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Jesse Schenker is a classically-trained French chef with a mean air guitar and an armful of heavy metal tattoos. That dichotomy characterizes the 29-year old Gordon Ramsay protégé, who has made a name for himself by taking high end risks like opening a private dining club in Harlem and making it public in 2010, moving Recette to the West Village. Today, Jesse has moved on from Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and into his own, bringing his brand of cool to a neighborhood that has long deserved a second chance.
Pizza, slice: Claudio Pizzeria is pretty decent. Recently, I was walking by with my one year-old son Eddie and stopped inside for a bite. They have a traditional, no-nonsense New York City slice.
Pizza pie: The owner of Kesté teamed up with his old mentor for Don Antonio by Starita, which is a really big deal. It's only been open for about three months but they've got a really good thing going. With something like 50 different Neapolitan-style pies, you can never get tired of going here.
Burger, cheap: Five Napkin Burger is cheap and greasy in a good way, and most of all, consistent. No matter which location you go to, it's always real good to satisfy that burger craving.
Burger, fancy: Joe Allen is an institution, and so is their burger. You've got to give it to them—the usual restaurant staple, a burger, is damn good at this NYC mainstay which has been open since 1965. There's something really special about having a burger here, knowing so many people have been in that dining room, eating that burger.
Sandwich: City Sandwich is an interesting, unusual sandwich shop that makes all their sandwiches on freshly baked bread made specially with Portuguese pao de agua flour. Twice a day, pans of half-baked buns are delivered for a final turn in their oven so they're hot, crusty and blistered. Aside from the bread, I also really like how most of the sandwich ingredients are local.
Coffee: I always get a doppio from the Starbucks right near Esca. Other neighborhood coffee shops make it well, but Starbucks makes the ideal espresso in my opinion. A doppio gives me the perfect jolt—morning, afternoon, or night.
Breakfast: Jenny's Marketplace's bacon, egg and cheese on a croissant is crazy satisfying and indulgent. I get it delivered so I can get my fix at home in my pajamas. I treat myself to one once in a while.
Bagel: Although it's not in Hell's Kitchen proper, I only get bagels at Murray's. I love that they refuse to toast it because they're so damn fresh and delicious—to toast would be sacrilegious.
Delivery food: Market Diner is clean, it's new, and it's hands-down the best diner in New York City right now. It's a proper restaurant, not your typical greasy diner where you should think twice before ordering seafood. No comparison to any other diner around town.
Cocktail bar: When I have friends in from out of town, I take them to Bar Centrale, an unmarked spot upstairs from Joe Allen. Out-of-towners love it because not many people know about it. It's one of those old-school haunts.
Ice cream: My wife Lindsay loves Pinkberry. We go to the one next to Blue Ribbon behind Time Warner. She is all about the traditional flavor and coconut and chocolate chip toppings. We like to bring our son Eddie there too; it's real kid-friendly.Chinese takeout: Chef Yu has the freshest Chinese around. My go-to takeout order is steamed shrimp and veggies because they serve big prawns, not teeny tiny scrawny shrimp, and nice fresh vegetables with great, bright green broccoli. The food is never drenched with too much sauce. I also like that they don't do American take-out like chicken wings—they stick to what they do best. Falafel: Late night, I hit up the falafel cart right outside my apartment on 37th and 10th. The guy knows me so I always get a good deal. The falafel is crisp and seasoned really well. I also particularly love their hot sauce.
Late-night eats: Hagi is a sake bar with really great Japanese food. I always order the same three dishes: Hamachi collar, wasabi dumplings and the sweet fatty pork. In terms of consistency, I'm never let down. I go at least once a month, usually around 1 AM.
Date night: If we're lucky enough to leave work at the same time, Lindsay and I hit up Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at least once a week, usually on Thursday nights. We'll order crazy amounts of food—mixed seaweed salad, bone marrow, rock shrimp tempura, sushi deluxe platter, aji tofu, and if we're really hungry, we get the oxtail fried rice, too.
Can't-miss neighborhood spot: I'm a major sushi fan. I love Soto in the West Village, but because Sushi of Gari 46 is so close to my home, it's my close second. I never open a menu. I always order the Omakase and am blown away every time.