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The Best Dishes Eater Editors Ate This Week

Five spice baby back ribs, chicken mole tamales, and more

A neon red awning hangs upright outside of J.G. Melon, beckoning patrons inside Ryan Sutton/Eater NY

The amount of excellent food available in New York City is dizzying — even during a pandemic — yet mediocre meals somehow keep worming their way into our lives. With Eater editors dining out sometimes several times a day, we do come across lots of standout dishes, and we don’t want to keep any secrets. Check back weekly for the best things we ate this week — so you can, too.


December 28

A cheeseburger with the patty on one side of the white box and the top bun on the other, with purple onions, a few pickle chips, and a single packet of ketchup scattered around.
Cheeseburger at J.G. Melon
Robert Sietsema/Eater

Cheeseburger at J.G. Melon

A handful of examples could be used to collectively define New York City’s classic burger: Luger’s, for sure, but also Peter McManus, Donovan’s, and Burger Heaven, the latter sadly closed after 77 years. Note that many prototypical places are Irish bars of antique vintage, and there’s no denying the ambiance of long wood bars and sawdust on the floors adds to the pleasure of eating these ground-meat patties served with little fanfare on a plain bun. Certainly J.G. Melon, an Upper East Side fixture founded in 1972, belongs amongst this august company. Its cheeseburger ($14), rapidly downed by me and a friend on a cold street corner this weekend remains one of the city’s best. The meat is crusty and blackened on the outside from an old flattop, the meat inside pink and unctuous, but forming a continuum with the balance of the beef. A skullcap of melted American cheese coats the patty, sides and all; the bun is richer than it might be; the pickles and purple onions scattered about in the white carryout box a necessary addition. Every bite was a pleasure, though Ryan Sutton might disagree. 1291 Third Avenue, at 74th Street, Upper East Side — Robert Sietsema, senior critic

Salads, vegetables, chicken, and pita bread on a white plate with a Christmas tree off to the left in the background
A Christmas dinner spread from Sami and Susu
Erika Adams/Eater

Christmas dinner package from Sami and Susu

Sami and Susu’s Christmas dinner was a welcome sight at the end of a marathon, dessert-centric Christmas that started at 9 a.m. with sugar cookies and fudgy brownies and chocolate biscotti and didn’t let up from there. The Jewish-Sephardic newcomer, currently located on the Lower East Side, offered a holiday meal delivery package that included a selection of mains, spreads, sides, and salads, scaled to fit the number of people in your household. Our package ($125) included sautéed broccoli rabe that came alive thanks to a top-notch addition of spicy Calabrian chilis; juicy ground lamb and chopped-up pistachios folded into crunchy cabbage leaves; and a creamy muhammara spread that I kept slathering on everything from the pita it came with to the whole roasted za’atar-crusted chicken that saw us through the weekend. While the Christmas delivery package is no longer available, the restaurant is doing a very similar holiday meal delivery for New Year’s (pre-orders accepted by December 30 at 10 a.m.), and they also do regular dinner deliveries most days of the week. 247 Broome Street, between Orchard and Ludlow Streets, Lower East Side — Erika Adams, reporter

Malbec-beef empanada at Criollas
Bao Ong / Eater

Malbec-beef empanada at Criollas Baked Empanadas

Criollas’s Argentine Malbec-beef empanada ($4.90) was the fuel I needed during a last-minute rush to find all my ingredients for this year’s holiday cassoulet project (it appears everyone was also eating this classic French dish over the weekend). I breezed through the Turnstyle Underground Market for a snack and stopped in my tracks when I saw the half dozen flavors of the baked pastry on the menu. An employee told me to go with the most popular, so I ordered the beef filling with green olives, scallion, and red peppers — all ensconced in a delicate wrapper that tasted like it was freshly baked and hadn’t been sitting around all day. The first bite lets out a puff of steam and hits you with the aroma of the hearty filling. It was the best $5 I spent all weekend. 1000 South Eighth Avenue, inside Columbus Circle subway station, Hell’s Kitchen — Bao Ong, lead editor

Baby back ribs with a black crust placed in a brown box with a side of greens
Five spice baby back ribs at Bixi
Tanay Warerkar/Eater

