Note: The following article should not be taken as a comprehensive guide of various restaurants within Manhattan or the Five Boroughs. This article simply showcases what the author has eaten within New York City over the course of a week.
If you were to swipe through my smartphone, you would see tasting notes and observations of countless dishes alongside thousands of photos of said dishes. You might find that this massive collection of notes and photos from the past week relate almost exclusively to food ingested in Manhattan. Following my journey chronologically and with a fully loaded MetroCard, you may find yourself eating as follows:
Meal 1: Momos at Mom’s Momos
Tired and fresh out of the LaGuardia Airport, you are bewildered when you find a food truck parked in front of a Wendy’s by Roosevelt Station in Jackson Heights. But the momos at Mom’s Momos are anything but bewildering — while not as heavily spiced as the momos you may find at Detroit’s Momo Cha, the spurting juices bursting out of the momo’s meatball bring waves of nostalgia and memories of consuming fresh Korean mandoo dumplings available a dime a dozen in the streets of Seoul.
Meal 2: Tacos and Mulas at Los Tacos No. 1
Since when do they have mulas? You feel befuddled and betrayed. Mulas are the heartwarming, quesadilla-like sandwich alternatives to the taco. Los Tacos No. 1 distinguishes itself from the rest through its to-order corn/flour tortillas and adobada option — an earthier, somewhat spicier Tijuana inflection of al pastor, a dish derived from the shawarmas of Lebanese immigrants. With Los Tacos No. 1, you find that Manhattan does a good job catering to a homesick Angeleno. To round out your meal, a horchata may be more effective than a tamarindo, its thickness, creaminess and sweetness providing an ending counterpoint to your meal compared to the tangy tamarindo.
Meal 3: Dakgalbi at Hong Chun Cheon
Joined by Senior News Editor Claire Hao and former Senior MiC Editor Sivanthy Vasanthan, you find yourself seated at a pojangmacha-style pub to eat dakgalbi — a spicy but sweet Korean stir-fried chicken not made with ribs as its name might suggest — is the obscure predecessor to the viral buldak. While not usually as spicy as its hip descendant, the inclusion of cabbage and additional rice cakes provides a comforting presence alongside the stretchy cheese. While the melted cheese and ever-reducing sauce nostalgically fills your stomach, you find that the lack of caramelization of the dakgalbi due to the induction stove (rather than a gas or charcoal stove) leaves your meal somewhat underwhelming. But perhaps you’re being overcritical — Claire says this is some of the best Korean food she’s ever had.
Meal 4: Bingsu at Grace Street
Bingsu is among the most popular summer desserts found in Koreatowns nationwide. Thin, ethereal flakes of shaved frozen sweet milk topped with all the toppings available to mankind, the traditional pairing of ground black sesame and misugaru (a blend of grounded grains) provides a savory backbone that prevents the sweet milky flavors from overwhelming you. Grace Street has its own New York presentation — a resplendent style that piles your shaved milk vertically and haphazardly in its very own fuck-you way. You’d never have it served like that anywhere else. It’s Manhattan.
Meal 5: Lobster Roll at Luke’s Lobster
After visiting Ellis Island and unable to go to Flushing, Claire wants to eat one American dish before going back to Michigan. A quick trip to Luke’s Lobster’s FiDi location provides a quick bite to eat before her flight. Perfectly cooked and lightly dressed lobster served on a mildly sweet roll of bread will have many mayonnaise-hating folks rejoicing over their lobster rolls, while ordering a crab version of the roll will present itself with the crab’s naturally slightly sweeter meat. Because the lobster is cooked so perfectly in your lobster roll, you’ll find that, in comparison, the lobster bisque is a little overcooked.
Meal 6: Fish Tacos and Ceviche at Los Mariscos
The Baja California style of fried fish tacos served at Los Mariscos might put the fish and chips at many of London’s chippies to shame. You embrace the shattering crust of the fried fish alongside the familiar freshmade home tortilla identical to its sister restaurant Los Tacos No. 1. Given that Los Mariscos is a Baja Californian taqueria, you may be confused by the presence of aguachile, a Sinaloan specialty. You vow to go back again and try the aguachile with someone else, in part due to the 20 dollar price tag and in part due to the sheer size of the dish. You almost forget to request a free cup of tomatoey shrimp broth to sip as you leave the restaurant.
Meal 7: Salmon Temaki (Hand Roll) at The Lobster Place
Would you have expected a gentrified marketplace in Chelsea to serve Japanese hand rolls? Tucked next to the regalia of American oysters is a small stall offering a no-frills, eat-and-go temaki including spicy cooked shrimp for the sushi-adverse to fan favorites such as toro (fatty tuna belly) and uni (sea urchin roe). You find the seafood to be fresh enough, though what surprises you is the synergy amongst the clear, crisp bite of nori that gives into a complementary, non-overwhelming nikiri sauce that provides the right amount of salinity towards your seafood of choice.
