These wonderful fried pork-belly tidbits are served with an arepa and lime wedges at Farmers Rotisserie — for less than $5.
No New York neighborhood offers a denser collection of restaurants, aimed at theater-goers, tourists, local neighborhood types, Times Square office workers, and budget-conscious diners of every stripe. But how to make sense of the welter? Here are our 10 Best, based on years of research.
Note: As defined here, the neighborhood extends from the West Side of Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River, and from the north side of 34th Street to the south side of 56th Street.
10. Farmers Rotisserie Chicken [Closed!] – Colombian food is a rarity in midtown, and this comfortable retreat provides a rendition that would do Queens proud. The spice-rubbed birds and crisp pork ribs are great, but you don’t have to go any further than the case by the front door to cop South American snacks like chicharron de cerdo (above): skin-on pork belly fried in lard, furnished with a puffy arepa, wedges of lime, and a green sauce that tastes of cilantro. 673 Ninth Avenue, 212-315-9797
9. Marseille – This facsimile brasserie is like a brief trip to Paris, and the food has just the right garlicky zing. There’s a bouillabaisse, of course, and a ratatouille appetizer (shown above) that generously provides a bonus squash blossom and jiggy egg, and the menu isn’t afraid to reach as far as Tuscany for pastas and Morocco for omelets, as a real brasserie might do on home turf. 630 Ninth Avenue, 212-333-2323
8. Hallo Berlin – Channeling the Bavarian beer gardens of your dreams, this obscure-but-commodious outpost provides an extensive lager and pilsner list on tap, plus German culinary commonplaces in profusion, including Konisberger Klopse (white meatballs), herring done several ways, dressed schnitzels out the wazoo, and more sausage types than can rightly be counted, including bockwurst, bauernwurst, and bratwurst – to name only the B’s. 626 10th Avenue, 212-977-1944
7. Pam Real Thai Food – By my estimate, there are at least 40 Siamese restaurants within the confines of Hell’s Kitchen, but which to choose? For over a decade, Pam has turned away from the too-sweet Siamese of Ninth Avenue, and looked to places like Chao Thai and Sripraphai for inspiration. Which means authentic Isaan fare, plus wonderful ducks and noodles. Shown above: the yummy green papaya yum, which doesn’t stint on the fish sauce or crushed peanuts. 404 West 49th Street,
6. Gazala Place – The original remains superior to its more luxurious Upper West Side counterpart, still turning out wonderful seed-strewn bureks (shown above, with a plate of babaganoush) and the gossamer-thin pitas that are the signature of Druse cuisine, so much better with the standard Middle Eastern bread dips than regular pitas. And if they have it, don’t miss the green-wheat salad called phreak. Note: BYOB! 709 Ninth Avenue, 212-245-0709
5. Tulcingo del Valle – This iconic Pueblan grocery-turned-taqueria preserves its authentic southern Mexican menu, including multiple moles (classic chicken enchiladas mole poblano shown above), hand-formed sopes, and daily specials that can run to hearty village stews and pork cooked with verdolaga (purslane). You can wash it down with beer, and sit in the separate dining room – if you’re tired of examing the groceries that still decorate the original storefront. 665 10th Avenue, 212-262-5510
Some Westchester high school students enjoying a meal at Tulcingo del Valle.
4. Anejo Tequileria – Yes, the primary objective of this corner bar is to sell you booze, but somehow the menu turned out amazing. You can get regular Mexican enchiladas wrapped in corn husks, or Oaxacan-style in banana leaves, and three versions of guac furnished with just-fried whole tortillas (I particularly like the one sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). Above: beef taquitos. 668 10th Avenue, 212-920-4770
3. Mercato – Step inside this restaurant in an abject corner of the Garment District and suddenly Poof! You’re in a perfect Tuscan osteria. The wine list is Italian, the prices merciful, and the pastas earthy and profuse. My favorite is malloreddus (above), a gnarled Sardinian dumpling served with wild boar sauce, but you may prefer the orecchiette with sardines and bread crumbs, or the rigatoni Norma with ricotta salata. The warm octopus-and-potato casserole makes a great starter, or go light and summery with a caprese salad. 352 West 39th Street, 212-643-2000
2. Tabata Ramen – You won’t have to wait hours to get into this ramen restaurant – as you do at Ippudo – secreted behind the Port Authority. And the noodles are every bit as good. The adventuresome can go with geki kara (“hellishly hot”), but there are many mellow selections, too, and a full range of apps (don’t miss the grilled whole mackerel). And the prices beat most ramen parlors in town. 540 Ninth Avenue, 212-290-7691
Yes, this is the hot one!
1. Esca – The chef is from an old Montauk fishing family, and one afternoon a friend and I saw a giant squid – just caught and about four feet long – being carried triumphantly through the restaurant. This is the place that practically invented crudo, the Italian answer to sashimi. Before that it was a Venetian specialty of such obscurity, that most visitors to the city never heard of it. Fish doesn’t get any fresher or better than this. 402 West 43rd Street, 212-564-7272
Sardines done two ways — they’re sustainable!
And don’t miss the grilled octopus.
Follow me on Twitter — @robertsietsema