Alex Raij is behind four of the most exceptional restaurants in New York City. There's renowned Basque tapas spot Txikito, El Quinto Pino, cozy Michelin darling La Vara in Cobble Hill, and newly opened Saint Julivert, an intimate spot bringing fine seafood to discerning Brooklyn diners. Between these restaurants of her own and years upon years of eating all over the boroughs, Chef Raij knows which places are the best for simple, good, comforting food. Below, she talks about her favorite restaurants for eating, hanging, and celebrating with friends and family.
Her Night-Off Manifesto
"When it comes to my nights off, I like to be spontaneous, which is why I love to stay in my neighborhood (Lower East Side) often. It doesn’t hurt that I live in an interesting location with many good options from a variety of cultures. We also have a great art-house cinema near us. I also enjoy heading out to Queens for other cuisines I can’t find near me, like Egyptian and great Thai."
How She Gets the Most Out of Her Nights Off
"My strategy for food success is to observe what others are eating and always try something new. At restaurants where the menu is easy to decipher, I will usually have researched what’s best. I always share my food, and we tend to order for the table rather than each getting our own dish."
Her New York City Picks
Wu's Wonton King
"Wu’s Wonton King is a newish institution with excellent food. We go on weeknights with another family and with our kids, and weekends, when their dim sum is also great (though there are no carts). Everything is good, but we love to order crab, duck, baby pig, and fish maw and crab soup; also vegetables and noodles. The quality is really great, and everything is really fresh."
"Also on the Lower East Side, Bacaro is a super-charming restaurant that has been there since before our neighborhood got so cool—it was cool, and it still is. Risottos and specials like frog legs and squash blossoms remind me it's a hard-working, lovely restaurant that stays current and delivers true warmth and hospitality."
"Breakfast and brunch at Egg is the tastiest intellectual and morally superior experience you can have while day-eating. Everything is super well prepared and creative. It's locally sourced food with a side of friendly amazingness. Egg’s chef brings to breakfast more spontaneousness than most chefs bring to dinner. Everything is great, but the hash is my jam."
"Scarr's is where I had my last birthday. It’s a pizza (mostly by the slice) place that doesn’t seem like the New York that I know, but rather reminds me of my hometown in the Midwest. I think it's great because it's so incredibly cozy and nostalgic; they also mill their own flour. My favorite pie is eggplant and red onion, but when I’m not ordering a whole pie, I just get a cheese slice and a glass of chilled wine, and all is okay in the world."
"Some of our most popular dishes at Txikito include a whole turbot Elkano-style, which is an ode to an iconic preparation from Gipuzkoa; txipirones encebollados, local squid ribbons with pine nuts and sweet onion; and fire-roasted peppers called pikillos that are stuffed with pistou and served with bacalao. All showcase our creative twists on classic Basque dishes, along with Txikito’s inimitably light and intelligent style and appeal. Specifically, they reflect our ability to recast traditional flavors and techniques in ways the are quietly original. We respect the hallmark of Basque cooking: modesty and a unique approach to luxury that offers American diners new reverence and enchantment in simplicity."
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