Tuck Into the Flavors of the City at These Restaurants
While American food at large is somewhat hard to define, New York has come to be known for a particular cuisine of its own. In the same way its skyline is marked by the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, its culinary landscape is founded upon corner grocers, takeout, and ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. Here are places that elevate these bedrocks of New York dining to higher levels.
Yefsi Estiatorio (1481 York Ave.)
There’s a common misperception that Greek cuisine is synonymous with gyros and little more. And why go to a restaurant when these are far more easily and affordably found at food carts on every other city block? At Yefsi Estiatorio, Chef Christos Christou is on a mission to change this, invigorating not just the sleepy dining scene of the Upper East Side’s Yorktown but also Greek cuisine in the city as a whole. He’s not doing this by trendifying souvlaki (grilled lamb kebabs with rice pilaf) or reinventing bifteki (something of a Greek hamburger, with beef patties topped with onions and sheep’s-milk cheese). Quite the opposite. He’s instead showcasing what Greek food, at its best, can be: simple, natural, and extraordinarily fresh.
Halloumi comes grilled with tomatoes, onions, cucumber relish, and zesty vinaigrette; charred octopus is prepared with nearly the same, adding in some capers and red peppers; and loukaniko, or pork sausage, resonates with orange and fennel, nicely contrasting a bed of black-eyed peas below. Small plates are the forte here, so come ready to share—and, in true Dionysian style, drink wine. The wine menu features some exquisite Greek and Italian vintages that will have you planning your next vacation to Mykonos by the time the baklava comes around. Opa!
Mama Guidara’s (1170 Broadway)
Six nights a week, the bar at the NoMad hotel is filled with the murmurs and martini glasses of one of the coolest clienteles in all of Manhattan. But by Sunday, out come the red checkered tablecloths, long platters, fat chianti bottles plastered in candlewax, and aperitifs, all combining to transform it into Mamma Guidara’s, a family-style Italian dinner restaurant that outshines even those it’s modeled after down in Little Italy.
It’s also a phenomenal deal. For 68 dollars, diners get four courses and complimentary pre-dinner drinks and snacks prepared by Daniel Humm— the chef behind Eleven Madison Park, consistently ranked as one of the world’s best restaurants and just around the corner. But there are no rare herb foams or trompe l’oeil presentations to be found here at Mamma Guidara’s. Rather, it’s whatever Italian classics Humm has decided to prepare for the night, which often include Caesar salad, calamari, baked clams, porchetta, pasta carbonara, and cannoli and tiramisu for desert. One menu item, however, is always a by-request option and has been a reason alone for the restaurant’s popularity: chicken parm for two, encased in an herbed, crispy crust and smothered in a garlicky red sauce and heaps of browned cheese. Although it sounds like a simple dish that everyone has had countless times, it’s earned so much press that Sundays at Mamma Guidara’s were sold out from when it opened last October well into December.
Eli’s Essentials (Various Locations)
At it’s core, Eli’s Essentials is a glorified, upmarket bodega. Just about everything one would find at a New York corner store—cereal, beer, snacks, coolers of drinks, coffee, sandwiches to go—is found at the four locations of New Yorker extraordinaire Eli Zabar’s minimalist approach to a market, all on the Upper East Side.
However, rather than General Mills and Tropicana, there’s homemade granola and fresh-pressed juices; and in place of Budweiser and Boar’s Head are craft brews and sandwiches of fine Italian meats and greens from Zabar’s gardens and greenhouses. Each Eli’s Essentials differs slightly—the location at 91st and Madison turns into a wine bar at night, for instance—but in the morning hours, they’re all equally packed with people stopping in for espresso drinks, bagels, and pastries baked before sunrise. The best breakfast option just may be the breakfast sandwich, with scrambled eggs, bacon or ham, and a choice of cheese on a cloud of a brioche bun. No bodega can compare.
Photo Credit: @brunchboys
Chinese Tuxedo (5 Doyers St.)
Whether it’s a late night at the office, Christmas Eve, or a lazy weekend spent curled up with Netflix, there’s no kind of takeout that New Yorkers love more than warm, saucy Chinese food hugged in white paper boxes with too many plum sauce sachets and never enough soy. However, down in the lower reaches of Manhattan, there’s recently been a resurgence of excellent Chinese restaurants, giving reason to order General Tso’s in person rather than over the phone. The newest addition to this batch, Chinese Tuxedo, opened at the end of 2016 in the heart of Chinatown and just may be the finest yet.
The menu bounces between Cantonese, Sichuan, Hainanese, and Singaporean dishes, dolled up in fanciful reinterpretations to t right in with the former Chinese opera house’s glitzy new look. High theater ceilings and minimalist low tables with chairs mimicking the architectural outlines of Chinese temples leave plenty of space for an airy atmosphere, while pots of tall greenery add an exotic appeal. For the Chinese purists, there are dishes like Husband and Wife salad of jelly fish and pigs ears, steamed mushroom custard, and squab with salt and vinegar served bones-in. But the menu is actually more tailored to those still easing off the takeaway menus—crispy eggplant with caramel and peanuts; black bass simply steamed with ginger, soy, and chili; tender char sui glazed with honey; and house- made noodles are all memorable options.