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Ugly Baby, one of Brooklyn’s spicier Thai restaurants, joins the list.
Luke Fortney/Eater NY

The 38 Essential Restaurants in New York City

From an international hot pot chain in Queens to Brooklyn’s spiciest Thai restaurant, here’s where to eat in NYC right now

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Ugly Baby, one of Brooklyn’s spicier Thai restaurants, joins the list.
| Luke Fortney/Eater NY

It’s the simplest and most difficult question to answer, whether it’s coming from a lifelong New Yorker or a first-time visitor: “Where should I eat in New York City?” The type of food, price point, neighborhood, and occasion are just a few factors to consider. Luckily, there are countless options in the five boroughs — and on Eater’s map of 38 essential restaurants, which is updated quarterly. This curated list of venues includes a food truck, taquerias, a slice shop, a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant, and a handful of exceptionally strong city standbys. We’ve also added newly eligible restaurants — Eater 38 venues have to be open for six months, or thereabouts, before they merit inclusion — that capture the diversity of the city’s offerings.

We also recognize this list is subjective and NYC’s dining scene is constantly changing. If you have a favorite, let us know. For the newest places that food obsessives are checking out, see the heatmaps for Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Removal from the Eater 38 does not mean a restaurant isn’t still awesome and won’t return in the future.

Added in January: Dominick’s, Claudy’s Empanadas, Ugly Baby, Koloman, Charles Fried Chicken, Pastrami Queen, Urban Hawker, Dept of Culture, and Haidilao Hot Pot.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Claudy’s Empanadas

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Claudia Berroa and her husband, Richard Berroa, a former paramedic, continue to sell some of the city’s best empanadas here in the North Bronx. At the Peruvian Claudy’s Kitchen, right by the end of the 1 train line in Fieldston, the duo offers hand pies so light the casings recall wonton wrappers. Try the versions stuffed with chorizo and potatoes, pork belly and vinegared onions, or aji de gallina, shredded chicken with spicy yellow pepper cream.

A customer holds a chorizo empanada upright; it’s filled with orange potatoes and red cubes of sausage
The chorizo empanada at Claudy’s.
Ryan Sutton/Eater NY

Kingston Tropical Bakery

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Some of the city’s best Caribbean baked goods are found at this Bronx bakery steps from the end of the 2 subway line. Kingston Tropical has been at it since 1970, and indeed this bakery has been making its patties using roughly the same mix of thyme, Scotch bonnet peppers, and ground beef for the last half-century. Other Caribbean food businesses have since joined it— Paul’s Caribbean Bakery and Champion Bakery — but demand for these crescent-shaped patties is enough that it’s not uncommon for all three businesses to draw a crowd. Be sure to try the restaurant’s meatloaf, chunks of stewed, pleasantly funky beef tucked into a fluffy piece of coco bread.

A person enters the front door of Kingston Tropical Bakery, a Jamaican bakery in the Bronx.
Outside Kingston Tropical Bakery in Wakefield.
Luke Fortney/Eater NY

Dominick's

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Founded 61 years ago, Dominick’s is the best bet on Arthur Avenue for a reasonably priced sit-down meal. Sit at long trencher tables with a lively crowd that eschews the formality of Mario’s across the street and prefers marinara simple and pungent. The waiter, who accepts cash only, will prompt with a list of dishes, and our favorites include chicken cacciatore, veal scarpariello, giant stuffed artichoke, and an off-menu sirloin, delivered medium rare with some very good fries.

A room filled with tables jammed together, teeming with people.
The no-frills-but-delicious Dominick’s was founded in 1962.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Malecon

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This restaurant with an elegant ambiance named for a Havana corniche is an anchor of the Washington Heights neighborhood known as Little Dominican Republic. Its menu offers Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican mainstays, including paprika-rubbed rotisserie chickens, garlicky pernil, Cuban sandwiches, savory scoops of mofongo, and steaming bowls of asopao, along with snacks that include empanadas and cuchifritos.

A storefront with orange lettering up high.
Washington Heights’ Malecon.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Charles Pan-Fried Chicken

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The chef Charles Gabriel is back behind the burners at this uptown fried chicken spot, the final stop on a string of storefronts of varying names over the years: Charles’ Mobile Soul Food Truck, Charles Country Pan-Fried Chicken, and Charles Southern Style Kitchen. The through line of these businesses — and the two locations of Charles Pan-Fried Chicken now open in Manhattan — is the chef’s pan-fried chicken. It’s deposited in massive cast iron skillets of oil, then turned over constantly until it achieves a crisp brown crust and moist interior. The Harlem restaurant, which will have been open a year in March, also sells ribs, pulled pork, and other meats; barbecue isn’t in the name of the shop, but these are worth ordering, too.

