Monthly Archives: January 2017

Taquitoria

Three classic pork taquitos from Taquitoria

[Edit: Taquitoria is no longer in business. Blame the rent.]

One of the first places I ever went on my own as a kid—well, other than school—was the 7-Eleven a few blocks from my childhood apartment. Not one for variation, I’d buy the same thing every time: one (1) pre-paid RuneScape membership card, one (1) bag of Rips, and three (3) gross little taquitos. Admittedly, those taquitos always tasted exactly like they’d just come off a hot-dog warmer at some godforsaken gas-station convenience store—and they had, of course—but I didn’t care. That was just…what I did.

Maybe that’s why I hate taquitos so much. I mean, if I’d grown up on 7-Eleven hot dogs, I’d probably hate hot dogs, too. There are good hot dogs out there, though—I’m already well-aware of that. But good taquitos? I’m not so sure. I wasn’t sure pre-Taquitoria, and I’m certainly not sure post-Taquitoria. At the very least, though, these taquitos are worlds better than 7-Eleven’s—though this place doesn’t sell RuneScape membership. Definitely a downside. (Listen: I’ve quit, okay?)

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I found out about this place a long time ago—almost a year ago, actually, right around when I first started this blog—and back then, I was pretty excited about it. Why? Because—as if single-item-menu restaurants weren’t themselves enough of a boon for those with food allergies—Taquitoria’s menu proudly declares the restaurant nut-free (and gluten-free, and soy-free, and shellfish-free, too).

Now, for me to categorize a restaurant as “truly nut-free,” that restaurant must either (a) openly identify itself as nut-free, or (b) attempt to use only ingredients that are free from cross-contamination—and as I said, Taquitoria meets the first criterion, so I’ve gone ahead and categorized them as “truly nut-free.” Still, they do not require allergen statements from their vendors, so there is, I suppose, a chance that some of their ingredients may have come from facilities that do handle nuts.

…Then again, that’s true of almost every single restaurant ever, and there’s a chance of a nut trace in pretty much every dish on the planet, regardless of whether there are any nuts present in the kitchen it was made in. (If you’re eating in a restaurant, it’s just not feasible to insist on its being confirmed for you that every single ingredient in every dish you order is free from all possible nut traces. Think about it: flours, sauces, seasonings…it’s unlikely that everything will have come from a nut-free facility.)

Eating out is always going to involve some degree of uncertainty. It’s a risk–reward thing. And I happen to believe that Taquitoria’s about as safe as these sorts of places come. Let’s move on.

Some artwork on display at the back of Taquitoria

Despite all the good things I’d read about Taquitoria, and despite my initial excitement at its being nut-free, it took me a while to get myself over to Ludlow Street. My excitement, I think, was purely theoretical. And it wasn’t exactly easy for me to work up a motivated craving for taquitos and taquitos alone. A year later, I’ve still only been by twice—but I’ve ordered from them a handful of times, and I’ve tried pretty much everything on the teeny-tiny menu, too. Finally, I’m ready to blog.

And you know, I’m ready to be honest, too. So here goes: I don’t like much of anything about this place. Everything about it—its “graffitied” walls, its oldish-but-not-old-school hip-hop music, its been-done dueling Biggie and Tupac tip jars, its gimmicky single-concept menu, and even its ever-so-Chill™ business hours—screams “I’m not like a regular restaurant. I’m a cool restaurant.” And it drives me fucking bonkers. Admittedly, that’s a little weird; classic Kanye, gimmicky food, and late-night hours are all usually right up my alley. But when Taquitoria does cool, it just…doesn’t strike me as cool. Think of a fedora (or is it a trilby? I can never tell): it’s cool when Justin Timberlake rocks one, but some random (less-cool) dude? Not so much.

Between Timberlake and the random trilby-sporting guy guy, the difference is…well, a whole lot of things. But between Taquitoria and any of its less-eye-roll-inducing kin? The difference is just the quality of the food. I don’t think Taquitoria would have any trouble pulling off its attempt at cool if the taquitos were good. And don’t get me wrong—they’re all right. (They’re certainly the best taquitos I’ve ever had. But they’re also the only taquitos I’ve ever had that didn’t come out of either a 7-Eleven or a José Olé box.) They’re nice and crispy, with some formidable fillings—all three meats (chicken, pork, beef) are wonderfully juicy—but the toppings they come with are just so ridiculously underwhelming that they’ve soured me on the whole restaurant.

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As for those toppings, there are three pre-set options—Classic (“guac sauce,” shredded lettuce, cotija—which is the style option pictured throughout this post), Cheesy (nacho cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeño relish), and Chronic (a combination of Classic and Cheesy)—and not one of them is good. Where do I start? The guac sauce is watery and lame, and the shredded lettuce is McDonald’s-tier. The nacho cheese is inexcusable (I firmly believe that nacho cheese has no place in this world), and the jalapeño relish might as well not be there. Oh, and there’s never enough sour cream on them—and the red sauce  is totally useless.

