UPDATE (February 6, 2016): I added six more places to this list: Mimi's Hummus, Court Square Diner, Sundaes and Cones, Nom Wah, Golden Steamer, and Cannelle Patisserie. I haven't made any other updates in regards to venues that have moved or closed or received downgraded reviews in the New York Times. The information in this post is only good up to August 2015. END UPDATE
Whenever people ask me for food recommendations in New York City, I think, "Arrrggghhfffwwgguh I wish I had a post that listed all my favorite places, but that would take a bajillion hours to write and I am too lazy, so I guess I'll just inefficiently repeat the same information to people for the rest of my life until I die."
UNTIL NOW. Right beyond these metaphorical doors.
[Attempts to dramatically open a set of French doors to unveil the post beyond, but the doors are kind of stuck and wobble open most gracelessly, revealing a small pile of dirt-dusted poop nubs supporting a neon green plastic clothespin. You know, much like this.]
My choices in this post do not necessarily represent the best of NYC. Many of my favorite restaurants and other food destinations are steeped in nostalgia or picked due to close proximity to work/friends/home. Sometimes I don't have any particularly strong reason for picking something as my favorite. None of these places are new. At some point I became less interested in trying new things, preferring to stick with what I already knew I liked. I mean, it's not like food can get any better, so why bother, amirite? Just kidding, I'm probably missing out on a bajillion awesome brain-altering delicious things because I am lazy and am rapidly approaching "get off my lawn" age.
Here's my full list of favorites minus the dumb words and photos. For dumb words and photos, keep reading!
- Pizza: Totonno's, Motorino, Paulie Gee's, Best Pizza, Prince St. Pizza, Pizza Suprema
- Burgers: Shake Shack, The Breslin, Diner
- Pastrami: Katz's
- Fried Chicken: Pies 'n Thighs, Bobwhite
- Falafel: Taim, King of Falafel & Shwarma
- Hummus: Mimi's Hummus
- Pasta: Otto, Rubirosa
- Pupusas: El Olomega Cart
- Meat Tornado: BZ Grill
- Georgian Food Coma Time: Pirosmani
- Uzbek and Uighur: Kashkar Cafe
- Tuna Melt: Classic Coffee Shop, Eisenberg's
- Cute Diners: Cup & Saucer, Square Diner, Court Square Diner
- Tacos and Cemitas: El Tenampa
- Breakfast/Brunch: Shopsins
- Sandwich: Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop, Alidoro, Ba Xuyen, David's Brisket House
- Greek: Telly's Taverna
- Union Square: Taboonette
- Japanese: Cocoron, Chuko, Cha-An, Curry-Ya, Go Go Curry, Ootoya
- Bread: Orwasher's, Sullivan Street Bakery, Grandaisy
- Arepas: Arepa Lady, Caracas Arepas
- Ribs: BrisketTown (Pork), Fu Run (Lamb)
- Chinese Noodles: Xi'an Famous Foods
- Go-To Chinatown Chinese: Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
- Dim Sum: 88 Palace, East Harbor Seafood Palace, Nom Wah
- Chinese Sponge Cakes: Kam Hing Coffeeshop
- Chinese Steamed Buns: Golden Steamer
- Bubble Tea: Teado
- Polish: Lomzynianka
- Late Night Williamsburg: The Brooklyn Star
- Special Occassion: Del Posto, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Per Se
- Ice Cream: Eddie's Sweet Shop, Sundaes and Cones, Ample Hills, OddFellows
- Soft Serve: Big Gay Ice Cream, Dessert Club Chikalicious, Ray's Candy Store, Rita's, Ice Cream Trucks
- Gelato: A.B. Biagi, L'Arte del Gelato, Otto
- American Bakeries: Sugar Sweet Sunshine, Robicelli's, Two Little Red Hens, Levain Bakery, The City Bakery
- French Bakeries: Dominique Ansel, Cannelle Patisserie
- Doughnuts: Shaikh's Place / Donut Shoppe, Peter Pan Bakery, Donut Pub, Doughnut Plant
Pizza: Totonno's, Motorino, Paulie Gee's, Best Pizza, Prince St. Pizza, Pizza Suprema
I don't consider myself a pizza snob, but while living in Taipei over the last year, I had to learn to lower my pizza expectations to zero. Otherwise every bite I took would be accompanied by criticism of the crust/cheese/sauce/toppings/some combo thereof and self-loathing over being critical of pizza in Taipei. Taipei doesn't owe me good pizza. (I only ate pizza a few times. I was curious. It was not all terrible.) Eating pizza in NYC can really ruin you for pizza in other places. So you should eat as much of it as you can. Here are some of my favorites.
Totonno's for classic New York pizza, open since 1924. I'm ashamed to say I've only been there once. What am I doing with my life.
Motorino for their cherry stone clam pizza or brussels sprouts (and pancetta) pizza or colatura di alici pizza.
Paulie Gee's for...um...ok, there are a lot of choices here. Whatever you choose will probably be awesome. I don't have a favorite, but I particularly like the Cherry Jones. A big plus: they have lots of vegan choices. Another big plus: the owner Paulie Giannone is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.
