We know. You think you know spicy tuna rolls—that raw-fish beginner’s course encompassing ground low-grade tuna, from- a-bottle sriracha and a pat of mayo. This is not that spicy tuna roll—this is the best dish of the entire year. What co-chefs Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim serve under that seemingly familiar moniker is a different species altogether, a firecracker of a hand roll assembled with a lush, melty slab of grilled bluefin belly, flaring Thai red chilis and juice-sopping sushi rice inside shattering, toasted nori. Like that chili gusto, the memory of this bold, beautiful reimagining lingers on your lips long after your plate’s been cleared. Hell, you’ll be dreaming about it well into 2016. $175 as part of kaiseki.
At her vegetable-focused chef’s counter (which she runs with boyfriend José Ramírez-Ruiz), pastry chef Pamela Yung pulls bread out of its opening-act status to the peak of the meal’s crescendo. Midway through the tasting menu, Yung hand-delivers a box filled with her aromatic, alt-grain loaves trundled out with a tangy trickle of house buttermilk and bright-yellow, sea-salted butter from upstate’s Cowbella dairy farm. The gorgeous breads rotate regularly (einkorn-buckwheat, nettle brioche), but one particularly swoonworthy variety is Yung’s porridge sourdough, moist and nutty beneath its hearty, crackling crust. $85 as part of tasting menu.
Tableside pageantry is fast and frequent at Gabriel Kreuther’s solo debut, but it’s most fitting when matched with this regal tartlet, an import from the chef’s lauded 10-year tenure at Alsatian-accented MoMA dining room the Modern. The flaky phyllo cup, piped with a yellow fluff of caviar mousseline over smoked sturgeon and musty sauerkraut and topped with a quenelle of inky black caviar, is hooded in a glass cloche fogged with applewood smoke, the savory plumes of which permeate the tart and release when the server pulls up the lid. It’s at once folky and flamboyant, and it’s Kreuther at his best. $98 as part of four-course prix fixe.
Nope, the year’s most stellar short ribs didn’t come out of a veteran French kitchen or a New American dining room. Instead, they were the product of a K-town barbecue joint helmed by a dude born in—check it—1990. (Yeah, we feel old reading that too.) That young gun, Deuki Hong, tapped into his fine-dining résumé (Momofuku, Jean-Georges) to refine the Korean barbecue experience at this bi-level meat haven, drawing megawatt chefs such as Anthony Bourdain and Danny Bowien with his prime cuts and smart, minimal fussings. Occupying both categories are his boneless short ribs, whisper-brushed with sesame oil, garlic and black pepper to allow the meat’s natural marbleization to do the talking. And with its superbly rich flesh enveloped in char-edged crust, what fine things it has to say. $39.
Even the simplest pleasures aren’t what they appear at Dominique Ansel Kitchen—a croissant imbued with rosemary olive oil moonlights as garlic bread, and tiramisu layers are heady with black tea. Even a humble brownie is leavened with hidden complexities: The deeply chocolaty square, fudgy and cakey at equal turns, is topped with sage leaves, swaddled in cedar paper, tied with twine and torched, arriving warm and filled with campfire smoke and sweet earth. We usually don’t like the idea of screwing with simple perfection, but for this sumptuous update, we’ll easily make an exception. $5.
It tastes like New York in a bowl, a steaming crock of Japanese ramen with the bubbe-warmth of a Jewish-deli sandwich. Chef-owner Joshua Smookler sought out Katz’s as inspiration for his studied flagship bowl, and it’s immediately felt in the moist hunks of house-made corned beef, shredded cabbage and half-sour pickles that entwine his toothsome noodles. In place of traditional pork tonkotsu, Smookler rejiggers his broth, ladling in oxtail and bone marrow stock for a much-welcome extra boost of meatiness. $18.
Shrimp may be the king of tempura territory, but Masao Matsui makes a stunning case for scallops at his batter temple. The veteran chef (the Nadaman at Tokyo’s Hotel New Otani) drags supple pillows of mollusk cradled in nori through a mixture of Super Violet flour, mineral water and egg yolk that’s been whisked together until flaxen and featherweight. Matsui lets the scallop dance for a few joyful moments in his secret-recipe blend of cottonseed and sesame oils and plunges his wooden batons in to retrieve it, and suddenly it’s right in front of you: a soft, nearly raw bivalve trussed in a golden-crisp gossamer. It’s impossibly delicate and stupendously satisfying. $200 as part of omakase.
South Korea’s honey butter chips created Beatlemania-level hysteria earlier this year. Convenience stores were perpetually sold out, and the bright-yellow bags even hit the black market. Enter new Korean eatery Oiji. After failed attempts to import the chips to their East Village restaurant, chefs Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku took to parodying the snack themselves. Their warm, wickedly rich version—billed as a side but served last, à la dessert—glazes mandolined, fried russet potatoes in high-fat French butter, brown sugar and honey, with cayenne and salt working diligently to check the overt sweetness. A few feverish fistfuls later, you’ll see that chip craze was justified. $5.
Sorry, Chris Pratt, the It dish of the 2015 blogosphere was actually a fried chicken sandwich. The year was inundated with heavyweight options, from Shake Shack’s Brooklyn-only ChickenShack to Chick-fil-A’s Manhattan debut, but one bird ruled the roost: David Chang’s poultry tour de force, with buttermilk-battered, Scotch-bonnet-smoldering meat spilling out from under a pliant Martin’s potato roll. Spare trimmings—a slick of briny butter, a few snappy pickle chips—allow for focus to remain on the bird, and what a mighty bird it is. $8.
