Eating My Way Around New York, Anthony Bourdain-Style

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was preparing for my first solo backpacking adventure, headed to Thailand, and was googling what to eat based on the regions I was visiting.

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Sunny’s Backyard. Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

“Anthony Bourdain eats Pig Blood Soup in Northern Thailand.” Pig blood soup? I was equally intrigued as I was disgusted. Knowing I was headed to Chiang Mai soon, I wondered if I could navigate my way to even one of the spots he went to. Fast-forward to June 2016, on my last night in Chiang Mai, I was headed back to my hostel after watching some Muy Thai when I ran into a fellow hostel-mate who was on his way to all the night markets Bourdain went to. I don’t remember if he asked me to come with, or if I invited myself, but I do remember eating dried frog skins and beef intestine, ending the night with a bottle of the clear rice whiskey that was also consumed by Bourdain. We never did find that pig blood soup.

The idea of eating everything Anthony Bourdain ate would later follow me in my travels to the Philippines, Peru, Italy, Japan…and so on. I began to understand the history of a region or a country simply through its cuisine. When the documentary Roadrunner was released just a few weeks ago, I realized I have never really eaten like Bourdain in my own city: New York. With my birthday coming up, I decided to finally explore my own backyard of New York City and all its glory. Here are the places I visited:

Stop 1: Hop Kee

21 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

“I sneer at this old-school stuff, but this isn’t bad. I happen to like MSG.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Pan-Fried Flounder, Cantonese-Style Crab, Peking Duck

What Tony Ate: Pan-Fried Flounder, Sweet and Pungent Pork, Cantonese-Style Crab, Cantonese Style Snails, Egg Roll, Pork-Fried Rice, Wonton Soup

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Pan-Fried Flounder from Hop Kee. PHOTO KAITLYN ROSATI

I got off the Canal St. Station on a hot summer Sunday, and immediately thought, “Why don’t I come to Chinatown more often?” Chinatown in Manhattan will instantly transport you to any major Asian city: the sights of the markets in Tokyo or Bangkok, the chaos of Beijing or Hanoi, the smells of, well, any fish market. I made my way over to Hop Kee, one of the few old-school Cantonese-style restaurants left in Chinatown. It was tucked underground, and when I walked in, I found a no-frills cash-only Chinese restaurant. I sat down, looked at the menu, and realized everything was served family-style. Bummer! I should have brought my friends. Knowing I could not possibly finish more than one family-style meal, if even that, I opted to order the pan-fried flounder, just like Tony did, knowing I could easily consume an entire fish, sans bones.

The fish came out piping hot and was covered in thin slices of fried ginger. I had no problem finishing this fish and immediately wondered why I hadn’t gone there sooner. The flounder was flavorful and fatty, the kicks of ginger took it over the top. I was disappointed not being able to try more menu items; I was especially looking forward to the Cantonese-style crab Anthony Bourdain ate in this episode. I paid my bill and noticed a family of seven sitting directly next to me. Their table had nearly the entire menu on it. When they caught me staring and drooling, I jokingly said, “I wish I was sitting with you guys!” The mom of the family stepped up like a true matriarch, asked for my plate, and loaded it up with Peking duck and Cantonese-style crab. What a humbling, sweet moment. While everything I ate there was over-the-top incredible, that crab wins. Just ask for extra napkins.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 8: “Disappearing Manhattan”

Stop 2: Sophie’s

507 E. 5th St, New York, NY 10009

“Next is the place that smells like vomit and Lysol, the dive bar.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Drank: Brooklyn Lager, Tequila