Meal 8: Biangbiang Noodles at Very Tasty Noodle
Hand pulled noodles from Lanzhou are becoming more popular within Southeast Michigan (such as Lan City or Jiang Nan Noodle House), though the versions that are currently popular within New York are biangbiang noodles — rustic homestyle ripped noodles popularized by restaurants such as Xian’s Famous Foods. Biangbiang noodles originate from the Shaanxi province rather than Lanzhou, with a healthy mix of black vinegar, heat and cumin to coat your noodles and shredded lamb. Dine during the off hours of Very Tasty Noodles and you may witness the machismo manhood contest of trying to pull noodles solely with one hand — a feat achieved by coiling the dough around your arm before whipping the dough onto a surface with a resounding thwack. A line cook offers the idea of a one finger challenge, which is refuted with, “No, that’s stupid” from the head chef. You snort Szechuan peppercorns and cumin into your nostrils while laughing in agreement. The horchata at the nearby Los Tacos No.1 thankfully relieves the tingle and pain.
Meal 9: Chai at The Chai Spot
The menthol-like honeyed aroma of cardamom resounds over the licorice-like bass notes of the fennel in your standard, traditional chai at The Chai Spot. But the Double Tea, with its inclusion of jaggery sugar, rounds out a general astringency from the black tea that may be almost superior to their cardamom/fennel mix of the traditional chai. Those familiar with the overly-sweet chai monstrosities of Starbucks may want to lean towards the Butter Chai, which the baristas say tastes like a creamy cake.
Meal 10: Malecon Restaurant
Malecon is undoubtedly a master of Dominican roast chicken, as well as renditions of maduros and tostones — fried ripe and unripe plantains respectively. While the tostones, favored by fellow food columnist Eli Rallo, of Malecon may come out as more dry than fluffy, they provide an equally creamy and sweet interior with an underlying tang wrapped in a crispy exterior. While the french fry-esque tostones may be a natural partner to Malecon’s juicy chicken, you find yourself leaning more towards the maduros instead.
Meal 11: Fuzhou Noodles and Lychee Pork at Hong Man
Unless you are fluent in Fuzhounese or Mandarin, you might find that pointing to different portions of the menu is the most effective method of communication with the restaurant’s owner. Compared to the bombastic heat of northern Chinese cooking, Fuzhou noodles provide an intense gut-punching broth (whether that may be the wild aroma of rabbit or briny scent of shrimp) that simultaneously soothes and fills your stomach. A side order of Lychee pork, named after its resemblance to its namesake fruit, is the perfect sweet-and-sour, stir-fried complement to your humble bowl of noodles.
Meal 12: Cheesecake at Eileen’s Special Cheesecake
The Buzzfeed’s Worth It spotlight of Eileen’s Cheesecake does its best to approximate the seemingly contradictory nature of this cheesecake. While the expected creaminess of your standard New York cheesecake is present, it is the fluffy interior supplied by the merengue that juxtaposes with the richness of the cream cheese that surprises you with every bite. Eileen’s advertises the inclusion of lemon juice within their batter — the acidity of the batter lightens the cheesecake but somehow doesn’t infuse a citrus aroma. This is the sort of fancy cheesecake you would expect in a pricier establishment, yet served in a neighborly hole in the wall.
Meal 13: Hong Kong Wonton Soup at Noodle Village
There are times when you crave the wonton soup found in Chinese American restaurants and buffets, and times when you crave the wonton soup found in Hong Kong. The broth of a Hong Kong wonton soup is filled with a coastal aroma, courtesy of a dried flounder soup base. The wonton soup at Noodle Village is no different — you are awash with a briny, oceanic background sprinkled with the spring bite of green onions. When you slurp in the wontons, you’ll find the slippery texture of the wonton dough pleasant as it slides through your mouth, revealing a bouncy and juicy pork and shrimp meatball hiding within.
Meal 14: Mochi Donuts at The Dough Club
Mochi donuts are the wildly popular Japanese donuts originating from the Japanese bakery Mr. Donuts. While the rendition that Sivanthy ordered retains much of the chewiness of a traditional mochi, the overtly thick, candy-like frosting overwhelms the otherwise light yet chewy texture of the donut. Some foods that seem cute and appetizing really do underwhelm sometimes.
Meal 15: Mofongos and Chicharrones at Elsa La Reina del Chicharron
Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish in which tostones, alongside a hearty chile-based broth, garlic, olive oil and pork belly chicharrones, are smashed and molded into a small mound of roughly assembled paste. You salivate as you hear the smashing sounds of your mofongo being created in the wooden pilón (a mortar and pestle). The server asks if you’d like extra pork belly chicharrones on the side. You nod. She slams her cleaver to create pieces of deep fried pork belly. Your stomach growls. Would Eli be jealous?
