The Best Sushi, Sandwiches and Squab We Ate This Year

In 2023, our food team visited approximately 5 million restaurants. Here’s what stuck with us.

Drink

Watermelon-and-Hibiscus Sour

With the cost of cocktails scraping the $30 threshold — and reservations necessary for entry at far too many bars — it’s natural to expect excellence. At Martiny’s, which, when it opened in 2022, helped usher in the food-as-a-drink trend, I found a watermelon-and-hibiscus sour this past summer: gin, juice, and vermouth, shaken with egg white until frothy and topped with a dusting of sugar that’s brûléed. Just as she served it, my bartender grabbed ice with some tongs and used it to cool the edges of my glass. — Tammie Teclemariam

Appetizer

Testa

The headcheese at Foul Witch is a thin sliver of pork terrine, rich and fatty, brightened with some orange zest and dusted with fennel pollen. The best part is the plate, warm enough to melt the fat to a consistency that’s perfect for spreading over that rarest of all restaurant luxuries: free bread. — T.T.

Snack

Panisse

The Ellaphant in the Room

The chickpea fries at Café Chelsea are an hors d’oeuvre that overdelivers: batons of garlic-and-herb-dotted batter, lightly fried to a crisp with a rosemary-scented interior that feels impossibly decadent for anything made mostly out of chickpeas. — T.T.

Pastry

Little Egg’s Cruller

Williamsburg’s much-missed Egg moved south this year under a new name — Little Egg — and a new pastry menu from Tanya Bush. Her cruller is as crunchy as can be with soft pound cake inside its spiraled exterior and not a drop of excess oil. The flavor changes frequently (cardamom-orange this past summer, apple-cider-cinnamon in the fall), while the technique remains flawless. — Chris Crowley

Micro-Neighborhood

Japanese Greenpoint

Ride the G train far enough and you can wind up in Tokyo. Start your journey at 50 Norman Avenue, a warehouse-turned-clearing-house of direct-from-the-motherland excellence, thanks to the efforts of a local Japanese architect, Aki Miyazono. The address was already home to Cibone, with its rotating displays of Japanese ceramics; Dashi Okume, a U.S. outpost of Japan’s 19th-century dashi chain; and House, which offers tasting-menu dinners. This fall, Uzuki opened in the back, where soba master Shuichi Kotani turns out superlative buckwheat-noodle soups (get the duck shio). If it were only this single building, it would be enough, but you can eat a full day of Japanese meals without leaving the area. Start with breakfast at Okonomi — roasted fish, rice, miso soup, tsukemono pickles, and pale, sweet slices of omelet — and transition to bento boxes of thick-cut pork katsu at ACRE cafe. Dinner is sushi from (relative) elder statesman Rule of Thirds, which also owns, a “sake shop for natural wine lovers.” — Matthew Schneier

Trend

Fancy Chopped Cheese

The Ellaphant in the Room

Like the black-and-white cookie before it, the chopped cheese has been yanked out of the bodega and remixed by a group of pedigreed chefs. Uptown, that means a sandwich made with aged rib eye and showered with truffles at Tatiana. In Bushwick, it’s turned into a creamy, beefy sauce for chewy Korean rice cakes at Nowon (pictured) that’s topped with a grating of Parmigiano and a tidy pile of green onions. — T.T.

Nouveau Pizza

Stretch Pizza

Wylie Dufresne’s cooking has become more straight-forward at Stretch Pizza, which began life as a pop-up out of Breads Bakery, but he is still impish and retains a savant’s sense for unlikely combinations. Can I explain my deep fondness for his Old Town pie, an homage to the famed pub’s grilled cheese that matches mushrooms, garlic cream, pumpernickel crumbs, and — anathema, no doubt, to mozzarella classicists — Muenster? No. I can only express adoration for this oft-overlooked cheese and wonder whether I was Alsatian in a past life. — M.S.