Best Pizza for slices in Williamsburg. They also make great sandwiches! And probably other stuff, but I haven't tried the other stuff.
Prince Street Pizza for square slices, in particular the classic and the pepperoni. THE CRUST IS SO. VERY. GOOD.
Pizza Suprema for fresh mozzarella and basil slices near Penn Station. Back when the Serious Eats office (my former workplace) was located in Chelsea, Pizza Suprema was our go-to delivery pizzeria for good reason.
Margot's Pizza is an infrequent pop-up pizzeria born forth from the hands of my friend/former co-worker Adam Kuban. It's awesome, but I'm just giving it an "honorable mention" for now since there are so few chances to actually try it. Once they go brick-and-mortar I would upgrade it from HONORABLE MENTION to a most coveted REGULAR MENTION.
Burgers: Shake Shack, The Breslin, Diner
Once upon a time a million Internet years ago, when I was first assigned to edit A Hamburger Today, I decided I should eat as many burgers as I could in the name of research. I soon figured out Shake Shack was my favorite and decided eating other burgers was sort of a waste. Shake Shack's ShackBurger is my ideal burger—just the right size with just the right condiments on an ideal squishy-soft Martin's potato roll. I like their vegetarian 'Shroom Burger, which is less "mushroom burger," more "fried cheese patty burger." (Out of their ten locations around the city, my favorite location is the original in Madison Square Park.)
Diner used to be my fave spot for a big-ass burger, until I made the mistake of eating a whole burger by myself. That was five years ago. Before then, I had always split the burger and something else with a friend. Eating the whole thing gave me my most intense burger hangover. I will go back someday and split the burger. We had such good memories together.
I haven't tried much pastrami in the city. It was one of those things where I thought I may try all the famous delis in the city to find the best, but then I ate at Katz's and though, "Nope, I'm done now." And while their pastrami in all its smoky, meat-kernel fall-apart glory doesn't need extras, I've grown fond of their pastrami Reuben stacked with Russian dressing, slaw, and cheese.
Katz's is usually super crowded aside from breakfast hours. It's one of few restaurants that I'm happy to go to even when it's overrun by tourists.
Fried Chicken: Pies 'n Thighs, Bobwhite
For a real NYC fried chicken expert's opinion, aka not mine, check out Donny Tsang's favorites. Some people might say they want to try all the fried chicken in NYC, but Donny will actually go out and try all the fried chicken in NYC. Good man, he is.
I'm happy to see that my two favorites are also Donny-approved. Pies 'n Thighs is my go-to spot for fried chicken. They put squeezy honey bears on every table, along with other condiments. I hadn't lived until I first squeezed honey onto my fried chicken. Now I squeeze honey onto almost every bite of fried chicken when possible.
If you're like me and can't finish a whole chicken box (three pieces of fried chicken plus a side and biscuit), order the Superbowl. It's three sides plus a biscuit, but for an extra dollar you can get a piece of fried chicken as one of the "sides", so you end up with a much more reasonable piece of chicken plus two sides, along with a gigantic biscuit.
Bobwhite also has honey-filled syrup dispensers to make your honey-dripping fried chicken dreams come true. I've been deterred from visiting in the past because it's on Avenue D and to me that means "far," but it's not that far from a subway stop. I'm just lazy. Anyway, it's a good thing there's a walk involved.
Falafel: Taim, King of Falafel & Shwarma
Eating at Taim pretty much ruins you for eating any other falafel in NYC. When I found out they were opening a second location near my old office in Chinatown, I
chewed my arms off with fervent anticipation I mean I was pretty fruggin' excited, yes. It is my favorite combination of warm, soft pita stuffed with hummus, salady bits, and fried chickpea balls.
[I don't have a photo from King of Falafel & Shawarma. I am sad. I MUST RECTIFY THIS.]
Despite what I said about not needing to eat any other falafel in New York City, you should also try the food truck King of Falafel & Shawarma. It's a different kind of falafel that's just as awesome. They have two trucks, one in Astoria and one in Midtown Manhattan.
Hummus: Mimi's Hummus
For six years, Mimi's Hummus had just one location in Ditmas Park. It's not inaccessible by any means, but I was too lazy to go more than a few times. I suuuuck. If you don't live in Ditmas Park, it's worth hopping on the Q train to try it out. ...Or maybe you won't have to, as last year (after I moved out of NYC, wah) they opened two more locations in Manhattan: one on 14th Street, and one near Grand Central in the UrbanSpace food hall. Aside from their hummus and pita, I also like their shakshuka. Or anything else. I'm pretty sure everyone on the menu is good. Yup.
Pasta: Otto, Rubirosa
A plate of pasta (my favorites: pasta alla norma, or something with taccozette), maybe a vegetable side (peas and prosciutto, or corn and fregola), and a cup of gelato is one of my favorite meals. Otto does it all incredibly well for reasonable prices. If you only get one thing though, go for the gelato. They also make pizza, but I find the pasta better by a factor of a buttload. Admittedly, I haven't eaten the pizza in ages, so maybe it's not that bad anymore.
