The New York food scene was a spoil of riches in 2016—it welcomed regional specialties like Nashville-style fried chicken, Chicagoan Italian beef and a Detroit analogue to the city’s best New York pizza. It offered fresh takes on old-world French, shiny-new meccas of Japanese food and Korean BBQ, and top-notch breakfast sandwiches to cure our hangovers. These are the 100 best dishes and drinks we enjoyed this year.
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85 best dishes in NYC 2016
Realistically, any of the remarkable pastas at Missy Robbins’s Williamsburg stunner could have taken the top spot this year—the ruffle-edged, peppercorn-pepped mafaldini; the chili-thrummed rigatoni diavola—but it was the chef’s agnolotti that haunted our pasta-lover dreams since first bite. The supple, hand-shaped parcels—stained the color of the sun from sprinklings of heady saffron—cradle a soft spoonful of tart sheep’s milk ricotta that threatens to ooze out into the honey-laced butter sauce at the hint of a fork prong. A crush of dried tomatoes punctuates that gorgeous golden pool, anointing it with bright, welcome acidity. This, quite simply, is what bliss tastes like, people. $22
It’s rare when a dish tastes exactly as good as it looks, and chef Greg Baxtrom pulls it off with this root crepe, a soft orange disk mosaicked with edible sunflower petals and seeds, fresh sprouts and bright streamers of carrot peel. But the real magic happens beneath that velvety, ravioli-like round: a silky carrot reduction swimming with the buttery brine of small littleneck clams. The sunflower seeds and carrot ribbons on top do ample work of providing crunch to offset that earthy softness below, making for a signature dish that is as balanced as it is beautiful. $15
The clam pie is a proud specialty of Connecticut, most notably the iconic, char-pocked rendition at New Haven’s Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, but New York has its fair share of freshly shucked contenders, from Franny’s of Brooklyn to Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern on Staten Island. Joining that esteemed company this year is the littleneck za from chef Ryan Hardy at his Mulberry Street sequel to Charlie Bird. From a wood-burning oven, Hardy pulls a crisp, lightweight crust with a center that stretches out into a pliant chew. On top, minced bivalves and bitter broccoli rabe wade in a garlicky cream sauce shot with brackish clam liqueur and enlivened with olive oil, fresh oregano, a spritz of lemon and an optional but highly encouraged drizzle of the Calabrian chili oil set at each table. Your move, New Haven. $24
“All of the rabbit”—that’s what the starring dish translates to at Le Coucou, the formidable French spot from American chef Daniel Rose, of Paris’s acclaimed Spring and La Bourse et La Vie. And all of the rabbit is just what you get in this exceptionally elegant three-part plate: oven-roasted hind legs rubbed judiciously in mustard and cooked low and slow with wine and white onion; liver-filled saddle sliced into medallions and spooned with a rabbit-bit vinaigrette; and a copper pot of rabbit bouillon stewed with juicy meat and garnished with carrot, ginger and cabbage. Free with meal
There are showier plates to be had at Claus Meyer’s Nordic fine-dining destination inside Grand Central Terminal—a salt-baked beet, say, with its ashy hull cracked tableside to reveal the glistening root within. The house bread is nowhere near as flashy, but the yeasty tang of head baker Rhonda Crosson’s sourdough-barley round sticks with you long after the meal ends. The fresh-baked brød is served oven-warm and quartered in an earthenware dish; tear through the loaf’s crackly, well-browned crust, and watch the steam rise from its soft, sour crumb. It’s delicious on its own but elevated even further with a swipe of house-churned Hudson Valley butter that’s been whipped to tart greatness with buttermilk and cider-vinegar powder. This is one bread basket for which you won’t mind spoiling your dinner.
Nobody ever called roast beef sexy or cool. It’s the meal equivalent of a hug from Mom: warm and comforting. And compared to the intricate, Michelin-starred Thai reworkings that married chefs Ann Redding and Matt Danzer serve around the corner at Uncle Boons, the unfussed roast here at their charming Nolita throwback diner can appear downright pedestrian. But then you sink your fangs into that slow-roasted beef, an inch-thick strip loin from Oregon’s Painted Hills—all herb crust, rosy blush and wobbly fat—and you’re hooked. The jumbo flakes of sel gris, pepper and rosemary that cling to the tender flesh are more than enough dressing, but a side of cowboy butter never hurt anybody. $26, with two sides and sauce
Ceci e pepe was arguably the most talked about dish of 2016—a Momofuku overhaul of Rome’s minimalist cacio e pepe (literally, “cheese and pepper”) reinvented with chickpeas (those would be the “ceci”). On the menu of David Chang’s Korean-tinged Chelsea canteen since it debuted in January 2016, the dish’s punny name has since been simplified to just “butter noodle,” but regardless, the influences are clear: That fork-twirl of house bucatini gets its umami heft not from the traditional pecorino but from a proprietary chickpea hozon, which has a natural sweetness that Ko vet Josh Pinsky checks with copious cranks of black pepper. You’ll be entirely forgiven for lapping up that buttery-smooth sauce with your finger. (Everyone around you is doing the same.) $19
As New Yorkers, it’s our God-given right to snub our nose at anything—especially anything pizza-related!—that wasn’t born and bred in our fair city. Detroit-style pies fell under such snobbish judgment—that is, until Matt and Emily Hyland, the married couple behind Clinton Hill pizza hit Emily, brought their excellent take on the squared-off Midwestern specialty to Brooklyn in April. At the Williamsburg restaurant, puffy, pan-baked pies sport buttery crusts that crackle with burnt cheese at the edges, acting as a frico-crunch contrast to the light doughiness beneath. It’s a delicious base for all of their varieties but particularly well suited to the pepperoni option, which dots tangy tomato sauce and gooey mozzarella with curled-up crescent moons of pepperoni cradling sinful pools of chili-fired oil. $19
