For today's Quick Bites, we're taking a look back at the best of 2015!
I dined at around 150 different New York City restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, food trucks, pop-ups, ice cream parlors, and bakeries this year, the majority of which were new in 2015. Below are a few of my favorites.
BEST RESTAURANT (COUNTER SERVICE): by CHLOE
I love meat and hate waiting on line, and yet every time I went to the always-mobbed vegan phenomenon by CHLOE I left liking it even more. The food is exciting and satisfying—especially the Guac Burger, both kinds of fries, the Avocado Toast, the Mac 'n "Cheese" with shiitake bacon, literally all of the desserts—which means that even though it's packed, everyone is happy and cedes their precious table space as soon as they're done so that the next person can feel happy too. Chloe Coscarelli is opening two additional locations next year, and if she handles expansion as deftly as she's handled being an insta-hit, a by CHLOE empire is inevitable.
(185 Bleecker Street, corner of MacDougal; bychefchloe.com)
BEST RESTAURANT (TABLE SERVICE): Houseman
It's not really my usual scene, this Tribeca(ish) neighborhood spot, and two courses will set you back just shy of $50 after tax and tip, but for splurgy nights or important dates (or if someone else is paying), Houseman delivers intense, lively flavors better and more consistently than anywhere else I dined this year. There are only three entrees (plus a memorable double-decker cheeseburger) on the menu, but however chefs Ned Baldwin and Adam Baumgart are serving either the roast chicken or the sausage that night, you can be sure it's going to be delicious. And every one of the large vegetable sides/share plates and meaty starters that I've tried showed off the kitchen's considerable skills as well. Well worth a trip, even if the crowd tends toward the overly self-satisfied.
(508 Greenwich Street between Canal and Spring Streets; housemanrestaurant.com)
BEST SINGLE BITE: Gol Gappa at Babu Ji
East Village Indian food hotspot Babu Ji serves many thrilling things which you can put into your mouth, but the most potent flavor bomb comes courtesy of Jessi Singh's Gol Gappa, little balls made from a thin layer of fried chick pea and filled with some sort of immensely sexy mix of spicy and sweet sauces. So good it'll make your eyes roll back in your head, and all before you're even half-finished with the beer you grabbed from the fridge. No wonder this place is always hopping. Note: if the Gol Gappa is not on the menu, the basic flavor palette also comes with the Batata Vada, plus with that dish you get a pretty flower.
(175 Avenue B, corner of East 11th Street; babujinyc.com)
BEST NEW BURGER: Upland
San Berdoo native Justin Smillie lays down some serious California love with his avocado-topped Cheeseburger at Upland near the Flatiron. Available only at lunch (thus making it a must midday adventure during that week between Christmas and New Years when no one's really working anyway), this double-decker beast also comes with a pile of premium-grade fries. Genius ingredient that puts it over the top: those spicy/sweet peppadaw peppers.
(345 Park Avenue South, near 26th Street; uplandnyc.com)
BEST NEW ICE CREAM PARLOR: Ice & Vice
Paul Kim and Ken Lo win this category handily with their always-amazing rotating selection of flavors at the no-frills Lower East Side scoop shop, Ice & Vice. In fact, I'd say that Ice & Vice is NYC's best ice cream parlor, new or otherwise, period. Thick and creamy, studded with high-quality treats, explosively flavored, this house-made, house-pasteurized (!) ice cream is a dessert I could easily eat every night. It's tough not to order my Ice & Vice core of Shade (smoked dark chocolate, caramelized white chocolate), Milk Money (toasted milk, chocolate ganache), 3 Little Pigs (bacon salted caramel, bacon praline) and/or 9AM (Vietnamese coffee, donut truffles), because they're all so good—heck, even their Basic B vanilla is more exciting than the wackiest flavors at other spots—but I've never had anything that's less than wonderful here.
(221 East Broadway, near Clinton Street; iceandvice.com)
BEST NEW DOUGHNUT: Maple Waffle at Underwest Donuts
Underwest Donuts is not exactly an easy pop-in spot for a sweet treat and a cup of caffeine—it's located within a busy car wash off the West Side Highway, but if you feel like going on a bike ride during our apparently endless summer, the Maple Waffle donut makes for an excellent reward for your travels. Moist, sugary-glazed and evocative of my childhood visits to Southern Vermont, topped with crisp crumbles of stroopwafel, this little beauty would add an unacceptable amount of calories to my week if it were more readily accessible.
(Inside Westside Highway Car Wash, 638 West 47th Street, and 12th Avenue; underwestdonuts.com)
Honorable Mention: the sweet and fruity Mango Bango at Doughnut Project, 10 Morton Street.
BEST NEW SANDWICH: Fuku Finger Crunchy Wrap at Mission Cantina
In NYC's Year of the Dope Sandwich it was kind of impossible to pick an absolute "best"—the Porchetta at Mekelburg's is fantastic, but I've only had it once; the brilliant Pastrami at Harry and Ida's isn't really a 2015 creation—but this monster mashup not only has the advantage of including David Chang's excellent Fuku, Danny Bowien's excellent LES Mission joints, AND the excellent Russ & Daughters on the list, it also stands on its own as a supremely satisfying meal. Ingredients here include Chang's fried chicken strips, R&D's Salmon-Skin Chicharron, and a heap of Cantina standbys like pepper-jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, buttermilk dressing, and spicy honey. Bowien wraps everything once in a corn tostada, then again in a flour tortilla, and then the whole package gets a quick grilling for added crunch outside and meltiness inside. It's messy as hell, no-joke spicy, a total party in your month. About once a month, this really hits the spot.
(172 Orchard Street, at Stanton Street; missioncantinany.com)
BEST NEW BOWL OF RAMEN: Every time I went to Ramen Lab
When Nolita's Ramen Lab switched from offering a short but set menu—two choices, Miso and Shoya, both superb—to being a "showcase" ramen shop within which chefs from around the world come in for three weeks or so and share their signature dishes, well... NYC wins again! I had a bunch of best bowls here this year, but maybe my favorite was the Zasai Tan Tan Men, (spicy sesame broth, ground pork, Szechuan pickles, choy sum) courtesy of Hiroyuki Kimura's Gomaichi in Hawaii. Neither you nor I can get this again unless we fly off to Oahu together, but at this point it's a sure thing that whoever Ramen Lab has slated for 2016 will be a welcome guest in our city.
(70 Kenmare Street, between Mulberry and Mott; ramen-lab.com)
BEST NEW BAGEL: Pumpernickel Everything at Sadelle's
The outrageously expensive Sadelle's in SoHo, Major Food Group's take on the classic Jewish deli, serves a lot of good food that I could never feel comfortable eating at the prices they're charging. Two only-slightly-splurgy snacks, though, make this place worth repeat visits even for the average city schmo: Melissa Weller's glorious Sticky Buns; and her revelatory Pumpernickel Everything bagel. Covered with salty and seedy crackling bits, soft, dense and aromatic within, this is probably the best bagel I've ever eaten, warm from the oven, schmeared with just a bit of butter. It's not large, and at $2 it costs at about double what you may be used to, but oh man is it good.
(439 West Broadway, between Houston and Prince Streets; sadelles.com)