2016: The Best of the Rest(aurants)


Restaurants open and close at such a rampant pace here that it’s simply impossible for a critic to review all of the year’s new crop, never mind find the time to check in on the stalwarts. May alone saw more than twenty new launches (including Brooklyn’s first cat café), as well as a number of high-profile shutters, from Bill Telepan’s decade-old Upper West Side namesake gem to fresh faces like Lowlife and Combina, which both only lasted six months. Here are the venues that didn’t get spotlight treatment this year but still served up notable meals worth seeking out.

Bolivian Llama Party
1000 South Eighth Avenue, Suite 5.5,

For the best food around Columbus Circle, you’ll have to go underground. There, among the many vendors spread out across the sprawling subterranean Turn-Style mall, you’ll find this brightly lit sliver of a food stall from brothers Patrick, Alex, and David Oropeza, who started Bolivian Llama Party as Smorgasburg vendors in 2012. Their specialty: salteñas, the paunchy Bolivian dough pockets that look like empanadas on steroids, with deeply burnished exteriors and thick braids across their tops. Despite excellent beef and chicken offerings, our go-to order is the “cliza,” a vegetarian salteña filled with smoked oyster mushrooms, squash, quinoa, and fiery, fruity aji panca chiles. Don’t overlook the Oropeza’s cholas, either. The best of these overstuffed sandwiches brings a triple threat of pig in the form of braised shoulder, crisp-chewy bacon, and crunchy pork cracklings.

The Cheesecake Factory
90-15 Queens Boulevard, Queens,

The California-based cult-favorite American chain landed in our most diverse borough this year, settling into a cavernous space at the Queens Center mall and gracing the city with its dependably caloric and perfectly decent casual dining experience. We were wary at first — this is Junior’s and Eileen’s Special Cheesecake territory, after all — but the eponymous product stands up. And at least unlike the shitshows at Times Square’s big-box chains, out here in Elmhurst, you can live the lavish faux-suburban lifestyle of dining on sumptuous breasts of Chicken Bellagio — breaded, fried, doused in parmesan cream, and topped with prosciutto — in an honest-to-god mall. For normcore eaters, this is corporatized heaven.

Sushi on Jones
348 Bowery, 917-270-1815

Occupying a kiosk in the outdoor Bowery Market food court, this barebones sushi bar from outspoken chef David Bouhadana, late of Sushi Dojo, only serves a single twelve-piece nigiri omakase procession for the respectable price of $50. There’s only one catch: The meal is timed, a practice adopted from similar no-frills operations in Japan, and after a half-hour you’ll have to bid adieu to all that albacore. While the clock is ticking, however, use your precious seconds to savor some very solid bites: black-salt-sprinkled scallops and flash-charred washugyu cattle from Japan Premium Beef across the street.

Autre Kyo Ya
10 Stuyvesant Street, 212-598-0454

Opened at the end of 2015, this charming and moderately priced wood-paneled sibling to intimate kaiseki spot Kyo Ya excels at a kind of beguilingly malleable French-Japanese cuisine that seems to seesaw between hemispheres. There’s pâté de campagne and jellied sea urchin consommé. The foie gras potato croquette comes panko-fried, while pistachio coulis and a red-wine reduction accentuate grilled shiitake mushrooms and rosy slabs of ribeye steak. Chef Shuji Furukawa deftly maneuvers through a global pantry to deliver some beautiful and exciting cooking.

District Saigon
37-15 Broadway, Queens, 718-956-0007

This modern Vietnamese restaurant, run by son-and-father team Michael and chef Lam Lien, serves the finest pho in Astoria and some of the best in town. Besides sampling standard cuts of round steak, you can slurp soups brimming with free-range chicken or a personal favorite, smoked and spiced brisket. You can also opt to add spongy meatballs, tendon, or tripe to the mix. Whatever you choose, Lien’s slow-simmered broth perfumes the table with its aromatics (star anise isn’t shy). Nouveau Vietnamese dishes, like deconstructed banh mi toasts, are mostly hits, too.

195 Spring Street, 212-235-1098

Bread’s the word (literally — a “paowalla” is someone who sells bread) at Floyd Cardoz’s Goan-inspired Soho restaurant, which marks the celebrity chef’s heralded return to the NYC dining scene. Follow suit by overloading on carbs, from stuffed breads — including cheesy kulcha and naan filled with bacon — to whole-wheat roti flatbreads and tightly wound steamed Tibetan tingmo. Nostalgists longing for Cardoz’s creativity from his days at Danny Meyer’s Tabla should be suitably comforted by whimsical plates like shishito pepper pakora fritters and eggs kejriwal, a decadent brioche cheese toast that’s all runny yolk and green chile chutney rich with coconut oil.

White Gold Butchers
375 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-362-8731

Sneaking in at the end of the year, Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield recruited butchers Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest for this one-stop meat shop on the Upper West Side, where you can stock up on everything from air-chilled poultry to steaks, hot dogs, and harder-to-find offerings like fresh pig ears and even pints of leaf lard (the most prized kind of pig fat). The adjoining restaurant serves customers all day, offering estimable egg sandwiches at breakfast and a tasty if controversial upscaling of Harlem’s chopped cheese sandwich during lunch, which sells for $11. Dinner brings table service and the kind of hearty yet primly composed fare for which Bloomfield’s gained her reputation, like slices of pinkish beef heart paired with carrots and dukkah, a nutty Egyptian spice blend.

Emmy Squared
364 Grand Street, Brooklyn, 718-360-4535

When Emily and chef Matt Hyland of buzzy Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily expanded to Williamsburg this spring with Emmy Squared, their cheery spot devoted to Detroit-style pizza, the city’s square-pie fiends rejoiced. Like an edgier Sicilian slice, this regional variation boasts exceptionally crisp crusts and a reverse-order layering of toppings in which sauce is added last. The tamer pies showcase the form well, but as at Emily, it’s the parlor’s propensity for adventurous flavors that excite most. And just like at the original, there’s a surprisingly excellent burger here as well, a two-patty affair slathered in sambal mayo.

The Beatrice Inn
285 West 12th Street, 212-675-2808

At the tail end of the summer, Angie Mar, chef of the Beatrice Inn for the past three years, purchased the storied restaurant — once Paul Sevigny’s rollicking coke den — from its current ownership (which notably included Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter). Since taking over, she’s injected the clubby spot with a giddy carnivorous fervor, turning the tony neighborhood lair into a jubilant and valiant paean to animals and their parts. Salt-cured duck is set ablaze tableside, lamb neck gets turned into ossobuco, and even during dessert, the crème brûlée shows up piped inside a marrow bone. It’s weird, wild stuff.

75 Ninth Avenue, 646-833-7097

With all the charm of a food court stall, you’d be forgiven for passing the Chelsea Market branch of Philadelphia hummus restaurant Dizengoff, unaware that they’re making what may be some of New York City’s finest hummus and freshly baked pita. Between the chewy, char-speckled rounds and toppings that include everything from heady spiced ground beef and chicken to zucchini tossed with hazelnuts and fried potatoes slicked with dill vinaigrette, these are next-level noshes. And even more so than chickpea wizards Mimi’s Hummus and Tanoreen, the base for these enlightened dips is silkier than soup strained through a chinois. Beyond the absolutely gonzo garbanzos, you should also make a point to book one of chef-partner Emily Seaman’s weekly Thursday- and Friday-night prix-fixe dinners at some point during 2017 (I say this because they’re sold out until February). Even bumped up from $45, their price at launch, to $50, the four-course meals are an astonishing deal for what amounts to some of the most intriguing rustic modern Israeli cooking around.

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