Less than a year after opening Red Hook’s Thai-critical darling Kao Soy, co-chef Kanlaya Supachana split—and took the namesake noodle dish with her. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t gone for long. Down the block—174 friggin’ feet down, to be exact—the Chiang Mai native brazenly stirs her turmeric-yellow coconut curry in a pop-up space inside home-goods-store-cum-café Home/Made. A pair of juicy chicken drumsticks lurks amid soft-boiled noodles in the soup’s depths, enlivened with pickled mustard greens, shallots and chili oil, while a cap of fried egg noodles and shreds of banana-blossom fritters add contrasting crunch. 293 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn. $12.
It’s two iconic New York desserts in one: The soft, spongy iced shortbread known as the black-and-white cookie and the Bowery pushcart-born ice cream sandwich. But it’s also the meeting of two beloved local sweet purveyors, small-batch creamery Ample Hills and oversize-cookie maker Baked. A puck of vanilla malted ice cream is fitted Chipwich-style between two thick, fondant-frosted black-and-white cookies with malted fudge and then rolled in malted-chocolate Rice Krispies. Showing off New York pride never tasted so sweet. $7
Gotham is well-versed in international frozen treats—Taiwanese shaved ice, Thailand’s i tim pad roll-ups—but it got its best ambassador for kulfi (Indian’s answer to Popsicles) in Jessi Singh’s time-intensive version. For capital-C creaminess, Singh stirs a cow’s milk base for six hours, suffuses the mixture with flavorful add-ins (say, cardamom, honey and pistachio) and then freezes it for 12 hours in tapered tin molds that he smuggles back from the motherland. Warm the cannister between your palms to release the pop—the payoff is the sweet spot between mochi chewiness and custard richness. $6.
Frozen-sweet whiz kids Kendrick Lo and Paul Kim are known for their off-the-wall ice cream flavors (bacon, egg and cheese sundae; Vietnamese coffee with doughnut truffles), but this more subtle tea-based concoction will stay with you long after the last lick. A rich cream base is infused for 24 hours with Nilgiri tea leaves, a fragrant black variety native to southern India, and then swirled with an otherworldly salted butter caramel given a citrusy kick from finely ground, oven-charred lemon zest. $4.75
Colorful and cheeky, Jennifer Yee’s throwback dessert tugged New York’s nostalgic, sweets-loving heart. But the pastry chef doesn’t rest on mere reminiscence—Yee’s treat comes to age each June, marbling creamy sorbet with crumbles of fresh-baked French macarons in modern flavors like matcha, birthday cake and the bakery’s signature bergamot. $5.
Don’t want to curb your ice-cream consumption even into the cold-weather months? The ever-inventive Sam Mason has you covered. The scoops wizard introduced this panini-warmed sweet at this fall’s sandwich-shop reboot of OddFellows’ East Village location. Like a dessert-world Hot Pocket, a brioche bun is pressed around a core of the parlor’s rich ice cream in flavors that include corn bread with cornflake crunch and blueberry compote, brown-butter sage with spicy almond and honey, and an unabashedly crowd-pleasing bacon variety with candied pecans and spiced maple syrup. It’s the indulgent intersection of savory and sweet, toasted and melty. $8
It might not be your birthday when you enjoy one of pastry chef Heather Bertinetti’s tricolored cakes, but it’ll make you feel so good you’ll swear it’s your big day. Each pristine cake at the Italian-American counter is built with three layers of smooth, house-made gelato—peanut butter, raspberry and banana for an Elvis-themed number, say—interspersed with fresh whipped cream and Carvelesque chocolate crumbles. Your move, Fudgie the Whale. $58.
Anticipation was already sky-high when word hit that Sarah Sanneh and Carolyn Bane’s Williamsburg comfort-food counter was crossing the river to the Lower East Side. And then news of a debuting doughnut flavor rocketed that buzz to the stratosphere. Sanneh’s round begins with a natural yeast-rye starter that’s left to ferment for three days before the dough’s rolled, proofed, fried and then shellacked in a sweet, crunchy glaze that balances out the savory funk of the starring sourdough. It’s everything you love about a warm loaf of fresh-out-the-oven sourdough, tucked inside the soft, sweet airiness of a raised doughnut. $3.
Move aside, Cold Stone. The a la minute ice cream of the year was the Thai-style i tim pad roll-ups at this Chinatown parlor. Liquid crème anglaise is poured onto a thermoelectric cold plate and scraped into finger-sized rolls as it congeals in real time, resulting in a light, airy consistency that has kept sweet-toothed lines forming around the block. To change up the flavor, mix-ins like banana, Nutella and graham crackers can be smashed and folded directly into the base as it hardens, ensuring those enhancers are evenly distributed, while the rolled shape allows each cup to be piled high with sugary accoutrements. $7
The Whitney restaurant’s ambitious readjustments of dowdy museum eats extend all the way down to the humble cookie. Pastry chef Miro Uskokovic folds brown butter with organic white and light-brown sugars and Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, resulting in a round that’s equal parts crunch and chew. Fudgy pockets of chocolate dot the batter—three Guittard varieties comprise the gooey core—and Amagansett sea salt speckles the hull. You can get the cookie à la carte for half the price upstairs at Studio Cafe, but then you’d miss out on the accompanying bottle of milk: sweet Five Acre Farms dairy splashed with Madagascan bourbon vanilla. $8.
