Hell’s Kitchen is gaining recognition not just for its edgy character, but also for its evolving and diverse culinary landscape. Critics are taking notice, celebrating both the newcomers and “old timers” in the neighborhood.

LumLum Thai Hell's Kitchen
Sisters Sommy (left) and Mo Hensawang at their new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant LumLum, which has been drawing critical acclaim. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Robert Sietsema, Senior Critic at Eater New York, compared Hell’s Kitchen to Adams Morgan in Washington DC in a weekend interview with David Furst at WNYC. “It’s a neighborhood that has a vast range of different ethnicities represented and at a price point that makes it accessible to many people, but not rock bottom cheap,” he said.

“It doesn’t pay to ignore the neighborhood for more than a few months at a time,” Sietsema added. “The mix of restaurants is constantly changing.”

He highlighted LumLum Thai on W49th Street, just west of 9th Avenue, as an example of a newer restaurant putting a creative spin on Thai cuisine. Opened a year ago, LumLum offers Thai drinking snacks called kub kaem as well as “mind-boggling” cocktails like a purple coconut milk drink made with blue pea blossoms.

Sietsema also wrote about “Where to Find Great Food in Hell’s Kitchen” last week, listing:

jayesh and tarique outside
Jayesh Naik and Tarique Khan outside Hyderabadi Zaiqa. Photo: Sarah Beling
  • Desi Deli Indian Kitchen – Despite its tiny space, this 24-hour spot serves a wide array of Indian dishes from lamb biryani to breakfasts.
  • Sullivan Street Bakery – Known for its focaccia, this bakery sells rectangles topped with potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, and more.
  • Rice x Beans — This long-running Brazilian spot recently moved to 10th Ave. Sietsema recommends their cheese bread pão de queijo, feijoada stew, and other classics.
  • Tulcingo Del Valle — A grocery store turned cafe, this is a classic hangout for the area’s Pueblan community. Sietsema recommends their pozole, chiles rellenos, cemitas, and other regional Mexican fare.
Irma and Jesus Verdejo will demolish their popular outdoor dining shed at Tulcingo this week.
Owners Irma and Jesus Verdejo at Tulcingo Del Valle. Photo: Phil O’Brien
  • El Mil Sabores Mexican Food — This Mexican bakery and deli is known for enormous torta sandwiches like the Cubana, stuffed with meats, cheese, and more. Their tamales and chilaquiles are also excellent.
  • Mémé Mediterranean — Named for owner Alon Cohen’s Moroccan grandmother, Mémé offers Eastern Mediterranean and North African dishes like shakshuka.
  • China Xiang — One of the city’s best Hunan restaurants, China Xiang has smoked pork, braised fish and other signatures.
  • Chi Restaurant & Bar — The flagship of 9th Ave’s Chinatown-like restaurant row, Chi has an elegant setting and a wide-ranging Chinese regional menu.
Chi Restaurant
Chi Restaurant has made a big impression on the neighborhood since its opening in November 2022. Photo: Naty Caez

“The beauty of Hell’s Kitchen is that you can find a restaurant not only from any country, but from any era. They don’t seem to renovate the restaurants very readily in Hell’s Kitchen. So you can really settle down into a place that looks like your grandfather ate there,” Sietsema said.

He’s not the only critic who has started to sit up and take notice of Hell’s Kitchen. Back in 2018, Hannah Goldfield from the New Yorker described her trip to review Legacy Records on W38th Street: “The other day, while walking to the far west side of midtown Manhattan, I found myself humming Bruce Springsteen’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. It felt like a fitting anthem for venturing past Ninth, where the bars and bodegas have long seemed like the last signs of civilization before uncharted tumbleweed territory.” However, this year Goldfield was back in the neighborhood at Chalong and saying: “Each dish is a standout at the new restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, including a refreshing oyster salad, ‘puff sticks’ and cured, deep-fried branzino.”

Chalong NYC team
Chalong co-owners Booky Rattanapokasatit, JR Raksasuwan and Pattamon “CC” Kerdrojwongkul. Photo: Naty Caez

Ryan Sutton, who this year started The LO Times after leaving his role as a Chief Critic at Eater, has been a longtime fan of the eating options in his neighborhood. The first edition of his new Substack newsletter featured “20 amazing dishes for under $20 in Hell’s Kitchen” — saying: “Something remarkable happened to me the other week at Lovely’s Old Fashioned, a new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant where the aromas of caramelized onions and sizzling beef waft through the tiny room. I dropped by, ordered a snack-sized cheeseburger, ate it, and left about 10 minutes after I arrived. For this pleasure I paid $7.50.”

It’s clear from the critics that foodies shouldn’t underestimate Hell’s Kitchen and its constantly evolving culinary diversity.

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1 Comment

  1. As the author of “Sizzle in Hell’s Kitchen” (2009), I was delighted to read the above article. When I moved to the neighborhood 23 years ago, it was the diversity of the people, culture and food that inspired me to write my book. Since the 1800s, HK has been a true treasure. Proud to call it home.

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