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[The lamb chops at Fu Ran]
[The lamb chops at Fu Ran]
Paul Crispin Quitoriano

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Sietsema's 15 Best Dishes of 2015

Eater's senior critic lists his favorite dishes of the year.

Sometimes the overall excellence of a restaurant sticks in your mind, but more often a single dish burns itself into your memory. That is the case with this collection of exuberant paeans to culinary excellence that you'd walk miles and miles to eat again and again. Many of the dishes appeared for the first time during 2015; a few are old-timers rechecked this year, and I found myself re-impressed with their wonderfulness. Some charm you visually, as when a peacock spreads its tail feathers, while others are rather dull-looking considering how great they are. Don't be dissuaded — the taste of each of these amazing dishes is superlative.

Miso Chicken Wings at Bar Goto — You may have thought you'd tasted everything as far as avian flight appendages goes, but try sinking your teeth into the gloppy, scrumptious, and richly textured wings, which arrive piled on the plate so they're almost glued together and sprinkled with white and black toasted sesame seeds. Bar Goto on the Lower East Side is the most recent project of Kenta Goto, most famous for his inventive cocktails at Pegu Club. 245 Eldridge St, (212) 475-4411.

King's County Imperial's mock eel by Daniel Krieger.

Lost Bread Frittata at El Rey — This small cafe with relatively cheap prices once again demonstrated the vitality of the Lower East Side food scene, starting out as a coffee bar, turning first into a lunch counter, and later into a dinner spot. The lost bread frittata displays chef Gerardo Gozalez's novel approach to vegetarian dining: this commingling of recipes for French toast and Spanish frittata sports a verdant sauce and comes festooned with greenery, like vines on a rural cottage. One bite and you're hooked. 100 Stanton St, (212) 260-3950.

Muslim Lamb Chop at Fu Ran — The boxy restaurant often styles its name "Fu Run," as if jogging in the present rather than the past. Its best dish is a rack of lamb ribs, called rather modestly by the singular "lamb chop," which comes covered in toasted cumin seeds, and represents a wad of meat so generous (these were damn big lambs) that four or five diners could easily share this dish. The flavor is rich and fatty, and you'll swear as you gnaw the last bit of flesh from each bone, that you're eating at an Arab grill in Baghdad and not a Dongbei restaurant in Flushing. 40-09 Prince St, Queens, (718) 321-1363

Strozzapreti alla Norcina at Bono Trattoria — Name-checking a small town in Umbria's remote southeast famous for its pork sausages and hams, Bono tenders one of the best pastas of this year, a mellow toss of swine and cream matched with a noodle that Italians playfully call a "priest strangler." Bono Trattoria is one among several worthwhile new restaurants on Upper Broadway in Hamilton Heights, with excellent food that also gives you a break over downtown prices. 3658 Broadway, (646) 682-9249

Mock Eel at Kings County Imperial — In the snacks category this year, nothing beat the mock eel at Kings County, a new Williamsburg restaurant that playfully reassesses popular recipes from several areas of China. The mock eel is really made from a julienne of mushrooms, with a sweet and salty glaze that will have you dipping your chopsticks into the bowl again and again. The resemblance to eel is astonishing, and nothing goes better with a cold beer as you contemplate the rest of an interesting menu. 20 Skillman Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 610-2000

Beef Saltena at Cumbre — Bolivian cuisine had its nanosecond in the spotlight this year, and no place better demonstrated its charms than Cumbre, where the specialty is saltena, a domed and braided hand pie with an obdurate and well-browned crust. Break it open and out spills a wonderful gravy dotted with meat, boiled egg, onions, and olives or raisins, sort of like a Shanghai soup dumpling, only hard. One's a meal. 67-03 Woodside Ave, Queens, (718) 476-2200

Tuo Zafi with Green Soup at Galagala — A Ghanaian Café with an exuberant name, Galagala serves traditional tribal fare, matching a mash of tubers or grains with a thick soup containing any number of proteins. In this delectable case, a stark white mash of millet is served beside a leaf-based gravy into which a mixed-meat stew is ceremoniously dumped. Pinch off bits of mash with your fingers and dip it in the soup for maximum enjoyment. 13 E 175th St, Bronx, (347) 879-6889

Cumbre saltenas
Two al pastor tacos dressed with the usual onion, cilantro, and pineapple on a plate. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

[Top: Saltanas from Cumbre by Khushbu Shah. Bottom: Bono Trattoria's strozzapreti alla norcina by Nick Solares, and the tacos al pastor at Taco Mix by Robert Sietsema.]