Whenever I'm in Little Italy passing sub-par Italian restaurants stuffed with tourists, I want to yell, "OH GOD YOU GUYS, GO TO RUBIROSA, IT'S JUST UP THE STREET, SAVE YOURSELVES!" Of course, I'd never actually do it because "death by the hands of pissed-off restaurateurs" does not sound fun. Also, Rubirosa is crowded enough already. Unlike Otto, their pizza is also really good. Unlike Otto, there's no gelato to cap off your belly full of pasta. Not a big deal; you can just walk a few blocks to A.B. Biagi for dessert.
Pupusas: El Olomega Cart
If you've never tried pupusas before, get yourself to El Olomega, a food cart that's only open on weekends by the Red Hook Ball Fields. They specialize in the Salvadoran corn patties stuffed with cheese and meat/beans, flattened to a pancake-like thickness, and cooked on a griddle until mottled with crispy bits. Alternating a forkful of accompanying curtido (cabbage slaw) with every bite makes it even better.
Meat Tornado: BZ Grill
Unfortunately, BZ Grill doesn't actually call their pork gyro a meat tornado, but look at this thing! This beautiful thing full of chipped meat. Adam Kuban describes it best. Get the feta-topped fries as well. You're already eating a meat tornado, may as well go all the way.
Georgian Food Coma Time: Pirosmani
Few places fill me with more excitement than Pirosmani. And few places make me think, "I am doing something horrible to my body right now," as much as Pirosmani. But it's worth it. At least, once a year. You can't miss their adjaruli khachapuri, aka "cheesy eggy butter bread boat" because it's a bread boat filled with cheese, a raw egg, and a pat of butter that you smoosh together in the center before savagely tearing the whole thing apart and shoving its cheese-dripping breadflesh chunks into your face. Their imeruli khachapuri, like a pizza with cheese outside and inside, is also beautiful. My favorite non-cheesy-bread dish is their fried mushroom and potato. It is what it sounds like.
Uzbek and Uighur: Kaskar Cafe
I barely know anything about Uzbek or Uighur cuisine, but the little I've eaten, I've liked. Kaskar Cafe (warning: autoplays music) has a special place in my heart for some reason. I first went there in 2006 and I like to go there whenever I'm make a rare trip to Brighton Beach.
Tuna Melt: Classic Coffee Shop, Eisenberg's
Too many tuna melts feature monstrously bulbous piles of tuna salad sheathed in poorly melted cheese atop dry bread in dire need of a butter slathering and a good toasting. In the wee-est of space, Classic Coffee Shop churns out a tuna melt that hits all the right buttons. It's got a good tuna-salad-to-bread ratio, the rye bread is well toasted and buttered, the cheese is melty, and I can eat the whole thing with the confidence that when the time comes, removing my pants will not be a struggle. Wash it down with an egg cream and the combo will set you back less than $10.
Eisenberg's closed-face tuna melt (they also do an open face, which I haven't tried) is also great, and I do love sitting at Eisenberg's long counter.
Cute Diners: Cup and Saucer, Square Diner, Court Square Diner
I love classic diners, the sort that look like they've barely changed in decades out of love, not neglect. The food never blows me away, but I don't really go to diners for the food. I go to feel nostalgic for a time period I've never lived through, and for basic American foodstuffs that are at least adequately tasty. Cup and Saucer Luncheonette on the eastern edge of Chinatown is one of my favorites. It dates back to 1940! You can sit along the counter or along the windows that look out on Eldridge Street; there are no booths or tables. Everything I've eaten here I've liked, and the service is friendly. I am also overly charmed by the name Cup and Saucer. For reasons unknown, I feel compelled to shorten it to "Cup 'n Sauce" or "Cuppy" or "Cup'n".
Square Diner is another diner with old-school charm. It's also not square. Which makes it cuter? Maybe? From my two visits, the food isn't that memorable, but it's good enough for me to want to go back.
[Photos to come!]
Court Square Diner may not ooze old-school charm, but it is legit old, first established in 1946. The current owners gave it a facelift in 2009, giving it a classic, clean diner look. Comfortable, nothing too flashy. As far as I can tell from their Facebook page, the restaurant has appeared in a few TV shows, which doesn't surprise me. I recognized it when I was watching Jessica Jones.
I only went once so I don't have much to say about it. The service was friendly and my giant plate of chicken tenders and fries was just what I wanted to eat after midnight. Hooray for 24-hour diners!
Tacos and Cemitas: El Tenampa
El Tenampa is my favorite taco shop in the city. That might not mean much considering 1) I used to live two blocks away from El Tenampa and thus only had to expend the teeniest bit of autopiloted effort to get there, and 2) I am the opposite of a Mexican food expert. But some of my other friends who live farther away and know more about Mexican food than I do love it too. So. I trust 'em. It hits the rights spots of "Stuff Robyn Likes": no-frills environment (it's in the back of a Mexican grocery store), no-frills menu, large selection of meat fillings (my favorites are lengua and cabeza), inexpensive, and a toppings bar including all-you-can-spoon guacamole. Get more menu recs from Serious Eats.
