Dining in New York City this year was chaotic, to say the least. Much of it took place on curbsides, in backyards and on park benches, or pulled from takeout containers and delivery bags. Eating out came with a side of rules and regulations, bureaucracy and bottles of hand sanitizer. But, like the city it calls home, New York’s restaurant industry proved resilient, resourceful and resplendent. Against all odds, new restaurants kept popping up all over town, and many of them were really freaking delicious. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these NYC restaurants helped get us through 2020 and have given us hope for the city's dining future.
As of press time, this three-month-old East Williamsburg spot from the Meat Hook crew is closed for winter and set to reopen in spring, but we're just taking the news as one more thing to look forward to in 2021. After all, the Appalachian eats from Ben Turley and Brent Young—culled from their respective childhoods in West Virginia and Pennsylvania—were a bright spot in dark 2020. There was pepperoni rolls and pig ear salads and pickled baloney, and plenty of top-notch cocktails to wash it down with. It was no-frills, oft-fermented fun, and we can't wait to do it all again next year.
A pandemic-era pop-up that has graciously been extended indefinitely, this deli-inspired Jewish-American spot tucked inside Greenpoint pizzeria Paulie Gee's has been putting out our favorite bagels of the year. Fired in the pizzeria's blazing oven, the hand-twisted, old-school rounds are crusty-yet-chewy vehicles for sandwiches like the BEC&L, which brilliantly upgrades the time-honored bodega staple with a crunchy potato latke in the middle.
The only thing that could soothe the news of Fany Gerson shuttering Dough, her decade-old doughnut destination in Bed-Stuy, was the announcement of a new Gerson doughnut shop opening in its place. The pastry bases are light and airy, the flavor combinations smart and surprising—a mango-cardamom glaze here, a cider caramel with white miso there—and every bite is worth the trip.
It's a delicious irony that would make Alanis Morissette sing: That alums of the epically meat-tastic Cannibal would produce our favorite all-veg outfit since Superiority Burger. At this counter-service "kind of Chinese" spot on the Lower East Side, Justin Lee and Jared Moeller sling small plates with big flavors: Fried nuggets of salt-and-pepper cauliflower shot with vibrant shallot sauce; mushroom-tofu ragù loaded Sloppy Joe-style onto sesame pancakes with crisp Chinese slaw. The fact that nothing here will cost you more than a Hamilton? Even more delicious.
A soft-serve sundae topped with roasted strawberries and—ready?—crispy chicken skin. A fried pizza draped in fatty mortadella and sweet miso. A rice-cake lasagna with the fermented funk of kimchi and the gooey pull of the nonna classic. These are just a few of the many surprises coming out of the kitchen of this sleek Italian-Japanese number from the Wayla team, helmed by executive chef Christine Lau and pastry chef Clarice Lam. It's all of the fun of fusion, with none of the fuss.
Like its Beach Boys namesake, this pan-Caribbean restaurant from husband-and-wife team Kevol and Ria Graham is all about escape. So escape we did, into the Williamsburg spot's vaguely tropical, tree-lined street dining set-up and its equally lively menu of West Indies-meets-west Brooklyn plates. Wood-fired flatbreads loaded with sautéed ackee, braised oxtail, or even creamy penne pasta were the Caribbean comfort foods we didn't know we needed in 2020.
Traveling may have been put on hold this year, but Kyungmin Kay Hyun's globe-trotting tapas at this East Village newcomer would have you thinking otherwise. There's roasted cauliflower with gochujang glaze as well as Middle Eastern labneh; a quartet of corn dumplings with a quirk of truffle salsa verde; and a gumbo, of all things, marrying crawfish with Korean chili peppers. On paper, it might sound busy, almost baroque, but on the tongue, it's all a beautiful, balanced thing.
If there's one bowl that could fortify us through winter this year, it's the mohinga at this cozy Crown Heights spot, a brick-and-mortar expansion of Myo Moe's Burmese pop-up. The steaming noodle soup is a liquid transport to the chef's native Myanmar: A velvety fish broth fragrant with lemongrass and turmeric, bopping with thin rice noodles and boiled lotus root, and crowned with a shallot fritter that shatters upon impact.
The closing of Uncle Boons was one of the most soul-crushing of restaurant casualties during the pandemic, but this sibling from kitchen power couple Ann Redding and Matt Danzer is a salve. Not only do some UB favorites, like the crab fried rice, live on at the new Nolita dinette, but they're joined by dishes that successfully and sumptuously bridge the all-American comfort foods and Thai flavors of Redding's upbringing: French toast soaked in Thai tea and condensed milk syrup; Isan-style larb salad that swaps the usual ground meat for chicken nuggets; and stuffed cabbage rolls flavored with coconut milk, galangal and makrut lime.
More like phenom fried chicken–the lightly frizzled Phnom Penh Fried Chicken at this buzzy Soho sequel from the Chinese Tuxedo team is tasty on its own but transcends to stupid-good when dunked into the peppery, citrusy dressing that accompanies it. In fact, the whole menu—a mix of Vietnamese boldness and California breeze—is one big pan-Asian party we didn't want to leave.
We don't know about you, but we spent many an afternoon at the park to destress during the pandemic, and our picnic baskets were filled with the fittingly winning wares of Daniel Eddy's Brooklyn bakery-cafe. The simple pleasures of a crusty baguette and damn good loaf of tangy sourdough are reinforced when those breads are turned into sandwiches, like a fried chicken katsu pepped with fennel slaw and chile de arbol. And speaking of chicken, come back after your park excursion to pick up a chicken dinner, starring a smoked, spatchcocked, and spit-roasted bird that is, indeed, a winner.
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