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The 21 New York Restaurants I'll Miss The Most When I Move To LA

03/06/2014 10:07 am ET | Updated May 06, 2014

Last summer, I wrote an essay arguing that LA's restaurant scene is more exciting than New York's. During a heated HuffPost Live discussion about my thesis a few days later, my colleague Rebecca Orchant asked me whether I would ever move to a different city -- and specifically LA -- because of its food scene. I gave a non-committal answer at the time. But now I'm getting off the fence. I'm putting my entire gastro-intestinal tract where my mouth has been for nine months. After 15 years in the Tri-State Area, I'm moving to LA.

Food obviously isn't the city's only lure for me -- but it's not a non-factor. I'm thrilled to be moving somewhere with such fantastic Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern restaurants, in addition to an ever-growing stable of fusion and New American eateries helmed by ambitious young chefs. And I'm looking forward to having dining experiences where the stresses of pricing and reservations are gentler than they are in the Big Apple.

But that doesn't mean that the New York food scene doesn't have a special place in my heart. A huge place. It always will. I learned to eat here. And I've had the vast majority of my great meals in the Five Boroughs. So in between packing, apartment-hunting and car shopping, I took some time to think about the New York restaurants I'm likely to miss the most once I move to Los Angeles.

The 21 restaurants I picked are not the 21 best in the city. In part, this is because I was trying to find restaurants for which I probably won't be able to find substitutes in the Los Angeles area. So there's a lot of Italian, no Thai, Japanese or Mexican -- and a bunch of places that are quirkily one-of-a-kind. Moreover, these restaurants are also tied to my subjective experience of New York dining, which is limited by time, geography and budgets. I've been to all of these restaurants at least five times -- and I've been to some of them, especially near the top, more times than I can count. I'll always love them. Just as I'll always love New York.

