Top 10 NYC Restaurants List, Summer 2004

So you’re in NYC. You’re hungry. And you have no idea which of the thousands of restaurants you should eat at.
Never fear, I’m here, which my recommendations having been to not even close to 1% of them. I’ll do a new post occasionally if I find something that tickles my fancy or have some horrible service at one of these establishments.
1) Basta Pasta
Try to wrap your head around this: Italian restaurant, run entirely by Japanese people. Open kitchen, right in the middle of the restaurant.
It sounds crazy – but it took one visit and it’s already on the top of my list. Reasonable prices. Attentive staff. Good lighting and atmosphere. Right next to a parking lot if you’re driving. And the food? Oh jesus, the food.
The food is Italian, but has Japanese influences (Katie had spaghetti with flying fish roe and japanese basil.) Everything I had was flawless. The bocconcini had the softest, melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella I’ve ever had. The linguine with peppers and shrimp was perfectly balanced, with the right amount of shrimp and no flavors overpowering. The creme brulée had bits of orange in it that burst in your mouth as you ate it. And as I was eating it, I said “Wow, to say something bursts in your mouth is such a cliché.”
But it was undoubtedly the best dinner I’ve had in months and I can’t wait to go back.
Pros: Fantastic food/service/prices/everything.
Cons: If you don’t like every single member of staff saying THANK YOU as you leave, you may not want to eat here.
2) First
Down in the East Village, there is the confusingly named restaurant on First Ave. named First. A strange sort of American Creative place, First appeals to the east village types with a clean interior, a great bar, interesting menu choices, and good service. There is a champagne brunch on Sundays (free champagne), and there are DJ sessions occasionally. It’s a solid choice, but good luck finding it in the phone book. (212-674-3823)
Pros: Good food, good service, good atmosphere, open real late.
Cons: The champagne breakfast can have its downfalls. Enjoy moderation.
3) Aureole
When I moved to NYC, I picked up the Time Out Eating & Drinking guide, and this was listed as winning the 2003 “Best Place For Your Parents To Take You” award. I can’t say anything more true than that, speaking from personal experience. You will leave with a very happy stomach, but a very unhappy bank account. Go sparingly and savor it.
Pros: The dinner may well be one of the defining moments in your life.
Cons: The dinner may also violate the “costs more than the top of the line iPod” line.
4) Forno Italia
The best kept secret in Queens – the best brick oven pizza you’ll ever have. This is of course dependent on Giovanni having a good day, and the service not getting dragged down, but when it’s good, it’s the best. When it’s not so good, it’s still pretty awesome.
5) F&B
Now with two locations, F&B specializes in “European street food”. This mostly means bizarre hot dogs, and if you like hot dogs, get here immediately. But for us not-so-crazy-about-hotdogs people, there’s also Chicken Frites (fries made out of chicken, they are the greatest invention known to man) and other options, like the delectible Steak Frites. Get a Cool Dog for dessert!
Pros: Chicken Frites. And the rest of the menu.
Cons: Strange inconsistencies in credit card minimums.
6) Evergreen
Up by the Medical School (1st Ave and 69th, next to McDonald’s), Evergreen is the best traditional Chinese food I’ve had. The lunch special is obscenely cheap and obscenely good. The orange beef and the wonton soup are both highly recommended. And hey, it’s right by my office!
Pros: Fantastically cheap Chinese food, possibly the cheapest outside of Chinatown that isn’t one of those hole-in-the-wall places.
Cons: Wait staff hovers over you way too much.
7) Chat n’ Chew
Just off Union Square, Chat N’ Chew is comfort food with a vengence. I have yet to find anything off the menu here that has not left me obscenely full and my wallet largely unscathed. Seating can be cramped but is generally not too bad. Save room for dessert.
Pros: Comfort food = win.
Cons: That feeling like you’re going to explode.
8) Tonic
I never thought it could happen – a decent restaurant in Times Square with reasonable prices. The nightly lobster special – 1.25 lbs lobster, corn, potato, butter – is $17 for the first one and $8.50 for the second. That just can’t be beat and will lodge them firmly in 8th. The rest of the menu is good too!
Pros: Lobster special.
Cons: If seated by the window, you have to listen to the waistaff out front constantly shouting “Lobster special, full bar, kids menu” as they try to solicit customers.
9) Taverna Kyclades
The other Astoria restaurant on the list, Kyclades has a reputation for being some of the best seafood in Queens. It’s true, everything here is damn fresh and mighty tasty. Huge loafs of semolina bread come with dinner, and most of the time you get a little pudding-y thing as a free dessert. Crowds easily form, but the outdoor seating in the summer is quite nice.
Pros: Fantastic seafood.
Cons: Tiny space, service can be iffy.
10) Dallas BBQ
Dallas BBQ is a local NYC chain, which about 6 locations around the city. The key here is good, cheap burgers and ribs. Everything here is ridiculously huge – as my usual anecdote goes, do not order the “Double Onion Cheesburger” thinking there’s a lot of onions on it – you’re getting a pound of beef on that sucker. The salads are decent, the service is lightning quick, and it’s a safe bet for lunch.
Pros: Cheap. Good. Located around the city.
Cons: Very easy to order too much food.