Madison)

Scampi

Scampi is the Bomba!  Bomba is the simple Calabrian Chili sauce that transforms every dish at Scampi including the namesake dish.  Its PJ Calapa’s first solo after making a name for himself with Bouley, Nobu, and Michael White’s AltaMarea group.  The Mafaldini Scampi is so good, they named the restaurant after it.  I like to eat half of it before adding some Bomba for the other half.  And dont overlook the Razor Clams, Langoustines, and the rest of the pastas.  30 W 18th St (5th/6th)

Scampi Mafaldini

West Village

Anton’s

Another very solid Italian(ish) in a very competitive Italian heavy West Village.  When places a such start opening for lunch you know they are doing something right.  After being in charge of the kitchens at Maialino and Marta, Nick Anderer finally left Union Square Hospitality Group to open his own place.  That means an ingredient driven menu with some focus on nostalgia, like the Bucatini Baczynsky with ham from the ageless Baczynsky meat shop in East Village.  Even the simpler dishes like Spinach-ricotta Ravioli are not to be missed due to the high degree of execution and attention to detail.  570 Hudson (W 11th)

Jeju Noodle Bar

I hope you listened to me before the Michelin star, higher prices and crowds, although its been fairly popular ever since it opened in 2017 pretty much.  They also now require ressies which makes them a bit less accessible.  I’m risking having too much Korean or Korean inspired on the list (update: I removed some so no longer true).  This may be a reflection on my taste or the current state of NYC dining, but at the same time, they all so very different.  Jeju is stylish, playful, while dishing out flavor packed stuff.  While the kitchen specializes in Ramyun, the Korean Ramen, its best to order it as part of the Tasting Menu, one of the better values in town (assuming they still offer it).  679 Greenwich St (Christopher)

Jeju Noodle Bar - Ramyun

Minetta Tavern

Out of all the city’s old-timers, this is perhaps the most distinct.  Minetta doesn’t look like much from the outside on busy McDougal, but once you get through those red curtains, its like stepping back in time.  There aren’t many restaurants out there that are consistently mentioned in various “Best” lists.  The Black Label burger set the trend for fancy aged beef burgers, and the Cote de Boeuf is still one of the most sought-after meats in the city.  Even if you skip all that and have other menu classics like the Pasta or the Oxtail terrine, chances are high for a very memorable meal.  113 Macdougal St (Minetta Lane)

Fiaschetteria “Pistoia” – See East Village

Via Carota

This has quickly become a West Village institution and one of the most well rounded Italian in the entire city.  No reservations makes a place like this much more accessible.  The most I waited for a table is about 20 minutes.  The same menu for lunch and dinner is greatly appreciated (and somewhat rare for places like this), and the many daily specials make it even more interesting. Although many of staples like the Cacio e pepe, chicken, and the sick Funghi with smoked Scamorza makes ordering specials here virtually impossible.  51 Grove st (Bleecker)

Via Carota Cacio e Pepe

East Village

Hearth

An EV staple that’s consistent while constantly evolving.  Marco Canora seems to have found the right formula, creating a menu that is essentially for everyone… Meat freaks, health conscious, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, accountants, everyone.  Some of the old classics like the Rigatoni and Gnocchi, and the impressive Spatchcock chicken are joined by new classics like Cecina and Rabbit.  And that wine bible is still perhaps the NYC wine list to beat.  Canora is also the founder of Brodo, the attached bone broth kiosk which is the absolute best way to pass the day before Colonoscopy.  403 E 12th St (1st ave)

Fiaschetteria “Pistoia”

While so many Italian establishments bill themselves as “Tuscan”, “Roman”, “Venetian”, and eventually get sucked into a multitude of regional offerings, Pistoia only knows what to do one thing; Pistoian food!  The family owns a restaurant in Pistoia, near Florence, Tuscany, and for the most part replicating some of the same Tuscan specialties in Alphabet City.  Good luck finding Pici and Pappa Con Pomodoro (A Tuscan classic of stale bread in tomato soup) on the same menu anywhere else in NYC.  From the staff, to the menu, and wine, its as authentic as it gets in NYC.  Now also in West Village  647 E 11th St (Ave C)

