Living in upstate New York has many benefits, but a rollicking and vibrant food scene is definitely not among them. No matter where in upstate you might reside, I can pretty much guarantee your options for excellent dining number below 20 (probably well below). Even if you live in one of the states larger non-New York City cities (yes even you Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Buffalo (the best of a bad lot), and especially Albany). Of course, if you’re reading this chances are basically zero that you live in upstate New York (we’re home to just 0.077% of the global population after all), but the chances that you’ll visit NYC at some point in the future are probably much higher (NYC receives 11 times the population of upstate NY as visitors every year). Thus I figured sharing a brief list of some food businesses (you know, restaurants and the like) that my wife and I enjoyed during our trip to the city for her 30th birthday my be of use to you.
I’ll give some description of each place on the list, but we packed a lot of living (too much) into the four days we spent there so they will be brief.
A Thai spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that is certainly among the best Thai food I’ve eaten at a restaurant. The flavors are vivid and compelling. A number of reviews complain about how spicy it is, but we ordered the hottest dish on the menu, and I can only imagine that those reviewers’ favorite spicy dish must be unseasoned white rice with mayonnaise. Kru is a wonderful establishment and certainly deserves to be among the top billed Thai spots in Brooklyn.
Pop Up Bagels
Simply the best bagels you will ever have. NYC is home to the best bagels in the world (sorry Montréal, the entire country of Israel, and probably a lot of other places), and these are the best bagels you will find in the city. This is not a subjective thing. You may have a favorite bagel that doesn’t come from this shop, but unfortunately you are wrong. They have won both the critic’s and people’s choice in the Brooklyn bagel fest two years running and the experience of ripping apart a fresh-from-the-oven everything bagel and swiping it through fresh scallion schmear is enough to bring one to tears. Seriously. Don’t go telling everyone you know about this spot though. Their slogan is “not famous, but known” and that’s how they like to keep it. Upon leaving the owner told me to “tell your friends… but not too many of ‘em.” I probably shouldn’t even be including it in this post.
This endlessly lauded Korean fine dining restaurant lives up to the hype and then some. At number 3X on the worlds 50 best restaurants list I can only say that it deserves to be higher. The hospitality is the best I’ve ever experienced and the food is simultaneously familiar and completely new. Every single bite is outstanding, thought provoking, and harmonious. Chef JP strives for balance in every facet of the experience and that comes through in the food. It is rare to find a tasting menu where every dish is dialed in just right. This is even harder to achieve when you’re introducing people to ingredients they’ve probably never had before (the sea cucumber dish stands out). All this doesn’t even touch on the incredibly cool modern interior or the inventive and informative augmented reality card based menu experience. It’s not inexpensive (faaaaarrrrrr from it), but it’s the only restaurant at its price that I’ve been to and would even consider returning to for another meal.
Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
This is the rice crepe dim sum favorite raised to its platonic ideal. There are a few different fillings you can choose from, and they’re all good, but the texture of the rice crepe itself is really the star of the show. So thin, slightly chewy, perfectly elastic. If I lived in Flushing I’m not exaggerating when I say I would eat this every day. Probably multiple times a day if I could.
A Flushing dumpling stalwart. We got the wontons in chili sauce, which were lovely. The wonton skins were so thin and soft, and the filling was just exactly what you hope a wonton filling would be like. These also had some Tianjin preserved vegetable on top which is not always included on this dish but really sent these over the edge.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this place at first. The aesthetic is pretty off the wall, and the pastries look absolutely bonkers. But the drinks we got were extremely delicious. Very very delicious. We were very full at this point so we didn’t get any pastries which was, apparently, a mistake because the pastry chef is a Per Se alum. So when you go you should definitely get at least one pastry. And it should probably be the black tea cheesecake because… well, just Google it.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
Certainly the fanciest soup dumplings I’ve ever had. Typically I’m skeptical of people trying to “improve” upon food items that are already perfect in their traditional form (and if ever there was a perfect food item surely it must be the soup dumpling). However these start from what is probably the best Xiao long bao I’ve ever had as a jumping off point and add new flavors simply and sparingly. Even the black truffle is administered with a light touch that still lets the intrinsic perfection of a standard soup dumpling shine through without overshadowing it.
There were a number of pizza spots on our list, but this is the only one that turned out to be practical for us to get to. Still its hard to imagine any of the other spots would have bested this place. The is perhaps even more divisive a statement than my previous one regarding bagels, but NYC is home to the best pizza on planet earth. There are lots of styles of pizza and they are all incredible, but New York pizza is the one I would take if I only could eat one style of pizza for the rest of my life. And when it comes to New York style pizza, L’Industrie is among the very best. We stood in line for what must have been 30 minutes for two slices, and after tasting them I would have gladly stood in line for twice that long. That said, if you do end up getting pizza from here maybe order ahead online to skip the line.
Everybody loves this place. Basically everyone I’ve spoken to about Estella has said that literally everything on the menu is amazing. I will say that everything we had was very good, and some was spectacular. Many of the dishes are iconic and really quite wonderful. That said for an establishment that is basically an extremely good neighborhood restaurant it was a very expensive experience. No photo for this one sadly (other than the bill lol); too busy scarfing and chatting.
This trend-setting restaurant is helmed by two chefs (one pastry, one savory), which means the entire menu is very dialed in. This meal had some of my favorite bites of the trip. The tartare is a must try. We also had big eye tuna with lard and pimenton, the savory eclairs, jerk BBQ prawns, their famous half shell clams, the mille feuille of the moment (it changes all the time), and the chocolate mouse with coffee sabayon and cacao nibs. Everything was at least as good as I hoped it would be and most things handily surpassed expectations. Well worth a visit.
This place is pretty incredible. The pastry chef behind it wanted to open a “gallery of deliciousness” and in that she has certainly succeeded. They are famous for the corn pastry (among others) and you can make a reservation for a tasting or try your luck at simply ordering items to go (the line can apparently get very long). We tried the corn, the lysee, the strawberry tart, the kouign amann, the VIC (very important chocolate cake), and pain au chocolate. Everything was absolutely stunning. Probably the most unique, and one of the most delicious pastry experiences you can have in NYC right now.
I hesitate to recommend Mexican food to anyone who is likely to be based in Chicago, but this place is the real deal. They keep it simple serving only tacos with a handful of fillings, but those fillings are quite nice. We tried al pastor, campechano, and suadero all of which I would put up against their counterparts in Chicago or even CDMX.
If you want to improve your culinary knowledge and skills so you can better appreciate the culinary offerings on your next trip, wherever it may be, check out our upcoming Culinary Boot Camp or Virtual French Pastries Workshop coming up on Sunday, June 4 at 11am CST. We'll make the following together:
- Cinnamon-Sugar Palmiers
- Cream Puffs with Pastry Cream and Chocolate Glaze