In short, these taquitos leave a whole lot to be desired. They’re okay, but they’re definitely not good.

And anyway, how hard could it really be to improve these toppings? As long as they’re covered with some respectable sauce, cheese, and veggies—and as long as they’re properly fried, which these are—bland-ish taquitos would be a non-issue. But covered with this nonsense, any taquito would fall flat. And there’s no excuse for these toppings, either. There are so many appropriate options out there: a better avocado salsa, a reasonable amount of crema, some pico de gallo, a little onion and cilantro, even just a little lime…but no. The folks at Taquitoria have chosen to limit themselves to the likes of nacho cheese and shredded iceberg. Great. Thanks, guys.

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As if it even matters, the sides are lame, too. The rice & beans—which are topped with tortilla chips (???)—are boring, even for rice and beans. And the chips & salsa are mediocre, too. The Chronic Fries—waffle, crinkle, and shoestring fries, mixed together and topped with all the nonsense I shit-talked above—somehow manage to be at once both boring and overzealous, and the same applies to the “nachos,” too.

Are you getting my point yet…? Anything topped with Taquitoria’s signature slew of accoutrements is going to suck, whether or not you decide to drown the creation in hot sauce. And for what it’s worth—probably nothing—this isn’t a matter of my having highfalutin tastes. I eat at McDonald’s at least twice a week, and if there were a Burger King nearby, I’d be there even more. I have a perverse love for KFC’s mashed potatoes. I sprinkle a little MSG on all my frozen meals, and I dump at least four pounds of French’s atop all my Hamburger Helper.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, then, given how critical I am of a lot of the restaurants I write about—but at my core, I have no standards. And Taquitoria still manages to let me down, not because their food is intolerable, but because it’s marketed as something it isn’t: notably better than the likes of mass-produced fast food. And maybe it is, but not by much. So I’m sorry, I guess, but I’m not a fan. The guys behind the counter are nice, though. I’ll give them that.

Find Taquitoria at 168 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Houston.

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Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

Shanghai pan-fried pork buns from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

You know, my instinct was to start this post with one of those obnoxious half-apologies I so love to offer up: “More Chinese food! How repetitive! Poor me! Poor you! Poor us, having to suffer through this post that I chose to write and you chose to read!” (Why, yes. I do find another one of my own blogging tics to roll my eyes at about every other day. How kind of you to notice.) But that’s an exceedingly stupid instinct, I think—because if you’re allergic to nuts, you’re probably grateful for each and every Chinese restaurant that can accommodate you. Unless you aren’t into Chinese food, in which case…well, my next post is going to be about taquitos, so I’ll see you then.

In any case, I first contacted KFLSBR (no chance I’m going to be typing that name out) a few months ago. I called their Hell’s Kitchen location—that’s the location this entire post will be about—a few weeks before going and then again about an hour before showing up, and both times, I was told (by separate people) that there weren’t any tree nuts or peanuts used in any of their food. Evidently, though, that isn’t true. There aren’t any tree nuts in the kitchen, but there are peanuts present in at least one dish, which is what I was finally told the second or third time I went.

Of course, I’m not allergic to peanuts, and I’d only even asked about them for the sake of this blog post (and because it’s usually a lot easier to ask about peanuts alongside tree nuts than it is to go through the effort of separating the two in your server’s mind)—but I really don’t like being given misinformation when it comes to allergenic ingredients. Finding out that they’d been wrong about the peanuts naturally made me question what I was told about tree nuts…but no matter how many times (and how many different ways) I’ve since asked about tree nuts, the folks at KFLSBR have stuck to a consistent answer: there are none. (Plus, by now, I’ve eaten there plenty of times without issue—so I’ve come to feel comfortable enough with the place.)

Stir-fried ramen with pork from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

Anyway. KFLSBR is a little strange, but it definitely isn’t bad. The name—Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen—is a little misleading, but only if, like I did, you approach this restaurant from a place of ignorance. Up until very recently, I’d had no idea that Japanese ramen started off as a Chinese dish. (“Ramen” is actually the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese “lamian,” which refers to a type of Chinese noodle.) So while the ramen served at KFLSBR isn’t at all what most of us have come to think of as ramen’s only legitimate form, there’s no need to bring out the pitchforks. This is ramen as it was when it first showed up in Japan. Rest easy, Yelpers.

But before you start to think I’m praising KFLSBR’s noodle soups, I should probably come out and say that they sort of suck. The noodles themselves aren’t bad, but the broths are so simple that they just end up coming off as boring. Really, I see no reason to mess with these dishes. There are plenty of other things on the menu, so I tend not to bother.

I’m similarly unimpressed with all the stir-fried noodle dishes I’ve tried. (And that should probably mean something to you, because I like almost every single stir-fried noodle I come across.) Again, the noodles themselves are good—they have a satisfying chew to them, and they’re sort of fun to eat—but the stir-fries as a whole are exceedingly boring. Both the pork (visible in the dish pictured above) and the roast duck are themselves surprisingly tasty, but the noodles they come atop are just so…one-note. They’re way too sweet, and none of the veggies are worth the (minimal) effort it takes to bus them to your mouth. So I tend to pass on these dishes, too.

