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Jul 29, 2008 12:38 PM

New SF transplant in NYC: looking for good/similar SF Greats!


I recently moved to a sublet in Harlem (125th & Lennox) from San Francisco recently and I am on the hunt for SF equivalents and other recommendations in Manhattan.

My interests are super casual, mom n pop, inexpensive eats made with love!

Some of the things I miss from SF that I want to find in NYC:

Tu Lan (vietnamese): greasy huge crisp Imperial Rolls, Curry fried rice.

Mexican food in the mission: REAL al pastor cooked on vertical spit, and also good carnitas.

Turtle Tower (viet): Real Bun Cha

Some good casual Beef Rendang from a good Indonesian place

Burma SuperStar: burmese curries & foods

Many casual Thai places in SF: Crying Tiger, crispy pork belly w/ spicy sauce, pork leg stew, duck fried rice, roast duck over white rice, etc., etc.

...this is all I can think of right no...more will follow

Also, recommendations to really good food spots in Harlem where I am subletting (125th & Lennox) is very welcome for when I wanna eat local.


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  1. I'll have to give some of these some thought, but just to get started....

    Mexican: there's been a huge improvement here, but nothing is San Francisco style. Your best bet will be with tacos. Try Pinche Taqueria on Mott St. to hold you over. The Red Hook ball fields have about a half dozen taco truck vendors that might make for a fun adventure for you. East Harlem has a number of taco spots. Best to do a search, and keep expectations low. Really low.

    Thai: East Coast Thai food is very different in my opinion. Won Di Siam has the crispy pork. Actually a lot of places do, but you're best bet is to check the outer boroughs board. That advice would go for all the Asian requests. Expect some trips to Queens.

    Burmese Superstar: I wish. Maybe outside Manhattan?

    Harlem food: Amy Ruth's, Melba's, and Charles Southern get the most raves. There was an extensive thread with suggestions from Morningside Heights up to Sugar Hill a couple months back for a young family that was staying in the area on vacation. That's going to be the most complete list with a lot of non-soul food ideas.

    Also check the Village Voice food reviews, as they tend to focus on off the beaten track ethnic cheap eats.

    9 Replies
    1. re: sugartoof


      In all honesty, I am somewhat disappointed in NYC eats so far; BUT, I have not been here long enough at all. So I am really in no position to judge it just yet.

      My brief generalization so far is that there are many different types of foods offered, with large flow and much to be given, and at the same time less concentration of love that is put into a single food and less distinction as compared to SF.

      I know you cant really compare 2 cities exactly to each other, especially when the cities have totally different immigrant foundations. But, I have yet to find vast distinction between the same food cooked at 2 separate places. ie: soul food here is very good, but place A tastes somewhat similar to place B. This can be said for many pizza places, delicatessens, japanese, chinese, indian, Caribbean, cuban, jamaican, halal, etc. here in NYC in my opinion.

      In contrast, I can easily give you two different thai, chinese, indian, etc. restaurants that totally taste different from one another, while at the same time have the same price point, decor, even menu. and in the casual format.

      Nothing personal NYers. The food here is very good! I am just looking for more eats that are truly worthy of hunting down and worth even waiting in a long crowded line. It seems to me that each neighborhood 'does' almost have everything each other neighborhood has; but like I said before for example: "this cuban/pizza/japanese/etc place in neighborhood A is freakin delicious, but it tastes almost exactly the same as that one place in neighborhood B.

      I hope my example makes sense.

      So what Im really lookin for as well are place that are uniquely delicious not just to NYC, but to food period. (taste/food wise; not looking for trendiness/ambiance/history/ec - is all about the FOOD).

      Here is your chance to prove me wrong ;)

      1. re: fooddudeone

        I don't think you're going to find real bun cha in NYC (I'm assuming you're talking about the type where you dip the noodles). The only place I've even seen it offered is at Viet Cafe, and I haven't been there. And at $15 a bowl, it's a far cry from what you'd probably pay in Vietnam or Turtle Tower.

