The votes are in. They’ve been counted. And it’s official. Empanada Mama is Hell’s Kitchen’s favorite place to eat – as chosen by the readers of W42ST.
THE WINNER: EMPANADA MAMA
“The beauty of this beloved institution is that it’s a ‘come as you are’ joint,” says Leslie, “meaning you can pop by while running errands in your jeans and tee, drag in hungover and wearing sweats, or strut in wearing your most fab outfit to celebrate into the late night. They’ll welcome you every time by feeding your soul and belly with drool-worthy empanadas, delightful cocktails, frozen drinks and warm hospitality.”
“Yes! The food is truly the best,” agrees Shay. “If I could, I would eat it multiple times a week – that’s how often I crave it at least. It’s so fun to order individual empanadas rather than full entrees that are too much of the same thing. I’m a drag performer so I’m out late at night, and Empanada Mama is always right there, open, inexpensive, and delicious.
Empanada Mama, 9th Ave – 51st/52nd St
RUNNER UP: 44 & X
“A great restaurant,” says Paul. “I’ve eaten there many times, but it’s always a treat. What sets it apart for me is the really inventive taste combinations of their dishes, putting together flavors in a way that really works without being outlandish, and, of course, complemented by perfect cooking – never overcooked or undercooked.”
“I love 44&X for so many reason” says Leslie. “Scott and Bruce are always so welcoming and always go the extra mile to make you feel like you are home when you are eating there. I’ve had so many birthday parties with them, doggy parties, reunions, a couple of dates … when I thought they were worthy to take there, drinks, brunches, lunch, dinner, all of my Easter bonnet brunches, and so many other celebrations.
“I LOVE that Scott always has beautiful flowers on every table and has the most fun drink menu in the hood. They work so hard to keep that big, fat “A” in the window and I appreciate that so much.
“And, most of all, the food is to die for always.”
44&X, 10th Ave – 44th St
RUNNER UP: TABOON
“I love Taboon because the food is always delicious, the ambiance is spot on, and the drinks are to die for,” says Rachel.
“Well, to start with,” says Annemeike, “there’s the non-food reason: the staff is super friendly and professional. But then the food … it’s the place where you are already stuffed after the starter, because their flatbread and dips are to die for and you keep ordering more. You realize you really need to go there one time JUST for a cocktail (or two) and bread with dips when the entrees arrives.
“But even with a full bread-belly, there is no way to resist their lamb kofta (it always turns the heads of guests who are there for the first time) or their branzino, or anything else on the menu.”
“Whenever friends from out of town come in for brunch,” says Henry, “our recommendation for food is always Taboon. And the next time those same friends are back in town, their first choice is always to return. We have never had a bad meal
“The Mediterranean-Middle Eastern food is excellent, from a creative and well-curated menu, with fresh ingredients accompanied by delish bread fresh from the clay oven. Their selection of shakshuka is a personal brunch favorite.
“The staff is knowledgeable, friendly, attentive, and informative, and the vibe and experience is consistently fantastic.”
Taboon, 10th Ave – 52nd St
RUNNER UP: ARRIBA ARRIBA
“Early on, after moving to NYC/Hell’s Kitchen, my husband and I would try to eat at home as much as possible to save money,” says Scott. “We would eventually crack and say, ‘Let’s go get Mexican.’ After trying a few places in the neighborhood, we settled on Arriba Arriba. It wasn’t until one night many visits in that the host saw us walk in and said, ‘It’s Thursday, it’s Matt and Scott!’ After that, we simply made it a regular night – Thursdays meant Arriba Arriba.
“There’s an energy about the space (when we can eat indoors again – and even the outdoor space now), the food is reliable and good – when they make updates to the menu it continues to improve and get better (although they have kept our favorites – the chicken mole, the carne asada, and the seafood enchiladas verde).
“The margaritas are great – I always tell myself I’m going to be ‘good’ and not get a mama-sized margarita and I always fail … sometimes twice in one night.
“With Mexican restaurants, you need the food, the magaritas, and the space to all be good. and all too often one or more of those pieces are missing from a place. At Arriba Arriba, you have all three consistently.”
Arriba Arriba, 9th Ave – 51st St
HONORABLE MENTION: HELL’S KITCHEN
“The food is always fresh and delicious,” says Lauren, “the servers are welcoming and cheerful, the prices are affordable, and we always walk out full and satisfied. It’s the kind of place I can bring old friends for a night of catching up, my husband if we can sneak away for a date night, or my family of four when I can’t stand the idea of cooking for one more night.”
Carrie says: “I’ve been a big fan of Hell’s Kitchen restaurant for years. It’s my favorite spot for a night out with friends. The margaritas are delicious, the guac is divine, and I have been missing the veggie nachos since lockdown. The restaurant itself is always so much fun to go to – a vibrant scene that was busy and active without being too crazy. The staff is all amazing. I’ve never had a bad meal at this spot and I can’t wait to go back once I feel comfortable going back to restaurants.”
Hell’s Kitchen, 9th Ave – 50th/51st St
HONORABLE MENTION: THE HARROW
“The Harrow is incredibly charming,” says Suzy. “I’m delighted by their attention to detail and the warmth of the staff. Is it possible to be tickled by food and drink? It simply makes me happy. Oh, and the pork shoulder melts in your mouth.”
The Harrow, 10th Ave – 49th/50th St
HONORABLE MENTION: B SQUARED (NOW CLOSED)
“We love B Squared,” says Jen. “The food is great. They’re one of my all-time favorite pizza spots in the city, with great, high-quality toppings, and lots of variety for meat lovers and vegetarians. Their pastas are also delicious and always perfectly al dente, and recently we’ve fallen in love with their brussels sprouts and their kale salad. The interior is clean and trendy but warm, and the service is always friendly. We ordered B Squared for delivery a few weeks ago as soon as they were open again, and it was just as good as we remembered.”
B Squared, 9th Ave – 47th St
HONORABLE MENTION: MEME
“MeMe is the ideal neighborhood eatery,” says Patrick. “The management and owner are fantastic people, it’s a friendly and warm atmosphere, always welcoming, especially to neighbors. While it’s often crowded, we never have trouble getting a table. The food is amazing. We love the small plates and they’re great for sharing – the falafels and hummus, the kabobs, and especially the chicken laffa tacos (OMG SO GOOD!).
Meme, 10th Ave – 44th St
HONORABLE MENTION: MARSEILLE
“They are always very hospitable and welcoming,” says Lori. “The food is good, fairly priced, with a good bar – a little off the beaten path when going to theater. Sigh …”
Marseille, 9th Ave – 44th St