by Sarah Spigelman for Vagobond.com
Saying you are going to visit New York is like saying you are going shopping. Where? For what? With whom? So it’s time to stop being vague and start being specific. Let’s talk about neighborhoods – each neighborhood in NYC has its own character and purpose, and you can easily spend an afternoon eating and drinking your way through them without ever having to descend into the train stations or spend money on a cab. One of the best neighborhoods for adventurous foodies is Hell’s Kitchen.
Hell’s Kitchen, roughly 40th-60th streets on 9th and 10th avenues, got its name from the time when West Side Story was written. It used to be a rough hood, full of gang strife and hoodlums. Even through the 80s, a nice kid like me would never walk west of 8th avenue – it was just not a savory neighborhood.
However, the cleaning up of Times Square has brought good along with the evils of Applebee’s, and some of that is that Hell’s kitchen has become safe while retaining its many wonderful ethnic restaurants. Starting south all the way uptown, you can literally develop gout from the delicacies:
Sandwich Planet – (http://www.sandwichplanet.com) ignore the $27 dollar BLTs elsewhere and come right here for the best things between sliced bread. Ignore the fact that it is located on the “wrong” side of Port Authority. Come for the reasonably priced beers, the thick milkshakes, and the truly unbelievable sandwiches. Served on artisan bread and with the best ingredients possible, these babies are chock full of home roasted turkey, fresh vegetables, and served with handmade fries. Order a burger for something different – they are some of the best and juiciest in town, served on tangy sourdough bread.
99 Cent Pizza (569 9th Ave) artisanal this ain’t, but you have to love how day or night, Christmas or New Year’s Day, whenever you want, you can get a slice for just a dollar. This place won’t win any prizes for originality, but its thin crust under oregano heavy sauce and oil slicked, bubbly cheese is nostalgic and comforting at 2 am after a long night.
Esca – (http://www.esca-nyc.com) debatably the best seafood restaurant in town. This Mario Batali joint is part owned and run by its chef, Dave Pasternack, who goes out fishing to bring back the best that he can offer. The menu often changes twice daily, so customers know that they are getting the best seafood possible. The crudo are always fresh and clean, the pastas are handmade, and the affogato is a delight. As a bonus, the wine list is extensive and interesting. This isn’t cheap, but the food is so fresh and flavorful that you won’t mind dropping few bucks.
Amy’s Bread – (http://www.amysbread.com) if you want bread, this is where you come. There are better cakes and cookies to be had, but the bread here is incredible – that is why there is always a line extending out the door of this tiny shop, from dawn till dusk when it closes. Go for the potato dill, the fennel raisin, or the chocolate sourdough twists. The breads are unique, baked daily, and beg to be tasted the minute you have a loaf in your hot little hands.
Pam Real Thai – (http://www.pamrealthaifood.com) there are many Thai restaurants that line 9th avenue, but none is as spicy, as garlicky, and as mind-blowingly funky as Pam’s. Both of her locations, just 2 blocks apart, serve up home-style Thai food that is closer to what you might get in Thailand than what you might get in NYC. The pad kee mao is especially hot and flavorful, redolent of garlic, chiles, and fish sauce. Order it extra spicy for a hit of chiles that will have you wiping your brow. Cheap beers and dollar sodas finish off an awesome deal.
Azuri— (http://www.azuricafe.com) bye bye soup Nazi, hello falafel Nazi. Though Ezra Cohen may growl at you if you take too long to order, the chastisement is worth it. Juicy grilled meats, smoky babaganoush, crisp falafel, and fiery hot sauce is among the best in the city. You may feel yourself transported to Israel by way of this truly exemplary food.