        You're also not going to find too many Indonesian restaurants in Manhattan. Queens is the place to go -- in fact, for a lot of what you're looking for, you really should post something on the Outer Boroughs Board. But Malaysian restaurants in Manhattan have beef rengdang. I used to like the rengdang at Nyonya a while ago. But the last time I had it, it wasn't that great. Hounds like Skyway Malaysian and New Malaysia restaurant. I haven't had the rendang there, but haven't been too impressed with the other offerings. My favorite Malaysian is still in Queens.

        Rhong Tiam (for Thai food) has been getting rave reviews. You may want to check it out. I don't think they have the dishes you're looking for, but they've got rengdang on the menu (it used to be a Malaysian place). Sripraphai in Queens is probably your best bet for the dishes you're mentioning.

        If you haven't had the chance yet, you should definitely check out the halal chicken and rice carts. My favorite is the one on 6th Ave and 43rd Street. They're only there around during the day, and if you order it, you must get the white rice. The yellow rice sucks. Chicken is the most flavorful I have found. There's also the really famous one on 53rd and 6th, but my preference is still for the 43rd.

        You also live near Patsy's Pizza in Harlem. You'll probably want to check it out for a NYC slice.

        I think the Korean scene is better in NYC than SF. Check out Koreatown from 32-36th Streets, between 5th and 6th Ave (main drag is 32nd Street). You may also want to check out Flushing in Queens as well for Korean food. Some of the places I like are Gahm Mi Ok for their sullongtang and kimchi, Madangsui for kalbi and Hyo Dong Gak for jjamp bong (Korean-Chinese spicy noodle soup with seafood).

        If you haven't had it yet, I really like the double shack at Shake Shack in NYC. The regular burgers are good, but IMO overrated for the lines you see. I only go if the lines are short as it is not worth the huge line. The double shack is a combo of a beef burger and a deep-fried breaded cheese-filled portobello mushroom burger. I think there's a version where it's two beef burger patties and a mushroom -- have no idea how people can finish that. Pretty juicy and tasty.

        No al pastor, but there's this awesome tamale thread that you should check out.

        A blog I recommend you checking out is I'm in awe how Dave (also a CH poster) gets around the entire city eating. He eats at a lot of places off the radar. I think you'll get some great recs from visiting his site.

        1. re: fooddudeone

          Likewise I split my time living between SF and NYC, and I would say I've felt those exact same gripes when in San Francisco as well. Even when it's second and third rate, the Mexican here is far uniform, non-descript. The soul food and BBQ here are vastly different tasting from one place to another providing you really like that kind of food.

          So my advice would be not to duplicate your old favs in a new city, but to try and explore new flavors you can't get nearly as good in San Francisco at all. That would include Polish/Ukranian, Cuban, fresh noodles, high end sushi, burgers!, falafel, and so on. There's a LOT of hype out here.... but you're looking for cheap eats, and New York is a great town for bargains and strange surprises.

          1. re: sugartoof

            thx for the tips..

            ...yes i concur. I guess ill just have to eat new foods and explore (which ive been doing).

            I have tried the famous 53rd & 6th cart (actually many times already to a point im getting tired of it, lol). Its cheap and delicious, and something Cali doesnt have and prolly will never have..

            I've tried the other NY quintessential foods already and love em (katzs, crif dogs, golden krust, sophies, etc. just to name a few)

            As far as quality burgers, I havent hunted yet in NY; but I am love to give it a mission. SF has a multitude of really good burger joints that handground good meat in front of you a couple times a day as well as other diner type (Mo's, 21 Amendment, Burgermeister, Sparky's, Metro Cafe)

            Izakaya in NY, I havent tried yet; it better be somewhat casual (if you havent noticed yet, I hate it when casual foods become high end dining; Izakaya = casual, period!). But ive seen Izakaya type places that are white table cloth in all cities before.

            Ramen in NY..ive tried Sapporo and Men Kui Tei. Decent, but Shin Sen Gumi in LA easily puts them to shame, brothwise and noodle wise and also yakitori accompiniments while still being in a "casual" setting.

