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.

Seven New York Restaurants Where Western Chefs Make Eastern Food

White folk can’t dance or jump, but they’re hard to beat when it comes to cultural appropriation. To the list of stuff white people like to do, you can add cooking Asian food. New York’s preference for authenticity once made it a rarity for western chefs to take on eastern cuisine, but more and more big names are trying their hand at the canon. It’s not just about obsessing over Thai food, either. New York palates are expanding, with Balinese, Yunnan, and Filipino flavors now in the mix. To see where the city’s top chefs are rocking the wok, click on over to our latest Top List and check out the city’s best western chef/eastern taste mashups.

Get Down With 2013’s Michelin-Rated Restaurants

This week restaurants around the city celebrated the release of the 2013 Michelin Guide. One of the best features about this prestigious tome is their “good cuisine at reasonable price,” Bib Gourmand section. For the Bib Gourmand, they consider restaurant that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Here, they don’t offer stars, but getting mentioned in the guide is enough for many eateries. 

“I couldn’t be more excited about our mention in the Michelin guide,” said Speedy Romeo chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich. “I really see the guide as an honest measure for a restaurant rating, so, it means a lot to me to gain their respect.”

Aside from Speedy Romeo, highlighted this year include Gran Electrica, Pok Pok, and Battersby, which was also voted one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetite magazine. It also appears to be the golden time for Bed-Stuy’s Do or Dine. Not only did chef and co-owner Justin Warner winFood Network Star a couple months ago, but the restaurant has their second notable mention in the Michelin Guide.

In Manhattan, notice went to August, Il Buco Aimentari & Vineria, and Danny Meyer’s Untitled. There were also quite a few Asian places in the guide including Family Recipe, Jin Ramen, Yunnan Kitchen, and Uncle Zhou in Queens. With the one-star awards, the Asian trend continued with Café China, Hakkasan, and Jungsik at the top of the list.

On the higher end of things, three Michelin stars went, unsurprisingly, to eateries including Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, and La Bernardin. There was one astounding twist; out of seven venues, one award went to a non-Manhattan restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. See folks, Brooklyn is rising. Just wait until it’s all outer boroughs and ramen joints.

Lower East Side’s Yunnan Kitchen Shuns Assimilation

Barely a month has passed since Erika Chou opened the buzzed-about Yunnan Kitchen, her first restaurant on the Lower East Side with chef Travis Post formerly of Bklyn Larder and Franny’s in Brooklyn. Their menu features, you guessed it, food from the Chinese province Yunnan. Inside the 60-seat Clinton Street restaurant, you can spot hipsters and neighborhood regulars alike sitting under the faux tiger skin on the wall or at the community table.

“We wanted to introduce more people to the beauty of the region and its food,” says Chou, over a steaming plate of meaty trumpet mushrooms. “Each province has its own cooking style and in New York we have a lot of Cantonese and Sichuan food.”

Heck, nearby you can get Cantonese at Congee Village or Hop Kee, and for Sichuan try Old Sichuan on Bayard Street.

Here, while they try to use as many seasonal and local ingredients as possible, the cuisine remains solely Yunnan. Says Chef Post: “These are very pure flavors, not fusion food,” says Post. “It makes me so crazy when I see harissa in Thai curry.” For Chou, who grew up in North Carolina, food played a strong roll in her childhood, which pushed her to where she is today. "Food is such a big part of my culture and my family,” she says. “I remember walking around the aquarium when I was a little girl and my mom and grandma were talking, thankfully in Chinese, about how to cook each fish.”

Before she opened Yunnan Kitchen, Chou worked at the Standard Grill, where she started as a bus girl and eventually moved up the ladder to manager. When she decided to go the restaurateur route, Chou chose the Lower East Side and the long abandoned 99-cent store to house her project. She found Post on Craigslist and opened in beginning of May this year.

Unlike San Francisco’s much lauded Mission Chinese Food, which serves "Americanized Oriental Food," Yunnan Kitchen’s mission is purity and, in that, it is Mission Accomplished.