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A robot in the foreground with the face of a cat.
A cat robot may deliver your food at Flushing’s New Mulan.

10 Standout Dishes of 2022 From Eater Critic Robert Sietsema

Fish cakes, duck larb, and a root beer float make the cut so far

The time has come to round up my favorite dishes. Last year the range of main ingredients was remarkable, including conch, lamb belly, pumpkin, and yellowtail collar. Would this year’s be as enchanting, I wondered as I combed through my notes and published pieces, and looked through thousands upon thousands of photos, hoping to include some dishes I’d never written about before. Here, without further ado, are my favorites in ranked order, ending with the very best — so far.

10. Pan-fried fish cake at Ming’s Caffe

Hong Kong cafe, Ming’s, a small sparsely decorated place that spreads its outdoor tables along Dimes Square, makes a spectacular variant on fish balls, which you’ll find among East- and Southeast Asian dishes, adding a bouncy, savory element to soup in particular. Browned on both sides, these fish cakes flaunt the texture of firm mashed potatoes, have an infinitely mellow flavor, and the thick brown soy sauce sends them flying into orbit. 28 Canal Street, between Essex and Ludlow streets, Lower East Side

Three browned patties of irregular shape with broccoli on the side.
Ming’s amazing homemade fish cakes

9. Buche tacos at La Placita

Located right on Broadway in Washington Heights, La Placita (“little plaza”) evolved from a bakery and now specializes in exceptional tacos (three per order). The range of taco fillings may cause you to ponder what choice to make; in my case, it was buche – hog maw. If you’re enthralled with what Italians have done with the ingredient they call guanciale, you will be doubly pleased by this uncured version of pork jowl, which develops a soft but still chewy texture, while not losing its mild organ-y flavor. The grilled green onion served on the side is an added plus. 3887 Broadway, between 162nd and 163rd streets, Washington Heights

Three double-tortilla tacos in a cardboad box.
Hog jowl makes a very fine taco.

8. Root beer float (with a frank) at Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain

There are few things more illogical in the realm of beverage fabrication than dumping a scoop of vanilla ice cream into a glass of root beer. The bubbles begin to escape, the ice cream melts and streaks, and a rather unappetizing sight is created. Well, I hadn’t had a root beer float since I was a kid when I ordered one on impulse at this hidden-away Cobble Hill ice cream shop and candy store. With its syrupy and highly carbonated root beer, along with a dense, high-fat ice cream, the excellence of this beverage — which must be consumed with both a straw and a spoon — is undeniable. 513 Henry Street, at Sackett Street, Cobble Hill

On a gray marble tabletop a hot dog in a bun in front and plastic cup with mottled brown fluid inside.
Root beer float at Brooklyn Farmacy

7. West Lake beef soup at New Mulan

Located in a shiny new mall on the second floor above a meandering food court, New Mulan is one of Flushing’s latest dim sum sensations, where dishes are delivered not only by hand-pushed cart but by a cat-faced robot. The Cantonese menu favors dumplings and seafood, but the beef-and-cilantro West Lake soup is another highlight, swimming with delicate rice noodles so slippery they might challenge your chopstick skills. The earthiness of the beef and pungency of green herbs, coupled with the smooth salty flavor of the broth, made this a memorable brunch dish one Saturday afternoon. 136-17 39th Avenue, between 38th and 39th avenues, Flushing

A hand holding chopsticks dredges up some noodles.
West Lake beef soup, a Shangai classic, also sports slippery rice noodles.