Peking duck buns from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

I guess I should get the rest of the dishes I don’t like out of the way before I go on to talk about what I do like. (This isn’t my favorite restaurant, obviously. But they do have a few dishes I love, no doubt.)

Anyway. Let’s talk soup dumplings. I love xiao long bao (or steamed buns, as they’re called at KFLSBR), but these just don’t do it for me. The wrappers are fine, but the broth inside is pretty bland. Maybe that’s why I saw a guy literally squeezing the soup out of each and every one of his poor, poor dumplings before forcing the dry wrappers down his throat with a grimace. (No, that’s probably not why. He was probably an idiot, and I probably need to learn to keep my eyes on my own food.) In any case, I’ve written these off as another skippable dish, though I can work up a little more excitement for these than I can for the other dishes I’ve mentioned so far.

One more dish. Just one more dish, and then I promise I’ll have some nice things to say. The pan-fried Peking duck buns—which are pictured immediately above, and which actually are buns, rather than dumplings—are so close, yet so far. The buns themselves are fine, but the duck inside has too funky of a flavor for me. And on top of the funkiness, it’s cloyingly sweet, too. I’d love to be on board—duck, when done right, is probably my favorite meat—but I just can’t. Sorry.

Scallion pancakes from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

And now, finally, onto the dishes I crave. First, the Shanghai pan-fried pork buns (sheng jian bao), which are totally worth the 20-minute wait the menu warns about. The wrappers are thick and doughy—too thick and too doughy, perhaps—but I, for one, love them. And the broth inside tastes (or maybe just seems to taste) a whole lot better than the broth you’ll find in the xiao long bao.

Honestly, the first 45 minutes or so of my inaugural KFLSBR meal had me pretty discouraged, and by the time these dumplings arrived, I’d pretty much decided that I’d never be coming back. But these were enough to sow the seed of craving in me—and as long as I can keep ordering them, I’ll keep going back to KFLSBR. (…On occasion.)

My other favorite dish—and I’m aware of how silly this sounds—is the scallion pancakes, pictured immediately above. I don’t exactly know why, but these things just haunt me. I like them better than any of the other scallion pancakes I’ve had lately, and that’s not only because I’ve been eating some moderately underwhelming scallion pancakes—it’s (for once) because these are solid in their own right. They aren’t just greasy and somewhat crisp (which is all I require of a scallion pancake, really); they have actual layers to them, too. They outer bits are crisp enough, but the inside’s soft and and fluffy, even. Perfect.

I can’t really deny that these place is, overall, a disappointment. On top of the problems I have with the food, there’s…well, it isn’t cheap, it’s small and cramped (and always packed with tourists, too), the service is (frankly) pretty bad, and they automatically apply a 15% gratuity to all bills. (That last one’s fine with me, actually, but I do think they could afford to be a little more upfront about the practice. The receipt shows what they’ve added on, but it encourages you to tip, too—and the servers never, ever mention that you’ve already tipped when they’re handing you the check.)

But despite all that, and despite the dishes with which I’ve had my differences, I don’t mind KFLSBR. And in fact, I actually sort of like it. In small doses, it’s fine—especially if you’re short on Chinese restaurants whose food won’t kill you.

Find KFLSBR at 811 8th Avenue, between 48th and 49th; 146 East 55th Street, between 3rd and Lexington; or 610 8th Avenue, between 39th and 40th.

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Little Italy Pizza

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I live in a pizza dead zone. There are a few places in my neighborhood, but they’re all pretty terrible, so for the most part, I abstain. I can get Joe’s through Caviar, but it takes an hour and a half, and by the time the pizza arrives, it’s always soggy and lukewarm. So when I really want pizza, I have to comb the Internet for alternatives. Can you see where this is going? Little Italy Pizza is just one of those random pizzerias I found through whatever third-party delivery website I happened to have been scouring for a nut-free pie. I claim no responsibility for this post’s existence.

Unfortunately, Little Italy is at the very bottom of my random-delivery-pizza hierarchy (which category is itself at the bottom of the pizza-in-general hierarchy). But we’ll get there. First, allergens. Before placing my first Seamless order, I gave Little Italy’s Fulton Street location a call, and the guy I spoke with assured me (through much confusion) that there are no tree nuts or peanuts used in any of their food. Whether he knew what he was talking about, I have no idea—but I’m inclined to believe what he said, given that Little Italy is just a standard-issue pizzeria, whose ilk I’ve never, ever had any (allergy-related) trouble with.

