I’ve devoured Time Out’s 100 Best dishes and now, once again, I’ve been inspired to create my own list. These are the 100 dishes I have continued to think about since tasting them at some point in 2011. Look for another five dishes every few days. These are in no particular order.
NUMBER 40: PAPDI CHAAT at BHOJAN
Chaat is sort of the ultimate street food in India, but yet you really have to go to a restaurant or a fast food takeout joint to get a sample of this addicting snack. It’s quite surprising that I have yet to discover a food cart selling this specialty. The best version I’ve had was this past year at vegetarian (and kosher) Indian restaurant Bhojan.
The papdi chaat is a fantastic combination of fried dough bits (think those crunchy wonton freebies at American-Chinese restaurants) topped with curried potatoes, crisp bean sprouts, a sweet chutney, a spicy chutney, and plenty of cooling yogurt sauce. It’s a wonder of textures and flavors beautifully refined to sit-down restaurant fare. Price: $6
|102 Lexington Avenue (between 27th and 28th Street)
NUMBER 39: MAIZ TOASTADO at BARZOLA
Barzola is quite famous in the Ecuadorian community. People travel from as far away as Pennsylvania just to get a meal here, but many locals don’t even know about its two locations in Queens and Brooklyn. I can’t even find a single NY food blog entry about the food here. Well, let me be the first then.
At their well-hidden location on a residential Williamsburg street, we had some really good ceviche and tamales. But the dish I ordered seconds of were the very simple and crunchy maiz tostada, also known as cancha. It’s the perfect bar snack: a bowl of toasted puffed corn kernels that have been tossed generously with oil and sea salt. They’re hot, starchy, and helplessly addicting. I couldn’t stop eating them. Maybe it’s a good thing nobody knows about Barzola because they’d have none of these left. Price: $2
|197 Meserole Street (between Bushwick Avenue and Humboldt Street)
NUMBER 38: SAAG PANEER at JACKSON DINER
Spinach and cheese dip is a pretty American dish, but Indian cuisine has a far superior version of melding the green vegetable and cow product. Saag paneer literally translates to spinach cheese and the best version I’ve had yet was at Jackson Diner, an old standby Indian restaurant in the heart of Jackson Heights.
Some people claim that Jackson Diner has gone downhill over the years. This was my first visit and I was very happy with my meal, especially the creamy and earthy saag paneer. Cubes of silky and smooth paneer cheese float in a rich creamy spinach sauce. The result is a not too spicy dish with lots of textures and enjoyable subtle flavors. Soak it up with some tender basmatic rice or nan bread. Much more refined and delicate than a bowl of that nasty goo most American restaurants call spinach dip. Price: $9.95
|3747 74th Street (between 37th Avenue and 37th Road)
Jackson Heights, Queens
|72 University Place (between 10th and 11th Street)
NUMBER 37: HIRATA BUNS at IPPUDO NY
Last year, Momofuku’s famous pork buns made my Top 100. I fell in love with those years ago and it’s a must order whenever I visit one of their hip East Village locations. However, the pork bun phenomenon doesn’t end there. Many people who hear about my love for Momofuku’s version will tell me that Ippudo’s buns are even better. And this year, I finally gave them a try.
Ippudo is known for both it’s serious ramen noodle soups and it’s ridiculous long wait for a table. I had been here before and liked their overpriced ramen dishes, but I had never tried the pork buns. Late one weekday lunch, I found myself back at Ippudo and I knew these had to be part of my order. I don’t know if they’re better than Momofuku’s but they’re different and still decadently delicious. These are slightly less refined, but just as sweet, spicy, and fatty. The steamed white bread bun soaks up all the sauce and meaty juices to ensure you get the full experience. Crisp iceberg lettuce and smoky mayo round out the experience. Price: $9
|65 4th Avenue (between 9th and 10th Street)
NUMBER 36: MUSLIM LAMB CHOPS at FU RUN
Fu Run is an inconspicuous Chinese restaurant serving food from the Dongbei region. The food here has lots of worldly influences, but lamb seems to be the favorite meat of the cuisine. Their most famous dish is the massive Muslim lamb chops, which is actually the lamb breast. But you’d never be able to tell what kind of meat is under all those cumin seeds. It’s a dramatic (and slightly scary) presentation and that alone could put this in my Top 100 list.
Yet the flavors here are rich, bold, and surprisingly new. I’ve had cumin lamb at other Chinese restaurants and it verges on being overpowering and inedible. Not this one. It was dangerously edible. The fatty, fall-apart tender lamb meat gives the toasted cumin seeds a run for their money in the flavor department. And the unusual sensation of the crunchy cumin seeds is an exciting mouth experience. This is a unique hearty dish that I’ve been craving ever since. Price: $21.95
|40-09 Prince Street (at Roosevelt Avenue)