Best of 2011: Our Random Favorites


In this week’s print edition of the paper, you’ll find a comprehensive guide to dining around the world without leaving the confines of New York City. We trekked high and low to unearth the best Albanian joint, Chilean eatery, Istrian hub, and Japanese sushi bar. We also covered ingredients from A to Z, beginning with the city’s best use of anchovies and ending up with the top za’atar-enhanced dish. But we also took the time to highlight some random favorites, too. New York City’s best smoking patio, anyone? Find out in this “Best of 2011” online exclusive.

Best Cupcake: The death of the cupcake has been predicted for some time now, but that hasn’t stopped Chicago-based confectionery Molly’s Cupcakes from setting up shop in town. It even had the gall to open only a few blocks down from Magnolia Bakery, that temple of cupcakerie and other awfulness. And good thing it did, because its mini frosted cakes are far superior. The extensive roster offers flavors ranging from Nutella-peanut butter to blueberry cheesecake to classic vanilla, plus Molly’s even offers a build-your-own option, should you want, say, red-velvet cake topped with vegan chocolate icing and gummy bears. Best of all: no middle-aged women on self-guided Sex and the City tours. 228 Bleecker Street, 212-414-2253,

Best Smoking Patio: New York City banned smoking in restaurants a while back, so the city’s best smoking patio is whatever fire escape or rooftop you happen to find yourself on, hopefully with a friend whose cigarette is filled not with tobacco but with marijuana. Citywide

Best Late-Night Eats: By late night, we mean really late night! Sarge’s Delicatessen — founded by an NYC policeman known as “Sarge” in 1964 — hosts a hopping scene 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year. Slide across the Naugahyde upholstery into your booth and enjoy the epically smoky pastrami (ask for it to be sliced thick), or the corned beef hash with a trio of sunny-side-up eggs, the way they serve it here. And note that the hash has never seen the inside of a can, buster! 548 Third Avenue, 212-679-044

Best Drive-In: You’re looking for a drive-in in New York City? What’s wrong with you? There are no drive-ins here. You mean the kind with carhops who come out on roller skates and hook trays onto your rolled-down car window heaped with burgers, greasy fries, and soft drinks? Sheesh! We don’t even have a Sonic in the city limits, and we ain’t going to advise you where to find one in Jersey or Long Island or Westchester. The best you’re going to do is drive your car across the lawn and ram it into the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. Madison Avenue and East 23rd Street, 212-889-6600,

Best Bacon: Putting food on a stick always seems to make it better: A corndog bests a hot dog, just as a lollipop trumps a sucking candy. So, obviously, bacon on a stick is going to beat any other porcine preparation around. Landhaus, a stand at Brooklyn food fair Smorgasburg, sells a fat slab of seared maple-glazed bacon that’s drizzled with a touch more syrup and a sprinkling of paprika. It’s basically candy, only without the threat of cavities. Landhaus at Smorgasburg, Williamsburg Waterfront (27 North 6th Street, Brooklyn)

Best Hidden Gem: Sun Light Bakery Corp. is, of course, a bakery — one half of it, at least — but the other door leads to a small warren where a woman in an orange baseball cap makes the Chinese rice noodles called gee cheung fun by pouring a soupy and livid-white batter into a steam cabinet tray, then scrapes the result off with a spatula into your carryout container. At your direction, she puts shrimp, scallions, Spam, or other items drawn from a list that includes over two dozen items. Our favorite: having the noodles topped with beef stew. 160 East Broadway, 212-608-8899

Best Farmers’ Market: For the past 35 years, the Union Square Greenmarket has been pumpin’ out the vegetable hits — from summer squashes to heirloom tomatoes to cheeses created on small farmsteads upstate to pastries cooked according to the most arcane of ancient techniques. With as many as 50 or more farms selling things every Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, even in the darkest winter, this institution has already sustained generations of downtown Manhattanites and formed the template for every market in the city that followed it. Union Square, 14th Street and Broadway, 212-788-7900,

Best Wings: The city of Buffalo can puff up its matted plumage in pride for this sainted invention. It has traveled all over the world, delighting drinkers with the combo of sour, salty, greasy, spicy, and crisp. Our favorite rendition in New York City is at Old Town Bar, where you can enjoy them in dark-wooded Victorian splendor, the smell of malt in your nostrils. 45 East 18th Street, 212-529-6732

Best Gourmet Grocery: Court Street Grocers, a specialty grocery and snack shop in Carroll Gardens, goes beyond offering the normal sundries. It makes many fine sandwiches, from a meaty Reuben to a fantastic turkey-leg sammy that combines dry-rubbed, confit dark meat with herb-roasted white meat, plus Berkshire bacon, lettuce, and tomato; a smear of mayo seals the deal on three thick slices of Orwasher’s bread. All you need now is a classic cherry-flavored Cheerwine soda to wash everything down. Oh, wait, Court Street Grocers sells that, too. 485 Court Street, 718-722-7229,