The hefty price tag of this bottled sip at Danny Meyer’s first stand-alone bar is far more telling than its unassuming name. Playing on that rotgut parking-lot flask combination, head barkeep Nicholas Bennett first sloshes corn whiskey with homespun cola syrup before fizzing up the mix using carbon dioxide and phosphoric acid. The clincher is
the smart addition of Fernet-Vallet, a viscous Mexican style of the cocktail-geek-loved amaro that sharpens the sweet cola with a bitter bite. $14
Some bartenders sneer at the question “What do you like to drink?” But cocktail doyenne Pamela Wiznitzer flashes a smile and replies naming a Ramos Gin Fizz. That creamy classic informs this similarly sweet sip, building on sarsaparilla-shot Aviation gin with whispers of artichoke-y Cynar, fresh lemon, vanilla syrup and a lather of egg white. Thickened with half and half instead of heavy cream, the frothy mixture is bookended by Dr. Brown’s root beer—a childhood favorite of Wiznitzer’s—and dusted with nutmeg in a highball glass for a sophisticated upgrade to the soda-fountain staple. $13
Despite the comedy-club setting, barkeep Joji Watanabe’s cocktails are no joke. Sipped through a straw at the base of an empty lightbulb (yes, really), this floral potable consists of Bulldog gin steeped for six hours with St. Germain and fragrant lavender seeds before being sloshed with tart cranberry juice and lime. Served still to prevent dilution, the drink occupies the goes-down-easy midpoint between style and substance. $12
This past summer marked a watershed moment for iced coffee aficionados, with all the nitrogen cold brews, stouty tapped lattes and infused java cocktails flooding almost every caffeinating counter in town. For their take on the season’s most chill trend, Stumptown baristas layer full-bodied Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Chelbessa with Fever Tree Indian Tonic for a fizzy pop, cleverly playing up the brew’s fruity undertones with candied Luxardo cherries and a zip of cherry syrup. $4.50
Prior to creating the early spring release, the Gowanus beer operation had been best known for tapping soothing saisons and mild-mannered IPAs. But when owners Josh Stylman. Justin Israelson and head brewer Greg Doroski saw a tropical fruit–blasted Mosaic hops on the market, the brewers seized the opportunity to create this exceedingly boisterous citrus bomb of a beer. The cheeky name reflects the team’s love-hate attitude toward the double-IPA fixation, but hops-heads near and far have extolled this brew’s unmatched virtue in the genre. $7
This year, bikers–turned–brewers Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi deviated from the strong farmhouse focus of their Long Island City nanobrewery with the release of this überdark, barrel-aged beer. The stouty pint comes crammed with notes of charred oak and roasted coffee, with whispers of fruit, molasses and sweet vanilla lingering in the undertow. 750ml bottle $16.50
At this subterranean Macdougal Street drinkery, Matt Piacentini’s autumnal elixir nods to the cold-weather tradition of savoring port after dinner: Croft’s 10-year-old tawny wine is married to a coffee syrup made in-house with reduced Café du Monde chicory roast and a splash of vodka. That aromatic mix is gently shaken with bright lemon juice and winter spices (nutmeg and cinnamon), warming like a roaring hearth but cooling over crushed ice. $14
Venue says Craft cocktail bar hidden away in a historic space in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.
Jennifer Lim and Ben Sandler’s Lower East Side cider bar’s titular cocktail may share its name with a mulled yuletide cider, but this ice-cold cup gets its considerable buzz from another apple-based spirit: Laird’s loftily proofed brandy. The ingredients are tweaked to suit the season (muddled strawberries and birch beer flavored the summertime variety), but the current autumnal concoction smartly plays on the brandy’s sweetness with earthy red beet and apple juices, Wild Turkey bourbon and lemon. In festive wassailing spirit, as many as four boozers can share a pitcher of the crimson-hued punch poured straight from the mouth of a porcelain fish-shaped decanter. Single $12, four people $36
At this East Side sibling of the blog-heralded Montreal-meets-Manhattan bagelry, head baker Dianna Daoheung turns out the same hand-rolled, honey-boiled rounds that garnered praise at the Soho flagship. Exclusive to this location, however, are newfangled sandwiches including this creamy schmear of salmon salad—lush with red peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers in a garlic-lemon aioli—set against the crispness of pickled fennel and peppery arugula. Now that’s what we call a breakfast sandwich. $11
Hailing from the Motor City, Eli and Max Sussman have become somewhat like standard bearers for Detroit specialties, so it wasn’t a shock when the chef brothers took on that city’s celebrated Coney dog. Though their version is modeled after the frankfurters served in Michigan’s Greek-American diners, the usual bucket-chili topping is shunted for tender smoked brisket and ground beef, but still featuring the essential chopped onions and mustard. $7.50
For bar-food fiends, Stephen Tanner’s formidable fried-chicken sandwich at the Commodore is damn near legendary, with hot sauce famously cooked right into its crackly crust. And at his Tex-Mex tiki follow-up with Commodore cohort Chris Young, you can wolf down a quartet of craggy white-meat sliders speared on an oversize toothpick with shredded romaine, zippy pickles and mayonnaise. It is, hands down, one of the best drunk eats of the year. $11
