I was an idiot when I was a kid. Much like other children, I was so hesitant to try anything that looked, smelled, or just seemed weird and out of the ordinary. Shrimp was one of those foods. (My parents loved it, because then they could spend less money just buying shrimp for themselves and giving me a “treat” dinner of a hot dog.) It smelled fishy, it was all pink and strange, and it had parts to it you shouldn’t eat, which I was like, what the hell. But my parents’ actions backfired: I started thinking of shrimp as a “grown-up” food, and once I got to the maturity level where I wanted to be “adult,” I started to eat the cold shrimp cocktail at the buffet line in Sizzler. I then discovered how wonderful shrimp is, that slightly fishy, briny flavor, how refreshing they taste when you pop them into your mouth. And all the different ways to eat them! My favorite then, as it still is now, is having them as shrimp cocktail: cooked and cold, with or without cocktail sauce. But shrimp are tasty in so many types of cooking styles, in so many worldwide cuisines: fried, steamed, stewed…the possibilities, as anyone who has seen Forrest Gump knows, are almost endless.
It was, in all honesty, extremely difficult to narrow down the restaurants (never mind cherry pick the world cuisines!) that make the best, most interesting shrimp dishes in New York City. There are tons of places to get some wild and wonderful shrimp meals today! (If you have your own favorite joint for these tiny, yummy crustaceans, let me know about it in the comments!) But one of the most lauded shrimp dishes in the city doesn’t even have a month-long reservation list to taste it, or a price tag attached that’s more akin to a BMW. The garlic shrimp appetizer at Schiller’s Liquor Bar may be deceivingly simple: served still sizzling in a cast iron skillet, there’s nothing more to the dish than shrimp, butter, garlic, lemon, and a smattering of red pepper, but the combination of these simple ingredients transforms them all into something amazing. The shrimp are super fresh and you can taste it in the dish, the flavors of the shrimp coming to the forefront despite the rich, pungent flavors of the garlic and butter. It’s served with a big loaf of bread from Balthazar’s Bakery, so you can still sop up all that buttery, garlicky goodness after you’ve devoured the shrimp. The dish is so popular that it’s been highlighted by the New York Times, New York Magazine, and even caught the eye of celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, who singled out the garlic shrimp as the best garlic dish he’s ever had on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. So isn’t it time you found yourself in the Lower East Side and tried a bite? 🙂
Schiller’s Liquor Bar
131 Rivington St (between Norfolk St & Suffolk St)
“Even more impressive than Keith McNally’s finger-snapping knack for creating fun, atmospheric places that grow old gracefully is his co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson’s ability to turn out such consistently satisfying, affordable grub. A deeply flavorful steak frites and an iron skillet of sizzling garlic shrimp are better than they have any right to be, considering the hipster-haunted scene.”–New York Magazine
“For a dip into Spanish territory, there’s a cast iron ramekin of garlic shrimp ($12.50), which come swimming in a pungent oil brimming with the stuff, enlivened by a good dose of lemon and red pepper flake. Portion size aside, the shrimp themselves have a pleasant springy-sweetness, and the accompanying Balthazar bread is gangbusters for mopping up the infused sauce.”–Serious Eats
“His gift is allowing you to eat deliciously as you glow at the center of the universe, and not for a lot of money.At Schiller’s, Mr. McNally and his team of chefs from Balthazar and Pastis, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, have created an international hipster commissary out of the staples of pub, bistro, trattoria, tapas bar and diner. An appetizer of shrimp ($9), served still sizzling in an iron skillet with olive oil, lemon and garlic, is the stuff of a thousand Spanish restaurants, but it’s rarely this good, each flavor so clear and pure that you feel compelled to spear every last sliver of garlic and bit of shrimp before mopping the pan with bread.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“As for the food, it’s not going to win any James Beard awards, but it is solid enough for me to return to. You can probably just do with some well-mixed cocktails and selection of appetizers at the bar. The calamari is solid. The “Nachos”, which is a plate of chips accompanied with an addictive sludgy mix of sloppy, chorizo, salsa, and a few other goodies, is fantastic. The garlic shrimp will make you go through an entire loaf of bread and have you offending people all night.”–Chris U.
“Probably the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. The garlic shrimp is garlic deliciousness explosion in your mouth. They give you bread here, so the move is to wait until your garlic shrimp appetizer comes out, then dip your bread in the wonderful garlic juice.”–Chris O.
For a shrimpy lunchtime pick-me-up, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned New Orleans-style po’boy. You typically find more mayonnaise-laden shrimp and lobster rolls in this part of the country, but for a breaded, fried, slightly spicy shrimp po’boy, Cheeky Sandwiches has got you covered. As authentic New Orleans as you can get in New York City, Cheeky Sandwiches offers a “half-n’-half” po’boy: half-shrimp, half-oyster, all delicious. They’re battered in corn breading and deep fried, then stuffed into a fresh loaf of French bread, important straight from NOLA itself. The mayonnaise and hot sauce dressing brings a bright kick of flavor to the sandwich, but it’s the seafood that really hits you in this, tasty, fresh, and fried to perfection. If you’ve never tried a shrimp po’boy you have got to have your first one here. It’s so good that the Village Voice listed it as one of the best sandwiches of 2010, the perfect mix of fatty fried oil, crispy seafood, and tart, spicy Louisiana hot sauce. And for only $8.50 for the half-n-half, this Lower East Side newcomer might be one of the cheapest seafood lunches you’ll find around.
