Ramen Lab

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The snow started to come down early that Friday. I had plans to meet up with some friends, and decided it was the perfect opening for me to try Ramen Lab in the NOLITA section of Manhattan. Later we’d all be under the influence, so what better dish than Ramen to fortify the stomach. An acquaintance of mine, when I lived in Korea, always used to bemoan the lack of Ramen joints there. Having lived in Japan for many years, he would always say that at the end of a long night of drinking, it was Ramen that would sort you out. That made sense, In New York and much of the North East its pizza, but tonight it would be Ramen, albeit in reverse.

Ramen Lab is a peculiar place, not so much restaurant as it is an advertisement for the owners. Sun Noodle Corp. of New Jersery owns this spot, and it wasn’t until after I heard about the restaurants concept, that I learned noodle peddlers were the proprietors. You’ll have to get over it ( like companies adorning your favorite soccer teams jersey) I did, was easy.

The 12 seat space, stools huddled around the kitchen, invites a new chef to prepare a new ramen each month. A truly great concept in my opinion. While NYC has its fair share of Ramen joints, why not have more, 12 more a year to be precise. Expect long waits when you come hear, as space and time are factors. I got there right when it opened more or less, and still had to wait about 35 minutes. Put your name in and order prior to being seated. Typically on the menu is one vegetarian option, and one carnivorous choice. I went with that nights American Wagyu Miso ramen. The dish that night was brought to the table by Akira Hiratsuka and his team at Brooklyn Ramen.

The broth was decadent, a visible pot piled with clean white bones proof that it took some time to cultivate the rich flavor. Also present was the clear taste of ginger. The beef was tender as were the noodles, and they really anchored the dish. Scallion and corn brought color to the bowl, and the soft boiled egg a classic ramen touch. The menu offers a lot of a la carte options, each costing a dollar or two. This is typical in many of the ramen restaurants in New York these days, and not something I’m particularly fond of. It’s my opinion that an egg should come standard with your soup. They also charged extra if you wanted your broth spicy, so hot oil was additional, which I feel should definitely be a free option. Beyond this digression, flavor is front and center, and paired with an Orion Ramen Lab is a great start, or end, to any frigid New York Night.

Xi’an Famous Foods

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When I made it to Kenmare street, I was elaited. Though my friend had canceled on me, I was still going to give Ramen Lab a try. It was friday after all, I’d just gotten off work, why not. When I finally made my final approach to Ramen Lab though, it looked like it decided to cancel on me as well, closed.

I stood dazed for a moment, what now. The yakatori place adjacent looked fly, but I was in noodle mode, and they had nothing on offer. After another moment, defeated, I decided to get going. However when I walked a little past the awning, on the other side of Ramen Lab,, a pleasant surprise greeted me, an outpost of none other than Xian Famous Foods.

Xian Famous foods first opened in Flushing years back. It became popular spot for locals, in a rundown food court on Fulton Street. Then gained additional notoriety after being featured on several prominent television shows. So what’s so special about Xi’an Famous, well it begins with noodles.

Xian famous, like many places these days, is variations on a theme. And noodles are the building blocks for the majority of their dishes here. Fresh noodles paired with a variety of meats, herbs, and spice, and broths. If you aren’t into spicy food, Xi’an famous is probably not for you. The food is quite hot, but not so much so to take away from the flavors, more of a synergy, enhancing them.

You can get many noodle soups here, But my favorites are the dry noodles,(ok not necessarily dry, but not submerged in water). I usually will get one of two dishes, the hand pulled noodles with cumin lamb or the spicy and tingly beef hand pulled. Both are spicy, and both showcase the excellent texture of the fresh noodles. On my most recent visit I got the beef, and was suprised yet again with the tenderness of the beef. It really is satisfyingly soft, and dissolves in each bite.

Beyond these noodle dishes, which I would suggest, the lamb burger is also a popular dish. Its filling and has similar flavor profiles to the noodle dishes. A good spot of quick bite, and a drink borough wide.

Drunken Dumpling

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“New Dumpling Place Opens” read the headline, or at least that was the copy through the lense of my memory. It was just over a year ago when the Drunken Dumpling opened theirs doors. I had read about it in one online periodical or another, and was intrigued. It was most likely the allure of the largest soup dumpling this side of the Prime Meridian, but that was enough for me.

I had planned two separate occasions to visit, but was cut short both times. The first time it was a scheduling thing. I had gone at four, when they were closed between lunch and dinner, and my stomach demanded I go elsewhere. On the second occasion It was just too packed, and again my stomach protested waiting any longer, so I moved on.

As is often the case, third time is a charm. On a tepid summer day, my planned visit finally came together. Me and a friend stopped in for lunch, and quickly glanced over the menu. I like the fact that everything here is organic, and farm to table like. Lets be honest, I love dumplings, and I get them from all types of places. However, many dumpling places most likely don’t use the highest quality ingredients. Now this isn’t a knock on those places, I’m fine with that. But it is nice that there is a place like Drunken Dumping.

Many of the options are your classics, dumplings you’re no doubt familiar with, pork and chive anyone. They also have that large soup dumpling that I mentioned, but me and my compatriot decided to go with the classic soup dumplings. These were great, I personally really enjoyed them. I’m no expert when it comes to soup dumplings, but I thought they were excellent. Something you should consider if you visit.

The other dumpling choice we made to round out our meal was an interesting original (at least for me) that I’d never seen before. The chicken and cashew dumpling was delectable, light, and tasty. Add hot oil and soy sauce and you’re good to go.

Thái Son

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I live about 100 yards from this Thai Son location, needless to say its a pretty good neighborhood spot. I most recently ordered takeout from here during the cold snap we just experienced, the pho with beef brisket really hit the spot.

