At the Williamsburg sibling of his Michelin-starred Laut, Salil Mehta moved beyond the typical chicken and beef kebabs found at most Malay haunts. Instead, he strings together quiveringly tender cubes of pork belly jolted with turmeric, coriander powder and fresh lemongrass. He grills the standout skewers until juicy and festoons them with fat-cutting minced pineapple and a crushed-peanut sauce you’ll be tempted to lick off the plate. $6.50.
For this crisp homage to the “Original” egg roll at Nom Wah Tea Parlour, the Chinatown dim-sum institution he inherited from his uncle Wally Tang, owner Wilson Tang and chef Jonthan Wu playfully tinker with the time-honored Nom Wah recipe: the O.G. egg-crepe wrapper is dusted with Wondra flour and potato starch for heightened crunch, the filling is upgraded from chicken-and-veggies to pork belly rubbed with cumin and coriander and the dipping sauce is a light lemon mayo in place of your standard plastic-wrapped packets of Chinese hot mustard. $13.
Madcap noodle master Yuji Haraguchi manages to cram in two New York food obsessions into one steaming bowl: a lox-and-schmear bagel and stellar ramen. This brothless mazemen number tosses tangles of springy Sun Noodles with house-cured salmon and silky, brielike camembert, filling in for standard cream cheese. A varnish of soy, shiso, scallions and seaweed—plus crunchy bits of salmon skin—brings the Jewish-inspired dish back into Japanese territory. $10.
There’s a good reason why buns get equal billing at this midtown hole-in-the-wall run by variety-show actor–turned–noodle twirler Peter Song. The hefty bao—secured with thick pleats and fried until crisp—are exceptionally fluffy and juicy. They may be the last dish to hit the table, but they’ll be the first to disappear. $8.25.
Gotham boasts Szechuan joints aplenty, but it’s a Philly import that makes the finest version of this heat-smacked Chinese standard. Waiters toss together the dish tableside, generously coating tangles of plump, springy flour noodles in sweet soy, sesame paste, minced pork and a fierce slick of chili oil that will leave you napkin-dabbing your forehead between each bite. But rest assured—that won’t stop you from wolfing down every fiery morsel. $7.95.
While offbeat soup dumplings (wasabi, chocolate) can be had at this eclectic Chinese eatery, the classic xiao long bao can’t be beat. The delicate, nearly translucent wrapper doesn’t burst under the weight of its porky filling—a testament to technique—guaranteeing that both swine and steaming broth will make the journey from chopstick to mouth. $7.95.
Octopus balls may not be first on your list of go-to snacks but chef Gaku Shibata is out to change your mind with his take on the beloved Osaka street snack. The crisp octopus-filled pancake spheres—deftly toeing the line between salty and sweet—are slathered with Worcestershire-based takoyaki sauce and a mound of shaved, umami-rich bonito imported from the Ehime Prefercutre in northwestern Japan. Beware: They’re bite-size so it’s easy to loose track of how many you’ve had before the entrees arrive. $8.
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This Financial District outpost offers burgers for the conscious carnivore: The restaurant serves only meat that is hormone- and antibiotic-free and comes from family-owned farms. First, choose your meat: sirloin ($11 for a quarter-pound patty, $17.50 for a half-pound patty), Kobe beef ($12.95 for a quarter-pound patty, $19.95 for a half-pound patty), turkey ($9.75), grilled chicken breast ($14.50) or a veggie patty ($9.25). Then, doctor it up with toppings like bacon ($2.75), mushrooms ($3), avocado ($1.50), Vermont cheddar ($1.50) and sausage ($3). All that’s left to do when your cooked-to-order burger arrives on a fluffy Portuguese roll is dig in. Still hungry for more? Order up some regular or sweet potato fries ($5.25 each). After all, you can’t have a burger without ‘em! To drink, Zaitzeff offers a selection of craft beers, plus Pellegrino ($1.75) and Little Rabbit sodas ($2.50).
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