It's much harder picking the city's best dishes of the year than it was to finger the worst, because there are so many to choose from. This was a year when innovative Thai food leapt out of its enclaves in Queens and took Manhattan by storm, when the innovative downtown bistro finally came of age, and when Mexican food asserted its dominance in every price range. Our old chefs came back with new ideas, and stylish new chefs were minted by popular acclaim. African restaurants held their own and so did Italian ones, while Japanese and Chinese continued to be more popular this year than last. Never has the city enjoyed such a diverse smorgasbord of culinary delights at such a broad range of prices. That said, here are the dishes that impressed me most in the calendar year 2014.
Raw Lamb Kibbe at Au Za'atar — Beef and lamb tartares were a bonafide fad last year, and my favorite was found at Alphabet City Lebanese newcomer Au Za'atar, where the flesh was ground into a spice-studded carmine paste and furnished with fruity olive oil and the Levantine garlic aioli known as toum. 188 Avenue A, 212-254-5660.
Humongous Xiao Long Bao in Soup at Bamboo Garden — This Sunset Park palace of dim sum zoomed ahead of its contenders via a number of inventions, including this stunning pair of dumplings, which were sporadically available beginning in early summer. Filled with pork broth and meatballs, they floundered in chicken broth scented with yellow leeks. Shed a tear if this stunning item isn't available when you visit. 6409 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-238-1122.
Burrata at Dimes — The cream-oozing version of mozzarella totally came into its own in 2014, and no one handled it with more zaniness than this tiny just-off-Canal-Street café, which plunked a wad on top of heirloom tomatoes scattershot with nigella seeds, laved in a balsamic vinaigrette that was smart enough to stay in the background, as lightly pickled cherries rolled around helter skelter. 143 Division Street, 212-240-9410.
Roast Chicken at Chez Jef — What started out as a pop-up in the Bowery Diner space on the part of Mathieu Palombino launched with just a handful of doctrinaire French bistro dishes, but gradually the menu became more ambitious. But at its heart there's always been a chicken perfectly roasted without any frou-frou, accompanied by wonderful fries and a caper-studded jus, so that you wanted to eat it every evening. (Currently closed)
Adjaruli Khachapuri at Oda House — Consider it a species of toasted cheese sandwich, a freshly baked bread with a pair of handles on either side and a deep depression in the middle that holds two kinds of salty white cheese (sulguni and imeruli), along with a runny egg. Find it at this Georgian (SSR) pub just south of Tompkins Square. 76 Avenue B, 212-353-3838.
Razor Clams and Ozymanthus Clams at Sunrise Restaurant 88 — A Fujianese seafood meal is often full of surprises, and that proved to be true at this Eldridge Street newcomer, where, arranged in a sunburst, the razors have been steamed with black beans and strewn with scallions, while in the middle lurks a cup of ozymanthus clams — which aren't really clams at all but the intestines of sea cucumbers. Well, they look like clams! 50 Eldridge Street, 212-625-8199.
Chicharron de Harina Preparado at Tacos Rodriguez — This astonishing snack can be shared by several people, as some friends and I did on a recent taco crawl. The platform is chicharron de harina — a wheat-based imitation of a fried pig skin — squiggled with all sorts of toppings, including a slightly sweet chile sauce, crema, two types of cheese, and avocado. Crunch, crunch — and watch out for your shirt, because the thing readily breaks into pieces. 89-04 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, 718-426-7156.
Jerusalem Bagel at Bar Bolonat — The browned and sesame-seeded horse collar of dough is freshly baked and super-delicious, especially when you pour on the olive oil and sprinkle the homemade za'atar that accompanies it, via chef Einat Admony, who rides to work on a pink motor scooter. 611 Hudson Street, 212-390-1545.
Mu Ramen at Mu Ramen — Once again generated by a pop-up, this time in Joshua and Heidy Smookler's kitchen, this ambitious noodle shop staked its reputation on a single bowl of beef-driven soup, based on long-boiled oxtail and marrow. Sprinkled with cubes of brisket and employing substantial Sun Noodles, it was the most satisfying bowl of ramen of the year. 1209 Jackson Avenue, Queens, 917-868-8903.
Hot Fudge Sundae at Eddie's Sweet Shop — You know how there's never enough hot fudge on a hot fudge sundae? Well, that isn't the case at Forest Hills' century-old ice cream parlor Eddie's Sweet Shop, where the homemade fudge cascades over the homemade vanilla ice cream and goes all over the saucer and then the counter. You'll be scraping up every last drop. 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Queens, 718-520-8514.
Patate Alla Carbonara Pizza at Marta — Nick Anderer nailed this one. Heaping an exemplary crust from the wood-burning oven with potatoes, eggs, cheese, and the cured hog jowl called guanciale, this pie constitutes the perfect equation of crunch, squish, and mmmmmm! 29 East 29th Street, 212-651-3800.
Migas at Huertas — Take an already tasty duck-studded bread pudding at this East Village Basque tapas bar and slather it with pea pesto, plus a few shoots, flowers, and whole pea pods, and you have a dish fit for any meal of the day, and droolingly so, from chef Jonah Miller. 107 1st Avenue, 212-228-4490.
Emotuo and Peanut Butter Soup at Papaye — If you loved peanut butter sandwiches as a child (and they didn't kill you!), you'll feel a similar affection when you dig into this Ghanaian goat soup and find the broth flavored with the sparkling combination of goobers, chiles, and palm oil, with little orange droplets dancing on the surface, and crushed-rice dumplings for starchy contrast. 2300 Grand Concourse, Bronx, 718-676-0771.
Okroshka at Uzbechka — In the dog days of late summer, as the mercury zooms into the 90s, what could be better than this seasonal Uzbek yogurt soup, heavily laced with dill and concealing crunchy shredded daikon in its depths? And the charcoal kebabs were stunning, too. 42 Avenue O, Brooklyn, 718-872-5500.
Uni Tostada at Cosme — A hush falls over the table as the purple-corn platform arrives, heaped with little cubes of bone marrow draped with the bright orange gonads of sea urchins decorated with green herbs. Enrique Olvera has outdone himself with this dish, which would be as admired in Corona as it is in the Flatiron. 35 East 21st Street, 212-913-9659.