New York: Where to Eat Well by Su Wong Ruiz
Hot lists are a dime a dozen. As a perpetually overworked restaurant lackey or just someone with bad time management skills, my routine is pretty much work, then home. Years of youthful exuberance about the dining scene in New York City has given way to a jaded rejection of most 'must-go' places. In its place is a tried and tested group of distinctly "uncool" establishments in my neighborhood, the oft-declared culinary wasteland of the Upper East Side. I wouldn’t be suggesting this had it not been a favor for a friend but thinking about it more, it is not an unworthy service for those who do venture uptown for the cultural gems of the Met, the Frick, and the Guggenheim. I can only imagine the panic that sets in when hunger strikes after an afternoon of walking through the structures of Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Morris Hunt. This list is a tried and tested compilation of Upper East Side businesses that provide consistent deliciousness that is rarely on anyone’s hot list, and can provide a visiting downtowner with a satisfying meal.
Sandro Fioriti and his warm, welcoming family have been feeding me and my husband every week for the past year - no exaggeration. I cannot tear myself away from their consistently nourishing and delicious Roman fare. Every time I think about spending my money elsewhere, I cannot, because why would I ever say no to my version of nonna’s-cooking?
The original and the best for their burgers and waffle fries. You will either hate it or love it. Pre-covid, 3pm on a Monday, I would be at the bar at JGs. No other time - it’s too busy otherwise. I go see the best bartender in the city, Bobby, get a bloody bull (Bloody Mary with canned beef broth) or a Sierra Nevada and wait for my cheeseburgers and well-done waffle fries. It is my quintessential New York moment and when I leave this city for good, this is the one thing that I will assuredly miss, nothing else.
I don’t know who owns Pho Shop, and like any neighborhood Vietnamese place, you have your go-to orders and you don’t venture far from that. I count my blessings that their namesake pho has been consistently good; order the deluxe version, the pho king with a range of omosa (tripe), tendon along with thin beef in a rich and balanced broth. This is the cringey part where I declare that I’ve eaten in some of the best pho shops in Hanoi, and Pho Shop is nowhere close, BUT, it certainly provides a delicious interpretation of the real thing half a world away.
Their noodle section is solid. Definitely adjusted for the Western palate - read 'sweet' - but satisfies ably your Thai street-food craving. Their pad kee mao, kua gai and pad see ew are my go-tos - the standards fall into the muddled category outside of the noodle section.
Once a year, I will get the distinct craving for borscht, goulash and opera cake all at once. And I will come here, deal with the silly line, the inconsistent service and the silly prices, to fix that culinary itch in a room that looks like a movie set, and derive some joy from the wooden newspaper holders. Just once a year.
Moti Mahal Deluxe
Another place I’ve earned takeout regular status. This is very good Mughlai food. The spices are confident and seasoning is usually spot on. After years of testing out the menu, this is the formula: start with some tandoori of choice, and get the triumvirate of rarha gosht, dum ki gobhi aloo, daal tadka and some poppadoms.
I had no idea until just recently that the chef at neighborhood stalwart Cafe Alsace, Phillipe Roussel, once worked under Michel Troisgros. Maybe that explains why, sitting alongside the Jocelynne Wildenstein wannabes at the bar, you forget your immediate scene and just enjoy the food. I do not venture far from the sausages (from another neighborhood classic, Schaller & Weber) and sauerkraut, the beef tartare, the burger and the steak frites. The duck terrine on the country board is also very respectable.
Has been around since 1984 and I avoided it the same way I avoided Elio’s thinking it wasn’t my crowd. It still isn’t my crowd but as you now already know my theme, I have my takeout go-tos. They make one of the best grilled calamari appetisers around. That, with a side of grilled vegetables and their hearts of palm salad finished with the tiramisu, is nothing to complain about. Their pizzas are also good. I cannot say the same about the pastas.
Not quite a regular here but definitely the answer if you want to get out of dodge quickly after the museums but fear that hungriness might plunge you into delirium before you reach the safe haven of Brooklyn or below 14th Street, getting a couple of square slices to go is the ticket.
They pull the best pint of Guinness in the neighborhood.