Having grown up in New York City (a whole three blocks from the esteemed Village Voice office), I suppose that I was once one of those “mysterious beings, rarely sighted and only occasionally understood, like pixies or magical small butlers.” Really, though, my New York childhood was pretty normal, much like everyone else’s in America. But with better access to restaurants. So, in the interest of your getting to know me — your new staff food writer — better, I’ve come up with a list of my 10 favorite restaurants that I frequented as a kid (and still do today).
Below you’ll find a list of my favorite old-school haunts. As you can see, the list is Manhattan-centric because I grew up in a time before Brooklyn and Queens were foodie destinations, and my parents were the types of Manhattanites who didn’t know where those boroughs even were. Luckily, the apple has now fallen far from that tree.
10. Caffé Roma: It’s easy to go wrong in Little Italy, but there’s an Old World charm exuding from this café and pastry shop. I opt for the pignoli cookies, which are chewy and nutty — the perfect complement to a café latte on a lazy afternoon. And then maybe a cannoli to take home with me. 385 Broome Street, 212-226-8413
9. Golden Unicorn: I’ve since moved my Manhattan Chinatown allegiance to Jing Fong, but Golden Unicorn is still lovable, with its bright red and yellow color scheme and its tasty versions of har gow and siu mai. 18 East Broadway, 212-941-0911
8. The Four Seasons: You know you live in New York City when kids have their bar mitzvah parties at the Four Seasons. As ridiculous as that may be, there’s something very classic about the Four Seasons, and while my budget limits my visits there today, a martini at the bar is (sometimes) within budget. 99 East 52nd Street, 212-754-9494
7. John’s Pizzeria: Keste may be the new kid on the block, but John’s has been holding down the fort on Bleecker Street since 1929. I also keep it classic and go for a large pie (remember, no slices!) with sausage. 278 Bleecker Street, 212-243-1680
6. Russ & Daughters: OK, it’s not a restaurant, per se, but there’s no better place in the city to stock up on smoked fish or caviar. My top picks are the smoked trout, which I make into a salad with mayonnaise and apples, or the smoked Irish salmon, which I top on buttered brown bread. You can’t make a better sandwich. 179 East Houston Street, 212-475-4880
5. Japonica: When I was five, my mom and I went here for dinner and she forgot her credit card, but they let us return the following day to pay and we’ve been coming back ever since. I usually get the chirashi, the mixture of raw slices of fish over a bowl of rice, or a selection of sushi rolls (their signature Madame Butterfly roll comes with edible pansies). Prices aren’t cheap, but the fish is fresh and the slices of sushi and sashimi are huge. 100 University Place, 212-243-7752
4. The Hungarian Pastry Shop: I spent two years of my childhood living in Budapest when my father was transferred there for work (a time in which I’d never missed New York more), so I like to come to this Columbia University hangout and eat cherry streudel to remind me of back when life was vaguely Communist yet filled with rich pastries. 1030 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-866-4230.
3. Grand Central Oyster Bar: I ate the clam chowder here until I was old enough to appreciate the briny slippery slurp of an oyster. Nearly everything else on the menu is crap, but the impressive selection of East and West Coast oysters never fails and provides me with an excuse to come to Midtown. 89 East 42nd Street, 212-490-6650
2. Union Square Café: Danny Meyer’s flagship sometimes feels dated, but the service is always impeccable and the Italian-influenced, new-American fare tasty. You can’t go wrong with any of the seasonal pasta choices and, of course, the classic banana macadamia nut tart for dessert. 21 East 16th Street, 212-243-4020
1. Elephant & Castle: Before “gastropub” entered our culinary lexicon, there was Elephant & Castle, a cozy West Village restaurant slightly more pub than gastro. The menu of omelets, burgers, and sandwiches has hardly changed, which is good because I always get the same thing: a hamburger topped with a tangle of crispy fried onions and a blackcurrant soda. And it’s always delicious. 68 Greenwich Avenue, 212-243-1400
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2010