Oiji: I finally made it back to Oiji after a protracted absence to find a restaurant that has matured into one of the true gems in the East Village. The soulful Korean cooking has become more refined yet more approachable. Chefs Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku are producing less ornate dishes than, say, the beef tartare (which remains on the menu), but with equal flavor complexity.
The deceptively simple looking dumplings in a milky white beef broth, for example, pack an unexpected level of meatiness, and the cold buckwheat noodles with pickled ramps had a surprisingly profound nutty flavor. The fried chicken reminds me of RedFarm’s shrimp-stuffed crispy chicken with its crunchy, brittle canopy, but of course this one has no shrimp and is instead flavored with a soy vinaigrette. Save room for the butter chips, which now come with an ice cream option, making them even more addictive than before. — Nick Solares
Somtum Der: THIS IS EMBARRASSING but recently I went to Somtum Der for the first time despite living in the East Village for two years. We ordered a lot of great food but the papaya salad — vegetarian — was the best I've ever had. Bonus: They deliver, and it holds up in the process. — Sonia Chopra
Keens: Unlike my estimable colleague Ryan Sutton, who loves bar dining so much he drags his poor parents to dine at the rickety one at Roberta’s with alarming frequency, I prefer to sit in the dining rooms in restaurants. But I happened to find myself at the bar room in Keens recently for a drink, which turned into dinner of oysters and the legendary mutton chop. The bar at Keens offers plenty of room to stretch out, which is just as well considering the size of the chop. It was as good as ever, which is to say fantastic. Cooked perfectly rare with a cracking crust, it was tender and supple, its mild gaminess bolstered by the minerality imparted from the age box, where it briefly hung. There under the soft, warm lights, and portrait of Miss Keen, the dozen oysters a mere memory, the mutton half gone along with the bottle of Gamey, I had to concede that bar ding in NYC is pretty great. — Nick Solares
Ando: A not-that-funny New York restaurant quip a few years ago might have been about what it would look like if David Chang made grain bowls to fuel the cogs grinding away inside the grim totems pressed into the bedrock of central Manhattan, relentlessly transforming "knowledge" and "data" and "content" and "analytics" into capital. (What if you turned a pork bun into a bowl????? With sriracha???????? right lol) But that was before Chang made vegetarian ramen with home-grown not-miso and bleeding burgers made entirely out of vegetables (ew?) were put on the menu at a Momofuku restaurant. So now, through Ando, Momofuku's delivery start-up run by JJ Basil, we have the Green Bowl — mixed grains, greens, green sauce, a spicy chili vin, and... plained grilled chicken — offered as a combo with a cookie and LaCroix for $13, making it painfully obvious who the offering is for. (People like me.) It's... really good?
With more intensity than the average Midtown trough serving — but not too much for Midtown!!!! — it is maybe wholly contrary to the kind of food that "Momofuku" has, correctly or not, long called to mind (intense, fatty, salty) because it's something you can actually eat every day, if not necessarily something you w i s h you could, like fried chicken (though Ando has that, a thoroughly researched and well-engineered hybrid of Popeye's and KFC's, if you think you can eat fried chicken every day). That something attached to the Momofuku name can be, in one sense, so white-collar workaday might strike some as a worrying hallmark of a once-brash restaurant group, driven by age and a gnawing hunger for expansion, to embrace an audience that lacks Good Taste. But like, idk, the idea of something that I can eat every day and tastes really good seems cool, especially after my 200th Chop't salad, because have you even tried to eat healthy in Midtown I'hasgaulalajglcan't do ti anymos0hasjnbamd,/re h e l p — Matt Buchanan
La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (or, you know, just 'Compagnie'): A friend and I met at 6:30 in Tribeca for a drink, with the understanding that we would discuss where to go for dinner with another friend. Countless recommendations and circles around Tribeca Grill, and we still couldn't agree (I chalk it up to my being a Pisces, and thus possessing a gross inability to make decisions). We ended up at Compagnie on Centre Street, a place I am so glad I know about. The wine list here is a gem, and the service is so thoughtful, where a team of somms is geeky in a wonderful way about everything they are pouring. The chicken liver mousse with rhubarb mostarda is the thing to get, and the boquerones and the octopus also shouldn't be missed. Bonus: They serve ice cream from Morgenstern's here, so you don't have to wait in those egregious Rivington Street lines. — Patty Diez
Strange Flavor Burger Shack: Sometimes even the best-laid dinner plans go awry. That was the case Thursday evening when a couple of friends from Pittsburgh and I decided we needed to get one of Chris Kronner’s luscious marrow burgers at a pop-up in the former Isa space in Southside Williamsburg. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, we put our name on a list and were herded upstairs to a rooftop cocktail lounge to wait. After another 20 minutes in a drink line, we finally scored our cocktails. But an hour later, our party still hadn’t been seated, and after appraising the inefficiency of the operation, and the hopelessness of ever getting a burger, we split in search of a substitute.