One way to gauge the merit of any restaurant, I feel, is if the the local police are patrons. This, of course, is because they walk they’re beat here each day. And wouldn’t you know, when I was leaving with my take out order the other day, two cops just happened to be walking in.

There are a ton of dishes and variations here, so no problem with choice. Beyond the Pho, which it seems many people like, they have a bunch of summer roll type dishes. Rice paper, fresh vegetables, shrimp, pork, hot sauce, peanut sauce… I’m in. Until I came here for dinner one time, rice paper was always a mystery to me…no longer, our waiter taught us how it works, as some of the dishes require your full engagement.

I suggest going here with an appetite, its filling and tasty. Its also very reasonable.

Tikka Indian Grill Astoria

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Its Sunday, I drank too much last night. It’s Sunday, and its 2pm. I’m in a world of pain and thirst, I should probably smoke. I need water, I need… food. On days like this I’m quick to pick up Seamless and order american chinese cuisine. Its quick, it’s inexpensive and its plentiful. But,
you know, I live in Queens and there a plethora of places I can turn to at such a time.

Tikka Indian Grill is one of those places, the food is comforting and delicious, warm and abundant. I like this place, and it has some dishes that you just won’t get at other Indian joints.
You probably paused, thought, “Indian food, hungover?” but though you can order more mainstream dishes at this local, that isn’t what we’re going for. Its also probably a good time to mention you don’t just have to stop here when you’ve had to much to drink.

Tikka indian Grill offer some interesting tasty dishes that are worth stopping in, or ordering out for. My staple dish here is called the Chicken Chop. Marinated in yogurt and spices, these are whole pieces of chicken and they don’t disappoint. The marinade makes the chicken nice and tender, succulent.

I also typically order the Aloo Gobi Samosa. This a broken up samosa pieces smothered in raita sauce, mixed with some crunchy bits. I would say if this sounds foreign to you, and don’t think you’ve tried something similar, definitely get this.

Another dish I like quite a bit is Hariyali Chicken Kabab. Marinated and grilled, a sure crowd pleaser. Pickled onions and their signature chutneys really are great touch, and really round the meals out nicely.

Di Fara Pizza

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Out along the the yellow subway line in Brooklyn, where alphabet city seems to extend, with avenues J and U (and probably LMNOP) stands Di Fara Pizza. A relic from a different time, a vestige of Brooklyn’s past. In this predominantly Jewish neighborhood Domenico DeMarco opened this legendary pizza Mecca in 1964. What you’ll probably find most striking and certainly endearing, is that he’s been making the pies here, by himself ever since. Though his large family helps with the peripheral moving parts of the business, Domenico doesn’t let anyone else fold the dough, or cut the basil that garnishes the top of each fresh pie. An artisan, no doubt, a new york slice guru, absolutely, a pizza diva, maybe.

Whatever the label, the pizza here is definitive new york, and has held the title for best slice for decades. Patrons might gripe about the long wait, lack of AC in the summer and balk at the steep price, however these thoughts quickly dissolve after one’s first bite.

Both rectangle and round are excellent, though personally I prefer round. It will also likely come out much quicker. I once visited with some friends, we ordered the Sicilian, only to see one circle after another come out before ours. Any way you slice it, the pizza here is spectacular. Feel free to order with pepperoni(the good stuff here), and add peppers in oil that adorn the table and you’re set to go.


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Stellar banh mi, well deserving of the high marks its received. I’ve tried a few sandwiches, and one or two of the apps (appetizers not essential here). They have traditional bahn mi, but it’s my opinion that where they excel is their originals. Specifically the Kakuni Pork Belly bahn mi is a must, I’m not sure what crack is like, but the experience must be similar (“Got that cr’nack, yeah, I got cr’nack” 2 Chainz). On every visit I’m always amazed at how delicious this sandwich is, the union of fresh vegetable and marinated pork belly is a real win. Extra points for good value, the sandwich comes in at just $5.25.

Worth the hype, and the trip if you don’t live in queens!

Al-Sham Sweets & Pastries

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Al Sham comes fresh with the fillo dough, offering up some of the best sweets you’ll find anywhere. Located in what is often referred to as the Little Egypt section of Astoria, and serving traditional Lebanese confections. What you’ll find here are an array of cookies and baklava coated in syrup or honey, overflowing with cashews, pecans and almonds. The majority of the offerings are very rich, but take it from someone who isn’t a huge fan of rich desserts, they’re outstanding. beyond the large selection of baklava and cookies there, you’ll find some interesting pastries, which are typically on the milder side. Kanafeh, for example, a really tasty cheese pastry, soaked in syrup and sprinkled with pecans.

As many on the internet have stated “EVERYTHING” here “is good.” I’ve been here dozens upon dozens of times and have yet to sample something I didn’t like. Prices are reasonable and the staff is nice as well.

I brought a platter of different items to a New Years Party and it was a big hit. If you do grab a large platter, I would recommend having it weighed out on there regular plates, as opposed to the prepackages they put together on the fancier plastic dish. It will save you about eight bucks.


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I’ve been meaning to come here for years. My friend used to live in the building adjacent and this place always looked cool. What will first draws your attention is the outdoor seating that wraps along the outside, its on the corner. There is plenty of outdoor seating, which is always nice. After having been, and siting inside, I would say this place has good ambiance, and a great layout overall. I really like the wrap around bar.

Beyond the aesthetics and feel, I was interested in trying the food. Passing by it always looked good, but you never know of course. When I arrived my friends has already ordered apps, so ended up just getting a dinner item. On my friends suggestion I ordered the pappardelle with duck ragu.

I’ll say this, when I go back I will order this again, it was outstanding. Definitely get the duck ragu.

Photo by Carly Goldberg via Instagram