Dumpling Duo: A tourist’s guide to some of the best restaurants in New York

In Columns, Food, Lifestyle
A burrito cut in half and stuffed with carne asada, rice and beans.

We landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport around 9 p.m. EST for a college media conference, ravenous and ready to devour everything New York had to offer. Dropping off our luggage at the hotel and bundling up in coats and scarves, we hit the ground running.

Totto Ramen
Cold and frustrated by our long walk through the rain and the slippery, dirty slush we had to trudge through, we decided to break off from the herd of our newsroom colleagues to find our own late-night dinner, dragging Amy Wells, our news editor, along with us. We whipped out our phones and followed the blue line of directions into Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood in Manhattan, in search for some New York ramen.

The joint was so small we missed it the first time we walked by. Nestled mostly underground, all that was visible was a tent-like structure with red lights glowing from within, illuminating the banner that read “Totto Ramen.”

We hurried inside the small waiting area and huddled around the heat lamp and menus like cavemen who just discovered fire, occasionally peering in to see the small restaurant packed. Hip-hop music blared every time someone opened the door.

The wait wasn’t long and we were soon inside sitting at the bar that stretched the (short) length of the establishment, coats hanging behind us. All three of us ordered the chicken paitan, a chicken-based ramen, and watched as the skilled chefs worked their magic on the other side of the bar.

Though the flavor was different from the ramen we’ve had back in California, the chicken-based broth was similar to the Filipino dish, mami.

The noodles were perfectly al dente, and even though they must have used a dump truck to get all of those onions in each bowl, the seaweed and bamboo shoots balanced out the flavor as we ate.

Union Square Burgers
A storm hit New York the day after we arrived, whipping snow and rain left and right. It was our first time experiencing snowfall and it was briefly exciting, especially coming from the perpetually warm climate of Southern California. But as we headed out in search of a Shake Shack, walking in circles as the cold and narrow streets began to confuse our phones, the novelty quickly wore off.

When the Shake Shack was finally in sight, Brandon Pho, the other news editor, suggested we try something more unique to New York. A few doors down from our intended target, we ducked in to Union Square Burger, our party of five cramming inside the tiny burger place. The obviously overwhelmed cashier warned us there would be a wait; he was the only one working that day. As long as we were out of the snow, we didn’t mind.

We crammed into the small room, some of us sitting at round tables for two or three, some on stools at a bar facing the wall and some standing, but all of us were dripping from the storm.

When we all finally got our food, our conversations and laughter died down as we hungrily shoved fries and burgers into our faces. We ordered the shroom town cheese burger and the avocado cheese burger.

The shroom town cheeseburger was perfectly savory and delectable. The pillowy sesame bread could barely hold in the mushrooms and cheese that oozed from the buns like lava lazily running down a volcano. While the tall dumpling isn’t a big fan of burgers (having about one annually, maybe two on a bad year), the flavor had her tastebuds soaring. Maybe it was still the euphoria of being in New York, or maybe it was the wagyu and black angus patty, but she could have easily gone for another.

The doughy potato bun topped the meat patty and a mound of mashed avocado. The avocado added the creamy texture and helped cut through the heaviness of the meat and cheese. The little dumpling has dined at Shake Shack back home before, so she was glad to give this place a try. The establishment is similar to Shake Shack in terms of burgers and fries, but it was a unique experience because we can get Shake Shack back in Los Angeles.

B’kyln Burro
If there’s one thing a Californian shouldn’t do in New York, it’s trying to find good Mexican food. Don’t get us wrong, there probably are some great dives that whip up a killer enchilada, but when you live this close to the original, finding authentic burritos anywhere else just sounds silly.

But we tried anyways, speeding beneath New York to B’KLYN Burro on subways we hoped were going in the right direction–we had a bad habit of getting on the wrong train. Luckily, it was only a few steps away from the subway.

With a huge mural displaying a divine burrito being gazed upon by a donkey on one wall and a couple of colorful tables leading to the kitchen, the inviting aromas and atmosphere were unique and promising. We ordered the carne asada burrito, al pastor burrito and nachos.

The carne asada burrito was like eating fire: flavorless and painfully hot. The copious amounts of rice and beans and the tough meat weren’t able to extinguish the heat. We didn’t even finish half of it before putting it down and moving on.

The al pastor burrito, on the other hand, was quite satisfying. The al pastor wasn’t too spicy or bland and was packed with flavor. The burrito was filled with rice and beans and was overflowing with meat but dripped with oil from the al pastor. It was good, but not good enough to finish.

Far from authentic, the nachos were decorated with peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and refried pinto beans, but the cooks used their deviance from the Californian notion of nachos to their advantage. The light flavors from the grilled veggies balanced well with the heaviness of the cheesy beans, and the chips tasted fresh.

Schmackary’s
Craving something sweet from all of the savory foods of our trip, we found this cookie cafe in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen. With a bright color scheme of robin egg blue and pale yellow, the atmosphere was warm and inviting. Contrasting against the drab weather outside, the hostess welcomed us with energy that seemed to bounce off every wall. Her loud and cheery disposition encouraged us to buy more than we could finish.

Served alongside coffee and other treats, cookie flavors included: Cookies & Creams, Sch’mores, Chunky Monkey and Black & Tan, which is a Guinness and dark chocolate flavored cookie. The cookies were large and decadently sweet, so we decided to eat half and save the rest for later.

We started and ended our stay in Manhattan with pizza slices bigger than our heads (the first was overpriced and the second sent grease running down our arms). Bellies full, we hopped on a plane to LAX and dreamed of all of the good pizza places we missed out on. If we had a chance to go back, we’d get another bowl from Totto Ramen and pick up a dozen of Schmackary’s cookies, but we’d wait to get home for a good burrito.

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