NYC’s pastrami-sandwich pantheon is filled with iconic stuff—the jaw-testing classic at Katz’s, the smoked-meat revision at Mile End—but Will Horowitz’s beaut is a worthy new entry to that venerable group. You’ll get a taste of luscious deckle before your sandwich is even assembled—midcarve, the deli man ushers a slip of fat-marbled, peppercorn-rubbed beef in butcher paper over the counter. It’s a soft, smoky, sinful preview of what’s to come. To combat the heft of those thick-cut slices, the sandwich is rigged with buttermilk-fermented cucumber kraut, fronds of fresh dill and a salty smear of anchovy mustard on a Pain d’Avignon club roll, a pillowy upgrade from traditional rye. $17.50
Now there’s a downtown outpost of the Upper East Side burger stalwart. Even the most staunch of patty purist will be pleased to find that the uptown venue’s main attraction—the half-pound puck served open-faced on no-frills white buns with red onion and crinkle-cut pickle chips—hasn’t lost any of its juicy thrills at the new location. It’s dished out with snacky cottage fries on the trademark green-checkered tablecloths. $11.50
The Mexican-ish Lower East Side canteen has undergone numerous culinary transformations since opening in 2013—from the apropos (dollar tacos) to the head scratching (Vietnamese breakfast pho). But this year, Mission Cantina’s freewheeling chef Danny Bowien focused its concept on crowd-pleasing burritos. The look is Chipotle but Bowien-esque tweaks still abound: One newfangled creation is built withmapotofu, that fiery Sichuan staple, prepared with minced pork, aged beef fat anddoubanjiang(spicy fermented bean paste) at the restaurant’s sibling Mission Chinese Food. A heap of salt-cod fried rice, studded with sweet Chinese sausage and shreds of fried egg, temper the mouth-tingling chili-pepper oomph. $12
In a city where burgers have been beefed up with Michael Bay–level patty pyrotechnics (crowned with caviar, gorged with glazed doughnuts, lodged between ramen-noodle “buns”), Andrew Feinberg’s rendering at his Prospect Heights pub with wife Franny Stephens is subversively simple. There’s no braggadocio meat blend at play here—just a juice-dripping puck of quality beef sealed with a funky char inside a buttered-and-toasted sesame-seed bun. And we really mean no frills: You’ll even have to ask for ketchup. $14
Yes, it’s $29 for deli meat, but hear us out: This is one masterfully balanced sandwich. A tribute to the sedimentary New Jersey sloppy joes at South Orange’s Town Hall Delicatessen, the crustless, thick-as-a-phonebook configuration bookends your choice of two meats—house turkey, house roast beef, Hebrew National salami and Schaller and Weber ham—with crunchy, mayo-free cole slaw and creamy Russian dressing on Melissa Weller’s soft, house-baked caraway rye. It’s comforting, not showy, and best of all, you won’t have to brave the New Jersey Transit to get your mits on it. $29
Dispatched from a walk-up sausage bar connected to legendary uptown wurst maker Schaller & Weber, this monster brat doubles down on bacon and cheese; the stuff is folded into the meat itself, and then topped with even more gooey American and crisp curls of smoked swine on a sliced Balthazar bun. But that’s not all. The hearty link is further festooned with snappy pickles, diced onion and tomato, and a slather of Thousand Island–esque Stube sauce. Your cardiologist definitely won’t be pleased with you, but your taste buds sure will. $10
The street-circuit favorite took home the grand prix Vendy Cup this year, in part for its addictive, maple–steeped grilled cheese sandwiches. Buttered slices of Shewolf Bakery sourdough flank oozing squares of sharp white cheddar, and while optional adornments range from Flying Pig’s smoked ham to strawberry chutney, drizzles of hot house-made maple gussy up every sammie. It’s chewy and crunchy, salty and sweet. Hell, they don’t call it “famous” for nothing. $7
You can find plenty of unusual Middle Eastern wrap-ups at Tarik Fallous’s West Village sandwich shop—one crammed with crispy fries, another with tender cow tongue—but the standout comes with a more traditional filling: Lebanese sojuk sausage. The hearty spiced links, aromatic with sumac, cumin and red pepper, get an extra jolt of garlic from creamy ribbons of aioli-like toum and some pickled pep from brined vegetables, all wrapped in the shop’s soft, grill-warmed bread. $8
A few English curios pepper the menu at the New York Edition Hotel’s dining room (lemony Dover sole, a Lancashire hot pot), but Jason Atherton’s finest ode to his home country is this polished reworking of the chip-shop standard, offered only at lunch. The Michelin-starred Brit sets a juicy, generous hunk of white Icelandic cod, all salt-flecked crust and beer-battered tang, atop a vibrant mound of mushed peas humming with malt vinegar. Thick-cut, thrice-cooked fries are primed to drag up every last morsel. $23
Of all the booze-sopping grub shuffled across bars this year, Tadashi Ono’s grilled squid at this sake-fueled yakitori operation was the most head-turning. The eight-ounce cephalopod is slathered in ginger-soy marinade before hitting the grill whole, making the body rings supple without a whisper of rubber and the tentacles and head into charred, crispy vehicles for a mayo dipping sauce zested with seven-spice shichimi. $14
Even more surprising than a Clinton Hill specialty-goods grocer having a quality craft-beer bar ensconced in the back is the fact that it serves some of Gotham’s finest under-the-radar pub grub. In the small plates section, half a dozen Washington State bivalves come topped with a bright dollop of orange compound butter spiced with roasted garlic, lemon zest, briny anchovies and southeast Asia’s chili-powered sambal. Fired for 10 minutes in a 500-degree oven, the plump bivalves arrive swimming in melted butter with a slightly charred cap on top to round out the flavor of the sumptuous one-biter. $13
