Let me tell you, I was so worried about this day. Eat What You Want Day? How can I write a blog post under those parameters?!?! I was even thinking of swapping this national food holiday out for something with a little more structure. But then I realized…why ruin all the fun of Eat What You Want Day? Everyone should have a day where they don’t worry about their diet, the Weight Watchers points in some food, and chow down on a meal that will really make them happy. Readers should obviously go and find the food that makes them happy today and eat it, but as for me, I profiled three of the restaurants in New York City that are my favorites. They probably won’t end up on any Best Of lists anywhere but this blog, because they’re not the best at what they do, they’re not high-class, they don’t even serve foods that would have national food days in the future. But each restaurant here means something to me personally, and that’s why I love them so (and plan to eat at least one of their fine cuisines today!)
A relatively newcomer to the franchise fast food restaurants in New York, Maoz Vegetarian is an Israel-based falafel joint that serves, basically, falafel and Belgian fries. And that’s it. You’re lucky if you find one of the eight locations in the city that has cafeteria-style seating; the Union Square location has none. But the falafel here is out of this world good, especially for a chain, and the unlimited salad bar full of Mediterranean fixins always wins me over. I’m a huge fan of this place because it reminds me of my semester abroad in Europe. The first weekend I was staying in London, my friends and I found Maoz in SoHo and I fell in love. After that, we serendipitously found a Maoz in every city we stayed in: Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona. I nearly bounced out of my seat when I saw they were opening them in New York! Now, I go in for a junior Maoz (which I fill with their amazing stewed cauliflower) and an order of their perfectly fried Belgian fries (with a mix of their ketchup and garlic sauces like they do in Amsterdam!), sit back at the West 71st Street location, and remember my time in Europe. Not only is this a great place for falafel, it’s my idea of a genuine Happy Meal.
38 Union Sq E
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Vegetarian fast food that is sorta healthy, super filling and very delicious. The menu isn’t massive, but it has all the basics: falafel, fried eggplant, hummus, a self-serve salad bar, Belgian fries and sweet potato crisps. It’s enough to make any tummy grumble.”–Jane K.
“I love Maoz. It’s pricey, it’s cramped, but I love it. I love it so much that when I take that first bite of pita – a little eggplant, hummus, and falafel wedged in there – it’s like being drunk on food. I can’t stop. I physically don’t stop eating until it hurts, until I’ve had the whole sandwich and can safely say that my healthy alternative is trying to kill me. But it’s great, so whatever.”–Jiordan C.
This next place isn’t going to be winning any James Beard awards. It won’t even get a write-up in Time Out New York. But what it is, is some authentic, unpretentious, delicious Chinese food. The name alone (they’ve never really had a name beyond “69”) attracts the majority of its non-native clientele, drunk kids stumbling through the neighborhood at all hours looking for a greasy, filling Chinese food fix. The dollar bills literally wallpapering the walls and ceiling is what counts for atmosphere, and the meals are brought to you on mismatched, stereotypical mass-produced china plates. But this is the kind of Chinese food I grew up on: nothing special, nothing fancy, all of the chef’s energy put into making an incredibly delicious dish. This restaurant holds a special place in my heart: way back before I was born, my grandparents were silent partners among many in the startup of this restaurant. My parents have a celebratory satin tablecloth, embroidered with the customary phoenix and dragon, and signed by all of the people responsible for putting that restaurant together. Since then it’s changed many owner and manager hands, but I still like to go into that place and feel a sense of my family’s history there. It’s my go-to place to bring out-of-towner friends who have never had real Chinese food. To this day, my best friend from Virginia says it’s the best authentic Chinese food she’s ever eaten.
69 Bayard Street (between Elizabeth and Mott Streets)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Usually, I tend to select dishes that I’ve never tried before and I tend to stay away from the typical and dull sounding. True to Chinese restaurant form, the dishes here all sound very plain: beef with tomatoes over rice, chicken with black bean sauce over rice, shrimp with vegetables over rice, stegosaurus with turnips over rice. Everything sounds kinda boring. Don’t be fooled! 69 takes the bling from the name of their dishes and somehow transforms it into additional flavor for the dish itself.”–Paul L.
“I worked a week of nights close to here and ate here I think four nights in a row. Got the same thing every night and it was perfect every time. Then I was craving it so bad I came back that following weekend. Also the location is perfect for dates. You can show off that you know this awesome charming delicious hole in the wall, and then go two doors down to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory afterwards. Shrimp lo mein. Egg rolls. Sesame chicken. All good. And this cop I know swears by their beef with mushroom sauce. But I go for the general tsos. The best general tsos I have ever had. I didn’t think general tsos could be this good but they did it. Time and time again.”–Scott B.
One of my favorite comfort food places is down, down, all the way down on the borough map in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Roll N Roaster has been a staple in this neighborhood, right along the water, for over 40 years, serving simple roast beef sandwiches, iced teas, burgers & fries, and all with cheez on anything if you pleez. The decor, advertisement, even the uniforms are the same since the 70s, and so is the way they cook their food: everything done to order, cooked slow, with genuine taste behind every sandwich. My parents brought me here when I was a kid and it was always a treat: now that I’ve moved out of the neighborhood, it’s one of the first places I go back to eat when I visit. There’s just something about this place that feels out of time, and timeless, and in that timelessness I also feel reliability. No matter what changes around this building (and believe me, a ton has changed!), Roll N Roaster stays the same. When I first met my boyfriend, it was one of the first things we bonded over, and within three weeks of dating I took him back here. Roll N Roaster has given me a lot of memories in my childhood in the past, and maybe, I’ve got time to make some more.
Roll N Roaster
2901 Emmons Ave (between 29th St & Webers Ct)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“You are doing something right when you can stay open for 41 years, never change the menu or prices, or even have to get a makeover! Roll N Roaster is a fixture in the community for their excellent comfort food, world famous roast beef, late night hours and hard working staff. -Roast beef rules at Roll N Roaster, it’s so popular it gets it’s own express line for a sandwich with fries and a drink. Try it and thank me later. -Try the other great food like the corn fritters, which is basically cream corn breaded, battered and deep fried to perfection. Also worth trying is the chicken fingers and the fish sandwich, and you should always get your food with the homemade lemonade. Top it off with a thick chocolate shake afterward!”–Louis P.
“Easily one of Brooklyn’s landmark Restaurants. Well known and awesomely terrific Hot Roast beef Sandwich, terrific chicken fingers, large perfectly fried cheese fries, wash it all down with a fresh lemonade and finish it off with some Cheese cake. Never expect to leave this place still hungry. Chicken Sandwich and chicken wings are also some local favorites. The loaded Sweet Potato is amazing, thing is the size of a small chihuahua and evenly cooked.”–Ric T.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!