We hear more than enough about the city’s chefs—the stars and celebrities who are on TV shows and in glossy magazines. They’re not the folks who keep most of the city fed, though. That honor belongs to diner owners, fishmongers, butchers, line cooks, the guy manning a halal cart, and the woman in charge of feeding Rikers Island. Writer Ina Yalof wanted to explore these lesser-sung characters, and the result is the inspiring book Food and the City: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It. If you want to know how a top wedding cake designer got her start or how an old-school butcher feels about contemporary eating habits—and much, much more—this is the book for you.
“It was the most fun I have ever had writing a book,” Yalof tells me, and it shows throughout. To mark this week’s release, we talked about her favorite places to eat in the city:
“When I want to celebrate my love for the city or we’re going to have out of town friends and I want to show them the quintessential New York restaurant, I take them to The Odeon. It has that perfect combination of the vibe and the energy and the lighting, and it’s been around for years and it’s been the same and I hope it will stay that way.”
Kenn’s Broome Street Bar
“If I’m walking around Soho with my boyfriend or even by myself, I enjoy the shops and the galleries, but sometime around noon I start thinking about where I’m going to go for lunch, and generally it’s Kenn’s Broome Street Bar. It’s crowded, it’s buzzy, it’s full of history, but I love it and I just I like sitting at the bar there. It’s just kind of a down and dirty place, but I really enjoy that.”
“If I’m in a nostalgic mood, then I go to Peking Duck in Chinatown, which I wrote about a little bit in the intro to my book. It’s where we enjoyed a lot of our family celebrations. I would never miss it on Yom Kippur; we always broke the fast at Peking Duck, and then we walked a few blocks and followed it with something from Ferrara’s. My kids, as they grew up, always wanted to do that, so that’s my nostalgic place.”
“I have these little grandchildren who’ve been transplanted from New York to Los Angeles, and if they come to town I always say, ‘Where would you like to go?’ and the one place they want to go is City Diner, which happens to be in my book. It’s where they’ve always gone. The owners remember their names, how they like their pancakes, and it just reminds them of New York.”
“If I don’t feel like cooking and because I live on the Upper West Side, my go-to spot is Mamoya at Amsterdam and 81st. It’s inventive. It’s always full, but it’s never so full where you have to wait, and I always run into somebody from the neighborhood that I know.”