All posts by Mirella Blum

Mirella Blum is a first year at Barnard College. A life-long food lover, she recently discovered a passion for working with food and hopes to pursue a career in the restaurant industry. You can often find her hanging around the Union Square Greenmarket, seeking both delicious produce and her favorite chefs.

Slurping in Midtown

If you know me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a momofuku noodle bar aficionado. Sometimes, though, a friend isn’t willing to make the trek to the Lower East Side (and wait an hour+), or I’m in midtown and need to eat dinner, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is definitely a close second.

Ivan Orkin is unusual—a New Yorker who, thanks to a degree in Japanese language, opened a ramen shop in Tokyo. I met and was able to speak the chef recently; he was like any guy you might run into on the streets of New York – plus a deep knowledge of Japanese food, language, and culture.

I haven’t been to Orkin’s first restaurant in New York, Ivan Ramen, but I have been to the slurp shop, in the Gotham West Market, a number of times. Orkin’s ramen is unusual in that he uses a chicken based broth (as opposed to a pork one), and rye noodles. In general, I’ve found the flavors to be excellent but the soup to be a bit cold. You want ramen to be burn-your-mouth hot; this is not.

The slurp shop has changed their menu recently, and done away with rice bowls. Instead of automatically getting an egg on top of a bowl of ramen, you have a choice of one extra topping . These include: soft egg, toasted garlic bomb, enoki mushrooms, young bok choy, roasted tomato, pork belly, chicken, bamboo shoots, seaweed salad, shiso onions, field greens, bean sprouts, shaved cabbage, gluten free tofu noodle, and toasted nori; these are also available as extra toppings. “Mega meat” (either chicken or pork) is available as well. They’ve also added several buns.

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I had the pork belly buns ($9), with spicy teriyaki glaze and miso cabbage. Also available are veggie burger buns, shrimp buns, and pastrami buns (paying homage to Orkin’s heritage). These were excellent, though they could have used a pickle to cut the fat. Unfortunately, momofuku’s famous pork buns still beat all.

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I chose the Tokyo Shio Ramen ($13), whose broth is chicken and salt (as opposed to the Shoyu ramen, which has soy sauce added as well), topped with pork belly, bamboo shoots, and scallion. The flavor of the broth is perfect; chicken-y and salty, not too fatty. It was excellent; hotter than usual—the absence of an egg was not missed.

The drinks, as well, are not to be missed. Yuzu lemonade is unique and delicious; very tart and not too sweet.

The Clinton St. Ivan Ramen features a larger menu, as well as breakfast—so sometime when I’m craving momofuku soon, maybe I’ll try out Orkin’s first NYC location instead.

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop,

600 11th Ave(212) 582-7942

Atmosphere: Casual, upbeat.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: Shio ramen, yuzu lemonade

Price range: $$

Hours: 11am–11pm, Sun-Thurs; 11am–12am, Fri-Sat

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Soup Dumplings Part 2: Shanghai Cafe Deluxe

 

Shanghai Cafe Deluxe sits tucked in between several other eateries—as most restaurants in Chinatown do—with an unassuming neon sign. The restaurant is lit in tacky neon pink, and a rather unfriendly waitress led myself and my friend to a table in the corner, throwing down menus on a table.

To start off—because I have a weakness for scallion pancakes—do not order them at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe. They’re under-seasoned, not super crispy, and just unsatisfying. Do order pea tendrils sautéed in garlic, though, as an accompaniment to the little sacks of piping hot crab and pork broth that are Shanghai Cafe’s magical soup dumplings.

My friend and I got one order of pork soup dumplings, and one of pork and crab.

In comparison to Joe’s Shanghai, the Shanghai Cafe Deluxe dumplings are much sturdier. Even after having sat for a while, they tend not to rip as easily, and it’s possible to peel them apart from each other without ripping multiple dumplings. They’re slightly less fatty, as well, but seasoned perfectly—leaving the diner feeling slightly less regretful after consuming far too many. The dumplings are served with two sauces—the classic vinegar-ginger, and a spicy sauce.

