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Cooks in white caps sit at a round table eating in the dining room.

Robert Sietsema’s 15 Best Dishes of 2019

Our senior critic touts a classic Brazilian feijoada, an Italian pasta shaped like little green hats, and a northern Chinese stew with sauerkraut and blood sausage

The kitchen staff at Golden Palace Gourmet enjoy the family meal during a lull in service.

With the 10 worst dishes of the year out of the way, it is now my great pleasure to turn to the 15 that I liked best. These are dishes that often arrived with no fanfare but turned out to be so good, I was dreaming about them days and even weeks later. Some were conventional, some creative, and all of them lit up my mouth in a way that was unforgettable. And it is the humblest dishes among them that were often the best of all, because the greatest gastronomy often lies in the simplest things.

Ceviche in a plastic cup, seen from above

Ceviche at Restaurante Y Panaderia Guatemalteco: At most fancy restaurants, the ceviche is a rather pallid dish, parsed out in small servings. At this Guatemalan combo restaurant (right storefront) and bakery (left storefront) far from the PATH in Jersey City, the serving is big, bold, and deposited in a 16 ounce plastic drink cup. Reach in and get it out of the fridge where it stands among the Mexican sodas. Yes, the ceviche includes the fake crab the Japanese call surimi, which complements the shrimp and fish tidbits found in the tart and tomatoey broth. Dump the cup into the white bowl provided, and used the fried tortillas to make makeshift tostadas. This was the best ceviche I had all year. 311 Pacific Ave, between Lafayette Street and Communipaw Avenue, Jersey City

A round pizza seen from above with short slices of bacon on its surface.

The Brighton Beach at Wheated: This delightful Ditmas Park pizzeria pulls its pies out of an electric Italian pizza oven, and you won’t miss the wood (or its polluting effects). The pizzas are geographically themed, each identified with a Brooklyn neighborhood. My favorite is the Brighton Beach, which contains three cheeses, black pepper, a handful of minced garlic, and, as you can see, lots of bacon. The flavor is similar to carbonara, with the smokiness provided by bacon. While there, also check out the whiskey list, which is the reason behind the name “Wheated.” 905 Church Ave, between Coney Island Avenue and East 10th Street, Ditmas Park

Red tripe soup with lime wedge, herbs and onions, and tortillas on the side.

Sopa panza at Coszcal de Allende: This very bright spot in Bay Ridge with its blue painted walls and pictures of the Virgin of Guadeloupe dedicates itself to the fare of San Miguel de Allende, a northern Mexican hill town known for its architectural beauty and arts scene. Sopa panza is its take on Mexican menudo, with a brick red broth laced with dried chiles and freighted with lots of honeycomb tripe. It comes accompanied with chopped onions and cilantro, a lime wedge, and roll of hand patted tortillas. Eaten as a weekend lunch, its serves as a fine hangover remedy, according to legend. 6824 Third Ave, between 68th and 69th streets, Bay Ridge

A very stacked bologna sandwich with a toothpick sticking out of the top, held by a disembodied hand.

Bologna sandwich at Au Cheval: One of the most heralded arrivals of last year was Au Cheval, a New York branch of a Chicago outfit that had already opened Four Charles here. Located down an alley between Tribeca and Chinatown, the place produced some of the gloppiest food the city has yet seen. But better than the hamburgers was the bologna sandwich, a shitload of garlicky sausage made on premises sliced and piled ethereally high on a brioche, with so much mayo that it not so much as dripped as cascaded down onto your plate. It set a standard for unhealthy eating, while also being one of the tastiest things around. You’ll never to back to Boar’s Head again. Served warm. 33 Cortland Alley, between Beach and White streets, Tribeca

Stuffed green pasta shape like little hats with grated cheese on top.

