Summer Reflections 2010 – Post #8

John Hughes just graduated from SIPA and during his second year of study worked in our office.  He is spending the better part of the summer in the office to assist with projects and help fill in for a staff member on maternity leave.  John is set up for a job in Washington, D.C. and will be moving there in August (our second largest alumni network in the world is in D.C if you were interested).

I asked John to reflect a bit on his experience as a SIPA student and contribute to the blog over the summer.  This is entry #8.


One thing I love about New York is the amazing variety of food you can find here.  As a disclaimer my wife and I actually cook quite a bit and only eat out occasionally.  That said, here are a few places I checked out over the last two years that you may just enjoy:

1)    PIZZA—New York is known for its pizza, and you more or less can’t go wrong with a slice from virtually any place you come across (unfortunately, the pizza places in Morningside Heights are an exception to this).  However, if you want really good pizza I’d recommend checking out Lucali in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  This little place is tucked away in the edges of this neighborhood, a good bit from the closest subway and off the beaten track.  Making the trip is absolutely worth it, however.  The owners post whatever ingredients they have available each day, and diners are free to choose from these ingredients to top either a pizza or Calzone.  The pizza is hands down the best I’ve had in New York, and the place is BYOB.

2)    MEXICAN—Having spent a number of years living in California and a summer in central Texas, I’ve tried hard to find a place in New York that serves good Cali-Mexican or Tex-Mex food.  Unfortunately, this is one cuisine that New York does not excel in.  Luckily, there are a few places to get your fill:  Taqueria Y Fonda, at 108th and Amsterdam, serves very solid tacos and tortas.  I’d especially recommend the Al Pastor taco.  Stay away from the burritos, however.  If you are craving a burrito, the closest I’ve found to California is at Dos Toros in Union Square.  The place claims to make San Franciso style burritos, and come reasonably close in validating this claim.  For good sit-down Mexican (actual Mexican) I’d recommend Papatzul in Soho.  Very good stuff.  Finally, on the weekends in good weather there are people selling real Mexican and central American food from food stands at the Red Hook Ball Fields in Brooklyn.  This place is a hike if you don’t live in Brooklyn, but the food is worth it.

3)    INDIAN—Indian Café, at 108th and Broadway, serves very good Indian and is within walking (or delivery) distance of Columbia.  I’m pretty sure that New York has great Indian places all over, but this has been my go to place.

4)    MALAYSIAN—Nyonya in Little Italy.  This place seems out of place in a neighborhood marked by an ever-shrinking Italian presence that is being overtaken by an ever-expanding Chinese presence.  However, the food is spot on and very authentic.  Very cheap, too.

5)    VIETNAMESE—Banh Mi Saigon, also in Little Italy, has amazing Vietnamese sandwiches.  Plus, the enormous said sandwich only costs about $4.

6)    ITALIAN—Though the restaurants above are worth making the trip to Little Italy for, I’d stay away from the Italian restaurants here.  Most are overly touristy and overpriced.  For real Italian travel to the Belmont section of the Bronx, just outside of Fordham University.  Roberto’s, on Arthur Avenue, is absolutely amazing.  It’s not cheap, but I had one of the best Italian meals I have ever had in my entire life.  This place was better than anything I’ve had in Boston’s North End, and held its own with the best meals I had in Italy, too.

7)    UYGHUR FOOD—While living in China I became a huge fan of Uyghur food, the Turkik Muslim minority in China’s northwest Xinjiang region.  These guys set up stands all over China selling the most amazing lamb, naan and hand-drawn noodles.  From what I understand there are only three Uyghur restaurants in the United States, and all three are here in New York.  I’ve only made it to one, unfortunately, but it was very good.  It’s called Café Arzu, and is in Rego Park, Queens.  The restaurant (like the other two I believe) is actually a combination of Uyghur/Uzbek/Bukharian food.  As such, it wasn’t quite the same as the Uyghur food I had in China, but very good and cheap nonetheless.

8)    THAI FOOD—Room Service, in Chelsea, has the best Pad Thai I’ve had outside of Thailand.  It’s even wrapped inside of an omelette, just like I saw a few times in Thailand.  Their other thai food is quite tasty as well.  This place is not super cheap, but not expensive either.

9)    BURGER—If you’re looking for a good burger in Morningside Heights I’d recommend the burger at Vareli, a new wine bar/restaurant that just opened on Broadway.  The burger is only $9, and is quite good.  The Shake Shack on the Upper West Side and the Corner Bistro in the West Village are also strong contenders.

10)    CHINESE—Columbia Cottage, just down the road from school, is a sneaky name for what is actually a Chinese restaurant.  The food is pretty good, not stellar, but definitely worth it for your Chinese fix.  If you want more authentic Chinese I’d recommend skipping Chinatown in Manhattan and going straight to the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens.  I don’t recall the name of the restaurant I ate at there, but from what I understand you can’t really go wrong for cheap, really good, authentic Chinese food.

11)    Cuban—I’d recommend skipping the food at Havana Central by school (though the drinks are pretty good), and instead heading downtown for your Cuban fix.  Café Cortadito in the West Village is stellar, as is Café Cubano in Nolita and its sister restaurant, Habana Outpost, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

12)    Brazilian—Esperanto, in the East Village, is very, very good.  I highly recommend the Moqueca Bahiana.

The restaurants/cuisines I’ve listed here represent an amazingly tiny fraction of what New York has to offer.  You can literally find food here from every corner of the world, though you have to be willing to go out and find it.  Explore neighborhoods outside of Manhattan and you will sometimes feel like you are in a different country.  The food variety is the embodiment of the amazing global culture that defines New York.  This city is international like no other (except London, perhaps).  I can’t think of a better place to study international affairs.