December 6, 2023

Food City

The Best Darn Food City Uou Can Get

Critic Robert Sietsema’s 15 Best Dishes of 2022

My favorite end-of-the-year task is to identify the best things I’ve eaten during the previous 12 months. Last week, I spilled the beans on the year’s worst dishes; here are the very best.

Sea bass with rice peppers at Café China: The revamped Café China in its new location nearer Herald Square is better than ever, especially this entrée ($42) of an entire fish in a lovely yellow broth shot with pickled green peppercorns, yielding a tart and spicy savor characteristic of Sichuan cuisine. The depths of the bowl offer a luxuriant quantity of glass mung bean noodles, too. 59 West 37th Street, between 5th and 6th avenues, Midtown

A dark bowl with a whole fish floating.

Fish pepper soup at Buka.

Fish pepper soup at Buka: Proving that the best-tasting dishes aren’t necessarily the best-looking ones, the fish pepper soup blew me away when this essential Nigerian restaurant reopened in new digs. The soup ($15) — also available in a goat version — is known as one of the cuisine’s hottest, and the heat comes from a symphony of indigenous African spices. The flavor is mellow, warm, and pleasantly caustic all at once, and will leave you feeling very satisfied. 1111 Fulton Street, between Classon and Franklin streets, Bed-Stuy

Three green balls in a bowl.

Escargot croquettes at Claud.

Escargot croquettes at Claud: The rubbery grommets that are land snails can be tiresome if you eat too many of them, each in its own indentation bathed in garlic butter. But Claud invented a new use — in perfectly round and mossy fritters ($13), with the gastropod mollusk delivering a rubbery squish inside an earthy crunch, the perfect thing to go with a glass of white wine. 90 East 10th Street, between 4th and 3rd avenues, Greenwich Village

A bowl of brown broth with an egg and noodles and cilantro visible.

Mohinga at Thar Gi Mohinga.

Mohinga at Thar Gi Mohinga: Some national dishes stake a claim in what seems like every neighborhood in the city, but mohinga, the signature soup of Myanmar, is harder to find. It is one of the most complex dishes imaginable, a soup of mashed fish flavored principally with ginger and lemongrass, layered with rice noodles and chickpea-flour fritters that go crunch, crunch! Is there a more tasty or nourishing soup ($11, with boiled egg) on the planet? HK Supermarket Food Court, 2-02 45th Avenue, at 82nd Street, Elmhurst

A wedge of cake with peaches form fitted on the top.

Chambers’ menu calls it “yellow peaches.”

Yellow peaches at Chambers: When French favorite Racines closed on Chambers Street earlier this year, it was quickly replaced by Chambers. Part wine bar, part ambitious restaurant, it did amazing things with seasonal fruits and vegetables as the summer came to a bittersweet close. One particularly memorable dish was a wedge of butter cake layered with grilled peaches ($14) like a skullcap. And reverently beside it waited a perfect ball of chartreuse ice cream — flavored with chartreuse liqueur, that is. 94 Chambers Street, between Church Street and Broadway, City Hall

A duck leg points skyward.

Duck panang avocado curry at Thonglor.

Duck panang avocado curry at Thonglor Thai: The curries of southern Thailand’s Malay Peninsula have emerged in their own right over the last year. A case in point is this red curry from which rises up an entire half duck with crisp skin: a nice contrast to the green snap beans and creamy slices of avocado that accompany it. 32-47 Steinway Street, between 34th Avenue and Broadway, Astoria

Fried chicken strewn with pickled jalapenos with a pair of biscuits in the background.

Salt and pepper chicken at Potluck Club.

Salt and pepper chicken with scallion biscuits at Potluck Club: This daffy new Chinese restaurant looks like a movie theater inside — and no one has taken the concept of Chinese American fusion further. American fried chicken is rendered as its Chinese counterpart, salt and pepper chicken ($25), then spectacularly sided with biscuits that riff on scallion pancakes, with a salty plum jam and sweet pickled jalapenos on the side. It’s one of the city’s best versions of fried chicken, period. 133 Chrystie Street, between Delancey and Broome streets, Lower East Side

A flatbread enfolding a bony serving of goat curry.

Goat roti at Gloria’s.