Look: I’m just going to skip over all the Fluff & Fun and cut to the chase here, because this place is so bad that I can’t even have a good time at its expense. The pizza’s so lame that I actually won’t eat it—and there isn’t much I won’t eat (or at least idly pick at) once it’s in front of me. The cheese is inoffensive, I guess, but the sauce is so sweet, and the crust is…something else entirely. It has a weird flavor, and it’s so crispy that it’s basically a cracker—plus, it’s covered with bread crumbs, which (a) give it an even less pleasant texture than it otherwise would’ve had, and (b) make for an unusually messy slice of pizza. (Seriously. I eat extra carefully and I’m still vacuuming up breadcrumbs 10 minutes after getting rid of the box.)

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For whatever reason (desperation—the reason is desperation), I’ve also tried Little Italy’s calzones, their stromboli, and their mozzarella sticks. But unfortunately, I have almost nothing nice to say about any of the above. My calzone (ham and cheese) was inedible—the cheese may as well have been made of plastic, and the ham, present only in two enormous chunks, was pretty gross, too. And the stromboli I ate (three bites of) wasn’t any better. Each and every meat inside was unequivocally bad, but it was the pepperoni that kept me from reaching bite #4. There had to have been at least 20 layers of pepperoni in that thing, and it was Hormel-quality, too. Please, no.

The mozzarella sticks were, I guess, the best of the bunch. That’s not saying much, I know. But I didn’t actually mind them in the slightest. (Maybe I just have too much of a soft spot for mozzarella sticks. But my many food-related soft spots couldn’t save the rest of Little Italy’s food.) No doubt, these were bad—the cheese was shitty, and the breading was all wrong—but I got through them, and I ordered them again (of my own free will!), too. That’s a lot more than I can say about any of the other Little Italy productions I’ve tried.

Over the last six months (which is as long as I’ve known about the place), I’ve ordered from Little Italy maybe four or five times—but that’s only because they’re open all night and they’ll actually deliver to me when no other restaurants seem to be able to. My verdict, then: There’s no excuse for giving up actual legal tender in exchange for such bad pizza in a city full of such great options…except for, you know, all those excuses I rattled off over the course of this post.

You’ve been warned.

Find Little Italy Pizza all over Manhattan.

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A Salt & Battery

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After a few too many meals at Terrace Fish & Chips, I decided it was about time I find a chippy that actually sells, you know, fish and chips. Real fish and chips—not just fried fish and french fries. Terrace has its place (although I did write above-linked post in a fried-fish-deprived frenzy, and if I were to revise it, I’d probably take the praise therein down a notch or two), but I wanted better. So I went searching, and A Salt & Battery was what I found.

The reviews were great, the menu was promisingly simple, and the location was convenient enough—so I gave them a call, and sure enough, there are no nuts used in any of their food. Plus, their various British cashiers are exceedingly friendly, and they’re always willing to double-check on the answers to my incessant ingredient-related questions.

There are two catches, though. First, A Salt & Battery sells deep-fried Mars and Lion Bars. (The former may contain both peanuts and tree nuts, and the latter contains peanuts and may contain tree nuts.) The bars shouldn’t pose much of a risk for those with tree nut allergies, though, given that the rest of A Salt & Battery’s food (say, whatever might end up going through the same fryer, if that’s even something that happens) would only potentially contain trace amounts of the bars, which would themselves only contain trace amounts of nuts, if any at all. Plenty of degrees of removal—so I’m fine with the bars’ presence.

And then there’s the bread. A Salt & Battery offers a chip butty, a side of bread & butter, and a fish sandwich that are all made with—you guessed it—bread. And while I’ve never even really considered ordering any of the above, I figured I’d better at least ask about the bread. Turns out, the folks at A Salt & Battery don’t know much about it, other than the fact that it doesn’t explicitly contain any nuts. Evidently, they get it from “next door”—their cashiers are always going Next Door to double-check on the answers to my questions—but all they’ve been able to tell me is that the bread may come with a “may contain” warning. So I stick to the rest of the menu.

Onion rings from A Salt & Battery

Onto the place itself, though. A Salt & Battery is, in a word, authentic. Unmistakably so, with its traditional-style food, its wide array of British drinks, its accented cashiers (and customers), and its complete lack of hype-inducing frills. There are two counters and one small table: in all, about 8 seats. Wall decorations include a sign listing the rules of their food-eating challenge, a leaderboard for said food-eating challenge, two menu boards, and some framed (fish-and-chip-related) pictures. This place is simple, and its simplicity lends to its authenticity. My only gripe, really, is that the stools are way too short for the tables. (This isn’t even an issue of my being short—normal-heighted people are going to notice this one, too.)

But I should probably get to talking about food. I’ll start, I guess, by saying that it’s really, really good. In terms of fish (and shellfish), they offer six types: cod, haddock (pictured at the top of this post), sole, whiting, shrimp, and scallops. I love the haddock—it’s my favorite by far, for reasons I can’t quite articulate—but I eat a lot of the sole and the whiting, too. The cod’s fine, but I’m not much of a fan of cod, and I’m not really one for deep-fried shrimp or scallops, so I can’t say much about those. But in general, the fried fish is undeniably solid. The batter’s light and crispy, and the fish itself is flavorful and pleasantly flaky. It’s all fried to order, and the portions are pretty big, too.

