I love to eat, and New York is one of the best cities in the world for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the infinite food possibilities. Although I love elegance, restaurants that make me feel that my birthday meal is worth the extra year, my first choice is for very reasonable ethnic food. Here are some places to try from my ongoing “Don’t Miss This” list.
709 Ninth Avenue at 48th Street
380 Columbus Avenue at 78th Street
Halabi Gazala (above) is a young, exceedingly hardworking young woman from the Druze village of Osfia, in Northern Israel. (The Druze are mostly in the Middle East. Their monotheistic and unusual religion came out of 11th century Islam). A few years ago, Gazala came to New York with her mother and grandmother’s spices, and some secret recipes for dough – especially for a special pie, made with spinach and cheese. She started a restaurant, very tiny, on Ninth Avenue, rolling her dough in the window for passersby to see. Very soon she amassed a stack of rave reviews, and enough customers to warrant opening a second place – large and miraculously quiet, with brick walls, tile decorations, and silky, fragrant Middle Eastern food. Her lamb with pomegranate sauce and her white fish are particularly delicious. (Both restaurants are BYOB)
Seven Turkish Grill
158 West 72nd Street
Middle Eastern food is one of my favorites. There are literally hundreds of possibilities in New York, and in all the boroughs. I hope to try them all one day. For a meal of choice, I often go to Seven Turkish Grill, 158 West 72nd Street. Fresh parsley, and fragrant mint (they don’t use dried spices unless they absolutely have to) are part of most of their completely delicious appetizers. Imam Baldi, my personal favorite, literally means the Imam fainted from the pleasure of eating this eggplant dish. I know what he means. I often order the zucchini pancakes, the Turkish pizza on homemade dough called lahmajoun, and the incredibly fresh shepherd’s salad with feta cheese.
12 Park Avenue at 33rd Street
Why More people don’t know about Franchi’s is a mystery. It’s a perfect absolutely gorgeous vegetarian Korean tea house, with handpainted ceilings and a nearly infinite selection of fresh unusual teas, served in gorgeous pots. The mood is contemplative and Zen. You feel better just sitting there.
12 East 32nd Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues
Hangawi, the sister restaurant of Franchi, is better known, more expensive, and far more Korean formal. It’s a special occasion place, but going there anytime is wonderful. Shoes are checked at the door. Hangawi meals look like minature paintings. They create a series of visual tableaus, all vegetarian. It’s an absolute Don’t Miss This. Diners are given many options, and a menu that looks like a good sized art book, with pictures and explanations. It’s unlike any dining experience you’ll ever have.
202 Centre Street
Red Egg is a Peruvian Chinese dim sum restaurant right across the street from the incredible Museum of Chinese in the Americas, an unusual tribute in a building designed by Maya Lin to the culture and immigration experience of Chinese Americans. Red Egg is a dim sum restaurant, in a loungey red hipsterish space that doesn’t look much like Chinatown. I’ve tried many of their adventuresome flavorful dim sum choices (I adore the taro cilantro pork). Absolutely don’t miss their unusual and unbelievably good Chinese desert, called young coconut.
260 West 44th Street
John’s Pizza is a great place to know in Times Square. The Building used to be a beautiful Episcopal church. The owners kept the stained glass windows, the soaring ceiling, and the feeling – even though you’re in Times Square, of nearly infinite space. New York has over 20 places called John’s Pizza. They are unrelated, and they all claim to be the very best. This John’s Pizza is excellent. Their thin crusted pizza, and their simplest salad are a perfect meal.
Banh Mi Saigon
198 Grand Street
Banh Mi Saigon is one of the cheapest and most delicious places of all. It’s a Vietnamese bakery and sandwich shop, with more possibilities than you can imagine. The sandwiches are savory and delicioius. My favorite is their French Baguette, with Barbecue meat, cilantro, mayonnaise and hot sauce. I wish I had one now.
Esther Cohen is a poet and novelist living and eating in New York.