Steamed Yuba with Soba Porridge and Ankake Soy Sauce at Kajitsu
A tiny lidded porcelain pot comes on a polished wooden saucer. Removing the lid reveals cloudy wisps of yuba (tofu skin) just breaking the surface of a sweet soy-based sauce. A dollop of freshly grated wasabi sits on top to be stirred into the pot. Digging deeper reveals a layer of earthy buckwheat porridge. It's Nishihara's interpretation of classic cold soba, a dish he specialized during a two year stint at Tohma, a soba-based kaiseki restaurant in Nagano. (Full review here).
Spaghetti with Crab, Sea Urchin, and Basil from Marea ($31)
The pasta at Marea—or any Michael White restaurant, in fact—is uniformly great. Flavorful with a nice al dente bite, the Spaghetti ($31) comes bathed in a sauce made with White's pomodoro base. When an order is placed, the rich and sweet tomato sauce is puréed with sea urchin, its signature metallic brininess coating every crack and crevice in the tender chunks of crab meat, bathing each strand of spaghetti in its glorious ocean flavor. A handful of bread crumbs tops the plate. This is my favorite pasta dish in the city. Full review here).
Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen at Jin Ramen ($12)
The broth is not as thick and creamy as that at Ippudo or a couple other ramen-ya around the city, but what it lacks in thick texture, it makes up in ample flavor with a great balance of pork and aromatics. I could slurp up the broth alone by the bowlful. The spicy version comes with a slick of hot sesame oil flavored with roasted garlic paste. It's worth the upgrade. The house-made noodles are amongst the best in the city, as is the meltingly tender chashu. (Full review here).
Bao'Ji Mung Bean Jelly From Biang! ($3)
The Bao'Ji Mung Bean Jelly from Biang! ($3) is up there with the soft tofu from Xi'an Famous Foods (another restaurant from the same owners!) as one of my favorite under-$5 dishes in the city. The jelly has an interesting texture somewhere between tofu and Jell-O Jigglers. They're not porous and don't absorb flavors well, so they've got to be sauced in powerfully flavored stuff. Biang!'s chili oil and Sichuan-style fermented bean sauce fits the bill perfectly. (More on the mung bean and lamb dumplings here).
Muu Kham Waan at Pok Pok ($16)
The greatest food memory I have of Bangkok are of the thin slivers of charred pork neck I tried in the recently closed Suan Lum Night Market. The tender fat was crisped like bacon around the edges, and it bore a meltingly soft center with a sweet soy glaze and a bright sauce of herbs and lime juice. I've yet to taste anything quite as spectacular. Ricker's Muu Kham Waan ($16), which uses pork sourced from Niman Ranch, comes as close as I've had. (See full review here).
Chongqing Chicken Wings from Mission Chinese ($10)
The Mission folks have a way with the fryer—their Mission Bowling Club fries up some of the best chicken we've had anywhere. With their Chongqing Chicken ($10), they forgo the bony diced chunks of chicken in the classic dish and opt instead for meaty wings paired with honeycomb tripe—deep-fried, frozen overnight, then deep fried again for an extra-crisp crust. Tossed with a potent sweet-hot powder flavored with cumin and fennel, it arrives at your table under a massive pile of fragrant toasted chilis. It's one of the greatest dishes on the menu and goes a long way toward explaining exactly why people line up to get in. (Full review here).