When I returned to the city in June, three new restaurants marked their presence throughout lower parts of Manhattan. Hanjan and Mighty Quinn’s were last year’s December babies. Uncle Boons recently opened in April of 2013. However, young age hasn’t deterred these exceptional restaurants from pursuing brilliance in their respective crafts.
Hanjan fine-tuned its recipe for success after observing the strengths and weaknesses of Danji. There are more tables now. There’s a reservation system now. There are crispy chicken skins here.
Mighty Quinn’s developed quite a reputation for notoriously long lines and delicious sandwiches at Smorgasburg. Now, it has a permanent barbecue haven in East Village with shorter lines (they’re still lines out the door on weekends) and a full-fledged menu.
Uncle Boons is new to the game, but they’re already steamrolling the competition on Spring Street. There’s been a lot of comparison to Pok Pok and SriPraPhai, but Uncle Boons feels less “hole in the wall” and more elegant and refined. There needs to be a romantic time and space where lovebirds fall for each other while gorging beef cheeks and blowfish tails. It’s here and it’s absolutely wonderful.
– Hanjan –
Hanjan is more in tune with what I used to eat when I grew up in the streets of Seoul. The Fresh Killed Chicken Wings convey the sights and smells of grilled chicken from vendors in residential areas of Korean neighborhoods. Nostalgia never hit so good.
There are luxuries that weren’t readily available back in my home city. I remember raw salmon (and any other type of sashimi) with chojang being a treat for special occasions. A good scoop of homemade tofu was also an indulgence to be savored only when my family made trips to the countryside (we never made trips to the countryside). Now, I can have both while sippin’ Basil Collins. Times have changed.
The wooden seats and bare bones intricacies familiar at Danji are gone. At Hanjan, the chairs are plush and the spacious room fits more than the 36 seats that people were accustomed to in Chef Hooni’s first outpost. People in Flatiron can sip makgeolli all night long without the guilt of cutting into someone else’s dinner time. It’s an important when you have crispy bits of radish kimchi and scintillating spoonfuls of brisket fried rice that arrives after several drinks. It needs time to be savored.
– Mighty Quinn’s –
Not too long ago there was only Hill Country, Fette Sau and maybe Daisy May’s to represent the barbecue scene in New York City. Now there are places like Mighty Quinn’s and BrisketTown in Williamsburg to hold down the barbecue throne. And when I go, the answer is BRISKET.
The restaurant’s simple cafeteria style has my vote for one of the most competent barbecue destination in Manhattan. There’s no artificial southern hospitality or meal tickets that make paying/tipping a complicated order.
Brisket sandwiches sprinkled with maldon salt are always the best. There’s no reason to deviate from the best dish on the menu. However, the smoky Asian-style chicken wings dressed in cilantro and sesame seeds are also a stunner.
My friend and I once guzzled down sliders at Mark Burger for dinner and then could not resist the smell of barbecue on our way home. We couldn’t pass an opportunity for Mighty Quinn’s sticky wings. It’s the ultimate meat candy.
– Uncle Boons –
The name “Uncle Boons” can throw people off and prevent first time diners from believing that this place is one of the best restaurants to open this year. People will make a concession for Charlie Bird, Lafayette, or Carbone. We can even throw Alder, Betony, and ABC Cocina into the mix. However, I believe the food at Uncle Boons is timeless.
Last month, I patiently endured a two-hour wait on a Friday night for a chance to witness chefs Matt Danzer and Ann Redding conceive their interpretations of Thai cuisine. When it was my turn, I was happily overwhelmed with a crispy sensation of “yum kai hua pli” a spicy roasted chicken salad with cashews and coconut milk and soft clouds of “massaman neuh” beef cheeks with massaman curry. My favorite was still the “khao soi,” a sweet golden curry with egg noodles. The fragrant smell of the bowl transported me into a time and place where the smell of coconut milk and cilantro permeate through the air. I scraped every bit of my plate with piles of sticky rice.
There’s only one dessert on the menu: coconut ice cream on coconut flakes. It’s topped with whipped cream and peanuts. At first, it might feel a bit mundane because you’re only collecting a spoonful of cream. However, on the second try, you’ll uncover the coconut ice cream at the bottom of the cup. It’s the sweet reward after bearing through the blistering chilies in many of the dishes.
The next day, I loved the meal so much that I went back for dinner at an earlier time. At 6pm, it was a much shorter wait. This time, my friend and I feasted on smoky blowfish tails “pak pau” and gleaming cuts of roasted chicken “Kai yang.”
The menu insists that the roast chicken was made famous in muy Thai boxing arenas in Thailand. If this statement is true, I believe I have a solution to keep our poorest and worst-performing American sports teams from going under.
Thank you for reading. Hope all y’all in NYC are keepin’ it cool.