Fiaschetteria Pistoia prosciutto

Bowery Meat Company

Every time I sneeze a new steakhouse is born in NYC.  The competition is quite fierce these days, and so you need to do something unique to stand out, like this modern steakhouse in the Bowery.  It got a little bit of NOLA in it (broiled oysters), a little bit of Italian in it (sick Duck Lasagna for “2”), a fan-freakin-stastic cheeseburger, and a lot of great steak.  Try the Bowery Steak, a ribeye cap rolled into a hockey puck shape.  Arguably the best part of any animal, and something you wont find in any steakhouse.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Justin Bieber9 E 1st St (Bowery)

Somtum Der

Isan by way of Bangkok.  New York has seen a Northern Thai renaissance of sorts over the last decade led by this freshly Michelined Somtum Der.  Quite possibly the strangest Michelin Star in history once you consider Somtum’s casualness and low prices (Bib Gourmand is more like it).  Update:  Looks like Michelin agreed and “downgraded” accordingly :).  But the place does rock with its bold, unbashful flavors.  Dishes like the fried chicken, marinaded grilled pork, and just about the entire fried rice lineup will make you happy (and sweat).  But the namesake Somtum, spicy Papaya salad is unmatched in NYC, and not for the faint of heart.  Colorful, sexy place for colorful sexy readers.  Now an outpost in Brooklyn.  85 Avenue A (6th)

Somtum Der - Goi Hed

Lower East Side

Pig and Khao

Probably a top 5 for me.  “Top Chef” Leah Cohen quietly continues to dazzle with brilliant Southeast Asian creations, adding dishes seemingly by the day.  Classics like the Sizzling Sisig (third generation Sisig with pork head and egg), and Khao Soi are there to stay.  But on a recent visit, its the newer stuff like a spicy Thai mushroom salad, Malaysian fried chicken, and corn that left me speechless.  68 Clinton St (Rivington)

Soho

Pinch Chinese

Take a break from Armani Exchanging in Soho and relax in this quirky elevated Chinese.  Its an offshoot of Din Tai Fung, a popular Taiwanese Dumplings chain.  The Dumplings reign supreme alright but dont miss out on the ribs, Dan Dan Noodles, Snow Crab, the sensational whole chicken, and one of the most celebrated Peking Duck’s in the city.  Not to mention the great lunch specials (that sweet cauliflower!)   A serious looking crew behind the glass (like watching surgeons doing brain surgery) is balanced by humor all over the place.  177 Prince st (Thompson)

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

Nolita/Little Italy

Wayan

Cedric Vongerichten (Jean-Georges’ son) latest in food heaven NoLita is a Tour de Force.  Aided by his Indonesian wife Ochi, Wayan dishes out all sorts of complex bold flavors.  The menu features Indonesian inspired recipes utilizing French techniques.  Try the Satays, Sashimi, Clams, Yellow Chicken, and do not leave without slurping on those sick Lobster Noodles.  One of the most exciting new openings of 2019. 20 Spring St (Spring)  

Tribeca

Nish Nush

This is another fast-casual quicky, and my favorite Falafel in the city.  I used to bike to this place 30 minutes when I worked in Hell’s Kitchen.  Thats 30 minutes there, and 40 minutes back after a full tummy.  It may not bring you a Ratatouille moment but its probably the closest to a typical Falafeleria (is this a word?) in Tel Aviv.  I’m partial to this location rather than the newer one in FiDi.  The freshness here including the fluffy pitas is a difference maker.  You can also have a very good Sabich, Hummus among many other things.  The menu expended over the years making it easier to include Nish Nush on this list.  88 Reade (Church)