            As far as Sushi goes, I am not into it. Why? Because it has become waay too overhyped and trendy. Kinda like when the only thing that someone orders at a mexican place is carne asada, or at a japanese place teryaki.. ya know what i mean?

            1. re: fooddudeone

              Sounds like you really just want to try to get the point across the you think food in SF/LA is better than NY. Which is absolutely fine if that is your opinion....Sushi is far from over-hyped or trendy by tghe way. That is like saying a Burger is over-hyped or trendy, Sushi is not some exotice trendy food item is as common as burgers or pizza. By dismissing it you are missing out on some truly wonderful restaurants. If you dont like it thats another thing entirely

              SF and NY both have amazing food, They are different cities seperated by thousands of miles. You arent going to find repilcas of your favorites or even the same types of places..I dont know your neighborhood but just start roaming will be amazed at the places you will stumble across

              1. re: fooddudeone

                "SF has a multitude of really good burger joints that handground good meat in front of you a couple times a day as well as other diner type (Mo's, 21 Amendment, Burgermeister, Sparky's, Metro Cafe)"

                See, that sounds like you might be reaching a little bit with that one haha. Sparky's? Really? I don't know about that. I mean, If I could chose a Burgemeister or a Shake Shack burger right now, I'd take the Burgermeister.... but the best burgers I have ever had were in NYC hands down. I don't know or care when they grinded their meat, because it was so tasty.

                That said, I wouldn't get too caught up in the comparison thing, just have fun getting to live in a city with an endless amount of cheap, casual, adventurous food, and if it's not the best something or other you've ever had, then hopefully you'll come away with a good NY story instead, or at worst, got to explore a new neighborhood your normally wouldn't see.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  lol, you got me...Sparky's i admit can be whatevs...but pretty good for a late night burger ;)

                  Maybe I just miss SF, haha. But, I do stumble across some amazing soul food places in Harlem alot, especially for the price and quality and quantity you get. Like just a few mins ago I bought a chicken sandwich platter from Pee Dees and it is grilled fresh. When I opened the to go box I was like woah! Thats alot of food for $6!! And tasty too.

                  I guess Im also too much in a rush to fill my foodie needs and cravings.

                  1. re: fooddudeone

                    For ramen, why not try Hakata Ippudo or Setagaya?

                    I'm with the others...for very specific Asian cuisine request, you gotta go east of Manhattan to Queens. Or go west of Manhattan, into New Jersey where huge populations of different Asian immigrants live (take the bus out to Mitsuwa for ramen!). It's not fair to compare the greater SF or LA metropolitan areas with just Manhattan.

                    So slow down! :) Go back and read all of Peter Meehan's $25 and under columns in the NYT. Then read all of Robert Sietsema's columns for the Village Voice. Read all of user Brian S's postings about Flushing. Read this Porkchop Express's postings on banh mi's around the city or the Red Hook Ballfields.....

                    Some linkage:

                    NYT finally discovers Flushing:

                    Cheap eats and street food (have you tried ALL of these yet? :

                    Best under $10

                    Rare or unusual ethnic cuisines:

                    1. re: kathryn

                      ooooh, nice! I got some readin to do.

                      thnx kathryn!

        2. For Thai, try Boyd Thai, Land Northeast Thai, and if you're willing to trek to Queens, Sripraphai. I've heard good things about Rhong Tiam.
          For Vietnamese, Pho Pasteur in Chinatown. Also Banh Mi Saigon Bakery.
          For local places in Harlem, try Sokhna for West African, and Massawa for Eritrean (basically like Ethiopian). I've heard Zoma is very good but haven't been.
          Zebu Grill is excellent Brazilian not far from where you are.
          I haven't found any good Burmese or Indonesian places - Cafe Mingala and Bali Nusa Indah are passable.

          New York doesn't measure up to SF/LA for Mexican or Vietnamese (although the Mexican immigrant community has grown substantially in the last 15 years so this may change soon) but the Indian, Middle Eastern, French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek are much better here.

          11 Replies
          1. re: ShinjukuAce

            Im always down for Spanish casual...any recomendations for simple inexpensive bocadillos with nice fresh crisp baguettes and Iberico hams?

