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A Taxi Driver’s New York Food Tour: Last Ecstasies & Mile End

7 days + 1 hungry Canadian pastry chef + 1 food-obsessed New York cabbie + 2 skinny wallets + 5 boroughs of spectacular restaurants = a New York taxi driver’s food tour.

Want to take a shortcut to everything we tasted this past week? Check out this food map!

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It was going to take something exceptional to shake my food-loving Canadian friend Carolynn and me out of our gluttonous stupor after 4 days of pigging out in New York City.

We found it at Mile End, a new Jewish deli in Brooklyn that’s got New York going gaga over Montreal-style smoked meat. I can’t say anything that the food press hasn’t already said about this little deli, which chef Aaron Israel explained to Grub Street as “fully inspired by the Ashkenazi immigrant experience of the Lower East Side in the early twentieth century.”

But I will say this: the brisket was so good, so tender, so fatty, so moist, so deeply oak-smoked that my Canadian friend, who lived for several years in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal, moaned and declared it (and the house-made mustard that went with it) delicious.

Meanwhile I cried. Mile End’s brisket took me straight back to Eash Deli & Meats, the Long Beach deli where my grandpa (who would be considered an artisan butcher by today’s standards) smoked and cured everything in-house. You think I’m exaggerating? Ask Carolynn. Or better yet, try this smoked meat. (Passengers, take note: I will drive you here if you’re willing to go to what I think is now my favorite restaurant in New York.)

Mile End
97A Hoyt Street – Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
New York, NY 11217
Tel. (718) 852-7510 ‎
Open: Mon 8am-4pm; Tues-Fri 8am-10pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 9am-4pm
Prices: $9 for a 7 oz. smoked meat sandwich. They also make a mean bowl of borscht for $5.

Here are some shots of the other spots we hit in the final days of the taxi driver’s New York food tour:

We tasted Sicily in Brooklyn at this century-old focacceria in Carroll Gardens, where pannelle (garbanzo bean fritters) are fried to order, espresso has a kick, and owner Frank Buffa is always ready for a chat about anything from wild fennel to his three sons. Cannoli aren’t bad, either.

Ferdinando’s Focacceria
151 Union Street – Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
(718) 855-1545
Open: Mon-Thu 11am-8pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm; closed Sunday
Prices: Espresso $2; Cannoli $6

Dogmatic is known for hormone-free sausages, but my favorite thing at this design-forward hot dog bar is the mac and cheese with truffle gruyere. Caro couldn’t believe we could get a truffle fix for $3.54 with tax. She also understood why this has become one of my favorite snacks around Union Square.

Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System
26 E 17th St – near Broadway, Union Square
New York, 10003 – Tel. (212) 414-0600
Open: Mon-Thu 11am-8pm; Fri-Sat 11am-9pm; Sun 12pm-7pm
Prices: Truffle mac and cheese, $3.54 including tax

I love the idea of sneaking past a jewelry store in the Diamond District and climbing up three flights of stairs to get to Taam Tov as much as I love the baksh (chicken cilantro rice) at this glatt kosher Uzbeki restaurant. Unfortunately, they overcooked the cilantro when Caro and I visited, so the rice didn’t pack its usual refreshing punch. I’ll still go back – I’m hoping the kitchen was having an off night.

Taam Tov
41 W. 47th St., 3rd Floor – near 6th Ave – Midtown West
Tel. (212) 768-8001 ‎
Open: Mon-Thu, 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-3pm; Sun, 11am-6pm
Prices: Baksh, $11

There’s a reason so many taxi drivers have urged me to try the Indian-Chinese food at Tangra Masala in Queens, and it’s the same reason I keep going back: it’s all about aggressive flavor, cheap food, and new dishes to love on their chili peppered menu.

Caro fell in love with her chicken wonton soup (full-flavored and scallion-heavy) and tofu with mixed vegetables, a dish that demonstrated their skill with brown sauce – and showed us that the cooks here can do mild just as impressively as hot.

My other friend Caroline and I went crazy for Tangra Masala Chow Mein, a noodle, beef, chicken, shrimp and vegetable stir-fry that screamed heat and hummed garlic (I saved this one for my last bite).

Meanwhile, we appreciated the curry, jalapenos, ginger and garlic in Gobi Manchurian, but the cauliflower that was the main attraction in this dish had spent too much time in the deep fryer. We cooled our lips with Falooda (rosewater) and malai (similar to vanilla with raisins and pistachios) ice cream at the end, fantasizing about what we’ll order when we go back.

Tangra Masala
8709 Grand Avenue at Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, Queens
NY 11373-4416
Tel. (718) 803-2298 ‎
Open: Mon-Thu, Sun noon-10pm; Fri, Sat noon-11pm
Prices: Chicken wonton soup, $2.95; Tangra Masala Chow Mein $7.95; Tofu with mixed vegetables, $8.95

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