What Tony Drank: Guinness

Sophie's Bar
Sophie’s Bar. PHOTO KAITLYN ROSATI

After my meal at Hop Kee, I decided to walk thirty minutes to Sophie’s, a tiny dive bar in Alphabet City. I was hoping for a quiet, boring Sunday afternoon, maybe sipping on a can of beer just to say I visited. I assumed the bar would be empty or speckled with a few regulars. I was surprised to find that there was a girl throwing her 22nd birthday party there, and it was filled with young people doing shots of tequila and playing pool. The bartender had the typical New York bartender attitude that I also carried for the ten years I slinged drinks in Manhattan, so I immediately liked the vibe of this place. I ordered a beer, and when one of the drunk party girls asked if I wanted a shot of tequila, well, I couldn’t say no; Tony certainly wouldn’t have.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 8: “Disappearing Manhattan”

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Beer and Shot from Sophie’s Bar. PHOTO KAITLYN ROSATI

Stop 3: Los Hermanos

271 Starr St, Brooklyn, NY 11237

“You know what drives me bat-sh*t? You go to a Mexican restaurant, they grill chicken breast, chop it up into little squares, and they serve it wrapped up. What is it called… uhh… fajitas!” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Bistec Tacos, Carnitas Tacos

What Tony Ate: Two Tacos and A Cerveza

After overstaying my welcome at Sophie’s, I needed a little more fuel in the form of food before calling it a night. I jumped on the L train at 1st Ave and got off at Jefferson in Bushwick to visit tortilla factory meets taqueria: Los Hermanos. I was, once again, surprised by how packed it was. Also being a cash-only establishment, you write down your order on a tiny Post-it Note and hand it to whoever is working behind the counter. I ordered a bistec and carnitas taco. Both were equally delicious, a perfect way to soak up some beer and tequila from Sophie’s. You won’t find any white-washed fajitas on this menu, just good old classic authentic Mexican cuisine for dirt cheap.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 13: “Outer Boroughs”

Los Hermanos Tacos
Los Hermanos Tacos. Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Stop 4: Diner

85 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11249

“I’m an easy lay if you add an egg yolk.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Burger

What Tony Ate: Steak with Bone Marrow Butter, Fettucine with Egg Yolk

Burger at Diner
Burger at Diner. PHOTO KAITLYN ROSATI

I used to live about a five-minute walk from Diner, and I have eaten there several times. I only recently learned that Anthony Bourdain visited after re-watching the “Boroughs” episode of No Reservations. His bitterness toward this place feels similar to my own views: it’s a place you really don’t want to like if you’re a stubborn New Yorker. It’s designed to look like a diner, with cushiony booths and rotating low-to-the-ground bar stools, but the menu and prices scream otherwise. You’ll find fresh produce forward meals, homemade pastas, bone-marrow buttered slathered steaks, and more. One of my favorite things I’ve eaten here was a slice of olive oil cake. The menu changes frequently, and back when I used to visit, the waitresses/waiters would write the menu on the paper tablecloth.

I was hesitant to include Diner on this particular food tour of mine, it didn’t feel exciting because I already knew it so well. But when I saw the episode where it was featured, Anthony Bourdain’s dining buddy argued that Diner has the best burger in New York, to which Tony argued back, “Those are kind of fighting words. You don’t want to f*ck this place over by saying it’s the best burger in New York.” I had never had the burger, which is what prompted me to revisit after so many years. When I arrived, I spoke with the manager and she confirmed they no longer write the menu on the table due to Covid-19 concerns and handed me a paper menu instead. I ordered a beer and a burger, medium-rare, just as it comes. My burger came out and looked beautiful. The ketchup for the fries was like a thick homemade tomato jam. I took a bite, and there’s no doubt, it’s a damn good burger, but I must agree with Tony on this one: if I was under the impression that this was the best burger in New York, I may leave disappointed. I reiterate, it’s a delicious burger, I would go back time and time again if I was craving such a thing, but “best burger in New York” are indeed fighting words.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 13: “Outer Boroughs”

Menu at Diner
Menu at Diner. PHOTO KAITLYN ROSATI

Stop 5: Ecuadorian Food Cart

95-40 Roosevelt Ave, Elmhurst, NY 11373

“Get off at Roosevelt Avenue, and you are going to eat well, for sure.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: At the Taco Truck Next Door; The Truck Was Closed Both Times I Went.