Meal 16: Saewoojang and Uni Dup Bap at Samwon Garden
Samwon Garden is a direct import from South Korea — famed for establishing Seoul’s Gangnam district as a posh, upper class side of town with its charcoal grilled barbecue. The saewoojang — a soy sauce marinated and cured raw shrimp dish — and uni rice bowl at Samwon Garden showcase two equally powerful perspectives of seafood: the saewoojang’s soy-sauce-infused extraction of shrimpy sweetness melding into the oceanic, buttery background of the uni. You scarf down the bowl before wondering why a grilled meat establishment has such a powerful seafood dish.
Meal 17: Tea at Sun’s Organic Garden
There are very few vendors who are people of color that sell loose leaf teas within Manhattan. Sun’s Organic Garden is one of these vendors. Located in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown, it specializes in Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs, red (black tea for the Western vernacular) and green teas that supposedly have different bodily benefits. If you are unsure as to the tea that you like, the staff members are knowledgeable and will happily give a recommendation based on your preferences.
Sun’s doesn’t brew their teas in-house, though they will kindly point you to the nearby Starbucks that will supply hot water for free.
Meal 18: Pumpkin and Potato Pancake and Cheonggukjang at Cho Dang Gol
You meet up with former Senior MiC editor Zainab Bhindarwala at Cho Dang Gol, though you belatedy realize that you both have entered the restaurant 30 minutes prior to when your four-member party decided to meet. Those thirty minutes do give you time to pause and appreciate the nuttiness and sweetness coming from the kabocha squash in the pancake you ordered as well as the gritty chewiness originating from the potato.
Cho Dang Gol specializes in kongbiji — a nutty byproduct of the tofu making process prepared in-house. While both the banchan of housemade tofu as well as the kongbiji jjigae are hearty and nutty soups that warm you on a rainy day, the cheonggukjang jjigae sings its putrid song like a twisted siren. Cho Dang Gol’s cheonggukjang is an anomaly compared to most others. A fetid cousin of the Japanese natto, the soup gives way to a mild but toasty flavor — a broth whose funky but stinky aroma belies its relatively mild taste that is an aberration for a normally feisty dish.
Meal 19: Shio Ramen at Ivan’s Slurp Shop
You arrive at Gotham West Market a bit too early for your appointment at Sushi on Jones. So you stop by Ivan’s Slurp Shop, the first of Ivan Orkin’s first US restaurants, for a comforting, homey reminder of all the great chicken soups you may have had in the past. As the smokey punch of the katsuobushi rings across your bowl of chicken soup, the addition of Ivan’s signature roasted tomato topping evokes powerful memories of Campbell’s tomato soup. In spite of the myriad of flavors, a clean, high-pitched wave of chicken surrounds your tongue as you slurp down your noodles. Your mother wishes she could make chicken soup like Ivan.
Meal 20: 7 Piece Omakase at Sushi on Jones
Sushi on Jones is a bit of an anomaly: The sense of formality that you typically encounter with an omakase (a chef-driven sushi course meal) restaurant is nowhere to be found. It’s a no-nonsense sort of establishment — one where you are presented with high-quality crowd favorites such as fluke, king salmon or wagyu beef. While you wonder if the 30 minute time limit is truly enough time to enjoy your meal, you finish your omakase course within 10 minutes.
Meal 21: Fish Taco and Shrimp and Grits at Harlem Seafood Soul
Chef Tami is a ray of sunshine on a particularly rainy day in Harlem, offering you a sample of her last batch of fries that are over-salted yet possess a tart gunpowder found within lemon-pepper seasoning. You can expect the fish tacos, made with what you suspect to be whiting, to have a fairly crisp batter surrounded by a deluge of what seems eerily similar to Pace’s spicy salsa. But the shrimp grits — piping hot out of their container — provide a tangy yet sharp cheese aroma enveloped by an extremely creamy liquid of powderized corn. Seven plump shrimp tails provide an accented staccato to your otherwise slurpable cream of gold.
Meal 22: Fried Chicken Dinner at Sylvia’s
You may question your sanity, as you know that a fried chicken dinner with two sides at Sylvia’s can be filling even on an empty stomach. But you forge on, even after your server accidentally gives you an additional side of a sharp but somewhat dry mac and cheese. As an iconic, historical institution of Harlem, Sylvia’s delivers on its reputation, though you find yourself far more enamored with the interplay of the astringent collards and slightly over-sweetened yams than the juicy — yet crispy — fried chicken.