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By the way, their homemade tartar sauce (immediately above) is so, so good. It’s nice and tangy, and it complements the fish (and the chips!) perfectly. Usually, I’m into malt vinegar (which they have, no doubt)—but at A Salt and Battery, a shake of salt and a dab of tartar sauce are all I need to thoroughly enjoy me some fried fish. Well, that and some sides, of which they have plenty: chips, onion rings, gravy, pickled onions, deep-fried beets, potato dabs, mushy peas, baked beans, curry sauce, and bread with butter.

Since this is, after all, a post about a fish-and-chip shop, I suppose I’ll have to spend some time talking about chips. But I have a confession: I’m not a chip person. I like my deep-fried potatoes thin-cut—as thin-cut as possible, really—so chips just don’t do it for me. Having said that…I actually sort of like A Salt & Battery’s. They don’t bother me, at least, and that’s saying something. (Also, even for $5, the portion is huge. Way more than enough for one person, and definitely enough for two to share.)

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I like to drench my chips with A Salt & Battery’s gravy (see immediately above), which is good, if not incredibly flavorful—and I like to break up bites of grease with surprisingly refreshing nibbles of their super-vinegary pickled onions. I stay away from the onion rings (pictured second above)—they’re way too bland—and I’m not much of a mushy-peas fan, but whaddaya gonna do? These fish and chips alone make for a pretty hefty meal, so while I, forever indecisive, always tell myself I can order more sides at the end of my meal if I end up unsatisfied, I’ve never ended a meal at A Salt & Battery with even the slightest bit of room left in my stomach.

Obviously, I’m a fan of this place—and obviously, I recommend it. Find it at 112 Greenwich Avenue, between 12th and 13th Streets.

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Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

A dish of roast pork pan-fried noodles and a dish of chicken with broccoli from Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

I’ve been on a Chinese-food kick lately. And the fact that I, a Nut-Allergic, can even say that is pretty wild, given how nut allergy–unfriendly a lot of Chinese restaurants tends to be. But I, ever-obsessive, have found another (incidentally) nut-free Chinese restaurant. Don’t bother holding your applause. I’ll just wait.

[While they’re clapping: On the off chance you’re a Nut-Unallergic following along because you just can’t resist the downright-magnetic appeal of my incredible writing—that’s 100% joke, everyone—please just know that finding a Chinese restaurant that doesn’t have a bunch of cashews bumping around the back is near-impossible. And with the way wok cooking works (soaping a wok is a big no-no, for example), those who aren’t cool with potentially ingesting trace amounts of nuts kinda-sorta need Chinese restaurants to be nut-free. Now you know.]

Okay. That’s enough. (Enough clapping, or enough rambling? I’ll never tell!) Point is, I’ve found a new Chinese restaurant that specializes in—guess what?—noodles. Hand-pulled noodles…and tasty ones, at that. (Ugh.)

Roast-pork pan-fried noodles

As far as I know, Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles (henceforth THPN) doesn’t have an online contact form or an email address, so I settled for giving them a call. Three calls, actually, over the course of a few weeks, because restaurants—especially Chinese restaurants—that seem too good to be nut-free give me trust issues and agita. Fortunately, all three calls yielded the same basic answer, and fortunately, the gist of that answer was that there are no tree nuts or peanuts in this restaurant’s kitchen. I should say, though, they they have some dishes—Kung Pao broccoli, for example—that I’d expect to contain peanuts. Maybe those dishes are peanut-free; I’m not sure. I’m only allergic to tree nuts, so I didn’t do much digging on the whole peanut issue.

Before actually showing up, I had no idea THPN’s menu would be so big. I’d expected noodles, noodles, and maybe a dumpling or two, but they have plenty of other classic takeout fare, too (fried rice, General Tso’s, beef with broccoli, Hunan shrimp—the works). But when I received my three yeses, I wasn’t all that excited, as I had no idea I was coming into a full-fledged Chinese restaurant. (Well, maybe not quite full-fledged. But it’s the fullest-fledged nut-free Chinese restaurant I’ve found to date. For better or worse, I’ve been looking for a place just like this—not Sichuan cuisine or dim sum, but the Chinese-American food we misguided Americans can’t seem to get enough of—mostly to replace the exceedingly average takeout of my childhood.)

Roast-pork pan-fried noodles

Anyway, what originally drew me to this place was its promise of tasty noodles, so I’ll start with those. At THPN, you’ll have the absurd privilege of choosing between eight (!) types of noodle: hand-pulled (which come regular, fat, small-wide, and big-wide), knife-cut, and rice (which come regular, skinny, and sticky). You’ll have to choose between pan-fried and soup-drenched (my phrasing)—and then you’ll have to pick from their seven-trillion meat and vegetable offerings, too.