What Tony Ate: Blood Sausage, Crispy Pork, Potato Cakes

I guess I can’t say much about a place I unfortunately never got to try. I assume the truck closes once they run out of food. My first attempt to visit was on a Tuesday, and the woman working at the truck next door said, “Mañana!” I went back the next night around 8 p.m., and they were closed again, however, this time, they had evidence of having been open at some point that day. I saw cutting boards and what looked like the leftovers of a hard day of work, but alas, they were closed. The good news is, the truck is perked directly under the 7 train at Junction Blvd, and if you try to visit but it happens to be closed, you won’t be short on other options. I was with two friends on our second attempt, we ordered tacos from the truck next door. For USD $2 each, the price can’t be beat, and they were some of the best tacos I’ve not only had in NYC, but ever in my life. The authenticity of the Latin cuisines in this neighborhood is undeniable. The truck even served brain and eye tacos, that’s how you know you’re in for the real deal. My advice if you’re trying to visit this food truck is, take the 7, enjoy the ride, and don’t be discouraged if it’s closed when you get there: you are bound to find something delicious.

Episode: Parts Unknown, Season 9, Episode 4: “Queens”

Ecuadorian Food Court
Outside the Ecuadorian Food Court: Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Stop 6: Lhasa Fast Food

76-03 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

“The 7 Train winds over and through Queens like a cable. Every stop can seem like another country, another region.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Hand-Pulled Noodles, Fried Beef, Sha Momo

What Tony Ate: Hand-Pulled Noodles, Fried Beef, Sha Momo

Let me tell you about my friend Rebecca. Back in 2017, I was traveling alone in Peru and decided to tackle Rainbow Mountain despite having severe altitude sickness. A van picked me up from my hostel at about 3 a.m. to bring me to Vinicunca, and I was fortunate enough to sit next to a girl from D.C. who was hiking that day alone. Her name was Rebecca. We tackled this beast of a mountain together and exchanged information to keep in touch. She eventually moved from D.C. to New York, but we hadn’t made the time to see each other… until about a month ago. Rebecca was down to join me on my Bourdain food tour, not only was she great company, but she also just so happens to be a food photographer. It seemed fitting to eat at off-the-beaten path spots with a girl I met on a mountain in Peru.

Now, back to the food: Our original plan was to eat at the Ecuadorian food truck, take a little break, then head to Lhasa, a Tibetan restaurant. Since, as you now know, our food truck plan failed, we headed straight to Lhasa. What was described in the episode as a place tucked behind a cell phone shop is no longer true. I was confused by this, but it turns out, the original location was destroyed in a four-alarm fire earlier this year. Lhasa Fast Food reopened on June 19th, 2021 under the new name “Lhasa Tibetan Restaurant and Bar.” We chose a table outside and ordered everything Tony did. The Sha Momo (beef soup dumplings) was my favorite, the flavor of the fried beef was out of this world, the hand-pulled noodles were accurately described as “the size of a thumb,” and they offered some of the spiciest hot sauce I’ve eaten in New York. Now we’re talking! I felt foolish that I hadn’t visited Jackson Heights despite living in New York for so long. Lucky for me, because of the efficiency of the 7 train, Lhasa is only about a 20-minute commute from my apartment. It’s safe to say they’ll be seeing me again.

Episode: Parts Unknown, Season 9, Episode 4: “Queens”

Lhasa Tibetan Food
Checking Out The Menu at Lhasa: Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

 

Lhasa Tibetan Food
Lhasa Tibetan Food: Photo; Rebecca Hattery-Khan

 

Lhasa Tibetan Food
Eating Hand-Pulled Noodles at Lhasa: Photo- Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Stop 7: Gloria’s Caribbean

987 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225

“I will die knowing more about China than I will ever know about the outer boroughs of my own city, but I will get a few meals out of it.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Nothing. They were closed.

