New York's 19 Best Dishes of the Year So Far
Bad Roman's chicken scarpariello rigatoni, Libertine's duck au poivre, and other remarkable dishes from 2023, according to Ryan Sutton
One of my favorite traditions back at Eater was publishing a little column called the best dishes of the year, “so far.” It was a mid-summer progress report on eating out, with nods to popular trends (“the restaurant as a party”), the economy, the pandemic, or whatever else. The focus was largely on new establishments.
I’m going to do things a little bit differently, though, for my first big best dishes column at The Lo Times. Just under half of these selections are from slightly older spots.
There are still quite a few new venues listed here — Libertine, Bad Roman (better than you’ve heard, but still annoying), Tatiana, Jaffa — and that’s by design. When a restaurant opens up in your neighborhood (or close by), you want to know why the venue matters (or doesn’t), and whether you should spend your time and money there.
But after I lost my job in January, I craved — like so many of us during tough times — some comfort at places where I knew what to expect. Was this a chicken caldo for the soul situation, where I sought out some of the same things over and over — like a “Lord of the Rings” couch marathon during a Sunday hangover? Sure, maybe, but that’s only one part of the story.
Sometimes, I just wanted to get reacquainted with an old favorite after a long pandemic-related closure. That brings up the case of Alex Raij and Eder Montero’s Txikito, where I fell in love with a new seafood rice dish. Then there was Mercado Little Spain, where I ended up trying a few new sandwiches while working on my Substack at the tables there. And even though I’ve written about the au poivre at Lord’s before, it felt newly relevant in an era of steep steak prices.
On that note, I’ve chosen more affordable-ish dishes than usual for my mid-year favorites; you won’t find any selections from tasting menus, omakase spots, or ultra-luxe venues. That decision was, I’ll admit, part of an effort to make my own dollars stretch in the absence of a formal critic’s expense account (not something most folks have), or an actual salary, lol.
My situation is not unique. Yes, the economy is strong and the unemployment rate is low. But Americans are prematurely tapping into their 401(k)s. Federal student loan payments will resume in October. Astronomical New York rents are eating away at raises. And even though inflation is moderating, the price of dinner is still higher than ever, something that stings even more if you’re out of a job. So yeah, I’ll be sure to hit up some tasting menu spots during the fall — that indeed is part of my job — but for now, here’s the best of where I’ve been eating for not a ton of dough.
The best dishes of the year so far…
Aldama’s oxtail barbacoa tacos
If you wanted the beefiest beef dish in New York right now, I wouldn’t send you to a venue where brigade chefs reduce and strain sauces with as much care as laboratory professionals.
I’d instead send you to Aldama, a restaurant where chef Gerardo Alcaraz makes an oxtail barbacoa so powerful it’s as if someone is tattooing the flavor of beef directly onto your tongue. The precise plating and negative space wouldn’t feel out of place at a posh chef’s counter spot. But here, you smear the barbacoa with hummus and season it with chiles so spicy that it would better pair with a mezcal margarita than an aged red. Modern Mexican fare in New York continues to be a force of nature. Cost: $36. 91 South Sixth Street, near Berry Street, Williamsburg.
Egusi dumplings and the Miami Vice at Tatiana
Fine dining across the U.S. might not be as fancy or stuffy it once was, but it’s still hard to imagine strolling into a three Michelin-starred French spot and casually asking for piña colada or strawberry daiquiri. But at Kwame Onwuachi’s excellent Tatiana, you can get both in a single frosty cup ($20). The tropical aromas and electric acidity tame the powerful seafood aromas of egusi dumplings with Nigerian red stew. But more importantly, this drink seems to say that we can all just relax a bit at a chic establishment and enjoy a nice frozen cocktail. 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, at David Geffen Hall, Upper West Side