99 ESSENTIAL RESTAURANTS®
Photo by Dominic Perri
813 55th Street
Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. (dim sum 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (dim sum 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
For a decade, dim sum fanatics have gorged on the delectables at Pacificana. The impressive banquet hall — a massive red-and-white cafeteria anointed with gilded phoenix and dragon wall hangings, nestled up a flight of stairs in a nondescript office building — sets the standard for Cantonese grandeur in Sunset Park's Chinatown. With hushed confidence, servers push their trolleys through a maze of tables, stopping to hawk their cargo from mobile command posts that brim with floppy rice rolls, steamer baskets of dumplings, and plates of gelatinous desserts. The spectacle feels familiar until you watch dish after dish of regional Chinese specialties like southern-style duck casserole and spicy sea cucumber waft into view. It's hard to look away from a giant-sea-crab feast — the four-dish procession as nuanced as any omakase — but don't forget to look up now and then. Amid the families, travelers, and expats, there's a good chance you’ll crash a wedding or two; it's bound to happen, with 500 seats and a 250-item menu. Pacificana is crowded during prime time, so early birds truly do get the worm — or in this case Hakkanese pork stew with preserved vegetables — if they arrive bright and at 8 a.m. Other dim sum palaces have crumbled, but this is one dynasty that continues to rule.
Photo by Dominic Perri
60 Greenpoint Avenue
Monday to Friday 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.
Paul Giannone, a/k/a Paulie Gee, says one of his favorite memories at his eponymous Greenpoint pizzeria, Paulie Gee's, was "when Danny Meyer came in to the restaurant with his family on a Saturday night at 8 p.m. and waited 90 minutes for a table. Twice. The second time was the biggest compliment paid to me." It should be noted that waiting for a table is actually pleasant here — you drink beers handed down from the abnormally high bar, enjoy the carefully curated music selection, and chat with your neighbors. But Meyer's willingness to stick it out twice — that’s confirmation that Giannone's parlor, which opened in 2010, holds its own among the Brooklyn pizza institutions the owner has long worshipped. Easing into retirement from a career in IT, Giannone resolved to open a pizzeria. To that end, he built a pizza oven in his garden and commenced to study the craft. “I used it to practice, experiment, and market myself to pizza enthusiasts/bloggers and potential investors,” he says. Today you’re likely to find him working the dining room and maybe even delivering your cheekily named pie, its blistered crust paved with tangy tomato sauce and browned mozzarella and topped with one of dozens of combinations of ingredients — like spicy soppressata and Mike's Hot Honey (the “Hellboy”), or braised fennel, anisette cream, and guanciale (“Anise and Anephew”). His philosophy, Giannone says, is to "offer a neighborhood dining experience, not a box with pizza in it."
Photo by Dominic Perri
415 Tompkins Avenue
Monday to Friday 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Lip-stinging cayenne permeates the golden crust of Nashville hot chicken, which traditionally comes delivered atop slices of white bread with tart butter pickles. In New York City, the definitive rendition is to be found at Peaches HotHouse, a Bedford-Stuyvesant restaurant that opened in 2008. "We've always been a hot chicken shack," says Craig Samuel, who owns the place with Ben Grossman, although he adds that in the beginning, the restaurant served new Southern experiments like pig's-head terrine and rabbit and dumplings. (He says to look for the latter to make its return.) Samuel and Grossman have fine-dining backgrounds, but this restaurant has always been casual and raucous, with locals popping in for a meal, a beer, or a cocktail named for a blues great. These days you can get shrimp and crisp grits — which caused an uproar when it was temporarily removed from the list — or meat loaf or even a burger, but you're really here for the chicken, which you should order “hot” if you want the most popular spice level, and “extra hot” if you're sure you can handle the heat. As Samuel says, "What can I say? The chicken is a beast!"