This shoebox of a kitchen tucked in the southwest corner of Essex Street Market is the stuff of legends and/or nightmares thanks in part to the infamously belligerent proprietor, Kenny Shopsin. I've seen him curse out a passing stranger for asking one of his diners an innocuous question. I've seen him talk sweetly to a kid as the kid was leaving the restaurant. I once ate at Shopsins on my birthday with my former boss, Ed, and Kenny said I was stupid for wanting to eat there on my birthday. Ed is friends with Kenny from way back. When Kenny signed his cookbook for Ed, he inscribed it with the loving message, "Fuck you, Ed."
Anyway, I love Shopsins. It probably shouldn't, but Kenny's personality only enhances that love.
Why else do I love Shopsins? Because the menu is an onslaught of hundreds of items across over 50 categories, most of which you'll find nowhere else, most of which is awesome. Maybe. I assume most of it is awesome because I sure as hell haven't eaten most of the menu. The double-sided one-page (well, one long page) menu is kerned within a compressed inch of its life and changes periodically ever so slightly. I'd love to calculate how long it would take to try the whole menu under a host of nearly impossible factors (like eating breakfast and lunch every business day with the maximum group of four, blah blah something), but I want to publish this post before I die, so nope. Also, after I graduated high school my brain's "How to Math" chunklet surveyed its shriveled up brain chunklet neighbors and was like, "Yeah, I am done with this, peace out," and it has yet to return. Study the menu before you go to prevent an indecision-induced meltdown.
Also take note of Shopsins' limited opening hours and rules before you go. From Wednesday through Saturday it's open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Sunday it's open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. No parties larger than four, and each person has to order at least one meal. No outside food or drink. Only food photos are allowed, so don't try and snap photos of Kenny in the kitchen.
My favorite items on the menu are the burgers/sliders, sandwiches, doughnuts, mac and cheese pancakes, milkshakes....breakfasty things...anything fried, probably. Um. That might not help much, sorry. If you're getting the shaky sweats just thinking about the prospect of having to choose something, I recommend trying the So Good, a double-decker grilled cheese French toast sandwich mountain with egg.
Shopsins is not a place for cheap eats. The prices seem steep, but they're not crazy in the great scheme of things. Some dishes are big enough to last two meals.
Sandwiches: Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop, Alidoro, Ba Xuyen, David's Brisket House
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop was my go-to sandwich shop during college, and ten years later it's still my go-to sandwich shop. Back then you could get a small sandwich for $5. Now the sandwiches start at $7, which is still a good price. Tiny's is open from breakfast through dinner, unlike many sandwich shops that only open through lunchtime. Do people not want sandwiches for dinner? Why? SANDWICHES = ANYTIME FOOD.
Italian sandwich shop Alidoro is one of those shops that closes before dinner. Sigh. But better lunch than nothing at all.
Ba Xuyen is my favorite banh mi shop. I'm not sure if it's worth going out of your way for, but if you're in Sunset Park it's worth stopping by.
I used to live a block away from David's Brisket House and yet I rarely went there. I AM AN IDIOT. I MISSED OUT ON SO MUCH SLICED MEAT. You don't have to. They make brisket, pastrami, corned beef, and more. It's all good, meat pile-y stuff.
Greek: Telly's Taverna
At the end of your meal, Telly's Taverna gives you a plate of free loukoumades—light, fried dough puffs coated in syrup. This may or may not be the main reason it's my favorite Greek restaurant. ...Ok it is. I also like their non-fried-dough matter. For a more trustworthy opinion, this place is Max Falkowitz-approved, and he is good at food.
Union Square: Taboonette
I didn't know how to categorize this one. Taboonette is what comes to mind if I'm near Union Square and want to eat something awesome. Actually, even if I'm not near Union Square I'll go out of my way to eat at Taboonette. They have a "Middleterranean" (their own description) menu of rice plates, pita sandwiches, and salads. My favorite is the pulled pork rice plate with jicama slaw and spicy mayo, but ever since my spicy food sensitivity kicked the life out of my lungs, I've mostly ordered the chicken shawarma. They have good vegetarian options too.
Japanese: Cocoron, Chuko, Cha-An, Curry-Ya, Go Go Curry, Ootoya
Soba: Cocoron all the way. It's one of my favorite restaurants of everywhere and everything. They offer all kinds of combinations of cold soba and hot dips, or cold dips, or in hot soups, or salad, or vegan, or more.
Ramen: I've been to Chuko more than any other ramen shop in the city because one of the best friends lives next door to the restaurant and Chuko is our default answer to "Where are we eating dinner?" But if Chuko weren't awesome, we wouldn't go there so often.
Tea and light meals/desserts: Cha-An is a super chill spot for sharing tea and desserts with friends. For savory stuff, they also make a few simple rice bowl meals.
Rice 'n stuff: Ootoya is my "I want some comforting Japanese meat and rice thing in a nice setting" restaurant.
Bread: Orwashers, Sullivan Street Bakery, Grandaisy
The first time I went to Sullivan Street Bakery in 2005 I tried their pizza bianca—chewy, crusty flatbread topped simply with olive oil, rosemary, and salt. At the time it was only a buck a slice (I'm not sure how much it costs now), possibly the tastiest dollar-food you could buy at the time. Over the year I frequently returned to try other breads and pizzas. They were all great, but the pizza bianca remained my favorite, and it continues to be one of my most favorite gluten-powered substances of all time.