Luckily, we had a car at our disposal, and 15 minutes later found ourselves at Strange Flavor Burger Shack in Bushwick. Charmingly, it occupies an actual shack in the front courtyard of The Johnson’s, a bar that, in its Lower East Side incarnation, was supposed to resemble a living room in Wisconsin, circa 1965. Since we were famished by this point, we went for broke and ordered nearly the entire menu. The pops burger was just OK — two wan patties, a couple of slices of American cheese, and greenery on a spongy bun. Much better was the chop burger, which tasted like a ground beef banh mi. Cilantro on a burger? Why not?
But from there everything fell apart. The fries with "animal sauce" were awful, decent fries heaped with a garbage-y tangle of flavors, most of which we couldn’t identify. The chicken wings, described as "burnt chive ranch mala glaze peanut dust," really were burnt, and dry as dust, as if they’d been refried repeatedly before application of the sticky goop in which they were mired. The corn dog, too, was lost under a coating too profuse and damp to be effectively wiped off. Some nights you just can’t win, and we went home still hungry. "Shall we go back to Isa and see if our table’s ready yet?" One of my companions asked. "We could — but they still haven’t texted me yet," I replied with a grimace. — Robert Sietsema
Mimi: Clever and charismatic, Mimi occupies a small storefront on a block where Soho meets Greenwich Village. One early evening, as a light rain fell over lower Manhattan a friend and I walked in and took a small table outside under the awning. Townhouses in muted colors across the street coupled with a marbled and mirrored interior add to the feeling that you're dining at a cafe in the 6th. The first thing you notice — after reading the handwritten menu — is that the young, dedicated, endearing servers look like they are ready to step into the next Woody Allen film. And then the wine and food arrives, the pâté en croûte, madai sashimi with browned butter, and roasted lamb charm the New York cynicism right out of your heart. The two best things are the bread and butter to start (complimentary) and for dessert the speculoos soufflé, which is what happens when cookie butter evolves. If someone knows of a reasonably priced apartment near here email me tout de suite, svp. — Daniela Galarza
Alameda: This is definitely the place that I go to in my neighborhood when I want to splurge a bit. I love chef Nick Padilla’s food — he’s got a knack for cooking light, vegetable-focused dishes as well as the meaty stuff. Last Sunday’s order included country pâté, a tomato and eggplant tartine, coin-sized scallops with a bright salsa verde, and, because I’m an animal, pimento cheese fries with bacon. That last dish belongs in the junk food hall of fame. And a note about real estate: Although there’s no bad seat in the house, I highly recommend opting for one of the four tables in the tiny front porch if they’re available. — Greg Morabito
Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen: Fried chicken is not like pizza or sex. Bad fried chicken is just bad, though it's harder for fried chicken to be bad than, say, a grilled octopus. But as much as I love good fried chicken — and trust me, I love fried chicken — it's also rare that someone makes it good enough to be destination-worthy. Truthfully, chains like Popeyes do a fantastic job of hitting the comfort and flavor points of fried chicken for me, and unless it far exceeds that, I'm unlikely to make frequent trips out of the way.
That's to say, Carla Hall's is good, but it's not destination good. I got the regular hot level of chicken, and though it was the perfect level of spiciness, the wing was a tad dry and the skin was not as crispy as I prefer. The mac and cheese was mediocre, and the coleslaw was a slightly less liquidy, less sweet version of KFC's. It's also tiny and fast casual-style, and many of the seats are at a very narrow bars — not exactly a restaurant "experience" that one would travel for, per se.
But the people were friendly, the room was cute and casual, and one of Mario Batali's signature orange Crocs even hung from the wall with a plant inside. When food took a nearly disastrously long time to come out, the staff offered free dessert for the wait. Carla herself even meandered in the small dining room for a bit, chatting with dining families like they were all old friends. A retail section with eyebrow raising items like a $7.50 mason jar full of M&M's was accompanied by things you might actually want to buy. (I'm from Tennessee and fell in love with a baseball cap emblazoned with an outline of the state.) Peaches HotHouse is a better pick if you want to go out of the way for Nashville hot fried chicken, but Carla Hall's is certainly a lovely place for the neighborhood. — Serena Dai