Last month, I crowded into a wooden booth at NoLIta’s Thai Diner with the chefs Kia Damon, Andrés Tonatiuh Galindo Maria, Chintan Pandya and Missy Robbins; the pastry chef Melissa Weller; and the T writer-at-large Ligaya Mishan for a languorous weekday lunch. Between slurps of fantastic khao soi and tom yum soup, we compiled a list — similar to others T has done on architecture, interiors and art — of the 25 essential things to eat in New York City right now. By that, we meant dishes served outside the home, whether at restaurants, food trucks, storefronts or other independent establishments, in all five boroughs. Our intent was to be as catholic and creative in our selections as possible, highlighting items both rarefied and workaday that represent the city’s innumerable styles of international cuisine.
Before our meeting, I asked each of the panelists to nominate 10 or so dishes, which we’d all debate in person; in an unexpected twist — proving that each of our experts came with their own distinctly attuned palate — there wasn’t a single duplicate. Two restaurants, however, were nominated twice — Fat Choy, a newish vegan Chinese place on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; and Lucali, the iconic pizzeria in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn — which practically ensured their inclusion. But which dish from each should we highlight? That was one of the many questions that drove hours of intense, mouthwatering argument as we went around the table (thank God we had food in front of us), debating the merits of this or that burger joint, Vietnamese cafe, sushi counter or stalwart fine-dining institution. In the process, we decided that none of the restaurants run by the chefs present could be chosen — nothing from Galindo Maria’s Nenes Deli Taquerias; Pandya’s Dhamaka, Adda Indian Canteen or Semma; or Robbins’s Misi or Lilia — and nor could our host restaurant (though by the end of our meal, everyone would have selected Thai Diner’s famously towering coconut sundae if we could have).
The final list, which appears in unranked, alphabetical order