You’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier primer on poke this far from the Big Island. (Poke, by the way, is Hawaii’s chopped raw-fish salad—oh, and it rhymes with okay.) Chef de cuisine and Honolulu native Chung Chow stays faithful to the dish’s traditional flavors—firm cubes of sushi-grade bigeye tuna loin are slicked with soy sauce and sesame oil and studded with red onion, scallion and toasted macadamia nuts for crunch—but deftly updates them with Japanese notes, including briny tangles of tosaka and oga seaweeds and the lip-tingling chili smack of Japan’s tobanjan paste. $17
There are plenty of 1970s throwbacks at play at Joe Carroll’s reimagined McCarren Hotel fern bar (faux Tiffany lamps, cloying Grasshopper cocktails), but our favorite is chef Kevin Chojnowski’s gentle tweaking of the dated Crab Louie. Born on the West Coast around the turn of the 20th century, the salad tosses king crabmeat with sweet gem lettuce and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Chojnowski wisely bucks tradition by swapping out mayo for a buttermilk-poppyseed dressing and an asparagus vinaigrette infused with Thai chilis and minced shallots. Crab Louie enters the 21st century. $16
Word of Rockaway Taco’s imminent closure this spring set fear in the hearts of many a New York taco lover. After all, that ramshackle stand was home to the city’s most exemplary fish taco: a clean, thoughtfully constructed fold-up filled with flaky beer-battered tilapia, vinegary cabbage slaw, crisp radish rounds and, if you were smart and ordered the deluxe, a healthy mound of excellent guacamole. Luckily for us, that taco made the move with chef Andrew Field to his new seasonal taqueria operation at Rockaway Beach Surf Club this summer. The bad news? The lines are still lengthy. The better news? That taco is as reliably delicious as ever. $3.50
This one’s like a space-age fritto misto. Draped in sheer, lightweight golden shells made with masa-enhanced potato flour, pops of bright yellow (that would be preserved lemon) and pale green (sliced scallions) are fried right alongside tender curls of squid for this otherworldly calamari at Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske’s Lower East Side wine bar. The accompanying sauce looks and tastes similarly out-there: A smooth, garlic-charged aioli stained the color of charcoal, courtesy of the mollusk’s ink, gives the dish a double-dose of squid-y brackishness. $15
Opened in 2012, the two-star Michelin mainstay has seen a chef come and go from the hallowed halls of its tasting-menu kitchen, but current toque Ronny Emborg has breathed new life into the arduous 18 courses this year. One of the most memorable employs fine Elysian Fields lamb saddles aged for three weeks, allowing their umami flavor to fully develop. Those tender cuts are then swaddled in white bread smeared with leek ash and chicken mousseline, and cooked in their own fat before hitting the plate with a smoky burnt-onion jus and a finishing coat of more rendered fat. Saddle up is right. $235 as part of tasting menu
Think of this as pampered poultry. In their colossal riff on the taqueria staple traditionally made with pork shoulder, Mexican megachef Enrique Olvera and chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes heavily salt and hang heritage Rohan ducks for three days, then braise them overnight in duck fat and a sweet, tenderizing mixture that includes orange slices, evaporated and condensed milks and, yes, even Mexican Coke. Finished in the oven and crisped in the broiler, the sizzling, golden-skinned bird comes crowned with flash-pickled onions, brightening lime juice and warm heirloom-corn tortillas for the most elegant do-it-yourself tacos in New York. $59
This year saw many novel mutations of the stuffy bistro classic—Wildair’s pungent smoked-cheddar update, the Clocktower’s marrow-fortified, mustard-punched version—but the dry-aged funk of Nick Curtola’s rugged tartare stood out from the rest. Happy Valley–sourced sirloin is roused with crunchy pickled cabbage, darkly fiery sambal chili and pools of buttermilk. And forget forks: The thin sesame-cracker shards on top are the only utensil you’ll need. $15
“One paratha taco equals two regular tacos,” declares the menu on the wall at the Lower East Side brick-and-mortar venue of the Smorgasburg staple. And it’s right: Buttery, flaky paratha bread, a gastronomic import from the Indian trading port of Goa, packs twice as much as its Latin cousin. Chef-owner Duvaldi Marneweck folds the flatbread around spectacularly tender Colorado lamb shoulder—slow-roasted for five hours in a from-scratch recado rojo (red achiote paste made from annatto seeds)—with zesty salsa-fied eggplant and a cooling Greek tsatsiki. Postmidnight lines curl around the door regularly and it’s not hard to see why: This meaty roll-up soaks up way more booze than your average-Joe taco. $8.27
The Hudson Square restaurant takes its name from the Norwegian word husmanskost (or “everyday food”) and with that quotidian ethos in mind chefs Ned Baldwin and Adam Baumgart tender this unpretentious, Portuguese-style sausage-and-clams plate. The salty bite of meaty link, constructed with house-ground Royalton Farm pork shoulder seasoned with paprika and chili de arbol, offsets the sweetness of the accompanying sofrito-filled steamed littlenecks, all in a pool of Neuseke’s bacon-smoked whitefish fumet. $25
