Dates With a Book, Meals for Roller Skaters and More Reader Requests

It’s that time again! If you’re just joining us, every month I play concierge and help guide subscribers through the dense and delicious jungle that is New York City dining. This week, we have a reader who wants to know where they should celebrate their birthday solo, a roller skater looking for late-night bites near Prospect Park and a vegetarian book lover who wants nothing more than a nice place to read over a cocktail.

As always, please send your own recommendations or questions to [email protected], and you may see a response in a future newsletter. Let’s get started!

I am planning to travel to New York in October on my birthday, but I’m going to have a solo trip there. Do you have any recommendations for the people who want to have a special meal for their birthdays alone? — Heekyung S.

May I recommend the Lobby Bar at the Hotel Chelsea? It opened in Chelsea in July as not only a place to nurse a drink while waiting to get into El Quijote, but also as a spot to grab a full meal. There’s something terribly charming about its plush aesthetic, which includes velvet booths, hexagonal marble tables, midcentury armchairs and sharply dressed waitstaff. Order the dirty martini oysters, top-tier beef tartare or the burger with fries, plus any of the well-considered cocktails. Forge an intimate if fleeting relationship with your bartender and hit the hay knowing you celebrated yourself the right way.

I’m a roller skater, and I often find myself at the rink in Prospect Park on Friday and Saturday nights. Typically, by the end of several hours of skating, I’m starving for a snack, but many restaurants in the area seem to be closed by 10 p.m. when these events end. I’m usually taking a train back to Manhattan after. Any recommendations for post-skating fuel either near the rink or along the subway stops back to Manhattan? — Domino W.

There are two ways around this conundrum: grabbing food that can hang out in your backpack while you skate and still taste great hours later, or finding a bar that still serves food late at night. If my upbringing as the child of a Jamaican immigrant has taught me anything, it’s that a clamshell filled with rice and peas and jerk chicken will last and Peppa’s Jerk Chicken in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is the place to get both. Alternatively try Gold Star Beer Counter, off the Seventh Avenue Q train station in Prospect Heights, for bar snacks, a cold one and sandwiches (get the salami picante) until about 10:30 p.m.

Best places for solo women vegetarian diners who like cocktails and reading. Too niche? — Britt

To the tune of Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much”: Never too niche! If you’re in Brooklyn, I would recommend King Tai in Crown Heights. The cocktails are inventive and fun, and King Tai always has interesting pop-ups on deck like vegetarian Trinidadian doubles from Plenty Doubles or jerk veggie tacos from Cmartys Jerk. In Long Island City, Queens, the aptly named Woodbines has excellent cocktails, bar food essentials (veggie quesadillas) and a nice, long bar for nice, long reads. And my bookworm colleague, Becky Hughes, heartily endorses Double Chicken Please on the Lower East Side for chicken-fried tofu sandwich and creative cocktails.

If you’re a subscriber and want to receive our critic Pete Wells’s restaurant reviews a day before they publish online, you’ll be able to have those sent directly to your inbox. Sign up for The Restaurant Review newsletter, which is coming soon. Also, on Monday, The New York Times Food section unveiled its 2022 Restaurant List, featuring 50 noteworthy dining spots across the United States. The list is the result of months of plane, train and car rides and as much eating as humanly possible. Below, some of our contributors share what most surprised, amazed or delighted them on their travels.

  • Months after my trip, I am still thinking about all the delicious things I ate in the Phoenix area: the messy caramelo piled high with carne asada, beans, onions and cheese at Bacanora; the impossibly juicy kebobs at Kabob Grill ‘N Go; the utter genius of wrapping lemongrass beef in garlic naan, as I experienced at Thaily’s. I’ll be back, Phoenix! — Priya Krishna

  • I’ve been watching Southern restaurants evolve for more than a decade — a mere drop in the historical Southern cooking bucket, I know. It’s been fun and delicious to watch a new generation of Southern cooks create an entirely new Southern cuisine that nods to the cooks who came before and builds on the region’s agricultural abundance without feeling bound by either one. — Kim Severson

  • I was reminded that Mexican cuisine is such a common language. Consider these highlights from my List travels: al pastor pork collar from Petite León, in Minneapolis; halloumi tacos at Evette’s, in Chicago; crisp-edged, queso and nopales-topped memelas at Yeyo’s in Bentonville, Ark. — Brett Anderson

  • I was thrilled by the revitalizing energy of second acts in Los Angeles. Here’s Looking at You reopened with a rush of creative exuberance, Kato graduated as a serious formal restaurant and Anajak Thai expanded in a way that’s only possible through multigenerational experience and wisdom. — Tejal Rao

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