And then during one visit in 2006, I walked down Sullivan Street to find that Sullivan Street Bakery was GONE. WHAAAT. It was replaced by Grandaisy Bakery. Whose breads appeared to be almost the same. Because its owner, Monica Von Thun Calderon, had been the longtime business partner of Sullivan Street Bakery's owner, Jim Lahey. When they split up, Monica kept the Sullivan Street location and turned it into Grandaisy Bakery. So if you're wondering why Sullivan Street Bakery is not on Sullivan Street, that's why. And neither is Grandaisy Bakery, because that first location closed years ago. My college memories are dead.
BUT NO FEAR, Sullivan Street and Grandaisy both have locations elsewhere, and they're both temples to the bread gods.
Orwashers came out number one in Serious Eats' 2013 baguette taste test, among 22 contenders. If I had lived any closer to the Upper East Side, I would've eaten so, so many of their baguettes. As for the other breads, I have yet to try them (sobs), but here are some recommendations from bread expert Andrew Coe.
Arepas: Arepa Lady, Caracas Arepa Bar
AREPA LADY UNTIL I DIE! AREPA LADY UNTIL THE EARTH HAS CONSUMED MY ROTTING FLESH or I HAVE BEEN CREMATED! AREPA LADY FOREVERRRR!!!
...I am a big fan of Maria Cano, aka the Arepa Lady. After over 20 years of running her insanely popular late-night-and-weekends-only arepa food cart in Jackson Heights, in 2014 her family finally opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant with more topping/filling choices than you'll find at the cart. Now you don't have to wait until 10 p.m. on a Friday night to achieve a corn-'n-cheese coma. Life is beautiful. (But you can wait if you want; the food cart is still in operation.) My favorite is the plain arepa de chocolo, a griddled corn pancake topped with butter and a pile of crumbly cheese, then folded over in half.
Caracas Arepa Bar does not inspire the same madness, but it's still worth checking out. My favorites are the De Pabellon and the Reina Pepiada. You can read about all the options in this Serious Eats review of everything on the menu. I prefer the more spacious Brooklyn location to the tiny East Village outpost.
Ribs: BrisketTown (Pork), Fu Run (Lamb)
Of course, you should get the namesake brisket at BrisketTown, but I might like the pork ribs more. I'm basing this on the one time I ate them almost three years ago. A magical time. I hope they are consistently magical.
Fu Run's Muslim lamb chop is one of my favorite meat dishes of all time. It's a mound of fatty, fall-off-the-bone tender lamb ribs smothered in cumin seeds. I haven't eaten it in years after my spicy food sensitivities kicked in, so one of y'all will have to tell me if it's still amazing. My other favorite dish is the candied taro, chunks of taro coated in melted sugar that you dip in cold water so the sugar hardens into a candy shell. It's one of the few awesome desserts I've come across in a Chinese restaurant. I don't recall much about the other food; you can read more about the restaurant in this Serious Eats review.
Chinese Noodles: Xi'an Famous Foods
Xi'an Famous Foods' liang pi cold skin noodles is one of my favorite noodle dishes of all time, but I can't eat it anymore due to my spicy food sensitivity. [Insert river of tears.] Please eat it for me. Tell me what I'm missing out on. Make the river of tears flow until I am a dry husk of a human.
Go-To Chinatown Chinese: Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
I've been going to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe since college (back when it was just lowly Shanghai Cafe, not yet upgraded to deluxe), and it's been a staple ever since. It's the place I bring people to when they want to eat somewhere in Chinatown but don't have a strong preference for anything. They're probably most famous for their soup dumplings. I can't say I've ever been blown away by their food, but I haven't been disappointed either. I'm also fond of the radioactive rainbow squiggle dance party taking place in their ceiling. It take me back to '90s roller rink birthday parties.
Dim Sum: 88 Palace, East Harbor Seafood Palace, Nom Wah
People frequently ask me for dim sum recommendations. I frequently fail them. I'm not that picky when it comes to dim sum. I've eaten some subpar dim sum in NYC, but most of it has been good. Nothing has ever changed my life. My two favorite places are also two of my friends' favorites, which is probably the main reason why I've gone to them over and over again.
I like 88 Palace mostly for the funky location on the second floor of a mall under the Manhattan Bridge that I would otherwise never feel compelled to visit.
East Harbor Seafood Palace seems to have more choices than other dim sum places. Or maybe my friends and I have better cart luck here.
Nom Wah is the outlier here. It doesn't offer the quintessential dim sum experience of sitting in a huge hall surrounded by crowded round tables and aggressive cart ladies trying to push their dishes on you (or the opposite problem of cart ladies not appearing even though you want their dishes). But maybe that's not what you're looking for. At Nom Wah you order your dishes from a menu with clear descriptions. They may not offer as wide a variety of dishes as the larger dim sum halls, but their menu is large enough, and it covers the basics. You also don't have to worry about getting there early for the best choices, like my friends and I would sometimes do at the larger dim sum halls.