At this restaurant, the dumplings are made to order. The skin is chewy—which I like; they’re not as good when they break so easily—and the broth is porky, but not overpowering. The filling is perfect.

The crab dumplings are especially good. The fatty pork marries with the ocean taste of the crab, held together by a slight hint of curry and the ever-umami pork broth. The taste was unique, but more interesting than  the pork. I would definitely recommend these—though the pork is classic.

The key with this restaurant is to get there  early and eat fast. We arrived at about 6:20, and snagged one of the last two person tables—within minutes of our arrival, the restaurant was full and there was a line. Even if you don’t get there early enough to avoid the line, however, stay. It’s worth it. And if you’re venturing out on your own to find a different soup dumpling place, beware: xiao long bao are a Shanghai specialty, and while they might be on the menu at Sichuan or Hunan or Beijing-style restaurants, they’re probably not going to be very good.

 

Joe’s Shanghai

100 Mott St, (212) 966-3988

Atmosphere: Casual.

Credit Card: no.

Noise Level: moderate.

Recommended Dishes: crab soup dumplings, pork soup dumplings, sautéed pea tendrils.

Hours: 11:30am–10pm, Sun–Thurs; 11:30am–11pm, Fri-Sat.

Soup Dumplings Part 1: Joe’s Shanghai

There are few things I love more than spontaneously going on adventures in the city—reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to decide at 7 pm on a Tuesday that I want to go to Central Park, or a museum, or in this case, down to Chinatown for xiaolong bao, or soup dumplings.

I was late to soup dumplings. Friends have been raving about them for years, but I rarely go out for Chinese food, so I only had them for the first time about a year ago. Pork and garlic, broth and dough—there are few combinations that are such excellent complements.

There is, as well, a certain magic to the art of eating the dumplings; a technique, definitely, to biting in the right place, managing to get the Chinkiang vinegar into the broth, to slurping the broth without spilling—all while keeping one’s mouth from being severely burned (if they’re good, they’ll be scaldingly hot). For a more scientific breakdown of technique, as well as a list of best soup dumplings in the city, please refer to J. Kenji López-Alt.

The first of two soup dumpling posts is about Joe’s Shanghai; specifically, the location in Chinatown. It’s my roommate’s go-to soup dumpling place, and I spontaneously tagged along

Scallion pancakes and soup dumplings—you know, I’m all for fine dining, but sometimes there’s really nothing better than some salt, pork, and starch, especially on a cold December night after wandering up and down Fifth Ave for hours (my roommate’s friend was visiting).

Upon entering Joe’s Shanghai, you will most likely be sent back out into the cold—there are a bunch of people already in line. But once in a while, when your group has an uncommon number—three, perhaps—you’ll get seated at a shared table and within about five seconds, there are a multitude of menus and both tea and water in front of you.

Get a couple of orders of the soup dumplings. Don’t expect particularly kind waiters, but do expect piping hot food that arrives quickly. Eat the dumplings fast, though—otherwise they’ll stick to the steamer and you won’t be able to use your new xiaolongbao-eating techniques.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the soup dumpling adventures, where I’ll compare Joe’s to a rival…

Can anyone resist these?
Can anyone resist these?

Joe’s Shanghai

9 Pell St, (212) 233-8888

Atmosphere: Casual.

Credit Card: no.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: soup dumplings, scallion pancakes.

Hours: 11am–11pm, 7 days a week.

Donut Miss Out On These Doughnuts

Despite hailing from the hometown of Dunkin’ Donuts, I have never really been a fan of the pastry—or fried dough in general. Why have a pastry fried in oil when you could have one laminated with butter?

But while wandering around Chelsea one evening with a friend, I happened to notice a sign advertising yuzu doughnuts. Yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus that tastes something like a cross between a lemon and an orange, is one of my favorite fruits, and I’m a sucker for anything yuzu-flavored.

