My favorite foodie friend, Carolyn Stine, is here with the newest series on Elana Lyn— a roundup of restaurant recommendations in NYC! I always text Carolyn or look at her Instagram for recommendations, so I’m so thrilled that she’s sharing them on Elana Lyn!
Restaurant Recommendations in NYC
El Rey — So Much More Than a Coffee Spot
The Lower East Side is a trek. This is accepted and acknowledged by many a native New Yorker. I personally reside in Chelsea, so there had better be a very good reason for me to schlep down to the LES.
El Rey falls into the category of “a very good reason.” This unobtrusive little cafe is mostly known for its coffee and light breakfast by day. Not hating on that at all. In fact, I encourage you to go and try their breakfast. It’s just that dinner is so good, and so under the radar, that it deserves a bit more of the spotlight. The dinner menu is tiny (like the space) and consists of about a dozen options, all in small plates. Many of the menu items are vegan and vegetarian, but they taste unique and decadent all the same.
I dined there with a friend, and we had to try hard not to order the whole menu. These were my highlights: Vegan chiccharones locos with hot sauce, cashew crema, chamoy sauce (made from pickled red fruit, similar to a jam), and peanuts. Traditional chiccharones are fried pork rinds, so these were a bit more delicate. Also vegan. So that makes them healthy, right? Shaved cauliflower with chickpea vinaigrette and sprinkled with sesame, with a poached egg hiding at the bottom of the bowl. Best. Surprise. Ever. This was my favorite dish of the evening. Octopus salad with “black bean” puree and hominy — a close runner-up for favorite. I am kind of an octopus die-hard and order it whenever I see it, and this was delightful.
Jeffrey’s Grocery — File Under: Places You Want to Be a Regular
Whether you’re coming for afternoon oysters and champagne, a late night dinner, or drinks at the bar, Jeffrey’s Grocery is the neighborhood spot where you want to be a regular. My personal favorite is an early morning breakfast, before the rest of the city has woken up and the Sunday hoards have descended for brunch. I recently dined here with a close friend, and we waltzed in, sat right down, and had the place to ourselves.
Breakfast was simple: Despite being tempted by a duck confit and egg special (next time), we both went with the “beans n’ greens,” which is served in a mini cast iron skillet. Escarole, gigante beans, breadcrumbs, and parm came topped off with two beautiful poached eggs. Even though it was unpretentious, it was absolutely delicious. Order a side of the freshly toasted multigrain bread for scooping up the leftover yolk. Then come back every weekend until everyone knows your name. And invite me to come with you!
Mighty Quinns BBQ — Wear Elastic Pants
It’s difficult to make a case for barbecue in NYC. Having eaten it in Austin, Nashville, and other more authentic locales, NYC BBQ seems like a wannabe, a small player in a big game. So when I try a new BBQ joint in our fair city, my expectations are normally not through the roof. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at Mighty Quinn’s.
Let me preface this by saying you go here for the meat. Period. We sampled the pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and burnt ends, with the latter being the table’s top pick. Burnt ends are literally the ends, or tips, of the big pieces of brisket, and are insanely delicious. I highly recommend doubling up on these, and also getting the side of baked beans, which are cooked with burnt ends, making them ridiculously flavorful. My other favorite sides were the sweet potato casserole, which tastes like a heavenly dessert (think pumpkin pie), and the broccoli salad, which is studded with bacon and doused in buttermilk (can’t lose with either of those ingredients). Grab an Allagash White from the tap, queue up with the masses, and steal a seat at one of the long, picnic-style tables for this epic chowfest. And stretchy pants — don’t forget to wear your stretchy pants. An elastic waist is preferable.
Babu Ji — Colorful, Quirky, and Playful
If you’re going to eat at one new restaurant this week, make it Babu Ji and make it SNAPPY. My favorite type of restaurant is one that has excellent cuisine but doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this spot hits the mark time and time again. Decor: Colorful, quirky, and playful. You’ll find old Bollywood films being projected onto the walls, and with the tables packed in as tightly as they are, it feels like a communal party. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the giant, backlit beer fridge, which boasts an impressive array of craft beers to cool off your palette amidst the spice-heavy dishes. Get the beer.
I find that Indian food in NYC tends to fall into two distinct camps — the take-out options that come with way too much tikka masala that you feel in your belly for the next two days, and the fussy fine dining options, such as Junoon. While I indulge in both of those varieties from time to time (I normally have regrets the next day about the former), Babu Ji represents a refreshing middle ground. Everything is fresh, flavorful, and reads like haute cuisine, without the stuffy atmosphere or alarming price tag.
I recommend starting with the Colonel Tso’s cauliflower, which has a crispy exterior (read: fried) and was bathed in a tomato chili sauce and topped with crunchy sesame seeds. If meat is the name of your game, do not miss the tandoori lamb chops. These decadent grilled chops were served with a cooling yogurt raita sauce and topped with tiny slivers of fried cumin potatoes. In the curry world, we were advised to sample the roasted squash and coconut variety, which was surprisingly mild and sweet, and came topped with crunchy sliced vegetables. Finish your meal off with the house-made kulfi — a long popsicle made of cardamom, honey, and pistachio ice cream. Oh — and then go around the corner to Momofuku Milk Bar for a second dessert. Because that’s what we did. Regrets? ZERO.
Avant Garden — A Veggie Lover’s Paradise
I am no vegetarian. Give me a bloody steak any day and I’m a happy camper. That being said, I adore veggies and make sure to eat my greens every day. Veggie-heavy menus have been popping up all over the city, and show no signs of slowing down. The advent of veggie-only restaurants, in a haute cuisine format, are gaining huge amounts of popularity. One of these such spots is Avant Garden in the East Village.
I recently dined here with a vegetarian friend, and both of us left fully satisfied and incredibly impressed. I think that people tend to stereotype vegetarian restaurants as purveyors of steamed veggies and soggy tempeh, as opposed to foodie destinations, and Avant Garden does a really great job of dispelling that typecast. The icing on the cake was that the dishes were as visually stunning as they were delicious.
Fennel hummus toast with oranges, olives, and walnuts — a crostini on crack. Perfect for sharing with a dining partner, this toast was simple, fresh, and delish. Beet salad with kumquats, horseradish, sunflower seeds, and dill — this dish gets my vote for best “eye candy” of the meal, and the beets were chopped up almost like a steak tartar, so the texture was unreal. Gnocchi with butternut squash, brussels sprouts, pear, and black garlic – gnocchi is always a good idea, but when combined with these seasonal fruits and veggies, it was a total home run. File under: Elevated comfort food. Maitake mushrooms with parsnips, broccoli rabe, cippolini onions, and apples — these mushrooms were so flavorful and meaty that they were almost reminiscent of a main meat dish. Again, the inclusion of fruit here added just the right amount of sweetness that went perfectly with the savory veggies.
What are some of your restaurant recommendations in NYC?
By Carolyn Stine: Carolyn is the Commerce Experience Manager at Club Monaco, but her heart (and stomach) lies firmly in the food and travel universe. Despite working on the digital side of the fashion industry by day, you can most frequently find her in search of the best new restaurant, knee-deep in planning a trip to a far-reaching locale, or at her local branch of the New York Public Library. Follow Carolyn’s adventures on Instagram at @carobaker1.