Grandma walking through forest in Emilia at Rezdôra: Concentrating on the food of Emilia Romagna, Rezdôra was one of the year’s biggest hits. The stuffed pastas were a particular delight, including this poetically named cappelletti (“little hats”). The vegetarian recipe involves roasted leeks, black mushroom puree, and pea shoots; and parmigiana was shaved over the top like a fresh snowfall on pine trees. The entire effect was enchanting in both a visual and gustatory fashion. 27 E 20th St, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, Flatiron

A corn tortilla is heaped with jerk pork, slaw, and crema

Jerk pork taco at El Jeffe: The menu of this taqueria is a wonderful mash-up of Mexican, Panamanian, Jamaican, and Soul Food cooking, and its best dish and signal cultural achievement is a taco loaded with jerk pork. The meat is cooked on a Mexican-Middle Eastern trompo, and once put in the tortilla, is enhanced with clouds of crema and a tart coleslaw. The result is mellow and pungent and chewy at the same time, a compendium of Caribbean flavors delivered to the heart of Brooklyn. 1483 Fulton St, between Tompkins and Throop avenues, Bedford-Stuyvesant

A pile of rice shaped into a little tower is surrounded by pieces of pork, bits of omelet, and sticks of mango.

Anchovy fried rice at Pam Real Thai Food: When it appeared in Hell’s Kitchen in 2001, Pam Real Thai Food threw down the gauntlet to the cookie cutter Siamese restaurants that populated Ninth Avenue by offering zesty regional fare from various parts of Thailand. The menu has evolved since then, but the food remains top notch. My favorite dish is this anchovy fried rice, centering on well-seasoned rice with a briny flavor and dark color, orbited by various contrasting dishes that make the platter a perfect meal, including a sweet julienne of mango, shards of sticky pork jerky, and shredded omelet. It’s an ideal amount of food, too. 404 W. 49th St, between Ninth and Tenth avenues, Hell’s Kitchen

Clumps of brownish sticky rice with pork and taro sprinkled with chopped scallions.

Wulong steamed pork with sticky rice at Yu Kitchen: This far Upper West Side restaurant that appeared more than year ago has one of the most far flung and fascinating menus of regional Chinese dishes the city has yet seen. Originating in the southern Wulong District of Chongqing, this sticky rice dish reads more as a clumpy soothing porridge, with big chunks of pork and taro adding richness and a mild yet intriguing flavor. Other amazing dishes abound at what is certainly one of the best Chinese restaurants in NYC. 2656 Broadway, between 100th and 101st Street, Manhattan Valley

An oblong bread with handles has a gooey fried egg in a lake of molten cheese.

Adjaruli khachapuri at Chama Mama: Every locale in Georgia seems to have its own version of the cheese bread known as khachapuri. Originating along the Black Sea coast, the one known as adjaruli khachapuri is shaped like a boat, with the cheese inside said to represent the sea, and the egg yolk in the middle, the sun. The bread is freshly prepared in the oven that’s the centerpiece of Chama Mama’s decor, and a pat of butter is put on top as the bread is delivered to the table, as the diners look on admiringly. 149 W. 14th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, Chelsea

You can barely see the orange square through the grated white cheese.

Zucca fritta at Montesacro Pinseria Romana: Delicata squash was one of the vegetables of the year on New York menus. Why? Because, some say, the orange flesh has a delicate and smooth flavor. Cynics might add that it is one squash that doesn’t need to be laboriously peeled. At this prize Roman pizzeria that also serves pastas and main courses, the delicata is deep fried, concentrating its sweetness, then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chile flakes and aged ricotta. The dish was great, but it also could have served as dessert. 432 Union Ave., between Metropolitan Avenue and Devoe Street, Williamsburg

A vegetable and rice pie with the top torn back.

Vegetable dum biryani at Angel Indian: “Dum” refers to the fact that this composed rice dish that originated in the Middle East is baked in a container with a sealed lid. In this case, the lid is made of pastry, making for a very picturesque pie. At this vegetarian Indian restaurant with connections to the famed Adda, excavating the pie is a deliriously pleasurable experience, as you ransack the rice to find vegetables and fresh paneer. And the rice is so good that not a grain will remain. 74-14 37th Rd., between 74th and 75th streets, Jackson Heights

On the right a cast iron pot with pork and black bean stew, on the left a plate of rice, greens, and orange segments.

