As a kid growing up in New York, I can remember when there were only a handful of Asian restaurants outside of small ethnic enclaves. In the '60s, we always spent our Sunday nights at Richard Mei's King Dragon on 73rd Street and Third Avenue and had a weekly meal at Bo Bo's in Chinatown. When Uncle Tai's Hunan Yuan opened on the Upper East Side in the mid-'70s, the whole scene seemed to change almost overnight. These days, the number of options is overwhelming. But hey, sorting through them all is my job whenever I head back home to NY, and I try them all—the good and the bad—so you don't have to. By the way, top 10 lists never work, so here are 10 I really think you should try, and if you find something good on your own, let me know!
Tip: Despite the name, I rarely eat the congee here. Don't get me wrong—they do it well, but platters of spicy shredded pork with garlic sauce and sautéed pea shoots with ginger and scallions trump congee every time. What can I say? Even a guy like me runs out of stomach space. Save room for the geoduck-clam dishes. You don't find a good geoduck many places.
This small, father-son owned and operated noodle shop makes some of the best hand-pulled noodles I've ever tasted. Order at the counter and take your bowl to go—you'll probably have to, as the seats are few and the customers are many. For soup, order D1-S, a spicy soup with a lamb-bone broth. The lamb-cumin noodles are the finest I have tasted in America, and the braised-beef sandwich in a freshly baked bun is off the charts. Plus, you get to watch the guys behind the counter make your noodles to order. Pure culinary artistry.
My friends the Wakabayashis turned me on to this place years ago. It's been my go-to place for dim sum ever since. The seafood and shrimp dumplings are exquisite, the steamed buns and pork ribs in black-bean sauce are musts. Beware of the duck dumplings: They're so good, they'll haunt your dreams.
One of my go-to sushi places in a city full of them. The room is stylish and groovy, a little wooden tube essentially, but I prefer the sushi bar. The lobster sashimi, the raw octopus with yuzu and the tuna sampling—featuring seven different cuts from the same fish—are all you need to taste to know you are in the right place. Miso seems like a filler at most sushi spots, but don't skip the lobster miso soup made with the lobster bodies from the sashimi. Unbelievable.
I'm a sushi purist, and for me, it's all about the fish. Sushi Yasuda keeps it simple—the menu changes all the time to reflect what's fresh, and the fish is prepared in a way that lets it speak for itself—no gobs of spicy mayo sauce or rolls stuffed to the gills with rice. Everything is made from scratch, with impressive understanding of the nuances of preparing each species. You rarely find this kind of sushi experience outside of Japan.
While anyone can make a bowl of ramen, the guys at Chuko do it right. They have appetizers, but stick to the soups: They're filling, with light, perfectly cooked noodles and rich broth. I go with the pork (the soft-boiled egg is clutch), but the miso ramen with chicken is top-notch as well.
You can't talk about New York's Asian-food scene without mentioning David Chang. He runs five restaurants in New York (some with multiple locations), but I still love Noodle Bar the best. The bowls of ramen are what got me in the door, but the razor clams, pig tails and amazing Asian street food—put through the prism of local farm-fresh cooking—are what keep me coming back.
Want to eat great Korean food at 3 a.m.? Who doesn't! This spot is best of the best in Little Korea, where the restaurants operate on Seoul time, catering to the Korean financial services companies that flood the place in the middle of the night for lunch. Fantastic food and people-watching, two of my favorite things.
In case you didn't get the memo, if you're after great Asian food, it's all about Flushing: Korean BBQ spots (I like Sik Gaek Flushing), noodle shops (Xi'an Famous Foods has a location there) and the pseudo-hawker-center Food Court at New World Mall. For something unique, try Minangasli, a humble Indonesian place with lots of bold flavors. Order the beef rending: supertender, slow-cooked in coconut milk, with lemongrass, garlic, onions and chiles. It's phenomenal.
Chef Harold Dieterle's Thai restaurant delivers authentic flavors, but it's contemporary and chic enough to be a good candidate for date night. The curries, made in-house, will leave your sinuses clear for days. Don't skip out on the Massaman braised goat: It will change your mind about eating goat for good.