It turns out that Doughnut Plant is very well known. It was around 9 pm, and the place was packed. The walls are lined with plush, cloth versions of the store’s classic doughnuts—they’re cute. I kind of wanted to take one home. Unfortunately, they’re not for sale.

The yuzu doughnut was part of a limited-edition Japanese menu, which also included matcha, shiso, and red bean. The general menu includes yeast doughnuts, cake doughnuts, and filled doughnuts, which are self-described as follows:

Yeast doughnuts: Light, airy, fluffy yeast-raised doughnuts, with a slight chew.

Cake doughnuts: Leavened with baking powder, our cake doughnuts have a texture somewhere near the intersection of a classic birthday cake and a buttery pound cake.

Filled doughnuts: Filled with our house made jams, creams and custards.

My friend and I both went for yeast doughnuts—I with yuzu, and her with Valrhona chocolate:

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Yuzu doughnut
Valrhona chocolate doughnut
Valrhona chocolate

Both were delicious. The yuzu one was unbelievable; somehow, the flavor of yuzu permeated every bite, both in the glaze and in the dough. I couldn’t imagine getting a filled version of either—they were super rich even though they were “light and airy.”

We also splurged on Valrhona hot chocolate. Even richer than the doughnuts, it was topped with a homemade marshmallow. It was real hot chocolate, clearly, made by melting chocolate with milk—not the powdery stuff that masquerades as “hot cocoa” far too often.

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Trying not to spill…

Go to this place, even if you don’t really like doughnuts. They have tons of flavors, in many iterations, and everyone is bound to find something they like. They have several locations all over the city, and sell their doughnuts at many retail locations—you’re probably closer than you think.

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Doughnut Plant

220 W 23rd St, 212) 505-3700

Atmosphere: Upbeat, friendly. Staff are very helpful.

Credit Card: yes.

Bathroom: yes.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: yuzu doughnut, hot chocolate.

Hours: 7am–10pm, Sun-Wed; 7am-12am, Thurs-Sat.

 

When in Doubt, ‘Bird it Out

So, maybe you’re on instagram, or facebook, and you’re kind of hungry. You see a picture of a fuku sandwich and you think to yourself, damn. I really need to get down to the East Village and eat some chicken.

Well, maybe this only happens to me. But you go to Columbia, and getting down there to go to a restaurant where you have to wait in line for an hour and then there’s not anywhere to sit is kind of a trek.

Have no fear: Streetbird is here.

Streetbird Rotisserie, owned by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who also owns the Red Rooster, is a casual restaurant which focuses on the often forgotten chicken.

What a cutie.

It’s located on 116th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, about a ten minute walk away from campus. And they have all the chicken one could desire. In ramen, rice, rigatoni, and rotisserie.

On the last day of classes last semester, post chemistry final, my roommate and I walked through Morningside Park for some fried chicken sandwiches:

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We both ordered the Crispy Bird Sandwich, so I can’t report back on anything else, but if it tastes as good as this sandwich did, everything must be top notch.

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The sandwich is served on a toasted potato roll. A piece of chicken is battered, fried, and then doused in sweet, smoky, delicious barbecue sauce. It’s topped with melted cheddar and placed on a bed of mayo, lettuce, and tomato. A couple of pickles complete the set.

While the idea is already excellent, the execution is terrific. It’s difficult to put a wet sauce on crispy fried food without making a soggy mess, and it’s accomplished here.

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We also split an order of Ying and Yang fries, which are half sweet potato, half regular, topped with parmesan. These were addictive. Crispy, but not burned. You can’t beat topping something with cheese.

While I can’t quite figure out the Asian influence—I think it’s mostly just preference, what the cooks like to cook—Streetbird is a fun place. The walls are decorated colorfully, the staff is friendly, and you’re likely, I guess, to run into a Chopped judge, like we did (it was Aaron Sanchez).