Five spice baby back ribs at Bixi

Chef Serena Bass’s newest Harlem restaurant has a lot to love, but the baby back ribs ($16) stood out in particular. The meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, despite it traveling in a takeout container, and the five spice rub on top adds a nice, crunchy, tingly component to the dish. The dish is served with a side of a plum and orange barbecue sauce that provides a tangy hit to the dish, though these ribs can easily be enjoyed on their own. I recommend getting a bunch of dishes at Bixi to sample both the small and large plates offered at the restaurant. 2164 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, between West 116th and 117th Streets — Tanay Warerkar, reporter

Chicken mole tamal at Ojalá

Keeping a tamal both moist and filled-to-the-brim is a balancing act I’ve yet to manage in my own kitchen, but the chefs at Ojalá seem to know something I don’t. The new restaurant on Fulton Street opened its doors in September, serving up Oaxacan-style tamales in a few varieties. My favorite, a plantain leaf-wrapped creation stuffed with chicken mole, accomplishes what I could never: Ensuring that each forkful of masa has both sauce and filling. At $4 apiece, the restaurant’s tamales are more expensive than those sold from the steaming food carts of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights or Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, but they win extra points for being closest to home. 852 Fulton Street, between Clinton Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue — Luke Fortney, reporter


December 21

Round yellow balls in a deep plastic container with green vegetable and noodles flooded with sunlight.
Curry fish ball noodle soup at Go Believe
Robert Sietsema/Eater

Curry fish ball noodle soup at Go Believe

This bustling lunch counter and bakery may have escaped your attention, but now it has its own Instagram account. Sure, it offers excellent, fist-sized pork buns, and handmade dumplings bulging with pork and chives, but look to some of its lunch-size soups and stir fries for a great warm meal in cold weather. My choice on a recent frigid afternoon was a curry ball noodle soup ($6). It came in two plastic buckets, one filled with bouncy fish balls, sinuous wheat noodles not overcooked, and baby bok choy. The other brimmed with a yellow curry broth, which could be titrated over the fish balls to keep them at optimum temperature for eating. There was a bit of spiciness, too, which created a double warmth in my stomach and made me very happy, as I sat on a bench in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, one-half block east. 239 Grand Street, between Bowery and Chrystie Street, Lower East Side — Robert Sietsema, senior critic

A yellow, swirled saffron bun with a sprinkling of white seeds on top at Fabrique
Saffron bun at Fabrique
John Webley

Saffron bun at Fabrique

I’ve long been a fan of Fabrique’s cardamom, but have never managed to snag a saffron bun, which is only offered for a limited time at the bakery each year around Christmas. All of that changed this past weekend when I finally managed to get my hands on these golden yellow beauties. Much of the warning goodness of the cardamom bun remains in this similarly plaited bun, but there’s just a hint of savoriness thanks to the addition of the saffron. It’s far harder to stop at one with these, and my husband and I did, in fact, go back to grab a couple more to take home for the weekend. 348 West 14th Street, near Ninth Avenue, Meatpacking District— Tanay Warerkar, reporter

An overhead photograph of a brown hand squeezing a multi-layer torta over a mint-green plate
Pork milanesa torta at the Güeros
Luke Fortney/Eater

Pork milanesa torta at the Güeros

For the last month, I’ve been eyeing the tortas, tacos, and tamales coming out of the Güeros, a now and then pop-up from chef Fabián Von Hauske Valtierra of Contra and Wildair. Though the weather forecast last week called for delivery, the pop-up’s name — an endearing term for lighter-skinned Mexicans, and one often encountered by this reporter — compelled me to bundle up. From this small Lower East Side kitchen, Von Hauske Valtierra produced saucy chicharrón memelas and overflowing pork tacos. Both were worth writing home about, but the only dish that actually made it home was this pork milanesa torta. Stacked high with avocado, cotija, black bean puree, and crackly pork cutlet, the sandwich was a comfort both in 30-degree weather and after 30 seconds in the microwave. 142 Orchard Street, near Rivington Street, Lower East Side — Luke Fortney, reporter

Six square, light brown donuts in a cardboard takeout container, with a small sprig of microflowers placed on the top of each donut
Angel donuts from Back Alley Bread
Sarah Graham

