If you’re heading to the Big Apple for the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on June 8, ABR’s resident New Yorkers have some restaurant recommendations for you. Dan Tordjman is a born-in-the-boroughs local who calls Queens home; while Penelope Miller has been in the city for eight years, living in Manhattan’s East Village and Gramercy Park. Between the two of them, they know some seriously delicious restaurants to check out while you’re in town.
Dan: Hands down, it’s Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. They’re world-renowned for their Sicilian square pizza, and that’s what you have to get there.
Penelope: My favorite pizza place went under due to rising rents (RIP Mariella’s; you’re gone but never forgotten) but my current go-to is Joe’s Pizza in Union Square. It’s a great slice for a good price.
Penelope: Peking Duck House in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The best. Unsurprisingly, their Peking Duck is the thing you want to order. If you hit a big bet, though, and want to burn some money on sheer luxurious deliciousness, go to Philippe Chow on the Upper East Side and order the Velvet Chicken.
Dan: I’ll defer to you on this one; Chinese food is not my specialty. I will give a shout-out to my local delivery place: #1 Garden in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.
Italian (Disclaimer: both Dan and Penelope acknowledge that King Umberto near Belmont is indeed the best Italian restaurant ever; however, since it’s not technically located within the five boroughs, here are their picks for New York City proper.)
Penelope: I have to go with Bamonte's in Williamsburg. The food is amazing, and it’s been a neighborhood staple since it opened in the year 1900. Dan informs me that it’s also the favorite of Always Dreaming’s co-owners the Brooklyn Boyz, so now I feel extra smart!
Dan: Giovanni’s Brooklyn Eats in South Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a pretty casual sit-down restaurant with incredible lunch specials. You can stuff yourself for under $12!
Penelope: Ess-A-Bagel on 19th and 1st. FIGHT ME, DAN.
Dan: Hot Bagels and Bialys on Quentin Road in Midwood, Brooklyn. It’s one of those classic fast-paced bagel shops.
Penelope: So is Ess-A-Bagel! Wait, what’s your go-to order?
Dan: I like the everything bagel with tuna.
(At this point, Penelope activates the VoiceRecord app on her phone because the bagel debate becomes quite heated and she feels that she can’t transcribe it in real-time.)
Dan: I do want to make a point here about bagels: anyone who orders a bagel and asks for it to be toasted is committing a cardinal sin.
Penelope: No doubt.
Dan: If you go to any of these bagel shops, either Ess-A-Bagel or Hot Bagels and Bialys, you don’t have to ask for it toasted. The bagel is fresh, fluffy, and when you order it toasted it’s a total implication that the bagel isn’t fresh.
Penelope: It dries the bagel out and it’s offensive.
Dan: It’s offensive.
Penelope: Going back to your order: you’re correct in having an everything bagel. I would argue that Ess-A-Bagel’s are the finest in the five boroughs; but tuna is insane and you’re wrong. It’s scallion cream cheese or nothing.
Dan: I mean, so here’s my thing with bagels: when you’re getting a warm, hot bagel, I don’t like the feeling of cream cheese melting down my fingers …
Penelope: (Interrupting rudely) THAT’S THE BEST PART!
Dan: Nah, not for me. I like to keep it clean.
Penelope: So you order stinky tuna fish? At least get lox! But then that would still have cream cheese.
Dan: I could get whitefish. It still does melt some, but whitefish works.
Penelope: Whitefish definitely works.
*Dan and Penelope both agree that Heartland Bagels in Staten Island is a solid, solid place to get a bagel if you have the time for the ferry ride over there.
Penelope: Ooh! Blue Ribbon is so good. Great call.
Dan: Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Penelope: 100% agree.
Dan: I’m not really a halal fan, so I’ll defer to Penelope on this.
Penelope: Good, because I have feelings! A lot of people will tell you that The Halal Guys is the best cart in the city. Those people are stone-cold wrong. The correct answer for best Halal in the city is Rafiqi’s. The price is right, the food is sheer savory splendor, and the servings are massive. I literally eat at Rafiqui’s at least twice a week. It’s my jam, and everyone should enjoy it at least once in their lives.
Penelope: Big Gay Ice Cream!! Now and forever.
Dan: I’ll take the ridicule and go with ice cream chain Uncle Louie G. I’ve always been a quantity over quality guy (don’t read into that) and there’s plenty of selection here.
Dan: Wait, ice cream isn’t dessert?
Penelope: Ice cream is a separate, anytime treat, Dan. Come on.
Dan: Mia’s Bakery in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. They have everything from cheesecakes to pies to muffins: everything. It’s definitely the largest selection you could ever imagine. (Dan goes on to look up their menu and wistfully read everything they have out loud for several minutes.)
Penelope: If you’re feeling nostalgic (or have children with you) go to Serendipity 3 and try the frozen hot chocolate. If you’re feeling a little more refined or want to try something a little out of the ordinary, try Momofuku Milk Bar.
Dan: Milk Bar’s a great choice. I wish I had said that.
Penelope: I also have to shout out to City Bakery, which has some of the best treats in town. It’s in the Flatiron, so it’s also a great stop in a really cool, central area if you’re up for some sightseeing.
Other Must-Try Restaurants
Penelope: Feast in the East Village. It’s INSANE how good it is. You just order either garden, sea, or land feast from the menu and then a billion tasting courses come out and everything is so good and oh my God I want to go there right now and eat all of the things.
Dan: So… wanna go get a bagel?
Penelope: Yes. Right now. Let’s go.
** This review blog was originally published in 2017 and has been updated **