It’s almost impossible to find a restaurant that does everything right. Even tracking one down with a single great dish on the menu takes dedication and a few lucky breaks. But the joy in knowing about those places is tremendous, particularly when you happen to find yourself around the corner from one.
What follows is a list of things I ate this year that I’d go back and eat again any day of the week. They’re in no particular order, but there is one organizing principle: These dishes are all made by places that aren’t on the list of my 10 favorite new New York City restaurants of 2023. You’ve probably heard about most of those establishments already, but do you know which stall inside the Urban Hawker market makes an amazing oyster omelet, or where to get a noodle soup inspired by the freshwater clam cookery of northern Vietnam? Well, you do now.
Pasta Carbonara at Roscioli New York City
Carbonara is essentially bacon-and-eggs pasta, but do it wrong and you’ll have an unholy garble. The New York branch of Roscioli, a constantly packed Roman trattoria, does it right. Better than right, actually. Cheese and guanciale fat and egg yolks come together in a miraculously smooth sauce. A rain of black pepper unleashes all sorts of mayhem that almost reverse the miracle. The pasta is so firm that most American restaurants would drop it back in the pot for another minute, but in fact it’s perfect as is.
43 Macdougal Street (King Street), SoHo; no phone; rosciolinyc.com.
Black-and-White Seven-Layer Cake at Gertrude’s
Many liberties have been taken since Hungarian Jews carried the recipe for Dobos torte across the Atlantic. Gertrude’s monumental version, almost as dense and moist as pudding cake, alternates chocolate and yellow layers like piano keys. I’ve counted and recounted and can’t find more than six layers on this seven-layer cake. On the other hand, there are two frostings, mocha buttercream and dark-chocolate ganache. Let’s just call it even.
605 Carlton Avenue (St. Marks Avenue), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-269-0043; gertrudes.nyc.
Oyster Omelet at Prawnaholic Collections at Urban Hawker
Eggs are wok-scrambled with round, sweet oysters and a few spoonfuls of batter that cook up into crunchy bits. That’s it, except for the red-chile sambal that you apply at will. Suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour, coffee break and probably a hundred other occasions.
Inside the Urban Hawker market, 135 West 50th Street (Seventh Avenue), Midtown; no phone; urbanhawker.com.
Tsukemen at Okiboru House of Tsukemen
The long, squarish noodles, almost the shape of linguine, are rolled and cut just behind the counter every day, which may explain why they do such a good job of grabbing the dipping sauce, a chicken dashi reduced until it’s as thick as gravy. The union of noodle and sauce is close to ideal; when it starts to seem too familiar, a squeeze from a lime wedge should rekindle your interest.
117 Orchard Street (Delancey Street), Lower East Side; no phone; okiboru.com.
Hakka Blossom Chicken at Hakka Cuisine
The process by which shrimp and taro are cooked inside the intact skin of a whole chicken takes days to complete and nearly as long to explain. Bouncy and juicy inside its golden shell, it disappears in minutes.
11 Division Street (Bowery), Chinatown; 212-941-6888; hakkacuisine.nyc.
Dweji Gomtang at Okdongsik
Sliced pork and white rice in a clear, golden pork broth, Okdongsik’s dweji gomtang is the kind of soup you could eat every day. But it’s especially welcome on those days when you get some news you were hoping wouldn’t come.
13 East 30th Street (Madison Avenue), Midtown; 929-237-8164; handhospitality.com.
Bun Hen at Mam
This was a transient special that devoted followers of Mam might have caught one weekend last spring, or again in the fall: a northern Vietnamese soup made with rice vermicelli and freshwater clams. Those particular clams are scarce in New York City, so Mam recreates the soup here with local mussels and armloads of fresh chopped herbs.
70 Forsyth Street, (Hester Street), Lower East Side; no phone; instagram.com/mam.ny.
Caribbean Patties at Winner
You can tell from the neat rows of fork tines imprinted in the flaky, buttery crust that Shirwin Burrowes bakes his savory pies by hand, carefully. Sold under the name Pop’s Patties at the various Winner locations — Winner on Franklin, Winner Butcher, Winner in the Park, Winner Bakery and Runner Up, all in Brooklyn — these are Caribbean patties made with an assertive palate and a delicate touch. The most intriguing may be the one filled with saltfish and sweet plantains, but the short rib and oxtail is very good, too, and there’s impressive flavor in the curried vegetables folded into a vegan-butter crust.
Winner on Franklin, 747 Franklin Avenue (Sterling Place), Crown Heights, Brooklyn; no phone; winner.nyc.
Winner Butcher, 192 Fifth Avenue (Sackett Street), Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Winner in the Park, Picnic House, 40 West Drive (5th Street), Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
Winner Bakery and Runner Up, 367 Seventh Avenue (11th Street), Park Slope, Brooklyn.
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