Angel donuts at Back Alley Bread

It took me about twenty minutes from the point of reading about Back Alley Bread in Ditmas Park — a pandemic-born online bakery from a duo who previously worked at high-end places including the Grill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns — to ordering a half-dozen of the pair’s angel donuts, a must-try pastry that they invented in their apartment this year. The donuts, aptly described as a play on a beignet, are flaky, square pillows of dough that pull apart in layers, with an outer coating of cinnamon-sugar that provides a pleasant, sweet crust. As a bonus, when the made-to-order treats arrived, the fragrant, yeasty scent of the donuts bloomed in my apartment, almost as if I had made the treats in my own kitchen. Back Alley Bread operates via delivery only, check their site for current delivery zones. — Erika Adams, reporter

Spanakopita at To Laiko
Bao Ong

Spanakopita at To Laiko

I’ll happily do more research, but it’s going to be a tall order to find a better spanakopita in Astoria. To Laiko’s version has everything you’d want in this savory Greek spinach pie: flaky layers of phyllo dough filled with spinach and creamy feta that’s not too salty. A friend and I ordered this from the bakery’s window and shared it as a streetside snack, but I’ll come back soon and make an entire meal of this popular pastry. 29-29 23rd Avenue, near 31st Street, Astoria — Bao Ong, lead editor


December 14

A chipped bowl of greenish curry with eggplant and a giant beef chunk in it. Robert Sietsema/Eater

Slow Braised Short Rib Green Curry with Roti at Thaimee Love

Chef Hong Thaimee recently opened a pop up in the West Village, exploring aspects of Thai cooking that feature family recipes, and relatively unknown regional specialties. Her take on the familiar green curry ($24) points to southern Thailand as its origin. It’s made with a big chunk of beef short rib in a chile-laced coconut sauce thicker than any other version I can think of, and gosh is it hot! More importantly, it comes with a pair of flaky and buttery rotis, such as you might find in Malaysian roti canai, instead of rice. It makes me excited to see what she’s done with the other Siamese curries on the menu. 615 Hudson Street, between 12th and Jane streets, West Village — Robert Sietsema, senior critic

A white paper plate sitting on a table at Pakistani restaurant BK Jani featuring spicy fries, tamarind ketchup, and a burger
The Jani burger and masala fries at BK Jani
Tanay Warerkar/Eater

The Jani burger and masala fries at BK Jani

If spicy burgers are your thing, look no further than Pakistani restaurant BK Jani’s eponymous creation, which comes with a fiery mint chutney slathered on to the sesame bun. I found myself reaching for the water bottle after every bite, but still couldn’t stop myself from eating more. The thick, juicy beef patty definitely balances the heat as does the sweet and sour tamarind ketchup that comes alongside the burger. Don’t miss out on getting the masala fries, which came piping-hot, out of the frier, and on to our table. 679 Grand Street, near Manhattan Avenue, Williamsburg — Tanay Warerkar, reporter

Picada at Empanada Mama

Even in a long critique, I never manage to get in all the hits — or the clunkers — into my copy, and so the story goes that I ended up omitting the fine picada from my extended review of Empanada Mama in Hell’s Kitchen. The classic preparation is a Colombian mixed-grilled appetizer, a communal spread of wonderfully charred meats meant to be consumed via toothpick. Empanada Mama’s version ($23.50) is pretty par for course; you get bite-sized strips of chicken, skirt steak, chicharron, fried arepa, green plantains, and yucca fries, over which you squeeze a ton of lime. I picked up an order of picada a few nights before my review ran and absolutely demolished it, interspersing mouthfuls of juicy, salty meats with bites of buttery, seasoned corn cakes. The dish is meant to be shared, but after a long day, it works wonderfully as a late-night solo snack with a cold beer or two. 765 Ninth Avenue, near 51st Street, Hell’s Kitchen — Ryan Sutton, chief critic

A black takeout container filled with cooked cauliflower, peppers, and onions, tossed in a spicy hot oil
Griddled cauliflower at Chuan Tian Xia
Erika Adams/Eater