            1. re: fooddudeone

              You could try Bar Jamon and Despana.

              1. re: MMRuth

                Despana, yes. Bar Jamon, save that for when family visits, or you're on a date. It's not the kind of greasy spoon, ethnic hole in the wall joint they're looking for. Despana is a really nice market with some prepared foods. Are there any bargains there though?

                1. re: sugartoof

                  love the bar jamon. small as small can be. go solo and then decide if you can squeeze in family. i'm betting you can't. still, the cava is good and the ham is spectacular. use it as a launching pad before dinner at casa mono. the hostess will fetch you.

                  1. re: steve h.

                    did you read the post though? neither bar jamon or casa mono fit the order for someone looking for get down cheap ethnic eats. the OP is discouraged enough. they're budget conscious and want food over atmosphere.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      got it. i misunderstood your post.
                      no hard feelings?

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        But the OP also asked for iberico hams, which is not budget-friendly in the very least.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          For Jamon Iberico, you can also get some from Pata Negra, a wine bar in the EV. I have heard that the owner was smuggling them in his suitcase before they were allowed into the US. It's not cheap, of course.

                          You can get some decent patitas there there, 5 for $7.


                          1. re: kathryn

                            Seriously?!?! That's a great find. I hope this lasts for a while. Thanks for the tip!

                    2. re: sugartoof

                      Despana has some great tapas/raciones made with good quality ingredient, and would make a nice quick bite to eat for lunch, IMO, at a reasonable (i.e., under $10) price. Since the OP asked about Spanish, the suggestions made seem appropriate. But, would love to know if you have other suggestions for cheaper great Spanish food.

                2. For Mexican, try the places on 116th east of Lexington. You should put your Spanish to good use, since there's not a lot of English spoken around there. This part of Spanish Harlem has the highest concentration of Mexicans in Manhattan.

                  1. I never thought Tu Lan was very good. Several better places on Larkin (like Pagolac), However, you just won't find great Vietnamese in NY.

                    You won't get good Bay Area style Mexican here, but you can get good Poblano food at Tulcingo del Valle on 10th Ave.

                    For real Indonesian rendang you have to go to Minangasli in Queens. Nyonya in Chinatown does a good Malaysian style, but it's a slightly different preparation.

                    There's no good Burmese in NY that I know of. Mingala sucks.

                    You need to go to Queens for great Thai.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                      I agree you're out of luck if you're looking for the same strengths in NYC as San Fran, especially re: southeast Asian food which is surprisingly weak in Manhattan. Mingala Burmese is the only Burmese (on upper east side, east village branch too) which is ok but it was nowhere near as good as Burmese Superstar. Vietnamese is so so here, although you can find passable stuff in Chinatown, and I like Bao 111 for a more fusion take (although again, nowhere near as good as Slanted Door). Thai quite frankly sucks in Manhattan, although I hear raves about Sriphaphai in Queens.

                      One OK authentic Mexican joint I've found since you live in Harlem is El Paso Taqueria on 97th and Park (and there's another Harlem branch too I believe). I like their tacos al pastor, although it might not compare to San Fran mission stuff.

                      I just found a new Cambodian place on the Upper east side (93rd and 3rd) called Cambodian Cuisine which is unique if you want to try it.

                      1. re: Peter Cherches

                        TuLan is good for it's imperial rolls mostly....which are pretty greasy and unhealthy, but oh so good when you wanna splurge. Ive lived all over Cali where many vieatnamese live, and no one makes it as good as TuLan. They're just so crisp, big, nice skin, filling, etc.

                        The rest of TuLan's menu is I admit pretty bleh. The only other things decent there are the bbq beef/pork and curry fried rice just because its stirfried southeast asian style with curry powder (i know, pretty ghetto and simple..but who else does this with it tasting good?)

                      2. Casa Adela when you want to venture downtown. No ambience, great baccalau (Puerto Rican style). All this talk about good Mexican food has me longing for San Diego where they make the tortillas fresh right before your eyes.