Feijoada at Berimbau do Brasil: The national dish of Brazil is formidable at this cute, brick-walled Village Brazilian bistro. Arriving in a battered cast-iron pot, as if it had just been yanked from an open fire, the black beans are loaded with pig parts that include sausages, fatback, and miscellaneous other stray cuts of oink. Ladle the bean stew onto white rice, which comes with orange segments, shredded and oiled kale, and toasted manioc farofa, to be sprinkled liberally over everything. What a colorful repast! 43 Carmine St., between Bleecker and Bedford streets, Greenwich Village

A pair of tacos filled with reddish meat and sided with cucumbers and radishes.

Birria tacos at Beefrria-Landia: For a long time, the city has been praying for great birria — chile-braised goat or beef served in soup, in sauce, or in tacos. While it originated in Guadalajara, and became associated with Tijuana and LA, now we have our own, albeit in truck form. That truck parks in Jackson Heights, and every detail of birria preparation and service is attended to: the tortillas are dipped in sauce and fried lightly before being loaded up, and an optional soup is served on the side. Dip the tacos in the soup as you bolt them with delight. 78th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights

Segments of eggplant with a reddish coating are aligned on top of a long low mound of mashed potatoes.

Eggplant chaat at Jalsa Grill & Gravy: The food of West Bengal is at least partly the focus of this Indian halal restaurant. Among many excellent and sometimes startling dishes is this chaat. It features fried, sliced eggplant coated with spices and chickpea flour. The slices arrive in an array on a hump of seasoned mashed potatoes, sprinkled with coconut and the tiny crunchy fried noodles known as sev. While this is supposed to be a snack, it would function just as well as a main course. 964 Coney Island Ave., between Newkirk and Webster avenues, Ditmas Park

A shiny tureen filled with sauerkraut, pork, and blood sausage.

Sour cabbage soup at Golden Palace Gourmet: Food from the Dongbei region of China in the far northeast has gradually crept into the city and changed the way we think about Chinese food. Staples include sorghum instead of rice, round loaves of cornbread, cakes stuffed with pork and cabbage, dough drop soups, and sweet and sour dishes. The sour cabbage soup is really more of a stew, filled with cabbage resembling sauerkraut, tofu, and big chunks of pork, ringed with absolutely delicious blood sausage made on the premises. 140-09 Cherry Ave., between Kissena Boulevard and Union Street, Flushing

Check out best dishes of previous years:

Sietsema’s Best Dishes of 2018
Sietsema’s Best Dishes of 2017
Sietsema’s Best Dishes of 2016

Angel Indian Restaurant

7414 37th Road, Queens, NY 11372 (347) 848-0097 Visit Website

Yu Kitchen

2656 Broadway, Manhattan, NY 10025 (212) 678-8784 Visit Website

Jalsa - Grill And Gravy

964 Coney Island Ave, New York, NY 11230

Au Cheval

33 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan, NY 10013 Visit Website

Berimbau do Brasil

43 Carmine Street, Manhattan, NY 10014 (212) 242-2606 Visit Website

Wheated

905 Church Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11218 Visit Website

Rezdôra

27 East 20th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003 (646) 692-9090 Visit Website

Coszcal De Allende

6824 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220 (718) 921-3523 Visit Website

El Jeffe

1483 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216 Visit Website

Pam Real Thai Food

, Manhattan, NY 10019 (212) 333-7500 Visit Website

Beefrria-Landia

78th Street, Queens, NY (347) 283-2162

Montesacro Pinseria Romana

432 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (347) 916-1062

Restaurante Y Panaderia Guatemalteco

311 Pacific Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304

Golden Palace Gourmet

140-09 Cherry Avenue, Queens, NY 11355 (718) 886-4383 Visit Website

Chama Mama

149 West 14th Street, Manhattan, NY 10011 (646) 438-9007 Visit Website
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