A man, chef Charles Gabriel, plucks a piece of fried chicken from a stainless steel pot of bubbling oil.
True to its name, chicken is pan-fried.
Melanie Landsman/Eater NY

Bánh Vietnamese Shop House

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NYC’s Vietnamese food scene has drastically changed over the past five years. A new wave of restaurants are serving lesser-seen dishes, such as the glutinous banh chung chien, or fried, crispy rice cakes; and brothy bun rieu, a tomato, crab, and pork soup, at this Upper West Side newcomer. There are plenty of classic Vietnamese sandwiches and noodle soups as well, but the smaller plates steal the show. (Plates change often, so for those looking for a specific dish, check the menu beforehand.)

A rice cake on top of a sesame cracker laid on a plate with colorful toppings piled on top of the rice cake. A dipping bowl with sauce is set nearby. Both dishes are set on a light wooden table.
Banh dap, a central Vietnamese street food.
Rachel Vanni/Eater NY

Pastrami Queen

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The pedigree of the small kosher deli on the Upper East Side is long — suffice to say it was once called Pastrami King and bedded down in Queens — but the quality of its pastrami, corned beef, and matzoh ball soup has always been top-notch, and sandwiches of the overstuffed sort. As a further tip — the latkes are large and delicate and available all year long. Is it as good as Katz’s? In its own way, yes.

Half of a pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard.
There’s a newer branch on the West Side, but stick with the East Side original.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

The tough news is that this tony Central Park South hangout serves some of the city’s priciest bowls of pasta at $42 a pop. The better news is that those pastas are as good as ever under the direction of longtime chef Lauren DeSteno. Try to find a seat at the packed bar and order a selection of crudi, including bass with caviar with mussel vinaigrette, as well as sweet Pacific langoustines. Then cobble together an ad hoc tasting menu out of cheaper half portions of pasta — perhaps firm gnocchetti with shrimp and rosemary oil or majestic fusilli paired with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow.

Ridged, oblong gnocchetti sit in a white bowl with a pink-ish tomato sauce
Gnocchetti with shrimp at Marea.
Marea

Haidilao Hot Pot

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Haidilao is China’s largest hot pot chain, with some 1,300 locations spread across mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. New York’s only outpost — California has five — is in Flushing, and even in a neighborhood dense with Chinese hot pot options, this chain restaurant stands out. The selection of meats is affordable and varied, with fun touches on the menu like a “dancing noodle” prepared tableside to music for about $4 and bottles of soju served in whole watermelons. Soft serve is free, as are disposable razors, cologne, toothbrushes, and other miscellaneous supplies in the bathroom.

Raw meats, seafood, and vegetables are arranged on a table beside two bubbling vats of broth.
Haidilao, the largest hot pot chain in China, has an outpost in Flushing.
Luke Fortney/Eater NY

Urban Hawker

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This may be the city’s liveliest and most unique food court, with a majority of its stalls inspired by — or directly descended from — the street food of Singapore. Highlights include fragrant Hainanese chicken (either poached or roasted) served with rice and broth at Hainan Jones, coconut-laced cakes and pastries from Lady Wong, and Malaysian-style Indian fare from Mamak’s Corner.

Chickens pale and browned hang in a line from hooks.
Hainanese chicken from Hainan Jones.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ruta Oaxaca Mexican Cuisine

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The complex, historic moles of Oaxaca have garnered much attention in New York City over the past decade, but never have they seen such a comprehensive treatment as at Ruta Oaxaca. Heralded by a hot pink outdoor structure, this Astoria restaurant specializes in moles prepared in shades of yellow, green, scarlet, and dark brown, and offers mezcal and tequila flights at several price points. The restaurant serves its food on festive plating that might make you feel like you’re vacationing on the beach or in the Sierra Madre del Sur.

Four square browned pastries with salad and brown sauce on top.
Oaxacan bunuelos are a showcase for the state’s black mole.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

New World Mall

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There is absolutely no way to eat your way through all of the restaurants in Flushing in one day. But if you’re looking for a taste of the neighborhood, some of Queens’s best eats can be found at the basement-level New World Mall food court, which, when it opened nearly a decade ago, set out to be the biggest Asian indoor mall in the northeast. With nearly 30 food vendors — that specialize in everything from hand-cut noodles to dumplings and soups — it’s a fun spot to mix and match and get a little taste of everything.