35 Orchard St (between Canal St & Hester St)
“In Philly, only hoagies or cheesesteaks made with Sarcone’s Bakery bread are the real McCoy. In Miami the only bread worthy of a Cubano is Cuban lard bread. So it is with the bread for Cheeky’s po’ boy. Cheeky gets its bread from John Gendusa Bakery, which, in 1929, created the New Orleans French bread without which po’ boys would be naked rather than fully dressed. Speaking of dressing, Cheeky slathers on just the right combo of lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayo and hot sauce. The oysters and shrimp are fried to order. The breading clings to the delicate seafood while the airy flaky hero roll turns into breadcrumbs with each bite.”–The Daily Meal
“The sandwich artist takes a loaf of crunchy French bread (flown in daily from John Gendusa Bakery in New Orleans!) then adds pickles, tomato, lettuce, a few dabs of mayo, and some hot sauce before finally packing it with freshly fried oysters on one side and perfectly golden shrimp on the other. Word of advice: let the chef dress your po boy in the proper way. In fact, he won’t take special requests until you’ve at least had it the proper way the first time. He’s the expert, and you’re the amateur, so let him work his magic.”–Examiner
“Once fried, it’s tucked into a squishy but resilient white roll with mayo, tart Louisiana-style hot sauce, pickle slices, lettuce, and tomatoes. The seafood is crusty and warm against the cool lettuce and mayo; the hot sauce and pickles give the sandwich a welcome lift. But the fat, minerally oysters and sweet shrimp dominate, as they should.”–Village Voice
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I had a bad craving for a good po’ boy for a few days. Finally, I spent an afternoon break by heading over here to get my hands on one. I was happily satisfied after ordering their sea sandwich — the 1/2 shrimp 1/2 oyster po’ boy. Initially I assumed it would literally be split as half-fried shrimp & half-fried oyster, but it was actually mixed a bit. The french bread, btw, is terrific.”–Kimberly L.
“I ordered the half shrimp half oyster. My first bite was just heavenly. The best part is the baguette. Can something be crispy and fluffy at the same time?! This might be my favorite sandwich bread of all time. Top that off with some made-to-order fried shrimp and oysters with some fancy mayo sauce and you have yourself a sandwich.”–Simon L.
Looking for some shrimp in a little more Eastern setting? (And no, we’re not talking about the Eastern Atlantic coast.) There’s another hot fried shrimp with a spicy sauce–but it’s quite different from anything you’ll find at Cheeky. An offshoot of the world famous Nobu, Nobu 57 serves a lot of the same great quality sushi and authentic Japanese fare as its parent restaurant, including a Rock Shrimp Tempura dish, offered within its $45 bento box lunch. Rock shrimp don’t live (or die) by their diminutive name, and they’re not the same size as the teensy shrimp you’ll find in a lot of lower-end restaurants: rock shrimp are huge, and every inch of their bodies is packed with flavor. They come with a spicy cream sauce that cuts and balances the deliciously greasy tempura. It’s Nobu 57’s signature dish for that special blend of spice, fat, and fresh seafood flavor. It may put you back a few more clams than a L.E.S. po’boy, but the high quality is all there, and far more impressive than a simple sandwich.
40 W 57th St (between 5th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas)
“The rock shrimp in that famous, creamy tempura dish had been cooked beautifully, each bite yielding a tiny explosion of flavor and moisture.”–The New York Times
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The rock shrimp tempura is their signature dish, and it is exactly that for a reason- it’s fried goodness with a delicious sauce jam packed with flavor. I could eat this stuff everyday (only if I had the metabolism of a high school track runner)! Great place for delicious food, very good service, and celebrity spotting.”–Beth H.
“The rock shrimp is a definite must. I don’t usually eat shrimp unless it’s fried and battered and this dish, though somewhat unappetizing drenched in radioactive orange mayonnaise goo, was no exception. The taste was not exactly fine– nothing about it was subtle, but more like an explosive taste– but it was still a great starter. The portion was also extremely generous, definitely enough for four, and highly recommended.”–Iora C.
However, I can’t let National Shrimp Day go without talking about my initial favorite foray into shrimp-land, the shrimp cocktail. It’s tough to find a restaurant in New York City that specializes in a particularly fresh, yummy tasting shrimp cocktail, even though it is so ubitquitous as an appetizer food. There’s not much to it besides fresh, cold shrimp, dangling like little ocean fingers over the rim of a glass, with a big glob of Heinz cocktail sauce in the middle. (Sometimes I even do without the cocktail sauce.) But where it lacks in complexity, shrimp cocktail must be made with finesse and high-quality ingredients: the shrimp has to be incredibly fresh to get the right taste, without any breading or fancy cooking to mask peakishness. You have to get to a dedicated fishbar to get that level of expertise, and where better than Lure Fishbar in SoHo. They boldly serve a raw bar platter, with tuna tartar, freshly shucked oysters, and of course, shrimp cocktail. Everything here is incredibly fresh–or else, half of their menu would spoil by the afternoon–and that includes the shrimp cocktail. If you’re going to get shrimp on National Shrimp Day, by all means, get it from a restaurant that knows their seafood like Lure Fishbar.
142 Mercer St (between Prince St & Houston St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“RAW BAR TASTING – eat + west coast oysters & shrimp cocktail. fresh & perfect.”–Paola S.
“I ordered the shrimp cocktail that arrived with 4 meaty, fresh shrimp and a tangy cocktail sauce as well as mustard.”–Ken O.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!