Hello and welcome to Improv Night. In this totally unscripted edition of Where to Eat, I spontaneously create an entire newsletter based on prompts that readers have emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. (I did invite emails from people who will be visiting New York City during the holiday season, so maybe the questions aren’t totally spontaneous. But the answers are 100% unscripted.)
If all goes well, I may be doing this again. And if it goes really well, you can look for me at the corner of 9th and University, greeting passers-by with a cheery “Hey, do you guys like comedy?”
Give my regards to biryani
I live in California but go to New York once a year for a long weekend to go to the theater. Are there any restaurants you’d recommend reasonably close to the theater district for lunch or for dinner? — Sue W.
My new crush in Hell’s Kitchen is Hyderabadi Zaiqa, a casual, three-table spot a few steps below West 52nd Street. The kitchen must be even smaller than the dining room, which makes the food coming out of there — a whole range of stuff, including more than a dozen biryanis, all spiced with real nuance — sort of unbelievable. Pure Thai Cookhouse around the corner is very good, too. Farther south, I’m always happy to get calf’s liver at Joe Allen. Although a lot of places in the neighborhood have been closing up early since the pandemic, Joe Allen stays open until 11:30 except Sundays; as always, it’s closed Mondays, when theaters are dark. There are never any surprises at Joe Allen, and that’s the whole point.
Oolong in the afternoon
I’ll be visiting New York in mid-December. Do you have a favorite place to have afternoon tea? — Marita F.
I love drinking Taiwanese tea brewed in a clay pot or a glazed porcelain gaiwan at Té Company, in Greenwich Village. Té Company is famous for its pineapple linzer cookies, but I’m fascinated by a new item, a version of the Taiwanese pineapple cake that originally inspired the linzer cookies. You can eat these while you drink your tea, or buy them to take home along with a whole range of loose teas. The tearoom and the shop share an extremely tight space, but nobody ever hurries me. After I’ve drunk the first cup, I’ll brew a second from the same leaves. And then another. When the tea gets too weak, or I get too wired, it’s time to leave.
We’re headed to Midtown and want to try Russian, Moldovan or Ukrainian food? We are staying on East 45th. We love Ess-a-bagel off Lexington, and the Second Avenue Deli! — Mike M.
You’ll be near the United Nations, so I assume you intend to try the food of all three countries in the spirit of international diplomacy. For stuffed cabbage, vareniki and other Ukrainian food, the most convenient choice is the long-running Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, which is open nightly. But if you’re here on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, see if you can make it to Streecha for lunch. The whole operation is more like a church supper than a restaurant, and the food always has a handmade feel. For Molodovan cuisine, you’re looking at a trip to Moldova, in Midwood, Brooklyn. If there’s another restaurant in the city serving mamaliga, a cornmeal porridge the mere mention of which will bring tears to the eyes of homesick Moldovans, I don’t know it. And I have a soft spot for the Russian Samovar, a venerable Broadway saloon taken over by Russian émigrés a long time ago. They brought in tasseled lamps and the kind of furniture that makes you think of large, sleepy Persian cats. They kept the piano, and I try to go when a pianist is in the house. I always get pirozhki and a succession of shots of vodka, which they infuse with tarragon, dill, garlic and other flavors you won’t find at the liquor store.
N.Y.U. grads seek nostalgic night out
I lived in the city from 2005 to 2011, but have been gone for more than 12 years. Now that I have young children, I visit very infrequently. But! I’ll be in the city for 24 hours for a moms’ night out, sans kids. We’re staying in the East Village to relive our N.Y.U. days. What fun, lively, interesting, not-too-expensive restaurant should we go to for dinner? (Of note — one of us is a vegetarian.) — Danielle S.
This one’s obvious, Danielle. Obvious to me, at least. Go to Superiority Burger. You can all be vegetarians for the night, and I doubt anyone will regret it. Depending on when you show up, you may have to put your name on a list to get in, but what could be more reminiscent of attending N.Y.U. than standing in the cold on the sidewalk in Alphabet City with a group of hungry friends? Actually, if they ask you to wait, do it at the bar in the back. Bring quarters for the snack mix. One warning, though: Superiority Burger is fun, for sure, and lively, definitely, but it’s also a former Greek-slash-Ukrainian coffee shop, and feels like it, you know? To get the full girls-night-out experience, you might plan on a wine or cocktail bar after dinner. For that, I forbid you to wait on the sidewalk. Go to Martiny’s, PDT, the Wayland or another bar that takes reservations. (If you’re curious about my East Village memories, I wrote about them in a recent Where to Eat.)