Even if Nom Wah seems like more of a place for tourists than locals, it's earned its spot as a dim sum destination for being the oldest dim sum restaurant in the city, open in some form since 1920. It underwent a much-needed upgrade in 2010, with a renovated interior and better quality food. If you want to see what it used to be like, here's a post I wrote about my pre-renovation visit.
Chinese Sponge Cakes: Kam Hing Coffeeshop
I once tried to visit every bakery in Manhattan's Chinatown and taste all of their egg custard tarts. "It'll be fun," I thought, while future-Robyn shook her head. One of the Serious Eats interns agreed with me. Poor girl. By combining our powers, we tasted egg custard tarts from over 40 bakeries. I don't know if we actually found all the bakeries in Chinatown, and even if we had, the list would be outdated by now. I found my favorite egg custard tart (circa 2011), but I didn't find my favorite Chinese bakery.
At least I have a favorite Chinese sponge cake bakery. Kam Hing Coffeeshop was my "treat myself" detour before going to work. For under $2, I'd wake up with the help of a palm-sized, squishy-soft sponge cake washed down with a hot milk tea. Their chocolate chip-flecked sponge cake is also good.
Chinese Steamed Buns: Golden Steamer
Golden Steamer was my favorite spot for cheap-ass breakfast/lunch/snack back when I used to work around the corner at Serious Eats. My favorites are the pork and vegetable steamed buns, pumpkin buns, and salted egg yolk buns. One bun is pretty filling, but they also have mini buns/pastries if you want something smaller.
Bubble Tea: Teado
I'm not actually that into bubble tea, which makes me feel like a bad Taiwanese-American, but I have my reasons. Bubble tea and I once had something, back when I was less crochety and wrinkled. My breaking point happened sometime during college. One hot summer day while walking around Chinatown, I wanted to refresh my innards with a cup of cold bubble tea. Cold bubble tea, I did get. Refreshed, I got less so. I don't have a transcript of my thoughts, but they probably went something like, "I HATE CHEWING THESE BALLS, I JUST WANT LIQUID, GET OUT OF MY STRAW, BALLS, UGGH SO MUCH CHEWING, SO MUCH THIRST, SO MUCH BALLS," etc.
However, I still love tapioca ball-less tea drinks, and for all my tapioca ball-less tea drink needs I head to Teado, a tiny bubble tea shop run by a young Taiwanese couple. In the winter I go for hot ginger milk tea or regular milk tea, and in the summer my favorite are watermelon slush or lime kumquat. I can't tell you how the tapioca is, but my trusted, bubble tea-obsessed friend Lee Anne says Teado's tapioca is among the best.
I know almost nothing about Polish food. I love Lomzynianka because it's a cute, cozy, friendly spot that looks like it was decorated by someone's grandmother. ...And I like the homey food, especially the accompanying slaws.
Late Night Williamsburg: The Brooklyn Star
I've always been happy at Southern-style The Brooklyn Star. It's open until 2 a.m., which served me well one late night after Kåre arrived on a late flight from Norway. My knowledge of late-night eats is slim because I am an old lady who likes to stay in at night and bathe in the glow of the Internet until the first REM cycle kicks in. The only choices I could think of were Veselka or Brooklyn Star. We went with the latter and were rewarded with fried pig tails, cornbread, and other foods you're probably not supposed to eat at 1 a.m. but whatever, my digestive system can go to sleep when I say it can.
Special Occasion: Del Posto, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Per Se
As someone who is rather cheap, I found these restaurants worth the high price. I don't eat much fine dining, so my opinions aren't especially informed. Nor eloquent. Nor poetic. "I LIKE FOOD. FOOD IS GOOD." I'll keep this short.
Del Posto's lunch special is $49. Totes worth it.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a 35-minute train ride away from New York City. You can make a special day out of it. When I went there for lunch in 2011 they offered a four-course lunch for $85, but now their website only mentions a $218 option. :[
Ice Cream: Eddie's Sweet Shop, Sundaes and Cones, Ample Hills, Oddfellows
As an adult, Eddie's Sweet Shop fills me with the multi-hued, bouncy joy that can only be captured by Rainbow Bunchie. If I could hop in a time machine and visit Eddie's as a kid, I expect my head would simply explode, unable to contain the happiness burning through my face. And then I'd die. So it's a good thing I've only been to Eddie's as an adult.
Eddie's doesn't win for their quality of ice cream. It's good ice cream. But the draw is excessive toppings that splodge over the edges of the ice cream bowl like God intended (MARSHMALLOW SAUCE, MARSHMALLOW SAUCE FOREVER), served in a legit old-timey ice cream parlor with an elegant marble counter and friendly neighborhood charm.
If you're in Chinatown and thinking about getting ice cream at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, DON'T. DOOOOON'T. You're much better off heading to Sundaes and Cones in the East Village. They specialize in Chinese/Asian flavors, like black sesame, taro, lychee, mango, and more, but they've got plenty of good classic flavors, too. My favorites are black sesame and taro.
Ample Hills churns out fun, original, kid-friendly ice cream flavors (and a few soft serve flavors). They may or may not still offer this monstrous sundae for ten. My favorite flavors are Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and Salted Crack Caramel.
OddFellows also churns out fun, original flavors, some a bit higher on the fancy-pants scale (passion fruit saffron, lime tarragon).