Meal 23: Whole Tuna Bone at Kenka
Kenka is well known to the New York local for its cheap Japanese drafts (clocking in at $1.50 per pint) and perhaps for its esoteric collection of turkey testicles, bull penises, takoyaki roulette and fried whole frogs alongside more traditional izakaya offerings. But the perfect intersection between conventionally palatable and showstopping comes in the form of an entire skeleton of a 3 foot long tuna. Using your spoon to scrape alongside the spine and ribs of the fish, you find that the raw tuna is sufficiently fresh and snackable with a slight dab of soy sauce. The kicker — the two sides of the tuna yield a pound or more of meat for a price of $12.
Meal 24: Water-Boiled Fish at Szechuan Mountain House
Szechuan Mountain House is known throughout St. Marks Place for drawing two-hour lines during the height of service. You arrive about 20 minutes before the restaurant is open and are greeted with a fairly sparse queue of fellow diners. Szechuan Mountain House does not hesitate in openly labeling themselves as experts of the emblematic Málà flavor profile. The water-boiled tilapia, with the iconic, bombastic power of chiles mixed with the metallic tingle of the Sichuan peppercorns, possesses fluffy yet slippery flesh that is hard to resist. However, those weak to high amounts of Scoville units may want to stay away — the dish is not for the faint hearted.
Meal 25: Tea and Desserts at Cha-An Teahouse
The hojicha tea-infused ice cream, squishy mochi desserts and black sesame creme brulee — as delicious as they may be — distract you from the quality of the Japanese teas served at Cha-An. A kabusecha tea, a Japanese green tea grown partly in shaded areas, provides an umami wash reminiscent of seaweed soups with the background astringency of your average green tea. Servers come around to refill your pot of tea — still containing your tea leaves — as if they know that you want extra servings and are proud of the quality of tea they serve.
Meal 26: Steamed Rice Roll at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
Packed alongside the like of Boba Guys within Canal Street Market, Joe’s Steam Rice Roll serves a Guangdong classic that seems almost antithetical to the millennial hipster enclave of artisan fashion designers and food vendors. The steamed rice rolls slip and wiggle inside your mouth as you gingerly chew the soft rice crepe to find a comforting omelette of bean sprouts, shrimp and pork within the interior. Fans of the al dente texture — something no good steam rice roll possesses — may have to wait for the dish to considerably cool down before consuming, though you would miss the hot warmth of a freshly made dish.
Meal 27: Washugyu Udon at Raku
Beef should hardly be the star of a bowl of udon noodles, though the beef used at Raku is a special Tajima-Wagyu and Black Angus hybrid that retains some of the unctuousness of a Wagyu with some of the inherent beefiness of an Angus. While the healthy amounts of sliced beef slivers would undoubtedly attract most diners, the udon broth is the star — a fairly oceanic, somewhat sweet broth without any form of the pungent sourness that stems from the oversteeping of katsuobushi or the introduction of Japanese mountain vegetables. To round out your soup — a homely yet delightfully chewy set of flat, in-house udon noodles that helps you slurp up your broth. Yes, please.
Meal 28: Currywurst at Berlin Currywurst
German currywurst is seen by some as an abomination — sausages doused in a ketchup-like sauce spiced with a generic “curry powder” that hardly classifies as a “curry.” But your pork-and-cheese sausage doused with a currywurst sauce is as reminiscent of a comforting Japanese curry as it is reminiscent of eating a ketchup-laden stadium hot dog. The soft, pillowy roll that accompanies your sausage is a good reminder that you are eating something far more special than a simple sausage roll or a humble hot dog.
Meal 29: Butternut and Sausage Tagliatelle at San Marzano
Establishments that offer fresh, affordable housemade pasta are increasingly dwindling in the United States — among the few that remain are restaurants like Pasta Sisters of Los Angeles. But San Marzano within the East Village provides just that — filling, well-sauced dishes of ravioli with walnuts and cream, spaghetti with tomato sauces piled high with ricotta cheese or a white wine reduction served with butternut squash and mildly-spicy, homemade sausages. With the waterfalls of cheap sangria and the abundant options for different types of noodles, you wonder if your imaginary nonna would grudgingly accept that you’ve had good, hearty pasta away from home.
Meal 30: Special Pondicherry Dosa at NY Dosas
Kandaswamy Thirukumar, also known as Thiru, has been griddling countless dosas (a South Indian crepe accompanied by coconut chutney and sambar stew) for 19 years — around the same amount of time that many current first-year college students have been alive. A fermented batter made of ground rice and lentils, Thiru’s Jaffna style dosas have a shattering crispy exterior that yields to a wet, fluffy and tangy crepe interior. The inclusion of masala potatoes and crisp raw vegetable mix — the latter being Thiru’s own invention — provides a light but surprisingly hearty lunch in spite of the lack of animal products. Thiru’s Jaffna gunpowder spice — included as a base seasoning of the dosas — is a hot but light seasoning, one that merits an order of “Indian spicy” if you can handle high heat levels.