Personally, I tend to vacillate between the fat hand-pulled noodles (they’re the least likely  of the hand-pulled noodles to come off as overcooked, I’ve found) and the knife-cut noodles (which are extra thick and so pleasantly chewy). I always, always go pan-fried, and as for meat, I’ll usually choose roast pork. (My instinct is always to spring for duck, but THPN’s, though tasty, is very bony, so it’s more trouble than it’s worth, if you ask me—and their beef has a funny flavor to it, so roast pork it is.)

And that’s basically my favorite THPN dish: pan-fried (fat) hand-pulled noodles with roast pork, pictured all over this post. There’s plenty of pork, and almost all of it’s delicious. (The occasional piece will be over-cooked or over-seasoned, but that’s life.) The vegetables are hit or miss, but I’ve never heard of anyone ordering a fried noodle dish for the vegetables, so I’m happy to let these slide. (And actually, I usually specify through Seamless that I’d like my noodles sans most greenery, and fortunately, the folks at THPN listen. Wish me luck with the whole scurvy thing, though.) Plus, this dish is greasy as hell, too. In all, it’s precisely what I’ve been dreaming of.

Like I said, I’m also a pretty big fan of the knife-cut noodles. They don’t look all that thick, but they have the chewiness of a spaetzle- or a gnocchi-type pasta, which sort of chewiness happens to be precisely my fetish, noodle-wise. But these, relative to the hand-cut noodles, seem to come in a slightly smaller portion, and with a whole bunch of extra (i.e compensatory) vegetables, too—so I don’t order them all that often. Here is what’s for some reason the only picture I have of them:

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Swoon. (That’s the aforementioned bony-ass duck, by the way. I have no idea how to eat this stuff without getting my fingers involved.)

Enough about the noodles, though. (For now, at least. But good luck getting me to shut up about these noodles for long.) Because another one of the most exciting things about this place is its offer of a lot of the other Chinese takeout I’ve been missing. Take, for example, chicken with broccoli. I have no idea why, but as a kid, I could never order Chinese without tacking on some chicken with broccoli. I was a little obsessed, I guess. (So obsessed, in fact, that my mom took to making me takeout-style chicken with broccoli for dinner. And it was all right—but as anyone who’s ever tried to home-cook takeout knows, it just wasn’t the same.)

Anyway, I’d pretty much forgotten about just how inexplicably much I liked this stupid-ass dish—that is, until I saw it on THPN’s menu. I had to get it. Just to see. And now, I’m once again entirely unable to order Chinese without throwing some chicken with broccoli into my cart, too.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about this stuff. It’s takeout chicken with broccoli, and it tastes like takeout chicken with broccoli. The broccoli’s average; the chicken’s average. Smothered in sauce, both are unfairly tasty. It’s a surprisingly flavorful dish, and it does well over rice (though THPN’s rice can be a little mushy). That’s probably way more than I needed to say. Here’s a picture:

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What else is there to say? The fried rice is pretty good—it’s on the bland side, but that’s sort of just how this kind of fried rice is, so I’m not really complaining—and the noodle soups are fine, too, though I don’t tend to have as much fun with them as much as I do with the pan-fried noodles. But (for me, at least) finding out stuff like that is, like, 75% of the fun at eating at a place like THPN. So go. See for yourself. Make your own discoveries.

Find Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles at 1 Doyers Street, between Bowery and Pell. Or check out their uptown location (to which I’ve never been): Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles 2, located at 648 9th Avenue, between 45th and 46th.

[By the way, this is my 100th post, y’all. Thanks—really, thank you—for following along.]

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Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch

Two bags of Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch

I had no plans to post about these, but…well, I got kicked out of a Facebook group for responding to a question with (correct) information on them, and I’m still a little salty, so enjoy the fucking post. [This isn’t that type of soap box, so I’ll just leave it at this: Some people are just so terribly misguided that (a) there really is no reasoning with them and (b) it’ll be a huge relief when you end up getting removed from their heavily moderated echo chamber of a Facebook group.]

Bullshit aside, this is a brand-new line of Hershey’s products, and it’s way, way better than the vast majority of the Hershey’s lines I’ve tried. And it’s not just me. These bars fared better in the consumer-testing process than most of the other products Hershey’s has ever released. (By the way, in case you’ve made the mistake of leaving that link unclicked, I’d like to inform you that the ad-article it leads to includes such absurd word heaps as “world leader in snacking expertise,” “textured snacking experience,” and “the growing demand for multi-textural eating experiences.” That’s all from one paragraph, too. Go forth.)

But regardless of those consumers’ pre-release opinions, I have a lot against Hershey’s chocolate. (There isn’t much to explain; their chocolate just sucks.) But I’ll eat the occasional Hershey’s product—usually a Kit Kat, a PayDay, a Reese’s Cup, or (my favorite!) a Whatchamacallit—because (a) I’m human, and (b) Hershey’s is one of the few food allergy–friendly chocolate-bar companies on the American mass market. Sue me.

