On any given night, New York City can be many things to many people. Williamsburg raves, food markets in Queens, Meatpacking lines, dive bar beers, three-Michelin star-meals, and pub trivia are just some of the endless options. One Perfect Night in NYC explores how locals take advantage of the city that never sleeps.
Ronny Chieng has nailed down the ideal way to order at restaurants: “High proteins, low carbs,” he says. “That way you get to try more stuff without feeling full.”
The comedian and actor, who’s a correspondent on the Daily Show, blew up even more recently after a small but impactful role in groundbreaking romantic comedy hit movie Crazy Rich Asians. His character is an image-obsessed patriarch who does things like force his family to pose in certain ways in photos to show off their best angles. In real life, though, Chieng is significantly more laid-back.
When Chieng is home in New York City, he does a whole lot of stand-up, practices his new hobby jiujitsu, hangs with his wife Hannah Pham — and he eats out a ton. His Google Maps is littered with stars tracking where he’s gone and where he wants to go, and he loves discussing the scene in NYC and beyond.
“I experience a lot of America through food, specifically late-night diners. I travel around doing comedy, and we do shows late into the night, so we go for places open past 12 to unwind after a show. My key words when I ask the locals for suggestions is always ‘classy diner.’ It’s a whole sub-genre of restaurants,” Chieng, 33, says. “The aesthetic is like American diner but classed up, so subway tiles, accessible menu but with local sourcing and well-plated food. And they’re usually killer places to eat. In New York it’s Empire Diner, for example.”
Here’s how the self-described food lover spends a night out in NYC.
As a Malaysian native, Chieng says he “craves” and “misses” the tastes of India, which Chieng says are very present in Malay fare, along with Chinese flavors. He’s been coming to modern Indian hot spot Rahi in the West Village lately because of its proximity to his home and comedy clubs, as well as its “good vibe.”
“They’re a little fusion, but not in a bad way. As someone from Asia, I don’t really like fusion food as much; I prefer authentic-tasting stuff,” he says. “This place does have some fusion dishes, but they do a good job not losing what the authentic flavors should be.”
He likes to share, so the table was quickly covered with a feast. Bone-in chicken leg cooked in a banana leaf with Kerala coconut curry and Basmati rice; softshell crab with yuzu confit garlic, and paratha; cod in a coconut-mango curry with crab butter and fresh and pickled mango; and Mangalorean duck breast with gassi curry, cornmeal, and black pepper were just a few dishes that crowded the table — in addition to Champagne.
60 Greenwich Ave., between Perry and West 11th Streets, West Village
New York Comedy Club
A stand-up show is par for the course during a Ronny Chieng night. This evening’s was a quick 10-minute set at New York Comedy Club in the East Village, where Chieng tackled race issues — something he’s known for in his work on the Daily Show.
“I feel like for Americans, Australia is like as far as you can travel and still see white people. It’s like, ‘Let’s experience some new culture! But let’s stay in our comfort zone,” he joked on stage. “‘Don’t get too crazy with these flavors of Southeast Asia, please. I just want a different topping on my pizza.’”
He left to applause and laughter, and as he walked to the next destination, a passerby excitedly whispered to his companion, “That’s Ronny Chieng!” — something Pham says happens quite a bit these days.
“When people appreciate what you make, that’s always nice,” Chieng says.
85 East Fourth St., between Second Avenue and Bowery, East Village. Tickets cost $29; available here.
The Back Room
“Call me a dork, but I’m a sucker for a good speakeasy,” Chieng says. His ideal stop after a show to unwind is for a cocktail, and he favors the Back Room on the Lower East Side. It’s an actually hidden bar, through an alley off Norfolk Street. Drinks here are served in teacups, and some nights have jazz and swing music. It also, blessedly, rarely has a line because of the large space.
“I feel like liking speakeasies is not cool, but I really like them,” he says. “I think they peaked and then it started being too much and now the ones that survived are actually good.”
102 Norfolk St., between Rivington and Delancey streets, Lower East Side
Sake Bar Decibel
“For a city that doesn’t sleep, this city sleeps very early,” he says. “It’s actually hard to find good places to have a conversation that has food, which are my two main requirements for a late-night hangout.”
But an izakaya is ideal for its small plates. “You don’t have to have a whole burger and fries,” Chieng says. Weekends bring lines to get in for the huge sake selection and dishes such as okonomiyaki or edamame gyoza, but “on weekdays it’s got a nice vibe; it feels like your secret Manhattan spot,” he says.
240 East Ninth St., between Second Avenue and Stuyvesant Street, East Village