Having formerly worked in the kitchen at Chez Panisse and New York City hotspot Estela, Tasting Table‘s food editor (and #TTHeartthrob) Andy Baraghani knows more than his fair share about what makes a great restaurant. An NYU alum, he shared some of his favorite spots that are heavy on flavor and light on the wallet.

Spicy Village

“Formerly known as He Nan Flavor, this hole­-in-­the-­wall located in the LES specializes in the food from the Henan province of China. The flavors that erupt seem to pull from the Sichuan province and Xian province at first, but once you have a bite of their slippery scallion spiced dumpling ($5) blasting with umami or their velvety hand pulled noodles tossed with softened tomato and custard­like eggs, you’ll taste the nuance in the cuisine and become hooked. The big tray chicken ($12.95) has not only been praised by Mark Bittman of the New York Times but keeps customers coming back. Filled with big chunks of bone-­in chicken, it’s rich, complex broth contains ma la in flavor, a numbing and tingling sensation that’s typical in Sichuan that is caused by the Sichuan peppercorns. Did I mention it’s BYOB?”

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Photo by Becky Hughes


El ­Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette

Brought my cool kid/restaurateur N​icholas Morgenstern (yes, that Morgenstern) this t​iny coffee bar in the Lower East Side is not the easiest place to grab a seat. That’s mainly due to the creations from chef Gerardo Gonzales, who formerly worked at the beloved Goat Town (now GG’s). The daily specials bring in flavors from the Mediterranean, North Africa and Mexico. Gonzales somehow consistently manages to brings bold colors and flavors to the menu. One day there might be a salad of jicama with a tart plum sauce, or avocado with chimichurri and a dusting of hickory salt ($5). His food is vibrant, yet always comforting.


This Chinatown gem serves excellent Hong Kong-­style specialities. Don’t get overwhelmed by the lengthy menu. Instead go straight to the ‘WORLD FAMOUS RICE IN CASSEROLE’ section and take your pick. These clay pot dishes are cooked over an open fire until nutty crust forms around the bowl. The Chinese Sausage and Preserved Duck ($7.50) is addictive on its own but add an egg for $1 and extra vegetables ($2) and you’ll be full for the whole day.

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Photo by Dylan Stilin

Black Seed Bagels

This joint venture from the people behind Mile End and The Smile brings Montreal­-style ​bagels to the Big Apple. These hand rolled, wood-­fired bagel are so damn good, you’ll feel a bit guilty turning your back on New York-­style bagels. The big difference between the two? Montreal­-style bagels are slightly smaller, a little sweeter, denser and always cooked in a wood fire with the most popular variety being the black seed (poppy seed) bagel. You can choose bagels topped with sliced fish, sliced meat or opt for one of the signature sandwiches. The beet-­cured salmon with horseradish cream cheese, radishes and herbs is a favorite ($12). They also serve some strong coffee from the folks at Stumptown.