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Ryan Sutton’s 18 Best Dishes of 2019

From Haenyeo’s rice cake fundido to Hometown’s pastrami sandwich, Eater’s chief critic declares his favorites

Bouillabaisse and a spread of other dishes at Haenyeo
A spread of dishes at Haenyeo
Alex Staniloff/Eater

Last week, I unveiled my list of the city’s best new restaurants for 2019. Today, I present my selection of the year’s top dishes. Some of these preparations are quite traditional and regional. Others are more experimental with avowed globalist leanings. But the bulk of them convey a sense that no matter what happens — if the economy dips because of, well, everything, or if the billionaires seize more than they already have — New York chefs and operators will resist the urge to let the city turn into a bastion of culinary monotony.


The Top Three

Rice cake fundido at Haenyeo

When I’m feeling down about all the fast-casual chains and rococo steakhouses, I assuage myself by thinking of Haenyeo and its rice cakes. Chef Jenny Kwak submerges firm tteok into a crock of chile sauce, melts a layer of milky Oaxacan cheese on top, and anoints the whole shebang with crumbly chorizo. The stunner of a Korean-Mexican dish, which recalls fundido as much as it does baked ziti, suggests that an auteur-esque neighborhood spot can still thrive in modern New York. 239 Fifth Ave. at Carroll St., Park Slope

Green nasturtium leaves sit over a plate of aged duck nigiri, set on a blonde wood table
Duck nigiri at Llama San
Louise Palmberg/Eater NY

Llama San’s Duck Nigiri

If traditional, ultra-expensive sushi parlors are a defining trait of the modern gastronomic era, the duck nigiri at Llama San constitutes the opposite: something wildly creative and affordable-ish. Chef Erik Ramirez places a slice of aged duck over a pat of fragrant cilantro rice, uniting the duo with a slice of sweet banana. The brilliant Japanese-Peruvian dish recalls the whimsical early days of Nobu. 359 Sixth Ave. near Washington Pl., Greenwich Village

The Electric Lemon Curd at Electric Lemon

Pastry chef Kelly Nam constructs the namesake dessert as if it were a pastel-colored solar system, with airy orbs of light green lemon verbena sorbet sitting next to frozen moons of tart lemon curd. Homemade Pop Rocks, hidden throughout, zap the tongue with an audible hiss. The Electric Lemon, like most of the sweets here — from a chocolate confection that looks like a meteor to a frozen yogurt that wants to be an avant-garde study in green and white — proves that pure creativity can radiate even in the most soulless of neighborhoods. 33 Hudson Yards, near the West Side Highway, 24th Floor

A diner uses chopsticks to stretch the Oaxacan cheese above a bowl of rice cake fundido at Haenyeo
The rice cake fundido at Haenyeo
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY
Yellow spheres of Electric Lemon curd with green orbs lemon verbena sorbet
The Electric Lemon
Gary He/Eater NY

Dishes of the Year: the Long List

Yi Ji Shi Mo’s rice noodle rolls: In a year when a global rice roll chain arrived in Manhattan —Yin Ji on Bayard — the stunning cheung fun at this tiny storefront shined through brightest of all. The scent of rice milk, freshly ground, perfumes the Elizabeth Street space. Place an order, and minutes later, an efficient cook will produce a freshly scraped rice roll. The natural sweetness of the product comes through best of all when paired with barbecue pork or dried shrimp, portioned judiciously enough so as not to distract from the main event: the soft, toothsome noodles. 88 Elizabeth St., near Grand St., Chinatown

Kāwi’s chile rice cake: Eunjo Park, in her debut as an executive chef, brought this modern Korean spot to the top of the year’s best new restaurants. This was due in no small part to the pinwheel tteokbokki. Park roasts a rice cake in a spicy chile jam and finishes it off with Benton’s ham and olive oil; it packs the chewy density of steak and the complex nuttiness of good Iberico. 20 Hudson Yards, fifth floor