6. Busiate al pesto Trapanese and eggplant timbale (tie) at Norma

Norma is a laid-back Murray Hill Italian cafe where one can while away a very relaxed afternoon with a glass of wine and some oft-surprising dishes from various regions of Sicily. I honestly couldn’t decide whether to highlight an eggplant timbale formed into a perfect cylinder and washed in a bright tomato sauce, or the busiate — a spindly macaroni named for the thin stem of a Mediterranean plant — here deliciously dressed with what passes for pesto in the Trapani area. The sauce is made with fresh tomatoes, mint, basil, and almonds. It was the first time I’d tasted a nut-dressed pasta, and the effect was wonderfully crunchy in the uncooked sauce. 438 Third Avenue, between 30th and 31st streets, Kips Bay

A heap of pastas with a pinkish sauce.
Trapanese pesto is raw, with almonds and tomatoes.
A square cylinder of carefully sculpted eggplant with tomato sauce at its base in a blue bowl.
Eggplant timbale

5. Mutton kottu at Queens Lanka

Queens Lanka is a small storefront just off Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, mainly shelves crowded with imported groceries, but with a counter at the front where a vast range of Sri Lankan food is dispensed. There’s no seating inside, but a pair of tables sometimes pushed outside was where a friend and I enjoyed this moist stir fry of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and green chiles with strips of godamba roti to make a wonderfully starchy casserole, over which a small serving of mutton curry is poured as you eat. 88-01 182nd Place, between Hillside and 89th Avenue, Jamaica Estates

An aluminum carryout container with a fine-textured toss of many elements, with muted colors and brown gravy on the side.
Torn-bread stir fry muton kottu at Queens Lanka

4. Enmoladas with mole coloradito at Guelaguetza Grill

Oaxaca has seven legendary moles: rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, negro, chichilo, and manchamantel. These thick, pre-Colombian sauces are so complex that with or without meat they can stand on their own as main dishes with a stack of tortillas. This is demonstrated upriver in the city of Poughkeepsie, the site of enough Oaxacan restaurants to merit a special trip. At Guelaguetza Grill, named after a Oaxacan festival, enmoladas consist of corn tortillas sluiced with mole coloradito, a boldly flavored chile sauce with notes of raisin, cinnamon, and black pepper. 124 Parker Avenue, at North Hamilton Street, Poughkeepsie

Tortillas barely seen under a blanket of reddish brown sauce, with yellow rice on the side.
Enmoladas with grilled chicken at Guelaguetza

3. Potato and cheese khachapuri at Little Georgia

There must be dozens of local variants of the Georgian cheese bread, khachapuri, apart from the one with molten cheese and a raw egg yolk that’s become wildly popular. Little Georgia, a grocery and bakery a stone’s throw from the beach, offers eight of them. One that I hadn’t seen before goes by the name of khabizgina. It’s a round flatbread stuffed with cheese and kefir on a creamy bed of pureed potatoes, and each bite is loamy and satisfying, especially when consumed still warm. 3089 Brighton 6th Street, between Brighton Beach Boulevard and the Riegelmann Boardwalk

A browned flatbread in a box.
Khabizgina at Little Georgia

2. Zuppa di pesce mare chare at Frost

Zuppa di pesce mare chare is a spectacular seafood stew — a close cousin of San Francisco’s cioppino — that originated in Naples. It is the crown jewel of many antediluvian Italian American menus in Brooklyn, such as that of Williamsburg’s hidden-away Frost (founded 1959). An array of seafood is used: cod, mussels, clams, squid, and scallops, stewed in a mixture of tomatoes and white wine, resulting in a dish that tastes of the ocean and the land. It’s also fun to eat, as you toss shells aside and burrow into the bowl for your favorite morsels. 193 Frost Street, at Humboldt Street, Williamsburg

A white bowl filled with seafood including shellfish in a red sauce.
Zuppa de pesce at Frost

1. Duck larb at Zaab Zaab

After over a decade of enjoying Isan cuisine — with its fiery larb salads, more meat than vegetables — in Elmhurst, the East Village, and other lucky locales, the city is ready for next-generation Isan restaurants, with menus of exclusively regional cuisine. This duck larb at Zaab Zaab features ground quacker, as well as duck liver and slivers of other miscellaneous organs, in a limey and incendiary chile dressing, with plenty of lettuce and a bouquet of fresh herbs for wrapping and further goosing up the flavor. It’s the best thing I’ve eaten so far this year. 76-04 Woodside Avenue, at 76th Street, Elmhurst

A white plate with a dark ground duck salad and lots of greenery and herbs on top and on the side.
Duck larb at Zaab Zaab, but be careful: It’s really spicy.

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