Soft Serve: Big Gay Ice Cream, Dessert Club Chikalicious, Ray's Candy Store, Rita's, Any Ice Cream Truck
Head to Big Gay Ice Cream for the Salty Pimp, a cone of vanilla soft serve drizzled with dulce de leche and dipped in a thin chocolate shell. It was my favorite thing from Big Gay back in 2009 and it's still my favorite. Or try one of their other soft serve cones and sundaes enhanced with crushed cookies/pretzels/lemon curd/pie crust chunks/Nutella/pumpkin butter/etc.
Every time I go to Dessert Club Chikalicious I want their cookies and cream sundae. Every time I'm there and order something that isn't a cookies and cream sundae, I'm sad it's not a cookies and cream sundae. I'm not actually an inquisitive dessert eater. All I want is a jumbly pile of cookie chunks mortared by vanilla soft serve.
Ray's Candy Store is a 24-hour soft serve shop that also sells fries. And hot dogs. And beignets. And fried Oreos. And fried bananas. And chicken fingers. And lemonade. And egg creams. ...Yeah, it's not a soft serve shop. It's an everything awesome shop. A shop that serves my dream birthday party menu. (I just realized I can make this happen. I'm an adult. I can do irresponsible things with money.) A hole-in-the-wall snack dive bar without the bar. Ray's has been open since 1974 and looks like it hasn't changed much since then. I hope it never does.
Rita's is a chain from Philadelphia. No, not a place you'd go out of your way for. ...But I have ventured to the Upper West Side to get me some Rita's because it's their only location in NYC and I love their thick, marshmallow-esque soft serve layered with Italian ice. The soft serve by itself would be too much; the Italian ice by itself would be too little. But with their powers combined I achieve HAPPY TOM HAVERFORD.
And don't forget about ice cream trucks. They're all over the place in the summer. I prefer my soft serve dipped in a chocolate shell or coated in crushed cookie bits.
Gelato: A.B. Biagi, L'Arte del Gelato, Otto
L'Arte del Gelato used to be my favorite gelato shop until A.B. Biagi opened in 2013. Unlike L'Arte del Gelato, A.B. Biagi was within walking distance of my office. Very dangerous. L'Arte is still good for a wider selection of traditional flavors, though. Dolce Gelateria is run by one of the former co-owners of L'Arte. Otto is primarily a sit-down restaurant, not a gelateria, but you can stop in just for gelato or tell them you want it to-go.
American Bakeries: Sugar Sweet Sunshine, Robicelli's, Two Little Red Hens, Levain Bakery, The City Bakery
Sugar Sweet Sunshine is most well known for their cupcakes, but I like their trifles and puddings much more. They have the best variety of any other bakery I've been to. My favorite is The Nog made of pumpkin cake, egg nog pudding, and whipped cream smooshed together.
For cupcakes, I'd rather go to Robicelli's or Two Little Red Hens. Two Little Red Hens has lots of traditional flavors, while Robicelli's has some more playful seasonal flavors besides traditional goods. Robicelli's has the added goodness of being run by awesome husband-and-wife team, Allison and Matt.
Levain Bakery is famous for their boulder-like cookies that the Internet tells me weight about a half-pound each. I still remember the first time I ate one. I ate the whole thing by myself in one day. I don't recommend this. You're best off sharing this cookie right away when the chocolate is still melty. You won't enjoy it that much if you overdose and get a cookie-ache.
- The City Bakery's chocolate chip cookies, because I don't have a good photo of their pretzel croissant. Wah.
Once upon a time I loved the chocolate chip cookies from The City Bakery (autoplays music), but some years ago my tastes changed and I found their cookies to be a bit too sweet and buttery and something else I can't pin down. "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT?" you may ask, saliva violently spittling forth. I don't know. I mean, I won't punch you if you try to give me one, they're just not my ideal chocolate chip cookie. I also used to love their famous ultra-thick hot chocolate until one day when I drank too much of it and that night discovered a new kind of jittery pulsating nausea teetering on the edge of hallucination that has yet to be duplicated by any other substance. But my feelings about their pretzel croissant have never changed. It's still one of my favorite breadstuffs. Read more about it at Serious Eats.
French Bakeries: Dominique Ansel, Cannelle Patisserie
Please do not go to Dominique Ansel just for the frighteningly popular Cronut (or to be more accurate, Cronut™ pastry). You would be missing out on a butter-laden host of better desserts, which as far as I'm concerned is all of them. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of the Cronut. :( I like the idea behind it, but after trying it twice, I'd rather eat a really good croissant or doughnut. I'm a big fan of Dominique's DKA (kouign amann), chocolate chip cookies, madeleines, and flakey things...and cakey things...and savory things. Just eat everything else.
I've only visited Cannelle Patisserie once back in 2011, but that visit left a deep impression that goes something like, "FRIENDLY BAKERY WITH AWESOME PASTRIES AT SUPER REASONABLE PRICES." At the time they only had one location in a nondescript strip mall in Jackson Heights about a mile away from the nearest subway station. Thankfully, in 2014 they opened a second location in Long Island City, making it more accessible for those of us who don't live in Queens.
