The absolute best, and the flat-out worst, places we've eaten at this Anno Domini, 2009.

This blog isn't for recipes or food news. I don't speculate about what will be opening in some empty storefront next month, I don't write up a new way to smoke salmon, I don't schmoozily interview chefs or restaurant managers, I don't get paid by Oxo to shill for their new potato peeler. I have a tiny niche. I eat out (mostly), posting 57 times this year about 58 different cafes, restaurants and bars.

Occasionally, I'll be approached by some hungry soul desperate for a place to go with a friend, a lover, a coworker (or boss) or their parents, or... Anyway, what better way to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre than by combing through these most recent five dozen reviews to come up with a thoroughly unoriginal bestof/worstof list. What I think are the top. What I think are the bottom. The ones I found to be fantastic. The ones I found to be... not so fantastic. The ones I wouldn't hesitate to point you in the direction of. The ones that surprise me that they're still in business. And here they are, in no particular order.


Best Restaurant

Gradisca, sitting on a cute tree-lined West Village street, beat out Five Points (but barely) largely because it was a bit less stuffed-shirt and because the service was just so good. The waiter knew the whole menu as though he wrote it, didn't hover over us the whole meal but still kept our water glasses full, and was a nice, jovial guy. The food was impeccable. From the melt-in-your-mouth appetizers to a roast pork tenderloin that has yet to be matched since I dined there this past summer. The atmosphere was light and warm, the wine was good, the meal superb.

Best Bar


Dutch Kills, the LIC speakeasy, wins out for best bar. Its small menu may be intimidating for those who don't already know what they want, but the drinks are great, cheaper than what any other hidden bar would charge, and they'll create something for you custom if you ask, so don't feel intimidated just because you don't know what genever is. But more than that, you have to give them points for the contrast. Just a couple blocks from the subway, down a seemingly destitute and potholed industrial avenue is this lonely neon sign blinking "BAR". It looks like the kind of place hoods use to drink cheap booze and score cheaper hookers, but inside is this wood-lined, relaxing and cool, dimly-lit escape. With no irritating line.

Best Almost-Free Food

Great food is easy to find in New York City. Great food that they practically give away is considerably harder to come across. So when you discover a place like the Vegetarian Dim Sum House, you jot it down in your ledger as a place to return to. If you cringe at the thought of a purely vegetarian meal, get over it. The dim sum here is insanely good and the volume you get is massive. Even the small bowls of soup come with smaller bowls so you can divvy it up. It may sit on a block that you could swear was the love child of an alleyway and a garbage dump, but VDSH will positively give you the best meal for your money in Manhattan, if not the whole city.

Best Coffee

Often, coffee is coffee is coffee and if you've had one cup, you've had 'em all. Sure, there are the snobs who swear by Stumptown and the anti-snobs who swear by Dunkin, but forget the coffee wars for a minute and walk over to Jack's for a mug of Farmer Dan and a scone. The most perfect pairing of caffeine and sugary sweet dough NYC has to offer this side of a blue cup and a glazed ring.

Best Burger

Having not eaten anything here but the hamburger, I can't (and won't) vouch for anything else on the menu. That said, Five Napkin Burger's signature Five Napkin Burger, with an inch and a half of medium rare beef, sauteed onions, and a blanket of Gruyere cheese is so absofuckinglutely delifuckinglicious I can't even find the words to defuckingscribe it.

Honorable Mention:

When cafes like Petal Belle close, my heart sinks. A more delightful place staffed by delightful people (serving amazing waffles) does not exist. And certainly not anymore. There are so many places that have the reputation for being quintessentially New York. Cafe Lalo, for example, is famous because, in its Upper West Side brownstone overlooking the sidewalk and its large trees and its passers-by, it's supposed to be the kind of place we urbanites go for a relaxing confection and a coffee and can hang out with friends and unwind. But in reality, it's a mob scene with lines down the block, crowded tables, and by the time you finally get a seat, you're lucky not to be sharing the table with another group and their elbows. Petal Belle was the real thing and their passing is a regrettable, if not shameful event.


JOHN'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT (John's of 12th Street)

This red sauce Italian restaurant is laughably bad. Putting aside the tacky interior, the talky and bored waitstaff, and the candle display that belongs at the altar of a cult that meets in the basements of abandoned churches, this was one of the few restaurants I've been to that managed to do just about every dish wrong. That they accomplished this feat while, with a straight face, charging what they do puts them right there on top... sort of.


This is pizza in shape only. Sauce that tastes like it came from a Ragu jar on a dough that isn't cooked all the way and under only half the cheese of any other slice in the city (for $2.50!!!) is revolting only partly because the pizza tastes like shit. What truly gets me is that there are so many great pizza joints in our burg and this venture survives exclusively on those among us too lazy to walk the extra block. I promise you, in this city, you'll find a better slice. In fact, let your wallet do the walking. Go to 2 Brothers Pizza in the East Village or in Chelsea. The pizza's a buck ($1), and while it's not the best pizza in town, it's vastly (vastly vastly) superior.


Room Service found its way onto this humble list for being one of the most miserable dining experiences I've been lucky enough to have had this year. Some of the food was decent, to be honest. But I'm being generous by describing the majority of the rest as mediocre. If I was a complete jerk, I'd have been complaining to the waitress (providing she was ever around) through most of the meal. Tables that are too close together, shitbag customers you want to stab with a bright red plastic chopstick, and music so loud you need to yell add to the fun. But I get the impression that Room Service doesn't really care. See, they think that they're a club. And they certainly want to be one. Clubs are crowded. Clubs are loud. Clubs draw in the most obnoxious of us and encourage getting sloppily drunk. Clubs don't care about the food they serve so long as it looks good on a plate and gets paid for. All room service needs is a dance floor and a strobe light setup and they're good to go. But in a bad way.

So there we go. Some of the restaurants I liked the most and some of the ones I regretted giving my money to. I look forward to 2010. HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

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