Photo by Dominic Perri
738 Flatbush Avenue
Open daily, 24 hours
Two decades ago Gavin “Peppa” Hussey introduced jerk to central Brooklyn as part of a two-man operation called Danny and Pepper, run from a stall adjoining a Flatbush Avenue fishmonger. When the pair parted ways ten years ago, Hussey moved down the street to peddle his smoky wares at Peppa's Jerk Chicken, which since has become a social hub. (The crowded takeout joint is festooned with flyers and postcards advertising local dance parties.) The kitchen bathes birds in vinegar before coating them in a heady array of spices including ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and scotch bonnet peppers. Those mouth-tingling chiles pervade the chicken's dry rub and a pungent, netherworldly sauce that doesn't let up on the heat. The flow of customers likewise rarely abates; the spice-craving hordes congregate late into the night, clamoring for jerk chicken, escovitch fish, and goat and shrimp curries. Ignore your roti yearnings in favor of festivals, cylinders of fried dough that do a fine job soaking up Hussey's marvelous sauce. After the pepper pummeling, douse your taste buds in homemade lemonade or a bottle of tropical juice, available in flavors like soursop and sorrel.
Photo by Robyn Lee/Creative Commons
Monday to Wednesday 11:45 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., Thursday 11:45 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:45 a.m. to 10:45 p.m., Sunday 12:45 to 9:45 p.m.
Few restaurants are as tied to their location as Peter Luger Steak House, and few have achieved such exalted status. In a city famous for its steakhouses, Peter Luger has long been considered the best. The restaurant is layered in history, and you feel it the moment you step through its front door, only to be swept up by a raucous crowd drinking martinis at the formidable front-room bar. Join them while you wait for your table to be ready in one of the several rooms this place comprises. Luger cares not for the plush opulence of midtown meat temples. This place more closely resembles a German beer hall. Eventually you'll be crammed into a seat at a long table, then greeted by a waiter. You order steak not by cut, but for two, three, or four people, and you're rewarded with juice-drooling bone-in slabs from the steer’s short loin, plucked from Luger's own dry-aging box, cooked until crusted and cut into strips. You will be admonished if you order your steak anything other than rare, so it's best to just let the kitchen take control. Sides you order separately, and if your group is large enough, you want many of them: Creamed spinach, onion rings, and German fried potatoes are a good place to start. Begin your meal with a wedge salad, the sizzling slab bacon, and a jumbo shrimp cocktail. If you go for lunch, do not — we repeat, do not — miss the burger. Ask for it coated in cheese, and possibly topped with bacon, but do not ask for ketchup. This is the way things have been done at least since Sol Forman bought this place at auction in 1950, though the restaurant’s history goes back much farther. It began in 1887 as Carl Luger's Café, Billiards and Bowling; the last Luger owner, Peter, later put his name on the sign. Forman was a regular at the steakhouse for more than two decades, and he despaired when it fell into disarray after Peter Luger passed away. Rather than find a new restaurant, he resolved to fix up the place himself. He put his wife, Marsha, through meat-inspection training, and she took over selecting the cuts that the restaurant would use. She taught the skill to her daughters, Marilyn Spiera and Amy Rubenstein, who now run the business with Spiera's daughter, Jody Storch. (A fourth generation has joined the team as well.) Another quirk from the olden days: Luger doesn't accept credit cards. Come armed with a debit card from a U.S. bank, or loaded with cash.