An

Bathroom mural.
Bathroom mural.

And I’m still craving that sandwich, two months later, which is always a good sign. I’m going to go back soon. Maybe tomorrow.

 

Streetbird,

2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd, (212) 206-2557

Atmosphere: Upbeat, friendly.

Noise Level: moderate

Recommended Dishes: crispy bird sandwich, ying and yang fries

Price range: $

Hours: 11:30am–10pm, Mon-Fri; 10:30am–12am, Sat; 10:30am-10pm, Sun

 

A Sampling of Smorgasburg

 

A disclaimer: I didn’t actually have the ramen burger. I know, it’s a travesty—who treks out to Williamsburg from Morningside Heights (taking the dreaded L train; I don’t think it’s that bad…) only to not try the food that Smorgasburg’s most famous for?

Well, I guess it’s a reason to return!

I think Smorgasburg is quite genius, actually. Plunked on the western edge of Williamsburg, it (the original site; there are several others now) rewards Manhattan-ites who are willing to get to Brooklyn with a vast number of options of extremely filling foods and incredible views of Manhattan. Much of the food is more than just the latest, trendiest, foodie-est thing to eat.

This is the way I suggest doing it:

  1. Bring cash. That’s all the vendors take, and you don’t want to have to wait in the line once you get there.
  2. When you arrive, walk around and look at every vendor. You don’t want, upon spending all your money and stuffing yourself, to realize that someone sells your favorite food on the other side of the space.
  3. Bring friends to split. Too many things to try to eat all of everything.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had fried calamari. These were excellent. The spicy tomato mayo (just behind the squid in the cone) was a nice touch—I might try to make that sometime soon.

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This corn is grilled, and then rubbed with butter and sprinkled with cheese. I’ve had corn like this before, but I’ll never say no to this combination. It’s completely delicious.

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This was the highlight of the bunch. Duck confit with cabbage on a brioche roll from Duck Season. You really can’t go wrong with duck confit and brioche. We actually wanted to get two sliders, but they were out—the cook generously offered to cut this in half for us. Even half of this sandwich was enough—I’m not sure I could have eaten the entire thing.

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A friend recommended this nutella ice cream sandwich from Good Batch—it did not disappoint. Though again, the serving was essentially too large to finish.

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My friend wanted to get something sweet, but these caught her eye instead: beer-battered cheese curds. I thought it sounded disgusting, and even once we got them I wasn’t so into it. Then I dipped one in spicy aioli and bit into it; my doubts melted away in a haze of melted cheese and umami (that’d be the fermentation of the beer). I’m actually still craving these.

All in all: Smorgasburg is totally worth it. I’ll definitely be going back when it opens again in the spring.

Mission Chinese: Sichuan Cuisine Survives on the Lower East Side

Mission Chinese Food, which opened in 2012, serves spicy Sichuan-inspired cuisine; the restaurant has had lines out the door pretty much since opening.

And then in 2013, the restaurant was shut down due to sanitation issues.

But it’s been a while since then, so I cautiously ventured down to the Lower East Side with a friend to indulge in some chili-doused chicken wings. We hadn’t made a reservation, and at first it seemed we would have to wait. But there was an area in the front where they serve the whole menu, and we’re not picky sitters.

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Since it’s Sichuan-inspired cuisine (Sichuan is the province with the spiciest cuisine in China), we figured we had to order several spicy dishes, and balance it out with a couple of milder dishes.

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matcha noodles

The first dish we got was the green tea noodles. This was probably my favorite of the things we ordered; the bitterness of the matcha contrasts spectacularly with the savory noodles and sweet hoisin sauce. The crunch of the thinly sliced radish adds a textural contrast in comparison to the soft ramen.

