My Favorite Restaurants Where I Ate in New York (Part One)

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New York: it’s always lit. All photos: © tablehopper.com.

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Chomp Chomp’s chye tao kueh (fried radish cakes with shrimp and lap cheong).

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Khao soi at Uncle Boons.

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A stunning thali plate, part of Babu Ji’s tasting menu.

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Russ & Daughters Café knows exactly what you want.

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Egg, pancetta, and avocado sandwich at Estela’s brunch.

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The LEO at Sadelle’s (eggs with caramelized onion are hiding under that gorgeous layer of house salmon) and a caviar supplement.

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The crab and pork xiao long bao at Red Farm.

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Cosme’s ayocote bean salad.

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The famous husk meringue with corn mousse at Cosme.

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“Lettuce cups” with beef tartare and ikura at Mission Chinese Food.

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Springlike salad with Battenkill Valley Creamery ricotta at Il Buco.

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The rustic interior at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria.

After my six-month stint in New York, when I was eating out as much as my budget would allow (and eating slices in between checks, oh you know it), it’s time to share some highlights of my favorite meals, which include some recently opened restaurants. Yeah, there were a lot, so we’re going to do this in two parts (here’s Part Two).

My pizza list is next—of course that’s a separate piece! Oh, and sandwiches and burgers. You can read up on some bagels here.

Manhattan

Chomp Chomp
Just like its name, that’s what you’re going to do at chef Simpson Wong’s West Village Singaporean hawker restaurant. Any place where wafts of fish sauce hit you when you walk in is a great sign in my book. Flavor here is on TILT—wait until you taste all the sambals and side sauces. Boisterous, welcoming style, super-sweet staff. Go for the gruner veltliner for maximum pairing ease. Affordable pricing too. Love, love this place.

Fave dishes: Cereal prawns, murtabak (roti filled with minced beef), BBQ skate wing in banana leaf, chye tao kueh (fried radish cakes with shrimp and lap cheong), and lamb rendang with potato puffs.

Uncle Boons
Another tiny place with flava in your face is this Thai gem in Nolita from chefs and owners Matt Danzer and Ann Redding (previously Per Se). Start with beer slushies and make your way through the (rather kindly priced) menu, with lamb laab and their beautiful khao soi with housemade noodles (perfection). The rotisserie chicken beckons—heed its bwoky call. Love the kitschy décor.

Babu Ji
You love Indian food? Then get your butt over to Jessi and Jennifer Singh’s fun and funky Alphabet City joint and order the tasting menu (which is also the best way to score a reso), and experience a tour de force of Indian dishes with a light and playful hand, using quality ingredients. Show up starving, leave with leftovers. The tandoori chicken thighs are best in class, and the thali plate will make your eyes pop out of your head. Just wait until you see the yogurt kebabs in a stunning magenta sauce of beet and ginger. Good beer selection, which you access yourself in the fridge. Great sense of hospitality here too.

Danji
I really dug this Korean neighborhood spot (it was near my place in Hell’s Kitchen), which features some elevated and fun spins on Korean dishes. The low lighting and cozy vibe would make this really ideal for date night, and chef Hooni Kim’s food is totally meant to be shared—there are even a few dishes designed for two. Extra-great on a wintry night, and my recommendation if you’re going to the theater.

Fave dishes: The trio of kimchi; steak tartare with quail egg; spicy cod roe with quail egg and seaweed over rice; bulgogi beef sliders; and shrimp and scallion pancake.

Russ & Daughters Café How civilized, now you can enjoy the sublime smoked and cured fish of this venerable Lower East Side family business (since 1914!) on top of housemade bagels or latkes while sitting down and drinking Champagne which you order from charming chaps in white jackets.

Also fun: blini and the nicest caviar you can afford. And there’s herring. And sturgeon and eggs. Show up with three or four people and do it up and get a platter. But don’t try to walk in on the weekend, you’ll just wait and wait and wait. (This place is worth it, but still.)

