Editor's note: We write about restaurants all over the city. But sometimes, you don't want to travel for food; you want the best eats right in your neighborhood. So we're having the Serious Eats staff share where they eat around their own 'hoods. Today? Serious Drinks and Sweets editor Maggie Hoffman!
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I first moved to the East Village in 2004, and even though I'm constantly complaining about my noisy neighbors and my teeny-tiny living space, I can't leave. It's the food. I love that there are dozens of restaurants to choose from within a block of my apartment. I love the variety, from cheap and spicy hand-pulled noodles to high-end multicourse dining. I love that we have some of the city's best pizza and plenty of the city's best cocktails. In the East Village, there are always new places to try, but I find myself returning again and again to a few favorites. Here's my list. What's on yours?
Pizza by the Pie: Motorino
The fact that Motorino delivers to my apartment almost justifies the high rent; I'd have a hard time giving up the quick arrival of Mathieu Palombino's clam pizza or the savory cremini and mushroom. The perfectly chewy, lightly charred crust also makes for an excellent base for a brunch pizza with eggs and pancetta.
Pizza by the Slice: South Brooklyn Pizza
South Brooklyn Pizza has a few branches around town (and in, well, Brooklyn) and it's a go-to for us. The crust isn't perfect, and the sauce is sometimes a hair too sweet, but the drizzle of olive oil goes a long way toward making these slices flavorful (good mozzarella and fresh basil don't hurt, either.) Roasted garlic is provided for decorating your slice, too.
Go early, plan to wait, put your name in and go play pool. But a giant bowl of tonkotsu ramen from Ippudo is completely worth any inconvenience. The broth is intensely rich and savory, the noodles straddle the perfect balance of tenderness and firmness, and the atmosphere is lively. I always regret choosing anywhere else for my ramen fix.
Brunch: Northern Spy Food Co.
I'm a little obsessed with Northern Spy's kale salad, made with raw lacinato kale, cumbled Cabot clothbound cheddar, roasted squash, toasted almonds, and pecorino. With two eggs on top, it's pretty much perfect brunch food, hearty but not heavy enough to weigh you down. The corned beef hash is also killer. Arrive at opening time to avoid a wait.
Brunch Fixings To Go: Russ & Daughters
Ok, so it's technically Lower East Side, but East Villagers should know about this source for excellent Nova lox and other smoked fish, plus cream cheese and everything else you'll need for an impressive spread. This place is the real deal, run by 4th-generation Russes, and we hear that the line on weekend mornings is quite the pickup scene.
Sophisticated Bar Bites: Vandaag
Start with cocktails: either based on beer or genever, all unusual, bright, and zingy-tart. Snack on an order of supple gravlax and some expertly fried oxtail bitterballen, crisp outside, rich and meaty inside, perfect for soaking up another round of drinks.
For $2, you can have one of these Nick Solares-approved sliders, soft potato roll, caramelized onions, and all. I'd skip the version with bacon ground into the meat, though. Don't come expecting a salad: it's just sliders, fries, shakes, and pecan pie.
Myth has it that all the restaurants on Curry Row share the same kitchen, but even if that were true, Banjara (and Brick Lane, I'd argue) is exempt, churning out much higher quality dishes, vivid with spice and heat. The saag paneer is creamy, fresh-tasting and comforting, and the lamb dishes tend to be moist and well-seasoned. I also love the savory-sweet Bhindi Do Piaza, okra with browned onions and dried mango.
Banjara: 97 1st Ave, New York NY 10003 (map); 212-477-5956
Fiery Thai: Zabb Elee
This place isn't for pad thai (for that, there's Zabb City on 13th Street) but if you're craving seriously spicy laab and papaya salads, plus stir fries with fresh green peppercorns and holy basil, this new place is right up your alley—some even say it's the best Thai in Manhattan. The food suffers a bit in delivery, so go there in person.
Chinese: Grand Sichuan
During my early years in the city, my Chinese roommate ordered delivery from this St. Marks Place restaurant nearly every night, and it's where I had my first soup dumpling experience. The big round tables are good for a group, and there's beer by the pitcher. If you can stand the heat, order the Ma Po tofu and Chong Qing Dry and Spicy chicken. Cool your tongue with the cold vegetables (cucumbers or asparagus) in scallion sauce.
There's also a promising new Sichuan joint in the neighborhood (Hot Kitchen on 2nd Avenue) but I haven't checked it out yet.
Mexican: Tacos Morelos Cart
No, it doesn't compare to the best Mexican food I've had, but when you need your fix, this is the place for tacos filled with shredded goat—lightly gamey, moist, and flavorful. Add a tinga tostada to your order, too, or anything with chorizo. The cart is open late and all the options are affordable.
Tacos Morelos: 2nd Street and Ave. A, New York, NY 10009 (map); 347-772-5216
Southern-Style Fried Chicken: The Redhead
This crunch and well-seasoned specimen is flavorful and juicy inside, good enough to win the Serious Eats Fancy Pants Fried Chicken Showdown a few years back. I try not to make it a frequent indulgence, but it's darn good stuff.
Korean Fried Chicken: Boka
I love Momofuku's reservation-only version, but this St. Mark's Place spot offers tasty, crispy Korean-style wings (skip the massive drumsticks) in fiery and sweet versions along with pitchers of beer. Good for a group, and throw in a kimchi pancake—but skip the rest of the menu.
Boka: 9 St Mark's Place, New York NY 10003 (map); 212-228-2887
Lobster and Crab Rolls: Luke's Lobster
I prefer the crab roll over the lobster, but either way, these simple Maine-style rolls are cheaper than the Manhattan average and quite tasty—just fresh seafood, a swipe of mayo, and a delicate sprinkle of spices, all piled on a buttered split-top bun.
Where to Bring Your Parents: Pylos
A polished, calm oasis in a busy neighborhood, with a ceiling festooned with hundreds of clay pots. Start with horiatiki and warm pita, share the creamy but remarkably light artichoke Anginares Moussaka, then keep nibbling on small plates or go for bigger grilled fish or braised meat.
There is something magical about a macchiato from this miniscule neighborhood treasure; it seems to drill right into your brain exactly where you need the caffeine. Order a cortado if you want a little more milk (but not quite as much as a cappuccino.) The olive oil cake is one of my favorite baked goods in the neighborhood. Note: espresso drinks are better than the iced coffee.
Wine Bar Happy Hour: Terroir
It only lasts an hour, from 5 to 6 p.m., but the selection of $6 glasses is quite impressive, and you can try a glass of sherry for free (take them up on it; the sherry's especially delicious with the sage-wrapped fried sausage bites and the housemade charcuterie.) It's a great opportunity to experiment with wines you might not try otherwise; the C.H. Berres Auslese riesling on their current list would be a bargain at twice the price.
Cocktails: I Can't Choose
If you feel like tequila drinks, head to Mayahuel. For rum, Cienfuegos (and El Cobre downstairs.) For concoctions crafted around unheard-of liquors (and sometimes aged in barrels), check out The Beagle.
Mayahuel: 304 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10003 (map); 212-253-5888; mayahuelny.com ; Cienfuegos: 95 Avenue A, New York NY 10009 (map); 212-614-6818; cienfuegosny.com; The Beagle: 162 Avenue A, New York NY 10009 (map); 212-228-6900; thebeaglenyc.com