In the food-world lexicon, the name Jonathan Waxman is practically synonymous with “roasted chicken.” The California-cuisine icon introduced his famed fowl to New York with his 1980s farm-to-table pioneer Jams and wisely reinstated the dish at the restaurant’s Upper West Side revival this year. A Bell & Evans bird is fired in a charcoal-fueled oven and basted frequently in a tarragon-charged jus, ensuring that there’s moist flesh beneath crisp, burnished skin. Waxman seasons the chicken simply with salt and pepper because nothing more is needed with a dish this good. $25
Set a knife in the vicinity of chef Paras Shah’s handsomely lacquered lamb for two and it practically wilts in its presence. The meat—darkly caramelized and lustily fatty—sighs off the bone, falling to the plate to join a hash of farro and roasted vegetables, plump wedges of fig and crispy cubes of smoked lamb belly. $34
New York’s fried-chicken lust endures, and it’s no shock given such knockout contenders as executive chef Angela Dimayuga’s version at the MCF reboot. A refined play on southern Chinese specialty Hainanese chicken rice, Dimayuga’s fowl is marinated with ginger, scallion, garlic and aged, umami-rich koji (fermented cooked rice) and then air-dried for three days before frying to ensure a delicately caramelized crunch without the heft of additional starch. Any residual richness is gracefully cut with salted cucumber salad and a hot sauce thrumming with preserved chilis and lemon. $28
It’s almost silly that Tim Cushman offers dessert to cap his 18-course omakase, because this stunner nails it in the sweets department. Atop a cylinder of warm, nori-wrapped rice, a quivering tile of seared Hudson Valley foie gras is daubed in balsamic-chocolate kabayaki (eel sauce)
and bedecked with raisin-cocoa pulp and a caramel-smooth chaser of eight-year-aged sake picked by wife-sommelier Nancy. Even with a belly full of nearly two dozen pieces, not savoring every shamelessly indulgent bite is functionally impossible. $185 as part of omakase
No bun, no fries, no condiments? No problem. Aside from a few knobs of roasted garlic and one lone, fragrant sprig of rosemary, there’s little to distract from the beefy, elemental beauty of Rita Sodi and Jody Williams’s raggedy, rough-chopped steak. Like a caveman’s tartare, the coarse, half-pound puck of aged New York strip is seasoned minimally with salt and pepper and flash-seared in a cast-iron pan. The result is achingly tender and rosy on the inside, encased in a deep, smoky char glistening with green olive oil. This is pure meat porn, people. $21
Thirty-four years after earning rave reviews as executive chef of Vienna ’79, chef Thomas Ferlesch reprises that restaurant’s schnitzel recipe, but subbing in thick slices of marbleized Sterling Silver pork loin for the customary veal. Slapped with flour, egg, heavy cream and fine, house-ground panko crumbs, the pounded cutlet is sautéed in clarified butter until the heat causes air bubbles to rise beneath the golden breading, creating delectably crusty, wavelike ridges for a squeeze of lemon juice to cling to. $16
Humble cabbage slaw isn’t what you’d usually find on a three-figure fine-dining menu, but it’s proof of chef Bryce Shuman’s ingenuity—and playfulness—that he turns the picnic staple into a sleek plate worthy of a Michelin-starred dining room. The vibrant medley of vegetables includes parsnips, carrots, kohlrabi and broccoli stems, brined in their juices, julienned into neat batons and dressed with a tangy honey-mustard vinaigrette and chive tips, and mimics the pickled bite found in classic slaw. $195 as part of tasting menu
“Basically, it’s crack in broccoli form,” the menu suspiciously brags, but it’s kind of right! The snacky gochugang-fired florets at Amanda Cohen’s replanted vegetable restaurant are craveable to the point of being addictive. Coated in a tempura batter shot with seltzer and vodka for an überflaky texture, the deep-fried crests are burnished in a garlicky sauce zapped with Korean chili paste, soy-sauce-like tamari and ginger. It’s a credit that even beneath a festive sprinkling of sesame seeds and scallion slivers (and that substantial crunch), the broccoli still retains its natural snap. $8.
This ain’t no garden-variety gruel. For this mellow springtime bowl, Kevin Adey begins with local grains (emmer, organic corn, red winter wheat) that are sourced from upstate farms and milled via a hand-cranked grinder. Simmered in mushroom stock until soft and silky, the grains are joined by tender young peas and morels and enriched with a pat of house-made butter and nubs of Alpine cow’s milk cheese from Hawthorne Valley Farm. Topped with a moat of frothy whey and a tuft of microgreens, this is one porridge guaranteed to leave you saying, “Please, sir, I want some more” come March. $11.
Locavore got an Italian accent with Mark Barak’s breezy new Flatiron cucina. The ethos is promoted in the restaurant’s robust vegetable-focused antipasti, whose standout is chef Simone Bonnelli’s whole braised artichoke. Peel off a buttery, lemon-spritzed leaf and drag it through a painterly scrape of smooth, subtle mint aioli hit with the salty shrapnel of dried-anchovy powder. $14
It was as fleeting as a spring fling. Between April and August, this rustic dining room offered an earthy tumble of bright, fresh fava beans that came with two of the season’s most precious offerings, ramps and morels, along with crumbles of house-made blood sausage. The dish has since been updated with broad beans and beech mushrooms, but the memory of those plump little favas will hold us over until April. $9
Poached leeks in mustard dressing are as time-honored a French dish as they come, but Daniel Eddy’s deconstructed adaptation at the Bowery neobistro feels decidedly modern. Pale segments of blanched young leek are nestled in finely acidic Dijon-forward vinaigrette with scraps of soft-boiled eggs and smoky plumes of leek ash, trading the fussiness of the original for an easygoing edge. $12.