Goat roti at Gloria’s: There’s nothing better than a Trinidadian roti wrapped in a good fresh dal puri so that powdery yellow-split-pea powder dusts your hands as you eat. The goat is dense and filling, laced with spicy-sweet pepper and tamarind. Yes, you have to pick the bones out, but that adds to the fun ($10). 987 Nostrand Avenue, between Empire Boulevard and Sullivan Place, Crown Heights

A bowl with shredded cabbage on top and orangish red soup.

Chicken paratha at Little Myanmar.

Chicken paratha at Little Myanmar: The name chicken paratha ($8) might suggest a flatbread wrapped around a curry or other stew into a sort of sandwich — but this wonderful recipe is far from it. The paratha here is transformed into delightful little dumplings in this spicy red stew enhanced with herbs and shredded cabbage, with red pepper flakes on the side in case you want to ramp up the heat. 150 East 2nd Street, near Avenue A, East Village

A pair of split shrimp showing orange head fat.

Thai river prawns at LumLum.

Thai river prawns at LumLum: This was a sterling year for new Thai restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, with regional food flooding many menus. Replacing the respected Pam Real Thai food this year was LumLum, offering several remarkable new dishes. These river prawns (two for $14) native to the Mekong River are like little lobsters, tasting of butter and oozing roe, served with a pungent dipping sauce. 404 West 49th Street, near 9th Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen

A blue bowl of wide noodles with an orange colored meat sauce.

Fettuccine Bolognese at Fatta Mano.

Fettuccine Bolognese at Fatta Mano: Right across the street from Palestinian restaurant Ayat on Bay Ridge’s restaurant row from one of the same owners, Fatta Mano means “made by hand” and that certainly pertains to these noodles, which are as firm and fresh tasting as if they’d been made moments before. The sauce is unusual, with less tomato and a hint of orange rind for a bright sunny flavor ($28). 8501 3rd Avenue, at 85th Street, Bay Ridge

A hand holds a modest cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger at S&P.

Cheeseburger at S&P: The successor to Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop managed to one-up its predecessor by turning back the clock a century and recreating the iconic lunch counters of NYC’s past in excruciating detail. They certainly got the hamburger right: a thin, well-seared patty heaped with raw onions, smothered in American cheese, and slathered with mustard, rather than mayo, ketchup, or hideous “special sauce.” 174 5th Avenue, between 22nd and 23rd streets, Flatiron

an orange puck with white crust and greenish yellow splotches of sauce around it.

Celery root tartare at Koloman.

Celery root tartare at Koloman: This was a great year for ingredient-bending recipes and nothing illustrates that better than this riff on steak tartare at the city’s new Austrian boite, Koloman, in the Ace Hotel. The shredded celeriac, heavily laced with mustard and formed into a puck, proved the perfect stand-in for red meat, with a more refreshing finish but a hauntingly similar flavor. The parmesan crust on top was a value-added feature ($21). 16 West 29th Street, at Broadway, Nomad

A quarter chicken smothered in dark brown gravy.

Smothered chicken at Mitchell’s Soul Food.

Smothered chicken at Mitchell’s Soul Food: This Prospect Heights landmark dates to 1978, and has long satisfied budget diners with its excellent soul food menu — all the classics and little else — at budget prices. Many swear by the fried chicken and fried pork chops, but I prefer the gravy-smothered rendition of those dishes ($12.50 and $13.50). As for the two sides, I’d suggest New Orleans-style red beans and rice, and green beans, too, for a bit of chlorophyll. Cornbread is provided free of charge, and it’s the sweet, cakey type. 617 Vanderbilt Avenue, between Bergen Street and St. Marks Avenue, Prospect Heights

Three rolls of eggplant with browned cheese on top and oozing ricotta.

Eggplant rollatini at Laico’s.

Eggplant rollatini at Laico’s: This old-timer opened near the Hackensack River waterfront in Jersey City in 1972, and the menu reflects Italian American food at that juncture of its development. Nothing could be more perfect than the eggplant rollatini ($11), stuffing southern Italy’s favorite vegetable with the cow’s milk cheese so abundant in the New World, called for lack of a better term, mozzarella. The pungent tomato sauce knocks the dish into orbit. 67 Terhune Avenue, between Fowler Avenue and Spring Street, Jersey City

150 East 2nd Street, Manhattan, NY 10009

617 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 789-3212