NEW YORK: THE NED GUIDE
I am not the world's most empathetic person. On the empathy scale I'd put myself about level with Ultron. Sometimes I think there may only be one situation in life where I am really capable of feeling pain on behalf of another human being. And that's when a friend of mine goes to New York for a week and they don't eat very well. That is a tragedy that can haunt my conscience for months afterwards.
It's especially poignant to me because it's so easily averted. No tourist in New York need ever eat badly. (Money no object! On a budget of $20 a day you can eat the best food of your life if you tramp the 7 line in Queens.)
With that in mind, I feel it may be time to present my findings from the many long visits to New York I've made over the past few years. Here is the Google Map I've made.
The trouble is, I have a real collector's mentality about restaurants, meaning I tend to visit each place only once, and the next time I want to try somewhere new. However, for me, recommending a restaurant based on one visit is horribly unscientific and irresponsible, because my enjoyment of any given meal has so much to do with who I'm with, who's paying, how much I've had to drink etc. (Footnote: perhaps those factors don't affect professional restaurant reviewers. But I do believe that you simply don't know very much about a restaurant and its food if you've only eaten there once. That's why I find it hard to take seriously any inspection less rigorous than the New York Times' critics', because they eat a long series of meals, or even, in one famous case, two meals simultaneously.)
So in the following recommendations I'm giving priority to businesses I've patronised two or more times.
Here are my seven favourite bars in New York. (Yes, I'm doing bars as well.)
Booker & Dax (East Village – cocktails: modernist)
Amor y Amargo (East Village – cocktails: aged spirits and bitters)
Henry Public (Cobble Hill – cocktails: general sense of limitless wellbeing)
Torst (Greenpoint – craft beer)
Gowanus Yacht Club (Carroll Gardens – beer in the sunshine)
Decibel (East Village – sake)
Lucky Dog (Williamsburg – dive)
Here are some more bars that I've found to be reliable fall-backs in their respective neighbourhoods, listed roughly in order of how close they got to making it on to the previous list:
Doris (Bed Stuy), 4th Avenue Pub (Park Slope), The Library (Lower East Side), The Brooklyn Inn (Boerum Hill), Sel Rrose (Nolita), Home Sweet Home (Chinatown), Sunny's (Red Hook), Ontario Bar (East Williamsburg), Brooklyn Social (Carroll Gardens), Sophie's (East Village), Spuyten Duvil (central Williamsburg), Congress (Cobble Hill), Crown Victoria (west Williamsburg: summer), Black Bear (west Williamsburg: winter), Vol de Nuit (West Village), Pencil Factory (Greenpoint), Fulton Grand (Clinton Hill), The Breslin (Flatiron)
And here is a short list of bars that I've only been to once but that made such a pleasant impression on me that I'm willing to recommend them all the same:
Kirakuya (Koreatown), Beverly's (Chinatown), 124 Old Rabbit Club (West Village), Proletariat (East Village), OTB (south Williamsburg), Hank's Saloon (Boerum Hill), Bossa Nova Civic Club (Bushwick), Bearded Lady (Prospect Heights), Bait & Tackle (Red Hook), Nights and Weekends (Greenpoint), Forgetmenot (Chinatown)
On to food. If you said to me, 'Ned, I'm spending a week in New York, please tell me where I should eat in order to experience the best of what the city has to offer (limiting your recommendations, of course, to restaurants you've visited at least twice, because this isn't some sort of happy-go-lucky free-for-all)' I would supply the following list, which has a strong bias towards Asian food, because that's what I'm into:
Xi'an Famous Foods (Shaanxi Chinese, various locations), Momofuku Noodle Bar (Asian, East Village), Momofuku Sssam Bar (Asian, East Village), Mission Chinese Food (Chinese, Lower East Side), Roberta's (Italian, Bushwick), Spotted Pig (British, West Village), Pok Pok Ny (Thai, Red Hook), Somtum Der (northern Thai, East Village), Hot Kitchen (Sichuan Chinese, East Village), Keste (Neapolitan pizza, West Village), Ivan Ramen (ramen, multiple locations), Chengdu Heaven (Sichuan Chinese, Flushing), Taste of Northern China (Henan Chinese), Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop (roti, Bed Stuy), Rockaway Taco (tacos, Rockaway), Shake Shack (burgers, multiple locations), Oddfellows (ice cream, multiple locations), Num Pang (Cambodian sandwiches, multiple locations), Hanco's (Vietnamese sandwiches, multiple locations), Meat Hook Sandwich Shop (sandwiches, East Williamsburg), Saltie (sandwiches, central Williamsburg), Dough (doughnuts, multiple locations), Biryani Cart (kati rolls, Midtown), various BBQ carts in downtown Flushing (Xinjiang Chinese, Flushing), various taco trucks in Jackson Heights (tacos, Jackson Heights)
And if you said to me, 'Ned, I'll permit you to trample over every empirical principle you hold dear and name some restaurants that you've only visited on a single occasion but nonetheless feel prepared to endorse on that basis as among the finest of their kind' this is what you would get:
The Dutch (American, SoHo), Mighty Quinn's (Southern BBQ, multiple locations), Biang! (Shaanxi Chinese, Flushing), La Vara (tapas, Cobble Hill), Tortilleria Nixtamal (tacos, Corona), Danji (Korean, Hell's Kitchen), Ayada (Thai, Elmhurst), Khao Kang (Thai, Elmhurst), Kitchen 79 (Thai, Jackson Heights), Arepa Lady (arepas, Jackson Heights), Prime Meats (American, Carroll Gardens), Malai Marke (Indian, East Village), Ganesh Temple Canteen (dosas, Murray Hill)
Of all the restaurants that I have emblazoned with the royal seal here, the only ones that I'd characterise as expensive are The Dutch, La Vara, Prime Meats and Momofuku Ssam Bar. The rest are moderate or cheap (although if you are really determined to throw your money around, a few will permit that in fine fashion). Anyway, everything's on the Google Map. If you use it, please email me and tell me what you thought.