Nish Nush - Falafel

Khe-Yo 

Soulayphet (Phet) Schwader and Marc Forgione’s Khe-Yo is the place you bring a spice loving foodie on a first date.  Chances are you’ll get lucky that night with an assortment of Laos inspired bold flavors in a buzzy, sexy atmosphere.  They start you off here with a bang.. bang bang sauce, a fiery concoction of lime, chili, and fish sauce.  Along with the complimentary sticky rice it sets the tone for a spice extravaganza.  The complex Jurgielewicz Duck Salad, the quail of dreams, the crunchy coconut rice balls, like a Havah Nagila in your mouth.  And if they happen to have the half sister American Cut inspired Pastrami spiced Rib eye that night, go for it.  157 Duane St (W Broadway)

Brooklyn

Kashkar Cafe

This is where you get your Uyghur fix!  A gem like no other on this list, but you will need to schlep there.  Kashkar is located in Brighton Beach, a predominately Russian neighborhood except that its becoming less and less Russian and more Uzbek, Georgian, Kazakh.  And its reflected by the dining options all over.  Uyghur is an Ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia including Uzbekistan where Kashkar’s owners are from, and as far as I know Kashkar is one of the first if not the first Uyghur restaurant in NY if not the US.  One of the specialties here is the chewy hand pulled Lagman noodles that you can have as soup or dry with meat and veggie stews (try the dry Geiro Lagman).  The Kebabs are also solid  1141 Brighton Beach Ave (Brighton Beach)Kashkar lagman

Faro

Bushwick is the Big Bang Theory of NYC neighborhoods.  I rarely make the effort to visit, but when I finally, do I wonder why.  There are all sorts of interesting dining options here, and Faro with its well deserved Michelin (update: lost it) may be leading the pack.  Its an elevated, seasonal farm to table Italian in a Bushwicky industrial space.  The pastas especially are standouts like the Cappelletti stuffed with sweet corn purée, topped with a slow cooked short rib ragu.  But with a constantly rotating menu, there are always surprises.  436 Jefferson St (Bushwick)

Werkstatt

Probably our favorite overall restaurant in Brooklyn these days.  A few years back I didnt add this eclectic Austrian to the list partly due to the location.  But now I realize that its the location that makes it so special.  You can pretty much draw a line separating Brooklyn’s gentrified with the not so gentrified half and you’ll find Werkstatt positioned smack in the middle.  Pair it with a visit to Historic Prospect South, Prospect Park, or Brooklyn Museum.  Some come for the Schnitzel, Goulash, and “Best Pretzel in NYC”, but these days I go for the numerous fish specials like Skate wing.  Its a severely underrated neighborhood joint that should be the envy of every neighborhood.  509 Coney Island Ave (Flatbush)Werkstatt Pretzel

FOB

Fresh Off the Boat (FOB) homey Filipino BBQ on picturesque Smith st.  They dont make ’em like this anymore.  Unpretentious, not the glitziest decor, with much of the focus on what goes on your plate.  The Chicken Adobo is getting better with age (well it is an overnight chicken after all), and the Fish Inihaw is soundly in the must category for us each time.  And those wings and that sauce belong in a competition somewhere.  271 Smith St (Carroll Gardens)

Hometown BBQ

There was a time when finding good BBQ in the city was as difficult as watching a constipated baby.  Those days are officially gone.  Those that still say that need to come out of the their shell, and go straight to Red Hook.  It took me a while to warm up to Hometown, but now I cant get enough of it.  Hometown’s quick and growing fame reached a point of a major destination stop and ‘Franklin-esque’ weekend lines.  The spare ribs, and the legendary brisket are unmatched.  But what sets Hometown apart is the craftiness and execution of the normally secondary items like the super moist chicken, and the addictive sausage.  454 Van Brunt St (Red Hook)

Lilia

It took me 4 weeks to train my Google to stop showing me results for Ilili (Gourmet Lebanese) whenever I searched for Lilia.  Missy Robbins, Barack Obama’s favorite chef in Chicago (when he was a senator) dishes out freakishly good pastas like the Cacio e Perfect Malfadini and Agnolotti.  The vegetables all over the app section featuring the best of Union Square Market.  Great simple meat dishes, and all sorts of “Little Fish” and “Big Fish” hugging the menu.  She must be a PJ Harvey fan.  567 Union Ave (Williamsburg)

Lilia Agnolotti

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