Like tartare, carpaccio saw many a gussied-up alteration this year, but Mario Carbone’s vegcentric version—trading beef for butternut and delicata squash—was one of the loveliest. Petals of golden gourd, lightly charred and curling at the edges, are lacquered with beurre noisette and spiced honey agrodolce to amplify the squash’s nutty sweetness. A scattering of pumpkin seeds and cracked pink peppercorn adds crunch, offset with rich dollops of crème fraîche. Where’s the beef? More like, who cares? $9.
New York already knew that Chris Jaeckle had a way with pasta (before opening the modern Venetian dining room, he ran the Michelin-starred kitchen at Ai Fiori). But in last January’s chill, he proved his noodle prowess extended beyond fettuccine and fusilli with the introduction of his hybrid ramen. Offered now during lunch service at the downstairs bar, the seductive bowl tangles al dente house-made noodles around oozing egg in a creamy Parmesan-dashi broth enlivened with feisty splotches of Calabrian chili oil. $14
Marco Canora’s buzzy broths have earned both widespread praise and scorn: A Twitter bot was created to automatically find tweets with “bone broth” and crankily respond, “You mean stock?” But there’s no ennui to be found in the flavorful depths of his 18-hour–simmered brodo. The soup of ginger-seasoned beef neck bobbing with shiitake, farro and spring onions will forever rid cans of Campbell’s from your memory. Mmm, mmm, that’s damn good. $12
It’s not only the minimalist digs that distinguish this Chelsea newcomer from its often-chaotic peers on the East Side. Here, the sole broth is a supremely richtonkotsu, simmered with pork bone for 14 hours and served with miso paste or laden with kimchi. The zesty kimchi version lingers on taste buds: It’s fiery with a fermented cabbage that Korean chef Jun Park prepares using a family recipe he adopted from his grandmother. The piping-hot rendition is poured onto straight noodles and finished with the classic fixings of roasted pork shoulder, egg and scallion. $15
Purists, be warned: The singular pho offered at this humble Bushwick charmer is, gasp, meatless. Instead, the lucid broth is simmered with mushrooms, star anise, charred shallots and ginger for three hours, and assembled with unorthodox fixings like shiitake, bok choy and fresh not dried noodles. Beef is an optional topping—namely brisket smoked over mesquite and applewood—but the gracious lightness of the bowl ensures you can down the entire beautiful thing without enduring the dreaded meat sweats. $8, with brisket $12
Though the standing-only Nolita ramen-ya has changed its game to highlight a rotating cast of visiting chefs, this vegetarian bowl from the opening menu of Japanese supertoque Shigetoshi “Jack” Nakamura has hooked noodle geeks and novices alike. You’ll hardly notice the lack of meat thanks to the rich, miso-paste broth spiced with Momofuku’s XO sauce (a shellfish-based chili oil) and the garnish of bean sprouts and Japanese chives, tangled around the famed noodles of the restaurant’s parent company, Jersey-based Sun Noodles. Because this dish is served at a high temperature, the strands are aged to ensure they stay firm even after the boiling broth is poured over the top. $14
The New York food scene can be an cruel one, a fact proved when Harlem’s Mountain Bird shuttered last year, not because of poor reviews (the critics were, if anything, overwhelmingly positive) but due to landlord issues. Luckily for poultry fans, husband-and-wife team Keiko and Kenichi Tajima revived the poultry-focused concept inside uptown’s Tasting Socials space this fall, bringing the beautiful consomme with them. A porcelain cup brims with fatty, amber-hued broth, with a lone bread dumpling plopped in the center, its delicate wonton skin enveloping silky foie gras mousse. It’s like chicken soup for the elegant soul. $12
New York’s standard for vegetarian victuals shot through the roof this year, thanks in part to this tiny, wood-bedecked jewel from the prolific Ravi DeRossi, a practicing vegan. From the restaurant’s open kitchen, chef Andrew D’Ambrosi composes a potato cannelloni that’s every bite as satisfying as it’s beautiful: Mandolin-sliced spuds are fried and cigar rolled with pine-nut ricotta. Atop a pool of arugula pesto, the flaky tube is accessorized with savory slips of merguez-spiced eggplant, shatteringly crisp potato chips and sweet aji dulce peppers for some lively piquancy. $17
At their new school pizzeria Bruno, Box Kite cohorts Dave Gulino and Justin Slojkowski top their time-intensive crusts—kneaded with flour milled in the restaurant’s basement from wheat berries grown upstate—with everything from lovage to lamb coppa. But their most satisfying configuration features shavings of smoked country ham acting as a counterpoint to charred Seckel pears, cured onions and melty patches of Von Trapp Farm’s Oma cheese. Bronze fennel fronds and parsley sprigs cut the richness and finish the charcoal-pocked pie with a fresh note. $17
It was, graciously, inevitable: Matt and Emily Hyland’s Clinton Hill pizzeria is not only home of the best new pies in New York but also one of the city’s best burgers, a seven-ounce dry-aged beaut hooded with melted Grafton Village white cheddar, a tangle of sautéed onions, peppy cornichons and the house’s EMMY sauce (a garlic-butter gochujang mayonnaise) on a Tom Cat Bakery pretzel bun. All those flavors end up on this off-menu hybrid round, topped with crumbles of fontina and Debragga beef, whole cornichons and a bull’s-eye swirl of EMMY sauce. And boy, does it hit that target straight on. $26