Griddled cauliflower at Chuan Tian Xia

I can safely say that I have never enjoyed cauliflower as much as I have in this dish ($12.99) from acclaimed Szechuan spot Chuan Tian Xia in Sunset Park. In this kitchen, the pale, unremarkable vegetable is tossed among peppers and onions and sautéed in a hot, spicy oil, transforming it into a powerful, meaty force. The complex layers of spice and heat applied to the vegetables hit not just in the mouth and the throat but travel deep into the belly, leaving a lingering trail of highly-enjoyable warmth behind. I wished at the end that the takeout container could somehow be bottomless; instead, I resigned myself to rooting through the dredges of oil and pepper flecks at the bottom to eek out any last bit of cauliflower. 5502 Seventh Avenue, at the corner of 55th Street, Sunset Park — Erika Adams, reporter


December 7

A plate of mole along with some white flour tortillas and yellow rice
Mole Oaxaqueño at La Morada
Tanay Warerkar/Eater

Mole Oaxaqueño at La Morada

Craving some warming, spicy lunch on a recent weekday I decided to get takeout from La Morada in Mott Haven. One of the staffers recommended getting the mole Oaxaqueño ($24), telling me the heat in the dish packs a punch but has a lovely savoriness to it. I couldn’t agree more. While I’ve previously only had the richer, more chocolate-y version of the dish, this fiery creation had a nice sourness to it, and the chicken in the dish was falling-off-the-bone tender. I sopped it all up with tortillas and yellow rice, and portioned just enough for lunch the next day as well. 308 Willis Avenue, between East 140th and 141st Street, Mott Haven — Tanay Warerkar, reporter

A set of black takeout containers filled with food lined up on a light wooden table
Caribbean dinner for two from Bajan Yankee
Erika Adams/Eater

Caribbean dinner for two from Bajan Yankee

Chef Shirwin Burrowes, formerly the chef de cuisine at Uncle Boons (RIP) spun up his own mid-pandemic meal delivery service over the summer where he makes and delivers different themed “Dinners for Two” ($80) on a weekly basis. I put an order in this past week for Burrowes’ Caribbean feast and sat down on Friday night to a stunning meal of braised beef short ribs smothered in a spicy, smoky sauce; puffy, soft rice studded with firm pigeon peas; tender, fried sweet plantains; and a bowl of kale and butternut squash that had been rendered to a delicate, nearly fall-apart consistency in a light coconut curry. We saved the gorgeous stuffed coconut monkey bread (not pictured) for breakfast the following day, and kept eating the leftovers all weekend long. Direct message Bajan Yankee on Instagram to place orders for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday delivery — Erika Adams, reporter

In a white bowl a pair of browned rice cakes with carrots cut like orange flowers on top.
Bánh chưng chiên at Banh Vietnamese Shop House
Robert Sietsema/Eater

Bánh chưng chiên at Banh Vietnamese Shop House

This far Upper West Side pop up is now in its sixth weekend, open Fridays in the evening, and Saturdays and Sundays in the afternoons and evenings. And it’s still rolling out Viet dishes rarely seen in the city, such as this rectangular cake of sticky rice steamed in a banana leaf with a filling of pork and pureed mung beans. As if that weren’t enough, the cake is then deep fried, leading to a wonderful crispness and richness, and a flavor that is slightly sweet and slightly porky. These cakes are often a centerpiece of Tet (lunar new year) celebrations, and a pair ($10) are served in a bowl with fancifully trimmed and pickled carrots and radishes with a dark dipping sauce on the side. 942 Amsterdam Avenue, between 106th and 107th streets, Manhattan Valley — Robert Sietsema, senior critic

Smothered chicken thighs with barley and mushroom ragu
Bao Ong / Eater

Smothered chicken thighs at 232 Bleecker

Chef Suzanne Cupps’s roast chicken has been on my bucket list ever since our chief critic Ryan Sutton raved about it earlier this year. While the half chicken wasn’t on the menu during a recent visit, I did decide to go with the smothered chicken thighs nestled in a hearty bed of barley and mushroom ragu with some kale and radicchio tucked in between. It’s the type of dish that hits the spot on a cold, blustery day. One, you can’t go wrong with the perfectly cooked (and juicy) dark meat. Also, Cupps, who has made a name for herself cooking with seasonal ingredients at restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Untitled, leaves you just as satisfied with her vegetable-focused cooking. 232 Bleecker, between Carmine Street and Sixth Avenue, West Village — Bao Ong, lead editor