Tagliolini al ragu at Rezdôra: Stefano Secchi, an alum of Osteria Francescana, opened the year’s best and hardest to get into Italian spot. The venue’s top dish is the al ragu. The sauce — forged from ground mortadella, soffrito, pork, and salumi — exhibits an otherworldly meatiness, while the soft tagliolini absorbs all the MSG-esque savoriness. 20 East 20th St, near Broadway, Flatiron District

The tagliolini al ragu, held up by a fork, at Rezdora
The tagliolini al ragu at Rezdora
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY

Win Son Bakery’s mochi millet doughnut: The crowds at Win Son Bakery are a sign that pastry chef Danielle Spencer is a force to be reckoned with. A chief draw is surely her mochi millet doughnut, with an exterior as chewy as a gummy bear and soft, springy inside. 164 Graham Ave. at Montrose Ave., East Williamsburg

Bar Wayō’s curry doughnut: Momofuku’s new Seaport bar is an easy answer to the dilemma of where to get a drink with a stunning waterside view. And yet the food, by chef de cuisine Sam Kang, merits a visit in its own right. Throughout the fall I found myself asking various coworkers, “Hey, have you tried Wayō’s doughnut?” Coconut flakes and curry powder line the outside of the savory pastry, while a spicy tomato mushroom paste fills the softer inside. It is an essay in crunch, salt, and heat. 89 South St, Pier 17, opposite the escalators, Seaport

A server cuts the curry doughnut at Bar Wayo tableside
The curry doughnut from Bar Wayō
Gary He/Eater

The Fly’s chicken sandwich: This bustling venue, by the team behind Cervo’s and Hart’s, specializes in natural wines and rotisserie birds. But to experience the Fly at its finest, order the chicken sandwich. Cooks fold chopped skin into a pile of white and dark meat, add a bit of fortified jus, and place the succulent mixture on a soft, aioli-slicked roll. 549 Classon Ave, near Fulton St., Bedford-Stuyvesant

Halibut at the Riddler: Few can afford to dine at the four-star Le Bernardin on any regular basis. The Riddler, a Northern California import from Jen Pelka, is certainly no seafood substitute, but the roast halibut is easily one of the fish dishes of the year. Chef Nikole Morsink lets the neutral filet act as a conduit for green shiso, buttery chanterelles, and a moat of foamy mushroom broth. 51 Bank St. at West 4th St., West Village

Crabmeat tom turmeric at Taladwat: David Bunk, the chef behind Pure Thai Cookhouse, gave Hell’s Kitchen a vital new Thai spot with Taladwat, charging just $22 for filling two-course meals. Among the offerings is one of the city’s finest new shellfish dishes: loose chunks of crab hanging out in a bath of lemongrass-scented coconut milk. Stinging red chile provides just as much color as heat. 714 Ninth Ave, near 49th St., Hell’s Kitchen

A pile of golden fries sit next to a crimson lobster, slathered in garlic butter
The lobster-frites at Pastis
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY
Spicy roasted rice cake with chile jam and country ham at Kawi
The spicy roasted rice cakes at Kawi
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY

Tomato slice at Bread & Salt and F&F: Rick Easton, in his return to the Northeast with Bread & Salt, has reaffirmed his status as one of the country’s great pizzaiolos. Case in point is his tomato slice, bursting with savory fruit and a crust that flakes like pastry. 435 Palisade Ave, near Griffith, Jersey City

Regular slice at F&F Pizzeria: Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo (aided by Chris Bianco and Tartine’s Chad Robertson) have put out a shockingly light variant on the “regular” New York cheese slice. The venue’s chewy crust, tangy from fermentation, acts as a springboard for low-moisture mozz as umami-rich as parmesan. 459 Court St., near Luquer St., Carroll Gardens

Chanterelles and green shiso garnish a square of halibut
The Riddler’s halibut
Louise Palmberg/Eater NY