Bird

Noksu’s Squab

The Ellaphant in the Room

There has never been a better time to feast on the bodies of birds: Roasted chickens abound, and Ilis even sends out whole ducks with their flippers still attached. But it’s chef Dae Kim’s squab, served beneath 32nd Street in his subway-station atelier, Noksu, that left the most lasting impression: It is aged to concentrate the flavor of its flesh. It is dutifully ladled with hot oil to bronze and crisp its skin. It is then cleaved in half and tastefully arranged on a stark white plate before being anointed with a thick, smoky barbecue sauce. Of course the claw is still attached, but you’ll likely be more curious about the crispy (and fully edible) skull. — Alan Sytsma

Vibe

Gem Wine

The Ellaphant in the Room

In the fall, chef Flynn McGarry moved Gem Wine into the Lower East Side space that had been his first restaurant. Now, cooks work up tweaky bistro fare (baguettes and cheese, beef-tongue tonnato) while McGarry circles the room, seating tables and suggesting wines. But more than its food or drink, Gem Wine itself feels perfect: The lighting is right (thanks in part to the charming fish sconces designed by ceramicist du moment Shane Gabier),
the décor is a Bode-ish strain of country casual, and the packed house’s murmur suggests a dozen third dates happening at once, all of which appear to be going promisingly well. — M.S.

Lunch Spot

Revelie Luncheonette

The name Revelie Luncheonette is not entirely accurate: A luncheonette is “a small restaurant or lunchroom where light meals are served,” and Revelie is neither lunch only nor light. It is the work of Karim Raoul, the son of Serge Raoul, co-founder of Raoul’s (that restaurant is across the street). Like many with cultural double sight, these Frenchmen do Americana better than most Americans. To wit: a cheese-puddling patty melt with dangling caramelized onions that fate might otherwise have consigned to French onion soup. On the side, crinkle-cut fries, hot from the oil, flecked with the tiniest speckles of parsley. Washed down with housemade cherry cola, it is a perfect meal for midday since you’ll want the afternoon to walk it off. — M.S.

Pop-up

Ha’s Đặc Biệt

Whether it’s outside the bodega GoodTimes or in collaboration with Paris’s Bistrot Paul BertHa’s Đặc Biệt — the nomadic cooking project run by Anthony Ha and Sadie Mae Burns — maintains a madcap, irresistible exuberance. The menus change with each location, but the couple’s technique and sensibility can bring strong Viet flavors — fried shallots, scatterings of toasted-rice powder, piles of fresh herbs such as mint and rau ram, the sweetness of fish sauce — to fluke crudo, roasted chicken, or classic steak-frites. If there is pastry, such as flaky pâté chaud, it’s guaranteed to be gorgeous. — E.A.J.

Dining Room

Café Carmellini

The Ellaphant in the Room

A blue-velvet, two-sided banquette runs the full length of
the dining room at Café Carmellini. Slide in; get comfortable. The bilevel space is an exercise in restrained taste — cognac-tinted leather, grand plumes of trees, brass chandeliers overhead, and is that a peacock etched into the glass above the bar? No one detail calls attention to itself, but it all sends the same message: You are here to be pampered. — A.S.

Burger

Greywind

The Ellaphant in the Room

Blame the neighborhood — midtown hinterlands just above Hudson Yards — for the lack of buzz around Greywind, a sophisticated and comfortable restaurant-bakery-bar trifecta that Dan Kluger opened in the spring. Its oversize homemade Cheez-Its should be splashed across everyone’s Instagram Reels. More than that, the burger — a thick patty of aged beef with a slick of “au poivre” mayonnaise and a crunchy pile of homemade rosemary potato chips on top — is a good reminder that there’s more to life than smash burgers. (Good as they may be.) — A.S.

Culinary Innovation

Ice As Seasoning

The Ellaphant in the Room

Ice has made the jump from cocktails to food: Frozen flakes are sprinkling into a number of dishes around the city. At Naro, executive chef Nate Kuester makes ice with frozen dongchimi, the radish-water kimchee that can be thrown over noodles as a summertime meal. It’s shaved into a granita and served over octopus, braised and chilled, with mustard sauce and a julienne of pickled radish, lending salinity and spice as it melts. — E.A.J.