Since the petite Greenwich Village bistro opened in fall 2015, 25-year-old Empellón Cocina alum Liz Johnson has taken to recasting centuries-old French recipes with the assured spunk of someone far beyond her barely-able-to-rent-a-car years. That confidence-in-spades is on full display in the chef’s slow-cooked lamb leg, which is brined and braised until the meat is so achingly tender, it’s gloriously hard to distinguish juicy flesh from supple fat. The earthy gaminess of the young sheep is matched in a rugged pesto funked with grassy wild nettle and mellowed by a wedge of cream-gorged pommes dauphinoise. Who said meat and potatoes had to be boring? $34
It might be an easier menu sell under its traditional Korean name, soondae, but even the squeamish will fare well with the blood sausage at this Korean-barbecue–karaoke hybrid in Gowanus. For the soft, sumptuous links, chef de cuisine Michael Stokes churns fatty pork belly with braised red-cooked snout and pads the meat with sticky rice and cellophane noodles before dousing it with enough deep-purple pig’s blood to ruin Carrie White’s prom. Fragrant scallions, ginger and garlic freshen the rich, crumbly wurst, which is poached and—in a move away from tradition—pan-seared for a good snap. Drag a slice through a side of salt shot with ground chili and perilla seeds for even more savoriness. $17
15 best drinks in NYC 2016
This isn’t the cloyingly sweet, barely boozy sorority-girl sour you know (and nostalgically love). At her Italian-accented Carroll Gardens bar, drinks maven Alyssa Sartor fixes the old-school recipe by tempering 100 percent natural Gozio amaretto with fragrant Don Ciccio & Figli Nocino—a green-walnut and brown-spice liqueur—and dialing down the sugar. Welcome to Delta Delta Delish. $11
Layering Bulleit rye with quinine-flavored Byrrh, herbaceous Luxardo Amaro Abano and a house-made cardamom-and-clove–spiced maple syrup, Meaghan Dorman stirs up a sophisticated, spirits-forward sipper lovingly named after her boyfriend, Frank, who works at (you guessed it) Bank of America. $15
At this sultry den inspired by Marie Antoinette, try a fittingly decadent, absinthe-laced treat named after her husband. (Dauphin was a title given to the French heir apparent.) Mixologist Franky Marshall tames the heady green spirit with smoky-sweet Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, coconut-almond milk and a few dashes of chocolate-chili bitters. $13
Nowadays, most cocktail bartenders balk at the notion of using a blender. Not Giuseppe González, whose perhaps finest—and strangest—creation flash-blends a regular whiskey sour (rye, lemon, simple syrup, egg white), then floats it over a half glass of Guinness for frothy, dual-hued perfection. $14
Following the success of a spiffed-up whiskey cola at Porchlight last year, this waterfront newcomer from the Dead Rabbit crew opened with a similarly elevated take on the frat-house rum and Coke. In barman Jesse Vida’s refined recipe, aged white Bacardi Facundo Neo rum is whispered with Orinoco bitters and herbal fernet to offset a sweet house-made cola syrup, and then it’s carbonated with the least fratty drink ever: champagne. $16
Introduced as part of the bar’s East-meets-West Silk Road menu, Sam Johnson’s globally-traversing elixir fortifies toasted barley water—a bready staple consumed from Greece to India—with malty Dutch Bols Genever, grassy Ragtime rye whiskey and Lustau East India Solera, a sweetened Oloroso sherry. $15
Albert Trummer’s East Village boîte is full of hospital– and laboratory-themed motifs both on and off the menu (it’s decorated like a waiting room). This aptly-named concoction, created by Trummer’s son and bartender Jakob, shakes Don Julio Blanco with fresh-lime–infused sugar cane, essences of vanilla and habanero pepper and, strangely enough, Modena balsamic vinegar. The result is a nuanced, slightly vegetal sip that goes down way easier than any medicine you’ve ever taken. $16
Caffeinated cocktails went way beyond Irish coffee this year, thanks in part to this barista-bartender mashup slinging time-honored brews (the Kobrick family’s been roasting since the 1920s), alongside craft cocktails (Hella Bitters founder Tobin Ludwig oversees the menu). In this double-buzzed Negroni riff, the usual trio of ingredients (gin, sweet vermouth, Campari) is tweaked with full-bodied single-origin Kenyan beans, brewed for three hours in a Yama drip tower. $15
Batching cocktails is becoming increasingly popular among bartenders, but Julian Mohamed and Darren Grenia’s Bushwick charmer takes it one step further by serving all their drinks on tap. The best of the bunch is this boozy, Johnny-Cash–nodding remix of a cherry Coke, spiking Coca-Cola syrup, lime tincture and almond extract with Evan Williams black bourbon. The mix is carbonated on site and tapped through a dedicated draft line. $8
History buffs, take note. Drinks veteran Richard Boccato takes classic cocktailing to new levels with a menu composed entirely of old, obscure recipes, including this fiery number plucked from the pages of R. De Fleury’s 1934 book 1700 Cocktails for the Man Behind the Bar. Adapted for the modern palate, Boccato’s rendition employs equal parts fruity Apricot liqueur, dry vermouth and Calvados, spiced with six drops of Tabasco sauce. Also notable is the outré garnish, a pickled walnut, which was a common bar snack of the era. $13
Looking for more restaurants?
Sala One Nine
This Flatiron restaurant offers traditional Spanish cuisine, as well as tapas at the bar.
Venue says: “Open Table Diners' Choice 2016! "Escape to Spain" Spanish Eatery with traditional tapas. To make a reservation, call us at 212-229-2300”