Now, Hershey’s isn’t the ideal company, or anything—not by food-allergy standards, nor by any others, really. They don’t always label for shared lines and facilities, but they’ll issue a warning whenever they feel there’s any chance of cross-contamination. That is, in fact, what most companies will say in response to the question of whether they label for shared equipment, etc.—”we use our discretion,” basically. The question then becomes one of whether you, the food-allergic, trust the company.

Personally, I trust Hershey’s—which is to say that if a Hershey’s label doesn’t warn me to stay away, then I’ll feel pretty confident in digging into the labeled product. They have plenty of products I can’t eat, but I take that as a good sign, actually. A lot of products with a “may contain” warning means a willingness to issue such warnings when they’re called for. So I’m on board.

Anyway. With regard to these particular products—all three Cookie Layer Crunch varieties, I mean—I’ve been told via phone (and on a few separate occasions, too) that the absence of any sort of advisory labeling does in fact mean dedicated lines. There are, then, no peanut or tree nut products made with the equipment that’s used to make any of the Cookie Layer Crunch bars. (Cookie bars? Bar cookies? Cookies-in-bars? I don’t know.) So do with that what you will.

A vanilla crème Hershey's Layer Crunch bar

Again—and I think this is worth emphasizing—I hate Hershey’s chocolate, especially when it’s prominently featured in whatever bullshit Hershey’s confection I’ve decided to shove into my mouth. I haven’t so much as touched a plain old Hershey’s bar since my last stay at The Hotel Hershey (circa 2007), where they give those things away like they don’t cost anything to make. (Oh, wait…) In any case, their chocolate’s just plain bad, and I’ll only bother with it when the other ingredients at play are hefty enough to make it worth my while. Fortunately, though, these Cookie Layer Crunch whatsits meet that criteria.

They come in three varieties—Vanilla Crème, Caramel, and Mint—so I suppose I should go one by one. I’ll start with my least favorite, then: Caramel, described on the label as “milk chocolate bars with shortbread cookie bits and caramel.” Unfortunately, the shortbread cookie bits don’t taste much like shortbread—or like much of anything, really—and the caramel is overbearingly sweet. I will say, though, that the chocolate involved (in this bar, and in the other two as well) is significantly better than the chocolate Hershey’s uses for their other product lines. It’s not as sour, nor (quite) as artificial-tasting, and it’s significantly creamier, too. But overall, these things taste just like ROLOs. And I’m sorry, but that isn’t a compliment.

I do have some nice things to say about the other two varieties, though. Vanilla Crème (pictured below—sorry about my fingers) is approximately as cloying as just about every other Hershey’s product out there, but it’s somehow not nearly as offensive. And in fact, it’s my second-favorite of the three Cookie Layer Crunch varieties.

The label calls them “milk chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and vanilla flavored crème with other natural flavor,” and (aside from the natural-flavor mumbo jumbo) and if you ask me, that’s a pretty reasonable description. The chocolate cookie bits are a lot more flavorful (and a lot more satisfying) than the shortbread cookie bits, and their texture’s key to the balance of the bar. And by some sort of miracle, the vanilla créme isn’t sickeningly sweet; in context, it works—and it’s pretty similar to what you’ll find in an Oreo.

The inside of a vanilla créme Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch bar

My favorite, though, is definitely the Mint: “dark chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and mint créme.” Unfortunately, the packaging doesn’t lie—they really are green on the inside. But surprisingly enough, they’re delicious. They taste a whole lot like Thin Mints (which are pretty allergy-friendly, by the way), though with way more chocolate to them…and that‘s a compliment.

As with the Vanilla Créme, the cookie bits in the Mint bars are nice and chocolatey, with a satisfying crunch to them. They’re actually rather indispensable, and they go a long way toward making these bars so pleasantly Thin Mint–esque. The mint créme is good, too—it’s refreshingly minty, and there’s just enough of it—and it complements the (slightly) dark(er) chocolate nicely, too. I’m not even a huge mint fan—York Peppermint Patties are too much for me, I won’t chew mint gum, and I didn’t switch to mint-flavored toothpaste until well into high school—but these really do it for me.

All right. That’s enough, I think. I always feel sort of dirty when I confess to even half-liking a Hershey’s product. But these are new, and I kind of like them (well, two out of three of them), and they’re pretty allergy friendly, so…I’ll get over it. They’re pretty easy to find, too. Try CVS, Duane Reade, Walgreens, or the godforsaken Hershey’s Chocolate World in godforsaken Times Square—which is where I thought I had to go to get these. (Fucking oops. Long story. Stay away from the Hershey’s store. Please.)

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My Little Pizzeria

My Little Pizzeria's Brooklyn Heights storefront

As a direct result of my going to high school in Brooklyn (Heights), I learned: that the subway is the greatest invention of all time; that Brooklyn might just be a better borough than Manhattan; that the Chipotle on Montague Street is the best Chipotle in the city (and perhaps the world); that the plaid-skirt private schools in my (Manhattan) neighborhood are actually sort of frightening; that the stoops and rooftops of Brooklyn’s brownstones are some of the best places to hang out; that Brooklyn is most definitely a better borough than Manhattan; and that My Little Pizzeria makes some of the best pizza in this whole city.