Blueberry Focaccia at Eataly — The under-appreciated bakery at Eataly produces some of the best baked goods in the city, and nothing stands out in my mind so much as last summer's blueberry focaccia. While the term "focaccia" usually engenders ideas of a utilitarian flatbread fit for making sandwiches or accompanying a ragu of roast pork, this version of the dish is glove-soft like fine cake and dotted with luscious berries whose flavor has been magnificently concentrated in the wood-burning oven and then amplified with a hardened crust of granular sugar. It begs to be nibbled with a cup of bitter coffee. 200 5th Ave, (212) 229-2560

Paitan Ramen at Ramen Setagaya — This discount noodle slinger right on St. Marks is a favorite with students, and the best bowl this year was a sometime special, a milky broth known as paitan. It's made with chicken bones rather than pork bones, boiled until they nearly disappear into the mirk, faintly scenting a rich broth that is delicious without being oily. The add-ins include cloud-ear ‘shrooms, watercress, a par-boiled egg, little red pickled chiles, and torn morsels of chicken. Mmmmm! Quantities limited. 34 St Marks Pl, (212) 387-7959

Beet Salad at Avant Garden — The vegan restaurant came out of the paddock at a gallop earlier this year, then promptly lost its metaphoric rider, in this case chef Andrew D'Ambrosi. Designated on the menu among the cold dishes merely as "Beet," this assemblage (what else to call it?) explodes with color like a Calder mobile, and neither does the flavor lag, with its mango, avocado, crunchy grain doo-dads, and schmear of black sesame. This is the future of veganism. 130 E 7th St, (646) 922-7948

Upma at Dosa Hutt — I'm a sucker for the doctored cream of wheat known as upma, a dish that originated in South India. Flecked with bits of chile pepper, black mustard seeds, cashew, and various veggies, the sculpted mound sings with flavor as you dab on the homemade peanut and coconut chutneys. And after downing this delectable repast, take off your shoes and visit the Ganesh temple right behind the café. 4563 Bowne St, Queens, (718) 961-5897.

[The brisket sandwich at Hometown by Daniel Krieger]

Brisket Sandwich at Hometown Bar-B-Que — Though the mighty beef rib has eclipsed the brisket's luster somewhat over the last few years, the brisket remains the most accessible form of Texas barbecue. At Hometown, you can get a humble sandwich of it, innovatively ensconced in an onion roll (which shows the Brooklyn upbringing of the pitmaster), with sweet white onions as the perfect foil. Keep your hands off the barbecue sauce, please. It's there to look at and not to use. 454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, (347) 294-4644

Fairytale Eggplant at Bruno Pizza — Reactions were mixed when this cockamamie place opened in the East Village, with critics lining up on either side of a vast gulf of opinion. I liked the vegetarian starters better than the pizzas, and appreciated the broad range of illogical ingredients they used to achieve some stunning effects. This eggplant salad, for example, came flavored with brewer's yeast, of all things, with the beautiful composition filled out with black cashews and shishito peppers. You've never tasted eggplants quite as creamy as these before. 204 E 13th St, (212) 598-3080

Crispy Chicken at Dover — Totally burned out on fried chicken this year? Well, during brunch, the chefs at this Carroll Gardens bistro add zip to the beleaguered bird by perfectly frying a boneless hunk, then depositing it on some surpassingly good homemade kimchi with a soft boiled egg, making not only a delicious mess, but a "mother and child reunion," as the Paul Simon song goes.  412 Court St, Brooklyn, (347) 987-3545

Al Pastor Tacos at Taco Mix — This East Harlem stalwart is one of the city's best taquerias, and it's not for nothing that the focus of the establishment is a cylinder of seasoned and composed pork that twirls in the window as a pineapple on top of the thing drips down its sweet and tenderizing juices. Have your tacos dressed with only onion and cilantro, and then marvel at the range of hot and piquant sauces available on the eating shelf. 234 E 116th St, (212) 289-2963

Check out the best of previous years:

Snack Hard and Drink Wine Upstairs at Roscioli From Rome

First Look

What Does a $72 Bowl of Noodles Taste Like?

NYC Guides

Where to Find the Met Gala of Mooncakes in Manhattan’s Chinatown