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Sietsema’s 15 Best Dishes of 2016

Eater's senior critic lists his favorite dishes consumed around New York City this year

Some bites are so delicious, you want to remember them always. Here are the 15 best things I ate in the last year.

Huevos Divorciados at El Atoradero — What could be better for breakfast or brunch than a pair of poached eggs in a Mexican sauce? Well, those same eggs in a pair of sauces, in this case one made of tart fresh tomatillos colored the palest shade of green; the other red, angry, and chile-driven. And it comes with this year’s Christmas miracle: El Atoradero moved from the South Bronx to Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, and flourished. 708 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, 718-399-8226

Pastrami Sandwich at Frankel’s Delicatessen — The number of Jewish delis had been declining, and the quality of the city’s pastrami along with it. Then up popped Frankel’s in an unexpected Greenpoint location, and the pastrami was as bright pink, salty, and smoky as the revered product at Katz’s — and hand-cut, too! In a joint that establishes its own retro-vibe. 631 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, 718-389-2302

The pastrami sandwich at Frankel’s by Robert Sietsema. The lamb pasty at Sunken hundred and the huevos divorciados at El Atoradero by Paul Crispin Quitoriano.

Madam Zhu’s Spicy Fish Stew at Hao Noodle and Tea — This chain, which originated in China, appeared this spring with a menu that featured all sorts of regional specialties that you don't often find in New York. Case in point is this fiery fish stew, which has a green rather than a red broth, and owes nothing to chile oil. Bearing all sorts of pungent flavors, it will leave your lips on fire.  401 6th Ave, 212-633-8900

Ful at Massawa — This Eritrean restaurant has been lingering by Columbia University’s back door ever since 1988, and the fava bean has rarely seen such a pleasing context as this vegetarian ful (pronounced "fool"). Stewed, it comes beautifully arranged in the bowl with little dabs of yogurt, jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, and berbere, the spice mixture that defines Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. 1239 Amsterdam Ave, 212-663-0505

Beef Heel Tartare at Achilles Heel — A bar and bistro that occupies a historic waterfront tavern in Greenpoint, Achilles Heel has turned out many culinary surprises during the past year, and I visit whenever I can. Early in the year, beef heel tartare held sway. Was it a joke based on the name of the place? Whether or not, that previously unremarkable cow part proved dense and chewy, with a strong mineral flavor that made steak tartare seeming passé. 180 West St, Brooklyn, 347-987-3666

Duck Chettinad with Foie Gras at Indian Accent — When Indian Accent arrived from Delhi, India this year, it placed South Asian cuisine in a fine dining idiom it has rarely seen here. Every course of its prix fixe dinner was a revelation, including this morsel of duck chettinad — a South Indian recipe — sandwiched between two wafers and surmounted by a sliver of foie gras, giving the curry a rich and butter kick. 123 W 56th St, 212-842-8070

Pan con Bifstec at Dos Amigos — On a recent trip to Cuban West New York, some friends and I stumbled on this amazing sandwich. The beef was tender and sliced thick, the onions raw, and a passel of perfect fries had been jammed up inside the long, long bun, which had been crisped in a sandwich press and slathered with mustard. Every bite was magnificent. 5300 Bergenline Ave, West New York, NJ, 201-348-2255

Kotthu Roti at San Rasa — Staten Island is the headquarters of the city’s Sri Lankan cuisine, and San Rasa is one of the best and most reliable venues (also, convenient to the ferry). Thrusting up like the Great Pyramid it resembles, this geometric delight is made with woven strips of whole-wheat flatbread interspersed with diced vegetables and mellow curry spices, with a dipping sauce to moisten every bite, with plating in the modern bistro style. 19 Corson Ave, Staten Island, 718-420-0027

The kotthu roti at San Rasa by Khushbu Shah.