Hometown Bar-B-Que Industry City’s pastrami sandwich: Billy Durney, arguably the city’s top pitmaster, is quickly becoming an expert in reimagining old-school foodstuffs. The bulk of food media attention went to his (much improved) take on the Peter Luger burger at Red Hook Tavern, but his greater and more overlooked triumph was his ode to Katz’s famous pastrami sandwich. The mustard-y affair involves a careful smoke treatment that that allows for a remarkable sweetness to pervade the meat, counteracting the rampant salt. 87 35th St., Industry City

Chicken satay at Wayan: Fire code issues prevented Cedric Vongerichten from installing a charcoal grill at his French-inflected Indonesian restaurant, but the good news is that the chef knows his way around a griddle. He cooks chicken thighs to the pillowy texture of tofu, garnishing them with a peanut sauce so rich and creamy that it could make for a mean fettuccine Alfredo. 20 Spring St. near Elizabeth St., Nolita

A pastrami sandwich held by two hands
Hometown’s pastrami sandwich
Alex Staniloff/Eater

Hawawshi at Zooba: In a city teeming with great fast-casual Middle Eastern spots, Chris Khalifa and Moustafa El Refaey’s Egyptian hangout easily ranks with the best. Weekend diners know to get the restorative koshari, but on any other day, hawawshi is the must-oder snack. Staffers stuff beef patties into aish baladi bread — a type of whole wheat pita — and grill them hard, creating spicy, peppery meat pies that look like floppy frisbees. On a cold day, few things will warm you up so quickly. 100 Kenmare St. at Lafayette St., Nolita

A spread of dishes, including tomato pizza, margherita pizza, meatballs, and bottarga toast, sits on a sheet of red butcher’s paper at Bread & Salt in Jersey City
Assorted pizza at Bread & Salt
Ryan Sutton/Eater NY

The egg sandwich at Hunky Dory: Kirstyn Brewer, chef at Claire Sprouse’s Crown Heights cafe and bar, has created an egg sandwich like few others. She places a pork-lamb patty onto a brioche bun, then lets a slippery pile of scrambled eggs spill over the edges. Arugula adds a punch of pepper, while curried onions import aroma. Really, the whole thing is hefty and meaty enough to qualify as a gourmet burger. 747 Franklin Ave. near Sterling Pl., Crown Heights

Lobster-frites at Pastis: Keith McNally’s gold-tinted brasserie feels like an ode to a wild, pre-crash Meatpacking District. There’s truly no better way to celebrate this excess than with a whole roasted lobster, drenched in garlic butter and paired with a pile of fries for dunking. 52 Gansevoort St., near Greenwich St., Meatpacking District.

Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.

Taladwat

714 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (646) 823-9815 Visit Website

Kāwi

, Manhattan, NY 10001 (646) 517-2699 Visit Website

Win Son Bakery

164 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206 (917) 909-1725 Visit Website

Hometown Bar-B-Que

454 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (347) 294-4644 Visit Website

Pastis

52 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan, NY 10014 (212) 929-4844 Visit Website

The Fly

549 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216

Llama San

359 6th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10014 (646) 490-4422 Visit Website

F&F Pizzeria

459 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (347) 450-4182 Visit Website

Bread & Salt

435 Palisade Avenue, , NJ 07307 (201) 500-7338 Visit Website

Rezdôra

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

On

110 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 Visit Website

Zooba

100 Kenmare Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 (646) 596-8090 Visit Website

Hunky Dory

747 Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (516) 418-2063 Visit Website

Electric Lemon

, Manhattan, NY 10001 (212) 812-9202 Visit Website

Haenyeo

239 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (718) 213-2290 Visit Website

The Riddler

51 Bank Street, Manhattan, NY 10014 (212) 741-5136 Visit Website

Wayan

20 Spring Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 (917) 261-4388 Visit Website

Industry City

274 36th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232 (718) 965-6450 Visit Website

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