It’s Beirut by way of Bleecker Street at owner Ziyad Hermez’s permanent flagship. (Prior to opening this year, he slung the titular Lebanese flatbreads at a Nolita pop-up and a seasonal Smorgasburg booth.) Though the shop’s standard manousheh is a touch doughier, the bread is completely flattened for this “Lebanese pizza” to ensure a crispy crust, blanketed generously with a mince of grass-fed beef, tomatoes and onions. Pro tip: Finish the pie off with a spritz of lemon and a hefty pollination of addictive Aleppo pepper. $5
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The timballo, Sicily’s drum-shaped baked-pasta casserole also called the timpano, is by nature a theatrical dish; it famously played a big part in the 1996 foodie flick Big Night and fittingly turns heads at whiplashing speed when ushered onto tables at this Soho dining room. Chef Jordan Frosolone’s take on the Italian specialty—named for his young daughter Zanghi, whose pasta preference also informs the dish—encases ring-shaped anelletti pasta and a hearty pork-sausage ragu inside a dome of supple grilled eggplant. Dressed with more of that robust raguand an avalanche of salty Parmesan, it’s like Nonna’s lasagna—turned up to 11. $42
Giulio Adriani may have shuttered his Bowery-set fried-pizza outlet Forcella last fall, but the East Village wasn’t without those frizzled montanara rounds for long. Through a hidden door inside Espoleta, the Spanish tapas bar that took over the former pizzeria space, you’ll find the 24-seat za speakeasy and its flash-fried crust. The puffed-up, pillowy round is crowned with the requisite toppings—bright tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella—and finished in a 1,000-degree wood-burning oven. $16
Pasta king Michael White applies years of Italian finesse (see Ai Fiori and Marea) to classic French flavors in this dual-pocketed ravioli, named for its resemblance to the square shoulder pads on military garb. Gamey rabbit confit occupies one side of the pasta pouch, with buttery reblochon cheese in the other, both grounded in a reduction of earthy, heady black truffle. $24
At Kenta Goto’s namesake cocktail palace, East meets West in everything from the cherry-blossom martinis and shiitake-shot Bloody Marys to this gooey revision of the barman’s beloved childhood snack: Japan’s street-style okonomiyaki pancake. The traditional pork and shrimp trimmings have been traded for three types of cheese (white cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyere) along with woodsy beech mushrooms and tart sun-dried tomatoes. These comfort-food fixings bulk up an already superbly flavorful dough; the flour is infused with a bonito-kelp stock before hitting a cast iron pan slathered in sweet-and-sour okonomi sauce, silky Kewpie mayo and pickled red ginger. $12
Although Gonzalo Bava and Rocío Raña focus their wood-fitted charmer on the fare of their native Uruguay, their standout empanada is the humita corn variety, popular in neighboring Argentina. Shaped like an Asian dumpling with hand-crimped edges, the frizzled pockets snug a piping-hot filling of sweet corn kernels and pimento peppers bathed in a smooth béchamel-like sauce. A spear of olives puncture each turnover, while a side of vinaigrette-dressed salad tempers the richness. Two for $8
See you later, acai. Pitaya has been a staple in the tropical Far East for centuries but finally gets its New York showcase in a frozen breakfast bowl at the Cali-cool cafe. The bright magenta fruit is blended with banana and creamy coconut milk to yield a thick, milkshake-like consistency. That frothy product is then spooned into a bowl and bedecked with sliced bananas, raspberry and a superfood-heavy load of hemp, buckwheat and bee pollen. That’s a good-for-you breakfast we can get behind. $10
This isn’t the deep-fried, puffed-up pork skin you know and love. Instead, chef Gerardo Gonzalez models his snacky bites after the curbside chicharrones de harina he grew up eating in California. Cashew crema with nutritional yeast takes on the role of queso fresco; mint and jicama add an herbaceous tinge; and a pickled-pineapple salsa hits with a zesty sweetness. But most important is the satisfying crackle from those frizzled rinds, which perform a spot-on impression of their porcine peers. $11
Don’t be frightened by the neon-orange hue and daunting chili peppers topping these souplike bowls: It’s cheese, man. The only Bhutanese restaurant in New York serves the small country’s national dish, a peasant meal of liquified curds doused in onions, garlic and fresh green peppers. The Himalayan staple comes with a side of traditional red rice, but spring for add-ins like mushrooms or dried beef to help sop up every mind-blowingly rich drop. $8
Empellón empire builder Alex Stupak shuttered his three-year-old modern Mexican dining room for a little spring-cleaning in April. That spruce-up took the form of an exquisite 18-course tasting menu, padded with ambitious plates like this South of the Border rewrite of soul-food chicken and waffles. The tender silver-dollar waffles are potent with corn as the flour is replaced with masa in the batter. The toasty sweetness stands up to a rich schmear of chicken-liver butter, a dusting of cured-grated chicken liver and ribbons of smoked maple syrup. $165 as part of a tasting menu
Jonathan Wu’s steamed egg custard chilaquiles is equal parts Sichuan breakfast dish and Mexican hangover cure. The chef’s yolky childhood favorite is rehashed here with infusions of smoked chicken stock and white soy sauce, while the thrumming pork sauce hits the pan with pureed fava beans and a scrum of red bird chilis and ghost peppers. Dip into the velvety layers not with fried tortilla but crunchy house yucca chips. $15
Tweaks to tradition abound at this casual Chinese outlet: The lo mein is made of whole wheat and the soy sauce flows out of a tap. But the tastiest one is the subtle cinnamon hum of chef Josh Grinker’s white broiler chicken dumplings. The thin-skinned, scallion-punched pouches come four to an order in a pool of that draft soy spiked with cinnamon for aromatic earthiness. $10