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rice cakes with thrice-cooked bacon and tofu skins

Mission Chinese seems to have textural components of their food down. Chewy, starchy rice cakes, crunchy cucumber, fatty, soft bacon; all doused in a super-spicy, umami, garlicky sauce. Top it with raw scallions and cilantro and you have a winner.

chicken wings
chicken wings

The chicken wings were so good, but they were far too spicy for me. I had one; my friend had five. Imagine: delicious chicken wings, with a nice crispy skin; then imagine dumping an entire container of chili flakes on them. Wonderful, but dangerous.

pork belly and radishes
pork belly and radishes

If pork belly is on a menu, I can’t not order it. This was the other non-spicy dish; I thought the mint didn’t go so well with the pork belly and radish, but besides that the dish was excellent. A light, sweet sauce cut was with the slight bitterness of greens. The pork belly was soft, and the radishes added a nice crunch.

And then—a complimentary treat!

dumplings!
dumplings!

These were not spicy, and they were a perfect bite at the end of the meal. Spinach, egg, and (I think) tapioca. An interesting combination, but it worked.

The bathroom is in the basement. One must walk past the kitchen in order to get to it. The kitchen was filled with shouts of “hot!” “order in!” and “yes, chef!”

There’s nothing like a fast-paced, energetic kitchen to get the blood pumping and get a diner looking forward to a meal. Go to Mission Chinese. Even if there’s a wait. You won’t regret it—though your mouth might after a couple of chicken wings.

Mission Chinese,

171 E Broadway

Atmosphere: Young, hip, upbeat.

Noise Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: green tea noodles, pork belly and radishes

Price Range: $$

Hours: 5:30–12, Tues-Sat; 5:30-11, Sun–Mon.

 

 

Bun Breakdown – Momofuku

Whenever a friend comes to New York from out of town, I reliably bring them to Momofuku Noodle Bar. I’ve been a number of times now, and since I’ve tried almost all of their buns—save the chicken meatball one—I thought I’d write a breakdown of each.

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The Pork Bun: (Be warned: This bun is not on the menu. They make tons of them every day, but you’ve got to know to order them. ) The pork bun is probably the most famous bun that momofuku makes. Two slices of pork belly, hoisin sauce, scallions, and lightly pickled cucumbers. It’s a perfect combination. The sweetness of the hoisin sauce melds with the fatty pork; the fat is then cut by the scallions and cucumbers.

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The Brisket Bun: This is the most beautiful bun, albeit a strange combination. (They have since changed the set to horseradish, pickled red onion, and cucumber , actually, but I haven’t had that.) The mayonnaise served with this bun went with the meat, but the shredded lettuce? A little lame, in my opinion. The brisket itself, though, was brilliant.

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The Shiitake Bun: This comes with the same set as the pork bun, and I wouldn’t have ordered it, except that a chef recommended it and my mom (who I was with at the time) prefers vegetables to meat. Interestingly, I found the lack of fat in the mushrooms preferable with the hoisin to the fatty pork belly.

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The Shrimp Bun: Oh, man. This one is a winner. Served with spicy mayo, pickled red onion, and iceberg lettuce, the bun contains crushed shrimp shaped into a patty and fried on a flat-top until crispy.

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The Fried Egg Bun: Finally, this one was a special in September. Pork loin, fried egg, bacon, chives, and hollandaise. The bun was delicious, but more impressive was the method for keeping an entire fried egg that size: the eggs are slow-poached in the shell beforehand, so they don’t spread out like a raw egg when they’re cracked onto a hot surface.

 

Which bun is your favorite?

 

Mouthwatering Malaysian Cuisine in the Meatpacking

I got into Barnard around the same time that I started working in a kitchen. So when it came time to visit for admitted students’ weekend, who better to ask for a restaurant recommendation for the weekend than an actual chef?

My boss recommended the Fatty Crab, a “Malaysian street-fare” restaurant in the meatpacking district, and said that their pork buns were better than Momofuku’s. My father and I went for a lovely, spicy, speedy lunch before hurrying up to 116th and Broadway. The restaurant reminds me of the way I felt that weekend—breathless with excitement, with all the unknown thrills of college just ahead.