A hand holds a noodle with chopsticks over a to-go bowl.
New World Mall is home to many food stalls.
Serena Dai/Eater NY

Golden Palace Gourmet

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The provinces in China’s extreme northeast are known as Dongbei, and the food shows many influences that reflect the region’s early industrialization, including Korean and European ones. This wonderful restaurant makes many of its own dishes from scratch, including shredded and fermented cabbage, and loamy blood sausage, incorporated into platters and hot pots. Unexpected starches abound, including steaming bowls of sorghum and loaves of cornbread.

Pork cabbage cakes lined up on a white platter at Golden Palace Gourmet in Flushing.
Pork cabbage cakes from Golden Palace Gourmet.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Mariscos El Submarino

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The cauldrons of seafood at Mariscos El Submarino are proof that ceviche season can be year-round if you know where to look. Owners Amy Hernandez and Alonso Guzman opened this Jackson Heights storefront in 2020, known as much for its mustached submarine mascot as its generous ceviches served with tostadas and saltines on the side. Order the aguachile negro, a dramatic preparation more than capable of feeding two and packed with shrimp, octopus, and avocado in a molcajete, seasoned with a touch of soy sauce.

The aguachile negro at Mariscos El Submarino in Jackson Heights comes served out of a hulking molcajete.
The aguachile negro comes served out of a hulking molcajete.
Luke Fortney/Eater NY

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar

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Nepali Bhanchha Ghar was opened by Yamuna Shrestha in 2015 and has quickly cemented itself as one of the city’s most essential restaurants. Shrestha’s casual restaurant joins a number of Nepali restaurants that have opened in Queens, specializing, among other dishes, in the unctuous delight of momos. Here, the dumplings are served fried or steamed in a glistening tomato-based sauce stuffed with potato, paneer, goat, shrimp, beef, or chicken. There’s no wonder that Bhanchha Ghar has won the Jackson Heights Momo Crawl multiple years in a row.

Koloman

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Koloman is an overhaul of what had been the Breslin space at the Ace Hotel, now in a room with restored tin ceilings, a clock-themed bar, and a modern Austrian menu by head chef and co-owner Markus Glocker. Choose among dishes like celery root tartare, gougeres, souffle, and veal schnitzel. Pair them with a compelling selection from an Austrian wine list, or consider an after-dinner hard-to-find collection of schnapps. Save room for desserts like the Lübeck marzipan, apple strudel, or caramelized milk bread that live up to superlatives.

A collection of dishes arranged on a black background.
A selection of dishes at Koloman.
Gary He/Eater NY

Zaab Zaab

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Elmhurst — not Hell’s Kitchen or the East Village — remains the epicenter of Thai eats for the entire city, and Zaab Zaab (“spicy tasty”) represents some of the latest innovations. The small and colorful spot offers a catalog of organ meats on its mainly Isan menu, so that the duck larb is dotted with bits of liver and crisp skin. Chef Aniwat Khotsopa hails from the Isan capital of Udon Thani, so fish and other creatures found in the bordering Mekong River, as well as a wealth of herbs, play an important part in the menu. The team also has an additional location in Williamsburg, with another in a Manhattan food hall on the way.

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.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Semma is quite simply one of the best Indian restaurants in town. Surfing the wave of southern Indian regional cuisines, it offers food from chef Vijay Kumar’s home state of Tamil Nadu, then traipses to other southern states like Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh. Try the gunpowder dosa shaped like a triangle, lobster tail in a creamy gravy, goat intestines littered with fried curry leaves like his mother used to make, and huukkosu — a savory arc of cauliflower fritters served with a scoop of coconut chutney. Cocktails incorporate South Asian flavors.

A lobster tail sits in a thick gravy on top of its own removed shell.
Lobster tail in coconut gravy.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

As $400 omakases increasingly become the norm throughout Manhattan, Shuko remains a slightly more approachable outlier, a place to splurge on a sushi dinner without spending a grand on dinner for two. Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau continue to put out a serious selection of small plates — including caviar with toro tartare — and nigiri sushi for around $270 before tax and tip. Supplemental add-ons include spicy trout hand rolls, charcoal-seared tuna belly, and caviar hand rolls.

A slice of pink fatty tuna, marbled with fat, sits over a small mound of rice.
A slice of pink fatty tuna at Shuko.
Daniel Krieger/Eater NY

NY Dosas

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For almost two decades, Thiru Kumar has been serving up some of the best dosas New York has to offer from this Washington Square Park food cart. His dosas — crepe-like creations made of fermented rice and lentils — are particularly fluffy, compared to some of the crisper options in the city, and it’s nearly impossible to go wrong on the tiny menu. The Pondicherry special, stuffed with spicy potatoes and fresh vegetables, is a surefire hit, but equally good are the pancake-style uttapams and empanada-like samosas.

