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Eat and Drink

James Beard Award finalists share their favorite NYC restaurants and the ones they miss most

Yes, the five chefs vying to win the title of best chef in the five boroughs at the 2018 James Beard Awards Gala this Monday all run very different restaurants, but we can safely assume they agree on at least one thing: New York City is a great place to eat and drink.

We asked Estela's Ignacio Mattos, Lilia's Missy Robbins and Dirt Candy's Amanda Cohen (Empellón Midtown's Alex Stupak declined to participate and Buvette Gastrothèque's Jody Williams got caught up in other projects) where they like to dine when they're not on the clock, what they consider the most "New York" of all eats and which of the city's many dearly departed restaurants they miss most.

Ignacio Mattos, Estela

Why he's a finalist: Mattos' Mediterranean-inspired small plates
Photo Credit: Marcus Nilsson

Why he's a finalist: Mattos' Mediterranean-inspired small plates -- with deceptively simple names like "beef tartare, elderberries and sunchoke," and "burrata, salsa verde and charred toast" -- have won praise for their depth of flavor and "mild strangeness," as Pete Wells put it.
His favorite restaurant(s), other than Estela: "There's a bunch of places I love: Prune, Hasaki, Di Fara. Una Pizza Napoletana is about to open and I already love it.
His quintessential NYC dish: I think a bodega bacon, egg and cheese is quite a staple of NYC, pretty much everywhere or, unfortunately, less and less this days.
The restaurant(s) he misses most: I'll say Franny's, which was my to-go spot every Sunday more or less. Just perfectly executed simple and delicious food. Also The Tasting Room, which was a quite unique far ahead of its time chef and restaurant, making new American food in a quite sharp and elegant way.

Missy Robbins, Lilia

Why she's a finalist: Robbins is particularly celebrated
Photo Credit: Evan Sung

Why she's a finalist: Robbins is particularly celebrated for her pasta-making chops, but critics have plenty of room in their hearts for the rest of her fine Italian fare, too.
Her favorite restaurant, other than Lilia: Uncle Boons. I order an over abundance every time, starting with a tamarind margarita. Snails in curry and khao soi (a curry noodle soup) are my favorites.
Her quintessential NYC dish: Pizza. Nothing like a slice of Joe's or a whole pizza at Lucali.
The restaurant she misses most: Florent... the diner in the Meatpacking district where you could always find all sorts of interesting characters on any given night. 

Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy

Why she's a finalist: Cohen's Lower East Side
Photo Credit: Georgi Richardson at Maggie Marguerite

Why she's a finalist: Cohen's Lower East Side eatery has a precedent-setting reputation for taking vegetables to a whole new level, with innovative dishes like grilled and smoked broccoli "dogs" and carrot slides on all-carrot steamed buns.
Her favorite restaurant, other than Dirt Candy: Ever since it opened in 2007, I find myself at the bar of Alex Raij's El Quinto Pino way more than is healthy. I love her uni panini, which is weird because I'm not a big uni fan; her garbanzo fritos are my favorite version of chickpeas ever, and I would drink a trough of her Gintonic.
Her quintessential NYC dish: A pizza slice at 2 a.m., eaten outside as the grease-soaked paper plate collapses in your hands. It can be a slice from Ray's, it can be from Two Boots, it can be from a dollar slice place. As long as it's 2 a.m. and you're walking down the street, it's the most New York thing you'll ever eat.
The restaurant she misses most: I loved The Royal Canadian Pancake House so much that I've stolen their Canadian Cracker and added it to my brunch menu. This was a chain of breakfast places in NYC back in the Nineties, and it featured pancakes the size of extra-large pizzas, and the Womblette -- a six-egg omelet covered in cheese and baked on top of three waffles -- was among its cornucopia of over-the-top culinary delights that had absolutely nothing at all to do with Canada. In the downstairs office at Dirt Candy we have one of their menus framed and whenever I feel weak I gaze upon it and get inspired.

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