Photo by Bradley Hawks
727 Manhattan Avenue
Monday to Friday 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop was established in the then predominantly Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint more than six decades ago, when the Dodgers still called Brooklyn home. It would be hard to fathom the shop existing anywhere else in the city. It's a neighborhood spot that locals hold dear, a place that new residents go as a rite of passage, and a tasty destination for those not lucky enough to live close by. Here owners Christos and Donna Siafakas, along with their son Peter, turn out about twenty flavors of doughnuts using recipes handed down from the original owners. The varieties are unfussy and run the gamut from sour cream to chocolate to cake and sugar to toasted coconut. The best seller is the red velvet doughnut, fashioned after the classic Southern cake. "When it gets a little warmer outside, we slice them open and fill ’em with cherry amaretto ice cream," Donna Siafakas tells the Voice. "They're really good." Indeed they are. Peter Pan also serves a fine egg sandwich on a fresh-baked bagel or poppy seed roll, not to mention filled éclairs, cinnamon buns, and crullers. People come as much for the atmosphere as for the food, posting up on stools at the S-shape counter with a newspaper while staffers dressed in I Love Lucy–esque green-and-pink dresses serve them coffee and pastries. Hit the place at 10:30 a.m. if you want to see the gathering of regulars. (A morning trip also ensures that your favorite doughnut flavor won't have run out.)
Photo by Bradley Hawks
166 South 4th Street
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight
Pies 'n' Thighs has been frying chickens by the dozen for adoring crowds since 2006, cementing its reputation as NYC’s pre-eminent Southern comfort food spot. The operation began in the back of Rock Star Bar on Kent Avenue, which operated like "a pirate ship," says owner Sarah Sanneh. Eventually she and co-owner Carolyn Bane secured a shop at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge, building their funky little restaurant into a couple of different rooms anchored by a pie counter. While the operation continues to expand — the partners opened an outpost on the Lower East Side in early 2015 — the ethos hasn't changed. Pies 'n' Thighs still aims to sell the best homestyle food at a great value in a comfortable setting. Even as the menu has grown, original items remain the most popular: Don't miss the chicken biscuit, fried chicken, and catfish. Side your meal with mac 'n' cheese shot through with hot sauce, and finish with some pie (of course). Our heart is aflutter for the banana cream.
Photo by Nicole Franzen
117 Columbia Street
Monday to Friday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
Historically, South Brooklyn's Columbia Street Waterfront District was a desolate area flanked by the cranes, shipping crates, and industrial complex of the Port Authority. It's on the rise now, though, and some of its recent revival should be credited to chef Andy Ricker, who decided to plant a New York offshoot of his Portland-based mini-empire here and quickly became an integral part of the city's dining fabric. Since opening its doors in 2012, Pok Pok Ny has drawn hordes to this stretch for a taste of Ricker's take on Thai. You won't find watered-down curries or pad Thais here (Ricker does have a noodle-specific shop, Pok Pok Phat Thai, down the street). The regional (mostly Northern) Thai fare is bolder and spicier than its southern and Americanized counterparts. That goes for familiar food, like the peppery papaya “Pok Pok,” as well as odder dishes like “Muu Paa Kham Waan,” for which thin slices of charcoal-grilled boar collar are seasoned with a blend of garlic, coriander root, and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, then doused with a chile-lime-garlic sauce. It's so piquant that iced mustard greens are served on the side to quench the heat. The cocktail list showcases interesting Thai-style drinking vinegars that complement the complex fare as effectively as cheap light beer. Ricker calls himself a Thai copycat, but he has exposed the West to a new frontier of flavors with his inventive cuisine. And even in a city filled with good Thai restaurants, his take is singular.
Photo by Bradley Hawks
39-08 Fifth Avenue
Open daily, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Most of Sunset Park's Mexican restaurants line Fifth Avenue south of the park, but Puebla Mini Market is a jump north. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the huge sign attached to the building, which conveniently tells you exactly what you should order: TORTAS. Don Pepe is the mastermind behind the varieties of Mexican sandwich here; his creations number 40 (and counting). All tortas start with beans, avocado, tomato, and onion, and the ingredients pile up from there. Somewhat untraditionally, the cooks load the sandwiches onto a type of panini press; the double-sided heat condenses the creations into well-toasted packages. For all of their layers, these tortas are surprisingly tidy, striated and dense as tectonic plates. The juice counter at the front specializes in various healthful blends of fruits and vegetables. You might need the juiced beet, celery, and pineapple para la depresión that comes with polishing off an entire torta by yourself.
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