A white paper plate placed on a wooden bench with a dosa on it, a green cilantro sauce, a samosa, and a red sauce in a plastic cup.
A dosa and samosa from NY Dosas.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Veselka

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Veselka has been synonymous with essential New York dining since opening in the 1950s for its pierogies, borscht, and blintzes — especially a favorite amongst the late-night crowd. Over the years, its popularity has only increased, especially as it became the set for several movies. During the pandemic, Veselka began to cut its hours, and no longer operates 24 hours a day. But it’s also entered a new era as a community hub of sorts, acting as a “rallying point” for Ukraine during the Russian invasion. More diners than ever are flocking to support. 

Entrance of Veselka Ukrainian Restaurant with large Ukrainian flag in window, Second Avenue, New York City
Veselka has been operating in the East Village for close to 70 years.
Joan Slatkin/Getty Images

Taqueria Ramirez

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Blowtorched tripe or cactus with chicharron? Longaniza on its own or mixed with suadero? These aren’t the type of questions New Yorkers are used to asking in north Brooklyn, especially not on a residential side street of Greenpoint, but standing at the counter of Taqueria Ramírez, their answers are obvious: We’ll take it all. This small taqueria with an even smaller menu — six tacos most days — opened in 2021, becoming an immediate hit for its stewed meats plucked from a bubbling choricera. There are a handful of seats indoors, but most people spill out onto the sidewalk out front.

A gloved hands hold a sieve of crumbly red meat over a vat of orange fat and oil, also filled with other meats
Suadero (left) and crumbly longaniza stew in a choricera.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

Great NY Noodletown

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This classic Chinatown noodle shop remains the best place to find a historic Cantonese American menu. Thrill to its perfect wonton soup, each diaphanous dumpling crammed with shrimp, or its selection of barbecued items that beckon from the window, served over rice. The higher-end stuff featuring lobster, soft-shell crab, and whole fish is fab, too, but it’s the more plebian stuff that the customers rush in for.

Three meats with green sauce on top heaped on rice.
Barbecue meats over rice with ginger-scallion relish.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Corner Bar

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If you’re looking for a reason to visit Dimes Square, Corner Bar by chef Ignacio Mattos is a pretty good one. The famously experimental chef plays things a touch straighter than usual here, offering up an elevated and expensive take on a P.J. Clarke’s-style tavern fare. Expect club sandwiches with bacon and ham, French onion soup with gruyere, one of the city’s best steak au poivres, with an ultra-sticky peppercorn sauce, and desserts like profiteroles.

An outdoor table set with steak, fries, a burger, salad, and a martini.
The steak and burger and Corner Bar.
Daniel Kreiger/Corner Bar

The Four Horsemen

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The wave of natural wine bar openings was just around the corner when LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy opened the Four Horsemen in 2015. Today, the always-packed bar and dining room is still one of the best spots in town: Diners can sip on a glass of fun pet-nat and find Michelin-worthy small plates perfect for a celebratory night out. It’s rare for a wine bar to hit a home run with both its drink and food menus, but this Williamsburg favorite strikes the right balance by creating a place where wine lovers, a fashion crowd, Francophiles, and restaurant enthusiasts can all sit elbow to elbow.

A spread of food and wine from the Four Horsemen
A spread of food and wine from the Four Horsemen.
The Four Horsemen

L'Industrie Pizzeria

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Massimo Laveglia’s naturally-leavened slice shop, which opened in 2017, underwent a major expansion, debuting an indoor counter space and a serious outdoor dining area. The net result is that this neighborhood institution now boasts some of the comforts of a sit-down restaurant, except with a menu that pretty much remains pizza-only. But what pizza it is, with chewy crusts nearly as thin as matzo. The selection of 10 or so slices includes a serious burrata slice, juxtaposing tart tomato sauce with cool, creamy dairy. Do not miss the daily soft-serve gelato.

Slices with burrata, pepperoni, basil and other toppings from L’Industrie.
Slices with burrata, pepperoni, basil and other toppings from L’Industrie.
Luke Fortney/Eater NY

Aldama made waves early on as an ambitious addition to New York’s steadily evolving Mexican food scene. Come hungry on a Friday night, fight for a seat in the cozy, sunken-in space, and order up a parade of stylish plates: artfully composed tostadas topped with ribbons of pickled daikon and carrot, al pastor tacos heaped with flank steak and dollops of pineapple-serrano gel, and a smoky vegan mole that will stop the conversation when it lands on the table. Whatever you do, don’t pass up dessert.

