Food Stars Pick Under-the-Radar Restaurants

Are the best meals in New York City at low-key restaurants? That was the conclusion of a food-star panel dubbed “Must Eat Now New York” at the New York Wine and Food Festival on Saturday. Travel & Leisure food editor Nilou Motamed guided a conversation with Eric Ripert, Drew Nieporent, Gail Simmons, and cookbook authors Anya von Bremzen and Ted Lee on their favorite splurge spots, comfort foods, family restaurants, and more. Many of their picks weren't household names. From literally dozens of restaurants named, here are some of the highlights.

Drew Nieporent singled out Benito II on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. "They've been at it, and good at it, for almost 35 years," he said. Nieporent also picked Ippudo on Fourth Avenue "because I like to slurp noodles."

Eric Ripert said Balthazar is a great place to take his family to brunch every weekend, and added that he kicks back after work late at night at DBGB with a beer and a plate of sausages. The one restaurant that he thinks deserves more attention? Yakitori Totto. It makes you feel like you've "traveled to Tokyo, but it's in New York."

For comfort food, Gail Simmons's favorite is the 2nd Avenue Deli, because of her Eastern European heritage, she said. She starts with the matzoh ball soup and then digs into dishes like the pastrami sandwich and the pickles. "I thought you were a shiksa," said Nieporent. "How long have you known me?" Simmons responded.

Tim Lee, author of Simple Fresh Southern and The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook raved about Brooklyn's Roberta's (Nieporent echoed him), while prolific cookbook author Anya von Bremzen piqued interest in Brighton Beach's Café Kashkar with a tantalizing endorsement. ("I can't wait to go," said Simmons.)

The panelists' choices for a splurge in New York (other than each other's restaurants, of course)? Daniel, Sushi Yasuda, and Masa.

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