Doughnuts: Shaikh's Place / Donut Shoppe, Peter Pan Bakery, Donut Pub, Doughnut Plant
I'm partial to old-school doughnut shops. My favorite doughnut shop is Spudnuts in Charlottesville, Virginia. As far as I know, there isn't anything quite like Spudnuts in New York City. And thus I rarely eat doughnuts in New York City. :(
Shaikh's Place / Donut Shoppe wins my award for "Best Doughnut Shop Sign". It's the kind of sign that makes me think, "I WANT TO EAT EVERYTHING INSIDE YOU." That's not just me, I hope. They make all the doughnut basics, and I've been happy with everything I've eaten there, which is admittedly not much. I've only stopped by Donut Shoppe on the way to Pirosmani. I have yet to try their tacos and basic diner fare. Someday, perhaps. Last year they were featured in a nice write-up by New York Times.
Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop is my other favorite old-school doughnut shop. Sort of. A few years ago, Max and I and an army of interns went on a mission to Peter Pan. The mission: try every doughnut. The reality: TOO MANY FUCKIN' DOUGHNUTS. We spent that sticky summer morning in a tree-filled, sun-dappled edge of McCarren Park, a lovely area for a picnic if the picnic didn't only consist of doughnuts. I crouched in the grass with my camera, a slate cheeseboard, and a rotating stock of doughnuts, attempting to make a million similar looking fried dough rings look interesting, as everyone else masticated through 40-something doughnuts, feeling increasingly sickly and regretful. We entered with hubris. We left with none.
The doughnuts weren't bad, but they didn't taste quite as good as we had hoped for. You're probably not supposed to eat that many doughnuts at once. Yeah. Whoops. AND WE NEVER WROTE THE POST. I don't think Max could summon the will, and I don't blame him. I wouldn't be able to either. Somewhere on my hard drive are a shitload of doughnut photos with a slate-on-grass background.
...Um. Having said all that, if you're in Greenpoint, you should check out Peter Pan! The bakery is adorable. It's best if you restrict yourself to one or two doughnuts at a time like a normal human. They also make doughnut ice cream sandwiches.
I'm putting The Donut Pub on this list because I think it has the best name, and because it's the only old-school doughnut shop in Manhattan that I can think of. I don't have a strong opinion about their doughnuts besides that they're fine for an old-school doughnut shop. They also sell huge muffins, cookies, basic sandwiches, and bagels with spreads. And even though I have yet to take advantage of their 24/7 opening hours, I'm glad the option is there for my potential weird-hour doughnut cravings.
Doughnut Plant is New York City's original fancier-pants doughnut shop, with flavors like Valrhona chocolate, matcha, and peanut butter & banana cream. I think their cake doughnuts are great, but I've never been much of a fan of their yeasted doughnuts, which are a bit chewier than I prefer. You should try 'em for yourself, though.
Super Incomprehensive List of Miscellaneous Food-Related Shops, Markets, and Food Halls
These are not necessarily my favorites. I'm pointing them out as "places you might be interested if you like eating or staring at food-related things." Some places are only open on certain days during certain months. Please check websites for exact opening times.
- Kalustyans: Big Indian (and more) market with a bagillion spices. [Serious Eats photo tour; SE Guide: Where To Buy Indian Ingredients in NYC]
- Sahadis: Big Middle Eastern (and more) market in Brooklyn. [Serious Eats photo tour]
- Russ & Daughters: Smoked fish, smoke fish bagel sandwiches, since 1914.
- Hong Kong Supermarket: Big Chinese market, Chinese and Japanese candy. [SE Guide: Where To Buy Chinese Ingredients in NYC]
- Sunrise Mart: Small Japanese supermarket, Japanese candy.
- Economy Candy: American candy 'splosion.
- Sockerbit: Swedish by-the-pound candy. [SE photo tour]
- Eataly: Ginormous Italian food market chain.
- DiPalo's: Old-school Italian food shop in Little Italy. [SE guide: Where To Buy Italian Ingredients in NYC]
- Myers of Keswick: British foodstuffs, candy, snacks, sausages.
- Schaller & Weber: German foodstuffs, sliced meats.
- New York Cake and Baking Supplies: A ton of baking supplies, a dearth of hospitality.
- Fishs Eddy: Quirky and non-quirky plates, cups, utensils, etc.
- The Brooklyn Kitchen: Nice kitchen supply store with classes and events.
- The Meadow: Gourmet salt, chocolate, bitters.
- Essex Street Market Food markets, bakeries, sweets, and more in the Lower East Side.
- Union Square Greenmarket: Farmers' market in Union Square, open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
- Red Hook Ball Fields Vendors: Weekend Latin American food truck fair held by the Red Hook Ball Fields.
- Smorgasburg: Weekend food vendor fair in Brooklyn and Queens.
- Chelsea Market: A market of food and non-food shops, restaurants, and bakeries in Chelsea.
- Gansevoort Market: Food hall in The Meatpacking District.
- City Kitchen: Food hall in Times Square.
- Gotham West Market: Food hall in Hell's Kitchen.
- The Plaza Food Hall: Food hall in Midtown.