  • 21 Bobwhite Lunch Counter, East Village
    naftels/Flickr
    This little hole in the wall on Avenue C serves my favorite fried chicken in the city. Great mac n' cheese, too!
  • 20 Shake Shack, Various Locations
    AP
    I don't eat hamburgers, so I can't really give Shake Shack a higher place than this. But I've had great affection for their chicken hot dogs, french fries and, above all, frozen custard, since Danny Meyer opened the first location in Madison Square Park a decade ago.
  • 19 Luke's Lobster, East Village
    I've simply never had lobster rolls this good -- not even in Connecticut, Maine or Massachusetts.
  • 18 Roberta's, Bushwick
    lulun & kame/Flickr
    A lot of people rag on Roberta's for its cooler-than-thou attitude and interminable waits, but it's a truly singular restaurant, unlike almost anything else in the country. My advice if you go there? Steer clear of the average pizzas and order fantastic pasta, salad and meat. And wear comfortable shoes for the wait.
  • 17 Peter Luger Steakhouse, Williamsburg
    Some haters say that Peter Luger's steaks have been surpassed by those at certain upstarts around town. I disagree.
  • 16 Motorino, East Village & Williamsburg
    For a few years, Motorino served what I though was the best pizza in New York -- the Brussels Sprout-and-Pancetta version in this photo. It doesn't quite top my list anymore, but it's still a nearly perfect pie.
  • 15 Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, DUMBO
    Other ice cream joints offer far more unusual flavors -- the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory sticks to classics like Vanilla, Chocolate and Peaches and Cream. But almost no others serve ice cream or hot fudge as classically well-made as they do. And none is right beside the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • 14 Maialino, Gramercy
    bionicgrrrl/Flickr
    A supremely comfortable, reliable Italian restaurant -- my personal favorite of Danny Meyer's constellation of well-run eateries.
  • 13 Del Posto, Meatpacking District
    VancityAllie/Flickr
    Mario Batali made history when his flagship Del Posto became the first Italian restaurant ever to get four stars from the New York Times. And he makes me sublimely happy every time I visit that restaurant for a three-course lunch, complete with platters of amuse-bouches and mignardaises, for $39.
  • 12 Szechuan Gourmet, Midtown
    Szechuan Gourmet
    There are now better Sichuan restaurants in Manhattan than Szechuan Gourmet -- Cafe China comes to mind -- but there weren't when it first opened, right around the time when I was getting serious about food. And their mouth-tingling Razor Clams with Scallion-Szechuan Peppercorn Pesto are still one of my favorite appetizers in the city.
  • 11 Parm, NoLiTa
    Amanda Rykoff/Flickr
    Parm (along with its fancier sister restaurants Torrisi and Carbone, which are out of my price range for most occasions) has done the seemingly impossible by elevating humble Italian-American food to a serious art form. Their eggplant parm sandwich and baked ziti make me proud to be from New Jersey.
  • 10 The Spotted Pig, West Village
    ZagatBuzz/Flickr
    April Bloomfield would earn her gastropub a place on this list even if all she served were her famous ricotta gnudi, one of the best pasta dishes in the country. So the fact that you can also get flawless offal, roast veggies and, at lunch, Cubano sandwiches, is just icing on the cake.
  • 9 Lucali, Carroll Gardens
    The pies are fairly expensive, the waits are ridiculously long and the owner may well have connections to the Mafia. But Lucali is my current pick for the best pizza in the city. The dough hits the sweet spot between crunch and delicate, the sauce has haunting depth and complexity and the mozzarella is as fresh as a Cubist painting in 1908.
  • 8 Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, NoHo
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    As elegant and fully-realized a restaurant as has opened in New York in the past decade -- and the purveyors of some of the best ricotta in the world. The homemade charcuterie and pasta are nothing to sniff at either.
  • 7 Veselka, East Village
    ZagatBuzz/Flickr
    You want some pierogis at 4 in the morning? Or a $3 breakfast sandwich on your way to work? Or a BLT with sweet potato fries at 3 in the afternoon? And you want it always to taste exactly the same, in a comfortable room? And you want your waiter to be a darkly attractive Ukrainian immigrant? Veselka is the place for you. And for me.
  • 6 Sunny & Annie, East Village
    My roommate recommended that I try the sandwiches here a couple years back. I walked in, saw that it was a normal, even slightly dirty, bodega, and assumed I had the wrong place. "No way," I thought, "are their sandwiches any good." But she took me back a few months later and insisted I order one. As soon as I bit in, I understood why she loved it so much. These are killer sandwiches, at around $6 a piece, available 24 hours a day. My favorite is the Louis -- a delightfully rich combination of a hashbrown, avocados, ham, melted cheese and jalapenos.
  • 5 Mighty Quinn's, East Village
    The crown jewel of New York's barbecue renaissance. Though I usually prefer brisket, it's all about the pulled pork here.
  • 4 Xi'an Famous Foods, Various
    I first ate at Xi'an Famous Foods when it was just a little stall in a basement mall in far Flushing, and was amazed by the chewy texture of the noodles and the intensity of its spicing. Today, there are locations all around the city, making it far easier to access -- but the booming chainlet hasn't comprised its authentic flavor.
  • 3 Mission Chinese Food, Lower East Side
    T.Tseng/Flickr
    Sadly, I have to put an asterisk next to this one -- because it's been closed, due to Department of Health issues, for several months, and its future remains in jeopardy. But for the relatively brief time it was open, it was, for me, the most exciting restaurant in New York. Danny Bowien's kung pao pastrami, salt cod fried rice, ma po tofu and chongqing chicken wings haunt my dreams to this day. I hope it reopens in time for my first trip back east.
  • 2 Mile End Sandwich, NoHo
    I've eaten lunch at Mile End Sandwich -- the Manhattan offshoot of a beloved Jewish-Quebecois restaurant in Boerum Hill -- maybe 40 times in the last two years. Usually either a Ruth Willensky sandwich or a divine Fried Green Tomato-on-Bialy sandwich, and, if I have company, a Smoked Meat Poutine. My cardiovascular system and jeans may not like it much, but my mouth certainly does.
  • 1 All The Momofukus, Various Locations
    Lonely Planet via Getty Images
    Momofuku Noodle Bar was the first New York restaurant I fell in love with; in high school, I would take the bus into the city for a taste of the now-famous pork buns and ramen. Chef David Chang has since expanded across the city and around the world, but I still love almost everything his team cooks. (Especially the large-format meals of fried chicken and rotisserie duck they serve at the Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar. And the shochu slushies. And the Crack Pie.) Though they have tons of fantastic competition, the Momofukus are still the restaurants I think of as my favorite in the world.