Now that I’ve eaten my way through somebody else’s list (Time Out New York), I’m ready to compile my own 100 spectacular things I’ve tasted in 2012. Look for another five dishes every few days.

NUMBER 40: GNOCCHI at I TRE MERLI

Years ago, I used to avoid going out and spending money on Italian food since I thought I could easily cook pasta at home. If you could taste the limp soggy spaghetti I used to make, you’d understand just how wrong I was. I thought the term al dente related to a dentist’s office.

The potato pasta known as gnocchi are some of the hardest to get right. I’ve tasted enlightening versions at places like Union Square Café, but the modest and rustic fare at I Tre Merli truly surprised me. These had a tender bite which gave way to a soft, plump interior. They soaked up a nice pesto sauce and made a surprising first course at this Italian restaurant. Sadly, the location I tasted them at in the West Village has now closed (and reopened as Chez Sardine), but they are still on the menu at the Soho location. And still so much better than anything I could do at home. Price: $16

I TRE MERLI
463 West Broadway (between West Houston and Prince Street),
Soho
(212) 254-8699
itremerli.com

NUMBER 39: FIDEUÁ at LA VARA

Of course, the Italians are not the only ones making pasta. Fideuá is a dish I recently discovered from Spain. Think paella, but with an unusual twist. Instead of rice, this dish uses short toasted strands of a vermicelli-like pasta.

I had tasted this unique dishes earlier this year at Salinas and was not blown away. At La Vara in the sleepy neighborhood of Cobble Hill, I most certainly was blown away. Here the noodles were springy and toasty with lots of flavors soaked up from the briny, brothy seafood (shrimp, clams, squid). smoky saffron flavors and a nice schmear of a garlicky aioli made this a creamy, savory masterpiece. Price: $16

LA VARA
268 Clinton Street (between Congress Street and Verandah Place),
Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
(718) 422-0065

NUMBER 38: QIÁO MIÁN LIÁNG HÉ LUO at BIANG!

This is the third (and final) dish from Flushing newcomer Biang! that has made my Top 100 this year. And truth be told, I could have probably included three more. Clearly, the affordable food was spectacular with refined takes on spicy Chinese classics.

These buckwheat noodles really played up the cold and spicy components of Sichuan cuisine. The slurpy, tender strands are doused in an intense sauce of chili oil, soy sauce, vinegar, cucumbers, scallions, cilantro, and a helping of pungent mustard oil. Each bite certainly woke me (and my nasal passages) up with a creeping heat and a cooling freshness. I can’t wait to return to Biang! in 2013 to see what other dishes I can add to my lists. Price: $6

BIANG!
41-10 Main Street (between 41st Avenue and 41st Road),
Flushing, Queens
(718) 888-7713
biang-nyc.com

NUMBER 37: RATCHABURI CRAB & PORK DRY NOODLES at PURE THAI COOKHOUSE

The best Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen went through an unfair name change this year when Chipotle announced they’d be opening a fast food Thai concept and they’d be calling it Shophouse. So the modest independently owned Pure Thai Shophouse was forced to become Pure Thai Cookhouse.

But thankfully, amidst the name change, the food remains authentically delicious. My favorite dish is this bed of moist egg noodles topped with some mighty fresh and flavorful ingredients. There was a sweet and tart balance happening along with some fresh meaty proteins (both lump crab meat and tender sliced pork), crisp greens, and a helping of scallions. It’s a refreshing and innovative Thai dish that I can almost guarantee won’t be anywhere on Chipotle’s menu. Price: $12

PURE THAI COOKHOUSE
766 Ninth Avenue (between 51st and 52nd Street),
Hell’s Kitchen
(212) 581-0999
purethaishophouse.com

NUMBER 36: AKAMARU RAMEN at IPPUDO

I will never wait in the absurd lines at the city’s most popular ramen joint, Ippudo. People literally wait for hours to get a slurp or two of these flavorful noodle soups. My disdain for lines has nothing to do with eating at Ippudo. I’ll go, but just late in the lunch hour when everybody else is back at work.

That’s how I got to once again taste Ippudo’s Akamaru Modern Ramen. I first had it when seeking out all of Time Out’s list items back in 2008. I liked it but wasn’t wowed. Well, it’s taken me four years and another go round to get on board with this being the best in the city. The milky pork broth is buttery and meaty holding a trove of treasures that reveal some umami-laced flavors. Springy ramen noodles, kikurage mushrooms, red miso paste, dots of black garlic oil, and of course slices of quivering pork make this a ramen dish worth waiting for. Even though, I’ll still come at 3:30 for my dose. Price: $15

IPPUDO NY
65 4th Avenue (between 9th and 10th Street)
East Village
(212) 3888-0088
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About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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