Living in NYC has allowed me to discover some of the best foods I've ever had. While most places (4+ stars on yelp) are good, here are some exceptional places that really stood out:
1. SASHIMI at Kotobuki
Oddly enough, most sashimi look alike in restaurants (rich and fresh colors), but can taste very very different in your mouth. I search for the right texture when I taste sashimi, because I think this is what determines how the flavor will unfold on your palate. Too dry/hard and the flavors will be subdued, and the occasional stringy sashimi is just awful (mostly take-out experiences). My favorite kind of sashimi are the ones that melt in your mouth, releasing a rich, natural flavor with or without any soy sauce. This is most noticeable with Salmon, my absolute favorite - a good piece of salmon will give you that rich fatty flavor reminiscent of juicy fried pork (but not quite as pungent).
2. BURGERS at Umami Burger
This place is touristy but their burgers are to die for. They are petit compared to the typical burger in America, but each bite is the perfect combination of freshly baked bread, crunchy toppings, juicy meat, and full, delicious, savory flavor. I particularly enjoyed the truffle burger - as the caramelized onions and mushrooms made the kind of sauce that only got better with each bite. Oh, and as with any great burger place, their fries are just as addictively crunchy and savory - mostly because it comes with their signature spice that adds just the right amount of salt and flavoring.
3. NOODLES at Cocoron
I have been to a lot of ramen/noodle places - Sapporo, Toto Ramen, Ippudo (both locations)...and I can tell you that nothing beats the flavor at Cocoron. The problem with many of these other places is that the broth is just too salty - as if they are trying to force the flavor that just isn't there in the first place. Cocoron's flavor tastes the most natural, as if the broth was really made from slow cooked meat with just a few flavor enhancers. I also don't like when noodles tastes too, well, noodle-y, as if the flavor hasn't yet soaked in (this is the worst - it's like one bite of bland noodle, one gulp of salty broth, blah). I watched my food being cooked at Cocoron and suspect the reason why it's so good is because everything is made to order - literally in its own pan. Anyone who has made noodle soup knows boiling all ingredients together in the end (very briefly) will taste very different than when noodles and broth are just quickly tossed together before serving.
4. FRENCH at Amélie
Not the typical French restaurant you would expect - innovative foods but not without traditions. The flavors here are not only original (as original as French food can get), but complex with many layers...one when the food first hits your palate, another when you begin to chew, and finally a taste that lingers afterwards. I've had food that had somewhat of a bad aftertaste despite being great in the beginning, so I think it takes great skill to have all three. The fact that the flavor changes as you chew means the flavoring has really done its job - enhancing the taste rather than overpowering it.
5. AMERICAN at Traif
This is my all time Williamsburg favorite - a highly rated place many people will discover through Yelp (probably the highest rated in the neighborhood - 4.5 stars, 1000+ reviews) and a very long wait on the weekends. The portions are extremely small so be prepared to share and shell out a bit of money. However, the taste of literally every dish is spot on. The pork is tender and juicy. The scallops plump and full of flavor. The ribs soft and savory. The sweet potato fries...my god, there was some flavoring in there that was just...my god.
6. JEWISH JAPANESE at Shalom Japan
This restaurant is owned by a Jewish and Japanese couple, who decided to create their own type of Jewish/Japanese restaurant. Sounds weird, but it is actually a lovely combination. For example, cold udon noodles is typically japanese, but there is this interesting flavoring added that gives it a very unique kick. A crunchy topping with finely chopped fried onions (maybe? can't really remember) complemented very nicely with the doughy udon. Texture and flavor...that's just a killer combination.
Couldn't find a good picture here
7. SPICY CHINESE at Xi'an Famous Foods in Midtown
This is hands down the best ethnic Chinese food you'll find in Manhattan. The pork burger and spicy lamb noodles...spicy, juicy, tender meat...the kind that makes you want to eat the whole thing in one gulp except it's just too damn hot. The noodles are hand-pulled immediately prior to hitting boiling water - all the elements needed for perfect noodle texture. This place is famous so it can get a bit touristy.
Images taken from Yelp. All are pictures of dishes I've tasted.