But as I wrote in my post on Joe’s Pizza, New York City regularly participates in a rather ridiculous best-pizza circlejerk—by which I don’t mean that we all mistakenly believe that our city has the best pizza, because that isn’t a mistaken belief. What I do mean is that the pizza places everyone touts as the city’s best—Joe’s included—are only so because…well, because everyone’s constantly saying so. They’re the Best-Pizza Options, so they’re the ones everyone’s always drawing upon when it comes time to make a Best-Pizza List.

Seriously. Google “best NYC pizza” all you want; no matter how many articles you read, you’ll continue to come across the same handful of recycled names. But I refuse to accept that those same places fill each and every list simply because they’re really just the best. Certainly, there are other pizza places that are as good (or…dare I say?) better. And I hereby submit My Little Pizzeria as my first piece of evidence.

Located on Fulton Street, between a GameStop and an American Apparel, My Little (as my entire high school called it) doesn’t look like anything special. And perversely enough, I mean that as a compliment. I can’t trust a pizzeria that looks “special”—immediately, I’ll start to wonder what’s wrong with the pizza they serve. But this place is refreshingly boring. There’s a pizza counter, an ice cream counter, two dining rooms, and a stupid-looking courtyard for those who insist on dining al fresco. Come winter, there are usually string lights and some dumb-ass blow-up decorations. Oh, and there’s a bathroom. That’s literally it—and that’s fine, because their pizza calls for no compensatory frills.

(You’ll have to excuse me. Sometimes, I get carried away and forget that I’m meant to be writing about food in the context of food allergies. Rest assured, though, that My Little is pretty allergy-friendly. There are no nuts in any of their food-food—and though they do have a few nutty gelato flavors, nothing in the pizza area should ever come into contact with anything in the gelato area. They’re separate counters, as I said—so in all, I feel entirely safe eating at My Little.)

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Anyway, onto the food. The menu’s about what you’d expect from your average pizza place: garlic knots, calzones, rolls, and salads. I’ve never really considered getting up close and personal with a pizza-place salad, so I’m  moderately proud to say I have no opinions on My Little’s. With regard to everything else on their menu, though, I have plenty to say.

As with my meals, I’ll begin with the garlic knots. Like most garlic knots, My Little’s are pretty good—and at $3 for a dozen, they’re pretty cheap, too. They’re usually fresh and always warm, and they suffer from no shortage of garlic, thank God. In short, they’re fine: nothing special, but garlic knots aren’t really supposed to be special. They’re supposed to be cheap, greasy, and reliable—and these are, so I’m on board.

Now, it’s hard to bring myself to say anything negative about My Little, given how seriously attached I am to the place (and how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent within its walls)…but there’s no point in lying—including by omission—so here goes: their calzones are no good. They aren’t appalling—there’s plenty of cheese (mozzarella and ricotta), and the center’s always nice and warm—but they’re bland and boring, and the innards never quite fill out the crust. Oh well.

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Before I start in on the pizza, I should probably mention that I’m going to be talking specifically about My Little’s plain pies—that’s plain, not “cheese,” because I wasn’t raised by wolves (or people from upstate)—as I’m of the belief that plain pizza is pizza in its best form. White pie? No thanks. Sicilian? Get real. Fresh Mozzarella? Ugh. Plain or bust. Direct all hate mail here.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…I’m pretty confident in saying that My Little’s pizza is pretty much perfect. If you ask me, one of the marks of a good slice of pizza is that there’s very little to say about it (other than “…yep, it’s really good”), so this is going to be pretty challenging, but trust me: My Little churns out some reliably solid pies, especially around mealtimes, when they’re pretty much guaranteed to be straight from the oven.

The crust is perfectly virtuous; it rests at the mean between irritatingly crispy and doughy-as-fuck. It’s chewy, but not overly so—and for some reason, that’s pretty rare. The sauce is simple and refreshingly not-sugary  (also weirdly rare), and the cheese is creamier than most pizzerias’. Slices are salty, but not overly so, and there’s more than enough grease to satisfy a grease-lover like me. (And by the way: if you’re a grease-blotter, we can’t be friends. I’m sorry—that’s just the way it is. All hate mail to the aforementioned address.)

Plus, the guys who work the counter are great. For over 6 years now, they’ve been honoring each and every one of my sometimes-very-stupid requests (à la would you mind, uhh, cutting that slice into pieces?, which was my signature request for a month or two of my fifteenth year, during which I developed a weird, weird obsession with pizza “morsels”). And even though I only stop by once or twice a month now that I pretty much never happen to be nearby, most of them still know my name, and they never fail to greet me with a smile…or a wave, if I happen to be walking by. It’s the little things.

And the pizza.

Find My Little Pizzeria at 114 Court Street, between Atlantic and State Streets.

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