Fluke Crudo at Sauvage — Most crudo tastes the same, sliced thin and spread around the plate, irrigated with olive oil and maybe a little lemon juice. But Sauvage’s take on the dish is arresting: chunks instead of slices, a little spice powder and droplets of green herb oil, with most of the liquid provided by whey, which furnishes a surprisingly delightful backdrop for the fluke. 905 Lorimer St, Brooklyn, 718-486-6816

Three-Herring Plate at Trestle on Tenth — Sure, this rare Swiss restaurant offers schnitzel and spaetzle, but it also excels at austere northern European favorites, such as this platter of herring three ways, which comes perfectly accompanied by green apples, onions, and warm, firmly boiled potatoes. I could eat this every day. 242 10th Ave, 212-645-5659

Southern Fried Chicken Cemita at El Tigre — Much was made of fried chicken sandwiches this year. Some even had unusual flavor twists, but none more so than the fried chicken cemita at El Tigre. The perfectly fried pieces were deposited on a round cemita roll with pickled purple onions, avocado, white Oaxacan cheese, and papalo leaves, a southern Mexican herb that imparts a pungent flavor something like burning rubber — in a good way, of course! 45-14 48th Ave, Queens, 929-296-3946

The fried chicken cemita from El Tigre by Robert Sietsema. Nishi's bundt cake by Nick Solares. Houdini pizza by Robert Sietsema

Habanera Pizza at Houdini Kitchen Laboratory — Situated in a former brewery, with summer seating on the old loading dock, a pleasantly makeshift indoor dining room, and a mercifully cheap and good wine list, Houdini has become a favorite over the last couple of years. Best pizza is the habanera, littered with house-cured pork loin, plenty of gooey mozzarella, and squirts of perfumey habanero oil. 1563 Decatur St, Queens, 718-456-3770

Isan Sour Sausage at Look By Plant Love House — When Plant Love House pulled up stakes in Elmhurst, aficionados thought it was gone forever, then, lo and behold, it reappeared with an even more ridiculous name in Prospect Heights. The nam prik ong (spicy ground-meat dip) and khao soy (coconut chicken soup) are as good as ever, but my favorite remains the homemade sour sausage, served bar-snack style with peanuts, ginger, and bird chiles. 622 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, 718-622-0026

Lamb Pasty at Sunken Hundred — Invented in Galicia, Spain, as the empanada, and carried by Celts to Cornwall, where it was reconfigured as a pocket meal for miners, the pasty now comes to us via our new Welsh gastropub, Sunken Hundred. The perfect tallow pastry is stuffed with oniony lamb, topped with sea salt, and served with a tomato chutney. Best washed down with beer. 276 Smith St, Brooklyn, 718-722-1069

Fish Tostada at Los Mariscos — A new offshoot of Manhattan’s best taco stand Los Tacos No.1, Los Mariscos in Chelsea Market — which boasts its own door on 15th Street — extended the promise of Baja style beachside tacos by specializing in seafood, serving tacos, ceviches, seafood cocktails, and aquachiles. But best of all are the tostadas, which adds welcome crunch to the marinated fish and onions, topped with avocado. 409 W 15th St, 212-920-4986

And for a sweet new year, here are a couple of excellent desserts:

Pistachio Bundt Cake at Nishi — From the moment this cake appeared on a counter at the back of the restaurant, it attracted as much attention as any of Nishi’s more savory offerings. Who makes bundt cakes anymore? Served with a scoop of thickened ricotta. 232 8th Ave, 646-518-1919

Cannoli at Madonia Brothers Bakery — Few places fill the shells to order, and few also make their own shells, the way this Arthur Avenue Italian-Slavic stalwart does. So the pastry is crisp, the filling fresh and creamy and dotted with candied fruit. It’s like a fruitcake, only much better. 2348 Arthur Ave, Bronx, 718-295-5573

Top photo: Madam Zhu's fish stew by Nick Solares


Previously: Sietsema's 10 Worst Dishes of 2016 [ENY]

El Atoradero

708 Washington Ave., New York, NY 11238

San Rasa

17-19 Corson Ave, Staten Island, NY 10301 (718) 420-0027 Visit Website


409 West 15th Street, Manhattan, NY 10011 (212) 920-4986 Visit Website

Sunken Hundred

276 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (718) 722-1069 Visit Website


905 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11222 (718) 486-6816 Visit Website

Momofuku Nishi

232 8th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10011 (646) 518-1919 Visit Website

LOOK by Plant Love House

622 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718) 622-0026 Visit Website
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