Whole Fish

Dry-Aged Branzino

The Ellaphant in the Room

Save the slabs of funky aged rib eye for the expense-account types and deal-makers. What about dry-aged branzino? Moono, a new Korean restaurant in a beautiful Gothic Revival house, is making a stronger case for it than I would have imagined possible. Using a technique borrowed from his grandmother, chef Hoyoung Kim cleans and brines his fish before aging it three to five days. Brushed with yujang (a combination of soy and sesame oil) and grilled, it’s served bare on the plate, but the results are magic. The flesh is tender and pleasingly oily under a flaking sheaf of crisp skin. — M.S.

Sliced Fish

Tuna With Sunflower Miso

There is too much tuna in New York, both environmentally and culturally. With so many tartares, crudi, and poke bowls swirling around, it’s hard to make anything that stands out. At Ilis, chef Mads Refslund does. Four slivers of bigeye, warmed in a wrapping of grilled kombu, rest atop a giant dried puff of sunflower. On the side: a dipping bowl of miso fermented from the same flower. The sauce — more of a condiment, really — is rich like peanut butter, lending heft that the lean slices of fish would lack on their own. It’s a showpiece moment during a tasting menu that can run a dozen or more courses. — A.S.

Revamp(s)

Marea and I Sodi

The Upper West Side missed Marea — that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the number of passersby who stopped to ogle through the window when the restaurant reopened in the fall. Inside, despite a monthslong renovation, it feels as though it never left. The dining room has been brightened, but only just, and the front bar still packs in business-suited singles who chat over bone-marrow fusilli. There are new menu items — Marea’s concession to our current caviar craziness is a toasty little brioche canapé doused in roe, butter, and a dangerous amount of garlic — but management knows better than to jettison any of the classics. The same is true at I Sodi, the perennially unavailable Tuscan favorite from Rita Sodi that moved to A.O.C.’s former digs in the summer. Over the years, Sodi’s empire has grown — with her partner, Jody Williams, she runs Via Carota, Bar Pisellino, and nearby Commerce Inn — but I Sodi remains the jewel in her crown, its layered lasagna and pappardelle al limone still justly celebrated. Some purists may romanticize the tight quarters of the old single room, but that’s mostly for clout (I speak as one of them). — M.S.

Expansion

Lucia Pizza

The Ellaphant in the Room

Lucia Pizza of Avenue X was the best slice shop to open in 2022 — but its location, in Sheepshead Bay, means it can still feel like a hidden gem. The new satellite shop, fittingly called Lucia Pizza of Soho, is the opposite: open late and wedged between a couple of hotels. There’s always a crowd waiting for fresh pies, and that’s fine. This is
the kind of no-nonsense excellence that should be available in every neighborhood. — T.T.

Sandwich

Ends Meat Cubano

The Ellaphant in the Room

There are only a few components on the Cuban sandwich that is sold at the Ends Meat in Brooklyn, and each is operating at full strength: The Swiss cheese is nutty, the ham is rich with smoke, the pork is gently roasted, and the pickle packs a noticeable degree of salt. This beauty is finished with mustard — unabashedly hot — and compressed into a toasty roll. — T.T.

Sushi

Quickie Omakase

Omakase has evolved. No longer the exclusive realm of finance types who can spend $500 for dinner, it’s becoming the most accessible way to eat a “fancy” meal: At spots like Taikun Sushi, Sushi by M, and Shiki Omakase, the rooms are minimally furnished, and service is optimized down to the minute so that diners spending about $100 per person can house a full, 12-ish-course dinner in one hour exactly. Uni, caviar, and high-grade Japanese beef: It can all be yours as long as you don’t mind the lack of amenities — and you manage to arrive on time. — T.T.

Dessert

Pearl Pie

The Ellaphant in the Room

Dessert is a nonnegotiable must-order at the expanded Superiority Burger. Pastry duo Darcy Spence and Katie Toles specialize in familiarity that never leans too hard on nostalgia, a style on full display in their Pearl Pie: Jewels of tapioca spill over sweet-and-tart passion-fruit custard the color of salmon roe. It’s just so fun — and secretly ingenious. The vegan custard is coconut, as jiggly and rich as anything made with eggs. You think you’ve had pie like this before, but not really, and never as memorable. It is — and this is saying a lot for some pie — something entirely new. — C.C.

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