Slideshow: Niki's Best New York Bites of 2013

The Roast Chicken from The NoMad
The Roast Chicken from The NoMad

Daniel Humm's roast chicken for two has gotten loads of press since hitting tables at The NoMad early last year, for both its high price tag ($78) and mouthwatering appeal. It's also been the centerpiece of my birthday dinner two years running. If the cost is sending you into a tizzy, consider this: That burnished skin? It's stuffed with brioche, black truffles, and foie gras.

And then, of course, there's the fanfare. Your server totes the whole bird out to your table for a tantalizing first look and then retreats smugly from your eagerly grasping hands to carve and plate the breast and finish the dark meat, which is shredded and cooked with even more truffles and a medley of wild mushrooms. It's worth remarking that I'm 100% a dark meat girl and that breast is, without doubt, the star of this meal and the juiciest, most flavorful, tender, and all-around best chicken I've ever had.

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Crispy Sliced Fish with Chili Pepper and Cumin from Fu Run
Crispy Sliced Fish with Chili Pepper and Cumin from Fu Run

I blame a childhood fish stick incident for leaving me with a lasting impression that fried fish is one of the grossest foods known to man. So I was floored to discover that I didn't just tolerate this Northern Chinese rendition from Flushing's Fu Run—I couldn't keep my hands off of it.

The crisp batter is a light (and not remotely greasy) contrast to the tender, flaky fish, heavily seasoned with cumin seeds and chili pepper. The low and mellow herbal heat makes a surprisingly rich complement to the mild white fish. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I'd take it over fried chicken any day.

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Braised Goat at Roberta's
Braised Goat at Roberta's

I'm not a very tough customer when it comes to breakfast. Give me a runny egg with something savory and saucy, be it Shakshuka or Eggs Benedict, and I'll dive right in. But this guy blows my go-to brunch dishes straight out of the water. It's easy to wind up with goat that's stringy or tough, but Roberta's braise yields tender, juicy bites that celebrate the meat's characteristic bold, pleasantly gamey flavor. The shredded chunks are served in a richly savory sauce, alongside a creamy polenta dosed with capra sarda (a sweet, nutty goat's milk cheese out of Italy) and that requisite poached egg. Which, I should add, was served just past runny, for a more viscous, sauce-like effect.

I really meant to take a picture of the whole thing, but then I smelled it, took a preliminary nibble, and browned out in a dreamy haze. When I came to, my spoon was making a plaintive, high-pitched whine, scraping away in vain against the spotless surface of the plate.

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Oysters from Maison Premiere
Oysters from Maison Premiere

We've waxed rhapsodic about Maison Premiere before, and considering its old world charm and superb menu, chances are we'll do so again. Elegantly European without verging on stuffy, with delightful absinthe cocktails and a modern seafood menu, this inspired oyster bar is the whole package (and then some).

If you're looking for a wide selection, there's really no better place to visit. With half of their nearly 40 oysters available for $1, Maison Premiere has a larger happy hour selection than many oyster bars carry on their entire menus, along with a staff ready and willing to make knowledgeable recommendations.

[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]

The Cherry Jones Pizza from Paulie Gee's
The Cherry Jones Pizza from Paulie Gee's

Since I usually steer clear of pizzas that dip into sweet territory, the Cherry Jones—fresh mozz, Gorgonzola, prosciutto, dried bing cherries, and orange blossom honey—took a while to catch my eye. But I put my trust in Paulie Gee's notorious toppings mastery and was well-rewarded with a pizza as well-balanced as it is unique. With such bold creamy, tangy, funky notes from the cheeses and prosciutto, the floral honey and tart cherries are actually the linchpin of this particular wheel, keeping it on a nice, even keel. Definitely a must-order, especially for any skeptics of fruit-topped pies out there.

Garlic Knots from Rizzo's
Garlic Knots from Rizzo's

I've had a lot of great food this year, but I can't stop thinking about the garlic knots at Rizzo's. I'm not exaggerating when I say they're hands down the best I've ever had—fresh out of the oven, they're ethereally light and airy, with the tender, pull-apart chewiness of the best rolls.

After a wait? I have no clue, since nobody in their right mind would leave a crumb left over. The diminutive knots come judiciously sprinkled with sea salt and shaved Parmesan, and even though the roasty garlic flavor is pretty pronounced, it didn't leave me talking with a hand over my mouth for the rest of the day. What else can I say? Sometimes the best bite is just a simple classic done exceedingly well.

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Pabéllon Arepa from Guacuco
Pabéllon Arepa from Guacuco

While I'd heartily recommend any of Guacuco's dishes, I'd also be lying. Despite the best of intentions, I'm unable to broaden my selection beyond the very first order I ever placed—the Pabellón is simply that good. The sandwich gets a slab-like serving of tender shredded beef, marinated with onions and peppers in a fiery tomato sauce. You'll also find your requisite black beans and fried sweet plantains, piping hot and topped off with a generous crumble of queso año. Want to dive all the way down the rabbit hole? Pair your arepa with the restaurant's Cocada, aptly subtitled, "Amazing coconut milk shake."

[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]

Cinnamon Roll from River Styx
Cinnamon Roll from River Styx

A summertime brunch at Greenpoint's River Styx found me staring deep into the depths of my soul this cinnamon roll. It arrives at the table piping hot, with a crisp golden crust. Caramel bubbles furiously around the edges, gradually soaking into the soft, bready interior. The biggest challenge is just waiting for it to cool...once you've had one bite, it's virtually impossible to stop.

[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]