In my role as a travel writer, food critic and blogger, I am often asked for my recommendations for the best places to eat in most popular destinations. There are amazing restaurants in most American cities, though I would say that New York City tops my list as the city with the most diverse offerings and a restaurant scene that never ceases to impress me with each visit. My wife Elena and I have visited the city several times this past year since our daughter, Margaux, attends NYU. My younger brother, Brian, and cousin, Sean, like Margaux, live in the city as well. Between the three of them and my past culinary exploits, we have compiled some of our favorite restaurants that we have visited this past year.
If you are looking for a place that will transport you to one of those neighborhood restaurants you discovered while strolling some of the intimate streets in Paris, then you don’t need to go further than Jean Claude on Sullivan St. in Soho. Everything about Jean Claude is French bistro– the intimate dining room, the empty wine bottles that line the walls, the accordion playing in the background, and definitely the menu. There is Roasted Quail with glazed apples, Foie Gras with a Sauterne sauce, Escargot smothered in parsley butter, steamed mussels with pomme frites and a hanger steak partnered with amazing dauphinoise potatoes.
Kuma Inn – It is very easy to miss this hole-in-the-wall located above a bar in the lower east side. But the food by Filipino/Thai chef King Phojanakong is outstanding. Chef King acquired his love for cooking while spending his summers during his high school years in the Philippines where his mother is from. He is an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America and some of the most reputable restaurants in the city including Jean-Georges and The Grocery in Brooklyn. I was amazed at how his team produced such amazing dishes such as Pan Roasted Ocean Scallops with bacon, kalamansi (native Filipino lime) and sake, Sauteed Tofu with Thai basil and his signature Adobo (soy, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf) Chicken Wings in an open kitchen the size of a hallway. There is no need to worry about which wine or liquor to order since Kuma Inn is BYOB.
Monument Lane – We discovered this charming Greenwich Village restaurant during one of our haunts for a perfect brunch locale. Start with a glass of their signature Bellini, a basket of fresh Currant Scone, Heirloom Carrot Bread and Chocolate Muffin and a copy of the Sunday New York Times in the bar. While reading the travel section, order Monument Lane’s Brioche French Toast, Duck Confit Hash or their crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken. As you gaze around the dining room clouded by wooden beams, don’t be surprised if you recognize some of the clientele on Bill Cunningham’s style page in the Times. Finish your meal with a glass of champagne. Cheers!
An Choi – The haze of red lighting lures you in from the streets as if you are about to enter a questionable establishment in Saigon. Upon entering, the aroma of steaming bowls of Pho fills the air. Nostalgic Vietnamese war posters and other Asian paraphernalia adorn the walls. The place is packed to the gills with what appear to be regulars enjoying their ration of Banh Mi and Goi Cuon Salad. The menu has everything you might crave in a Vietnamese restaurant – Shrimp & Green Papaya Salad, Lemongrass Chicken Vermicelli, Crispy Pork Belly sandwiches to name a few.
Pig & Khao – It didn’t take long for our entourage to fall in love with this place. What’s not to love when there is a self-serve, bottomless PBR draft for $15.00? You might recognize the chef in the open kitchen as Top chef contestant, Leah Cohen, who opened this Filipino/Thai/Asian inspired restaurant about a year ago. Her food doesn’t hold back on tradition and spices. On our last visit, I believe I ordered everything on the menu; from the Crispy Red Curry Rice Salad to the Sizzling Sisig (pork cheeks and ears in chilies and garlic) to the Crispy Pata (pork leg with green mango and dipping sauce). And how can I forget the Steamed Mussels with the most addictive Mantao buns on the side.
137 Sullivan St.
113 Ludlow St.
103 Greenwich Avenue
85 Orchard St.
Pig & Khao
68 Clinton St.
For the best of Italy – Eataly in Midtown
For authentic Chinese Dumplings – Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown
For Late-Night Libations – Employees Only in the West Village and the Living Room inside the W Hotel Times Square