Why the East Village Is Our Top Dining Neighborhood of 2023
Plus, reviews of Foul Witch, Nudibranch, Foxface, and Superiority Burger — with cheat sheets on what to order
Enjoy this take on the East Village’s creative new class of restaurants, and consider subscribing to unlock full access to this extended column — with multiples reviews and specific intel on what to order.
‘Tis the season when all the critics from across the land take stock of everything and put out their “best of the year” lists. Indeed, I’ll be publishing my guides to the city’s top new restaurants soon enough.
But first, I want to tell a different story.
I want to talk about how much I’ve loved eating in the East Village this fall. Actually, let me go even further: I haven’t been this excited to dine out here since Momofuku Ssam Bar started hawking late-nite Sichuan tendon in 2008.
Thanks to a solid crop of newcomers, the East Village is becoming — yet again — a hub for a thriving class of edgy, ambitious, accessible restaurants.
Just take a look at these places that opened this year or last: the wildly inventive Foxface Natural, my dear Superiority Burger, the quirky Italian spot that is Foul Witch, the $75 omakase bar that is Thirteen Water, the Korean Latin Nudibranch (you’re all sleeping on that one!), a Filipino tasting menu joint that I’ll visit soon, and the regional Indian Jazba — in the old Ssam Bar space.
I’m glad that old Momofuku address is in good hands. Back in the aughts, David Chang helped make this slice of Manhattan a breeding ground for the type of cuisine you’d expect at a more comfortable fine dining establishment. Except here in the East Village, you’d pay a lot less money and encounter a lot more salt, heat, and fat. Yes, it’s been a while since Momofuku has occupied the cultural vanguard, but the closure of Ko and Ssam, along with other big deal shutterings, has left some big shoes to fill in the neighborhood.
Rest assured, those shoes have been filled. The new guard of East Village restaurants is ready to take risks.
Steak is not assured at these establishments, at least not on a regular basis. Nor will you find moules frites. But you will encounter alpaca tartare at one of these spots, and kangaroo tartare at another. And goat makes multiple appearances, as does gelatinous oxtail. This is the neighborhood you go to for dry-aged beef mandoo, caviar with persimmons (it works!), chicken-fried frogs legs, fried chicken sandwiches with no chicken, a spicy brain fry, and buttermilk gelato with bruleed lardo.
The lardo on gelato is really good!
These aren’t self-serious fine dining spots serving polite food. These are modern restaurants beta-testing dishes that are sometimes still thrilling works in progress. These are places where the chefs aren’t shy about funk, offal, game meats, and spice. These are joints where the dominant plating style is neat, but vaguely disheveled, like an attractive person who woke up from a nap in a Jacquemus sweatshirt.
You won’t find Michelin stars at these venues, not yet at least.
New York dining can lean conservative with its brasseries, steakhouses, and tasting menu spots. That’s not the case right now, as our city undergoes an energizing spell of creativity, thanks in no small part to a chic Modern Korean scene and vibrant neobistros. But if you’re looking for a single neighborhood that thrives in freewheeling innovation, you should come hang with me in the East Village.
Behind the paywall:
Foul Witch, reviewed: one of our best new Italian restaurants
The Superiority Burger fried “chicken” sandwich you need
Review: How to ace the (amazing) new menu at Nudibranch
A delicious smoked meat dish at Foxface
Bonus! The Superiority Burger collard greens sandwich
Foul Witch and NYC’s Experimental New Italian Movement
What to order: Hot testa, caviar with persimmon, all the pastas but especially the tortellini, and buttermilk gelato with lardo.
Let me tell you about the scene at Foul Witch, a wood-fired restaurant from Carlo Mirachi and Brandon Hoy, the co-owners of Roberta’s.
Fake jellyfish jostle around in a blue-lit tube. An inflatable snowman glows in the foyer. Across from a holiday tree, there’s a nice restroom that blasts “This Is Halloween,” from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” In the other loo, a Chinese dragon sits above the toilet with its mouth agape, as if it’s about to chomp you in half while Usher pipes through the sound system. And in the open kitchen, a hearth spits out hellish flames.
It’s all very Neo-Tuscan Goth. It’s very “Heathers” dubbed into Italiano.
Foul Witch is also one of the city’s best new Italian restaurants. So let me tell you about the head-spinning veal tortellini, a dish that I didn’t order until my third visit. I deeply regret that decision.
In my defense, the menu downplays how unique that pasta is.