Estela
A long-standing New York favorite, and for good reason (this was one of my favorite dinners during my time there). Chef Ignacio Mattos understands texture like a boss, and his flavor combinations are fascinating, unexpected, and will make you fight with your tablemates for the last bite. The space is candlelit and you have to be a size 2 to squeeze in between the tables (guys, please get rid of that wood banquette that is the wrong height for the table, seriously, it blows—the same could be said for our snotty server that night, ha-ha), but it’s worth the crush of humanity because this food will haunt you. Chic spot for brunch too.

Fave dishes: dear lord, the ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and pecorino sardo, fried arroz negro with squid and romesco, and the classic beef tartare with sunchoke. For brunch, you have to get the egg, pancetta, avocado sandwich, which comes on a Danish roll (tebirke) made with laminated dough, poppy seeds, and almond cream from Bien Cuit.

Red Farm
If you’e a fellow dumpling obsessive, and you don’t mind shelling out a little for phancy dumplings, you gotta head to Joe Ng’s and Ed Schoenfeld’s updated Chinese dumpling spot in the West Village. This is not about dim sum carts and general mayhem, it’s about ordering steamed-to-order dumplings off a menu which you’ll enjoy in a room full of ferns while drinking wine.

Fave dishes: the ginormous crab and pork xiao long bao, the cumin-spiked and pan-fried lamb dumplings, and the five spice chicken dumplings too (especially if you love peanuts)! If you’re hungover, you need the Katz’s pastrami egg roll.

Sadelle’s
It’s hard to pass up the charm of freshly baked and lovingly made bagels for brunch with three-tiered towers of gossamer-thin slices of smoked nova and bagel fixings. Really great spot for weekend brunch, one of my favorites, and even if you can’t get a reso, one Sunday I got lucky with a walk-in (it’s pretty big). Read my NYC bagel write-up for more on this spot. Note to self: I really need to return for dinner next.

Cosme
It’s kind of a must. Well, it was for me after experiencing the mind-blowing Pujol in Mexico City, and I had to have Enrique Olvera’s tortillas again. The food at this sexy-chic Flatiron restaurant is so damn pretty—just wait until you see the way a salad is arranged. It’s sophisticated and elevated Mexican that doesn’t lose its roots. Chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes is doing a brilliant job, with just enough punches of flavor and chile, and a beautiful use of vegetables.

Fave dishes: cobia al pastor, ayocote bean salad, huarache with razor clams and lime kosho, soft-shell crab with yellow mole, and the husk meringue with corn mousse for dessert (a must—yes, this is a veiled corn smut joke).

Mission Chinese Food
I know I’m not the only one who misses seeing chef Danny Bowien running around SF in his shorts, let alone benefiting from his wicked culinary creativity full time. Which is why you need to see what he has unleashed on New York in the Lower East Side. It’s like a psychedelic visit to Chinatown (god love the coral upholstered booths and pink tablecloths and napkins and the fish tank and the ’60s lights and the gold dragons and wait until you see the business card) and you really should get a group together to do it right.

Fave dishes: the “lettuce cups” with beef tartare, miso-cured ikura, and fried onions, which come loaded with herbs. And of course you have to get the thrice-cooked bacon and rice cakes (served with bitter melon and sweet tofu skins) and the cumin lamb ribs. And who knew stir-fried celery could be so amazing? (With sprouted hazelnuts, celtuce, shaved sunchoke, and golden chives, that’s how.)

Il Buco and Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria
Bohemian Il Buco (in NoHo) has been a fave for years—it’s the perfect date night destination, midweek dinner spot, group dinner, and in my case, first balmy alfresco dinner outside after a rather cold spring. Also: Chloë Sevigny sighting (can you get more New York than that?).

The menu is always changing, with springlike dishes like creamy housemade Battenkill Valley Creamery ricotta, sugar snap peas, muscat grapes, and green almond. Choice wines, olive oils, and a staff that makes you feel like a regular after your first visit. Amore.

Sister restaurant Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria is built for a dream lunch date, with even more outdoor seating, an eclectic multilevel space, and all kinds of dishes to graze on, from house-cured salumi to creative dishes like radish with white anchovy, grapefruit, and walnuts. Roast chicken, pastas, and housemade breads will take you to your happy place.

Here’s Part Two!