Pork Buns
Pork Buns

The pork buns are served with some sort of hoisin-like sauce, 7-minute eggs, and a variety of herbs (cilantro, for one). The meat was tender, fatty, and sweet, lacking what I like to call the “barnyard edge,” that distinct animal-y edge which often accompanies pork and lamb. Unlike the buns at Momofuku, there were no pickles to directly cut the fat, but the meat was so perfect that it didn’t matter.

Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork – pork belly, fresh herbs, sweet ginger
Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork – pork belly, fresh herbs, sweet ginger

Continue reading Mouthwatering Malaysian Cuisine in the Meatpacking

Los Sabores de Yucatán or: How I was Converted to Love Tacos

I’ve never been a huge fan of tacos. I know, I know. How could I not love tacos? I guess I never really saw the point. But I’ve been converted—I haven’t stopped thinking about the tacos I ate last week.

Tacombi’s website says “Born on the balmy beaches of the Yucatan, Tacombi began selling tacos out of a converted VW bus in Playa del Carmen. Now, comfortably parked in Nueva York, Tacombi on Elizabeth street transports people from the streets of Nolita to the streets of Mexico, offers a piece of the Mexican beachside lifestyle and shares with them the diversity of Mexican street food culture.”

This describes it. It’s a loud, relaxed atmosphere which, if you didn’t know, could be just off the beach somewhere tropical. Prep is done in the back, but the actual tacos are, I believe, cooked in the original truck, pictured below.

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The original food truck still has a place in the restaurant.

I’ve been meaning to go here for a long time—one of the co-owners is the brother of the chef I work for in Boston—but I hadn’t gotten around to it until last week, when, after an art history trip to the Met, a friend and I decided to take the 6 down to Nolita. I didn’t realize the restaurant takes reservations, so when we got there (7:15-ish) we had to wait for about 10 minutes.

But onto the food, because who wants to read about the wait?

Corn equites, lime & chipotle mayo
Corn esquites, lime & chipotle mayo

The corn esquites comes in a cup, with the toppings heaped on top. This is so delicious; sweet, spicy, savory. If you like sweet corn, mayo, cheese, and lime, this is the dish for you. Be sure to mix it up—this is a dish where it helps if all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Don’t be afraid to ask for more limes if you want them.

Tacos!
Tacos!

The restaurant recommends three tacos, but each comes with two soft taco shells, and diners are instructed to put half of the filling in each—so really, you’re getting six tacos.

From left to right:

Crispy fish: fresh cod tequila battered and topped with cabbage

Close up of the crispy fish.
Close up of the crispy fish.

This is a Tacombi favorite, and rightly so. Fried fish, more of that mayonnaise, and crunchy, (pickled?) cabbage? Squeeze a little lime on it, and maybe some salt, and you’re good to go.

Barbacoa: roasted black angus beef

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I’m not a huge fan of beef, in general, but I am a fan of tender, slow-cooked meat. This is tender and flavorful, and the toppings cut through the richness of the meat.

Pork belly: slow roasted berkshire pork

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Pork belly is my favorite food. This was incredible; again, the tender meat and great toppings. In general, I find that pork belly, despite its buttery, smoky taste, can often be too rich to eat much of. It’s a food that I often find myself needing to sit down after eating. This, however, was rich without being overpowering, filling without being heavy, buttery without being oily.

All in all?

Go to Tacombi. Go hungry, and order the corn esquites for me.

Ambiance
Ambiance

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita:

267 Elizabeth St; (917) 727-0179

Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.

Sound Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: corn esquites, pork belly taco, crispy fish taco

Price Range: $$

Hours: 11am-12am Sun-Wed, Thurs-Fri 11am-1am, Sat 9am-1am

Reservations: OpenTable