What Tony Ate: Oxtail with rice and peas

Rebecca and I took the train from Lhasa, which is deep into Queens, to Gloria’s, a Caribbean spot deep into Brooklyn. For those who don’t live in New York and those whose New York geography is not great, this is kind of a nightmare of a commute. But Rebecca and I were on a mission to eat as much Bourdain food as possible, and we were committed. We sat on the train for over an hour, and when we finally exited the 5 train at Sterling, we were skipping to Gloria’s as our appetites had managed to work themselves back up. And then… we saw a closed gate. In situations like this, you have to laugh or else you’ll cry, but it goes without saying that we were frustrated. I was really looking forward to Gloria’s, and even though Google Maps had said they were open (it was a Tuesday,) I later called to find out they are only open Wednesday-Sunday from 12-8:30. This is a change that began within the last year due to slower business during Covid-19. I will most certainly be visiting in the future when I have the time for the two-hour roundtrip; I have a strong feeling it will be well worth it.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 9, Episode 10: “Brooklyn”

Stop 8: Sunny’s

253 Conover St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

“I’m getting increasingly depressed that I’ve lived here almost my entire life, and I don’t know sh*t about the boroughs.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Drank: Bronx Summer Ale, Tequila

What Tony Drank: Bottled Beer, Whiskey

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Door to Backyard at Sunny’s: Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

After the disappointment of two of our Bourdain food tour spots being closed, we decided there was only one option left: to start drinking. Not wanting to deal with the subway anymore, we took an Uber to Sunny’s, a proper dive bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is known for several hidden gems, but it is a little bit of a pain to reach. It’s not near any subways, which is also what prompted the Uber ride. However, no pain, no gain: Red Hook is a fabulous hidden gem of a neighborhood that had me scratching my head as to why I’ve only been there twice. We walked in and I immediately fell in love with the place. Cash only, no food served there but you can bring takeout/order delivery from elsewhere, backyard, live bluegrass music. The bartender was a gem, there were some pups in the backyard, and the vibe was totally laid back and casual. We drank some tequila and beer while laughing about our mishaps of the day.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 9, Episode 10: “Brooklyn”

sunny's
Drinking At Sunny’s. Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

 

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Sunny’s Bar. Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Stop 9: Keen’s Steakhouse

72 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018

“The main reason people keep coming back here since 1885? Meat and liquor, plain and simple.” – Anthony Bourdain

What I Ate: Oysters, Caesar Salad, Shishito Peppers, Porterhouse, Mutton, Martinis, Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, Chocolate Cake

What Tony Ate: Mutton, Steak, Scotch

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Porterhouse from Keen’s: Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Keen’s is a classic New York steakhouse that I’ve never bothered to visit. I don’t usually go for the fancy places, and if I do, it’s seldom a steakhouse. But it was my 31st birthday, my friend Amanda agreed to join Rebecca and I, and I was tipsy enough from Sunny’s to pretend I belonged there. I wore my fabulous Sicilian two-piece satin outfit and decided to treat myself. In the episode that Anthony Bourdain visits Keen’s, his dining buddy jokingly describes it as “a bar that just serves really large food,” declaring you must only order scotch: no wine, no cocktails. I didn’t take his advice and ordered a Negroni, while my two friends ordered Dirty Martinis. We ordered as much food as we thought we were capable of eating, because life is short, and when in Rome, or in this case, Keen’s. Everything we ate was delicious; we even tried their infamous mutton, also known as sheep’s meat. The porterhouse was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, every side was classic and excellently prepared. I am by no means a food critic, but if you want a true old-school New York experience, splurge and head to Keen’s.

Episode: No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 8: “Disappearing Manhattan”

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Keen’s. Photo Rebecca Hattery-Khan
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Porterhouse from Keen’s: Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

 

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Interior of Keen’s. Photo: Rebecca Hattery-Khan

Stop 10: Geo Si Gi