Black mole with chanterelles and black truffle sit on a ceramic plate
The black mole.
Gary He/Eater NY

Bunna Cafe

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Bunna Cafe doubles as one of the city’s best vegan and Ethiopian restaurants. Started as a pop-up by owners Sam Saverance and Liyuw Ayalew in 2011, this Bushwick mainstay is popular for its warm welcoming vibes. Diners chat over shared plates of lentil and vegetable preparations served atop injera, the thin and savory fermented flatbread. Don’t skip the Ethiopian coffee and the selection of cocktails, either.

A plate of injera topped with curried and stewed vegetables at Bunna Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant in Bushwick.
A dinner platter, served over injera, at Bunna Cafe.
Bunna Cafe

Al Badawi

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Abdul Elenani, behind the Palestinian restaurant Ayat, and Yemen Cafe owner Akram Nassir opened this Brooklyn Heights restaurant in 2021. It’s bigger and more ambitious than Ayat, which opened to critical acclaim the year before, with a menu that includes mezze, kebabs, platters of meats and rice, and Palestinian flatbreads topped with pistachios and cheese. Ingredients are sourced from Palestinian farmers but Elenani also has his own farm in New Jersey, where he produces halal lamb and beef.

Three flatbreads with various meats are presented on metal round platters.
A shawarma flatbread at Al Badawi.
Adam Friedlander/Eater NY

La Vara

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Chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero’s ode to the Sephardic and Moorish traditions of Spain remains one of the city’s top Iberian spots. The intimate Cobble Hill restaurant serves creamy ajo blanco with squid and saffron pil pil, swordfish belly with smoky eggplant, slow-roast suckling pig with tximitxurri, and scores of other fragrant dishes. Pair it all with one of six sherries by the glass.

Chef Alex Raij stands in front of La Vara in a white-and-black-striped search with her hand on her hip
Chef Alex Raij.
Daniel Krieger/Eater NY

Dept of Culture

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Dept of Culture is a Nigerian restaurant unlike any other in New York City, focusing on cooking from the state of Kwara, landing it on Eater’s best restaurants in America list for 2022. And while the nearly $100 prix fixe menu puts it in the fine dining category, the restaurant has made a name for itself for feeling casual. It represents a growing trend towards dinner party-style restaurants that encourage communal dining with strangers, but Dept of Culture also sets itself apart with memorable stories from owner Ayo Balogun that accompany each course.

A chicken dish with greens on a white plate at Dept of Culture in Bed-Stuy.
The tasting menu at Dept of Culture is served from a communal table.
Clay Williams/Eater NY

A&A Bake Doubles and Roti

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There’s often a line snaking toward the door at this Bed-Stuy institution, where customers are lured in by the sweet-and-spicy smell of fried doubles. The traditional Trinidadian breakfast food — which is perfect any time of the day, really — features a fluffy fried flatbread brimming with curried chickpeas. The owners, Noel and Geeta Brown, opened their shop in 2002 and won a James Beard Award in 2019 — a nod to the Trini specialties and the neighborhood’s rich Caribbean history.

A close-up shot of a hand holding doubles.
Fried stuffed doubles from A&A Bake Doubles and Roti.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ugly Baby

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When Ugly Baby opened in 2017, it was an immediate hit due to its hold-no-punches approach to regional Thai cooking. Menus items are denoted with flying saucers and airplane emojis — indicators that dishes are packed with bird’s eye chiles and likely to set tastebuds aflame. Ugly Baby is hot as hell, with only a few non-spicy items — panang curry, a turmeric sea bream that’s fried whole — and an extensive beer menu to offer relief. Over the past two years, reservation systems at the restaurant have shifted, so it’s worth noting that to-date seatings can be booked via Tock, with walk-in space available.

A dining room table with several dishes, two orange beverages with ice cubes, and a few ornamental, palm-sized cacti.
Ugly Baby may be Brooklyn’s spiciest Thai restaurant.
Jessie Jacobson/Eater NY

Hometown Bar-B-Que

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Looking for the best barbecue in New York City? Red Hook’s Hometown Bar-B-Que is it. The beef pastrami is pink-rimmed and piled high, and the brisket — ask for it “fatty” — has no equal in the five boroughs. The menu leans Texas-style, but don’t rule out some of the non-Texas dishes, like Vietnamese hot wings, jerk rib tips, and Oaxacan chicken: They’re some of the best items on the menu, and part of the reason there’s always a line here. Walk-in only.