Top NYC Restaurants and Bars of 2012

The end of 2012 brings excitement for what’s to come in 2013, but also a slew of tasty memories from dining and drinking out for almost 365 days this year. Of all the places I tried, these nine New York places, people, and events stuck out.

1. Xixa: Opened by the team from Traif, this cozy, yet swank Mexican food restaurant proved a real winner in my book. From their delicate butterfish ceviche, to the fresh braised artichoke guacamole, to the whimsical wine list dedicated to fierce woman in show business, this Brooklyn eatery is worth going back to in 2013.

2. Mission Chinese: Yes, it’s that good, not to mention fun and comforting. But don’t take my word for it, when Danny Bowien opened up his second location of Mission Chinese in the Lower East Side, the first being in the Mission district of San Francisco, he hasn’t had a moment to breath since the press and fandom has been so great. Aside from that, he makes a mean mapo tofu. 

3. Charity: Pete Wells said it best in his New York Times article, “What made an equally deep impression on me, though, was the restaurant industry’s response to something else that seemed to come out of nowhere, the beating the city took when Hurricane Sandy trampled over the region.” All over the city, and country for that matter, service people rallied to help restaurants and bars that had been hit hard by the fall storm. You go NYC. 

4. The Expansion of DavidsTea: When this Canadian-based tea company came to the West Village in 2011, no one really knew who they were, or what they were about. But, between an energetic staff and tea blends including a cinnamon-green called Exotica, and coffee mixed with mate or pu’erh, they now have a solid following, which means, they keep opening up new shops all over the city and that makes me happy.

5. Gallow Green: I can’t help it, I adore Sleep No More. Now, with the airy Gallow Green bar on the roof, you don’t have to drop $75 to get a little theatrical entertainment at the fabled McKittrick Hotel. There they have live music, small bites, and excellent craft cocktails like Blonde in Peril, which mixes vodka, Lillet, and crimson port. 

6.  Yunnan Kitchen: For a first venture, Erika Chou and chef Travis Post nailed it. Impart that’s because the food is phenomenal, but the other part is due to the lack of Yunnan-style Chinese food in the city. After traveling in the Yunnan province, Post learned to serve up stellar plates of tea-smoked duck and fried pork belly, which people flock too, even if NYC’s Chinatown is just a few blocks away.

7. The Pines: At the end of September, the owners of Littleneck opened The Pines next door to their shop in Brooklyn. The inside looks like an abandoned lodge, which makes sense given they scored dishes, signs, and knickknacks from a summer resort bearing the same name as the restaurant. Not that you would just go for the décor—it’s chef Angelo Romano’s cooking that won us over with dishes like his oxtail cappellacci and the pork shoulder with chestnut, pineapple and rye berry.

8. Justin Warner: Watching the quirky chef and co-owner of Brooklyn’s Do or Dine team up with Alton Brown on Food Network Star had me actually paying attention to the show for the first time. Plus, he won!

9. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria: The vibe this NoHo restaurant exudes is a modern-industrial-meets-Italian-village sort of thing, and it works. So does the food expertly prepared by chef Justin Smillie. Of all the new Italian places that have opened in 2012, Smillie’s plates of bucatini cacio e pepe and gnudi with brown butter and cherry tomatoes shine through the rest.

Non-Jewish Girlfriends Happily Dine at Xixa

Last week Jason Marcus and Heather Heuser’s second restaurant Xixa opened up in Williamsburg, just a few doors down from their also ironically named joint Traif, which mean “non-kosher.” The paradox of Traif comes from the restaurants proximity to the large Hasidic area of Brooklyn, and while there they make sure to fill its menu with pork-tastic nibbles, at Xixa, which is a play on the word “shiksa,” meaning “non-Jewish girlfriend” in Yiddish, they turn out eclectic Mexican-style fare.

Spicy rock shrimp gorditas or Spanish mackerel tartare anyone? That’s just a few of dozens of small plates chef Marcus serves, all regulated to various “food groups” like cheese, grains, and meat. The menu also organizes dishes based on light to heavy, and in that order. Aside from truly tasty takes on classic Latino food, they also have a full bar that specializes in wine, tequila, and mezcal, including a smoky shot laced with duck fat and chased with duck chicharrones. Where the actual cocktail and booze list isn’t extensive, they make up for that with their 100-plus bottles of wine, all wickedly categorized by the iconic woman that best describes them. Want a “fresh, transparent, and bright” vino? Go for the Twiggy column. For a “perfumed, aromatic, and avant-garde” variety, they offer seven choices under Coco Chanel, including a Pansa Blanca from Spain.

This kind of whimsy gives Xixa a jump ahead of other new restaurants in the area; and their solid food and comfortable setting doesn’t hurt either. Plus, the space has an elegance to it that calls for a date, but with a rope-covered ceiling and abstract paintings, it could easily remain a casual spot. Either way, bring your Jewish or non-Jewish girlfriend, or better yet, your boyfriend, the kitchen stays open until 1am.