Category Archives: Erin’s Favorites

The Little Chihuahua: a burrito sleeper you need to visit now

little chihuaha

For decades San Franciscans far and wide have debated over the city’s BEST spot for burritos. I stand by Gordo’s through thick and thin. But before you even try to compare apples to apples (or burritos to burritos), you need to prioritize what, to you, are a burrito’s essential qualities. For me, it’s first and foremost about the tortilla. I don’t care how flavorful the beans are – if they’re enveloped in a dry and crusty flour wrap, forget about it. The tortilla must be soft, pliable, chewy and hot, and the cheese must be fully melted onto it – not tossed in the middle of its fillings. Steaming or throwing the puppy on the grill with cheese on top usually gets the job done. Then, the meat, which must be grilled with only the subtlest of seasonings. It should not overpower the salsa, another key flavor generator. And of course, the guacamole should be fresh and not doctored with mayonnaise (vomit) or sour cream. My priority list could go on for paragraphs.

And while I may have my favorite spots, I am always on the lookout for other places that fulfill my top criteria for a great burrito, which is why I was thrilled to finally try The Little Chihuahua this weekend. With three locations, they evidently have a large fan base. The menu consists of what you would typically expect (burritos, tacos, etc), but also includes pozole, breakfast tacos, taco salads, and what I went out on a ledge to order – a black bean and fried plantain burrito. After reading the many Yelp reviews about this specialty item, I couldn’t resist, and thank GOD I didn’t because it completely hit the spot. The griddled tortilla bundles together sour cream, cheese, salsa, beans, and fried plantains to become the ultimate Latin combination of sweet and savory. I’d say a half of one of these dense puppies is the perfect lunch.

breakfast tacos

breakfast tacos

plaintain burrito

plaintain burrito

Because I came with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, we also decided to order the breakfast tacos off the brunch menu – two tacos with a generous portion of scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese, and, in our case, delicious carne asada. A side of potatoes lays next to the tacos as if they’re not enough to fill the belly. Not to mention, all food comes with a complimentary side of chips and salsa (which you can fetch at the delicious salsa bar). Hangover cure? Check!

I loved the tacos, but as a burrito fanatic, I left elated that I’ve found a new burrito joint that will fill my occasional craving for a heavy, cheesy burrito. And, one thing The Little Chihuahua has that many other take-out joints do not is a clean and friendly setting for a sit-down meal – which comes in handy for those who like to eat their burrito as soon as it’s prepared. Get yee here now, and check out my Tastemade video for more angles of my burrito!

Grade: A+
Location: multiple
Website

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Filed under Californian Cuisine, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Mexican, San Francisco

Locanda: insanely delicious and varied menu – with cocktails!

locanda

Picking a restaurant that appeals to my dad is difficult for mostly because of our difference in taste, but also because of his “full bar or this restaurant is dead to me” dining perspective. A lot of San Fran’s latest restaurants only offer beer and wine, which is fine by me, but not by a man who was drinking martinis before it was cool or commonplace to do so. Fortunately, because Locanda’s cocktail menu is boasting with great concoctions, and the restaurant was next on my “to-try” list, it presented itself as the perfect option for a father-daughter dinner with my mom out of town.

delicious crusty bread

delicious crusty bread

Jewish style artichoke - fried and crisp with lemon

Jewish style artichoke – fried and crisp with lemon

chicken under a brick

flavorful chicken under a brick

Despite the fact that I’d say my dad and I rarely eat similar foods, we both left totally wowed by all aspects of the meal, from the attentive but not so clingy service, to the complimentary olive-oily flat bread, to the crispy fried jewish style artichoke, to the luscious linguine with crab and lettuce, to my awesome chicken under the brick with quinoa. A sign of a good menu is one that makes the ordering decision process a tough one, and honestly, I almost had a panic attack considering the possibility of eating one of five dishes I felt I couldn’t live without. While I may not choose the ricotta bread pudding with orange blossom honey (a little too dry for me) again, I’ll absolutely return to experiment the other solid Italian style food Locanda has to offer. Check out my video for more footage of our meal and my dad’s profession of love for Locanda.

Grade: A
Location: 557 Valencia Street btwn 16th and 17th
Website

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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, San Francisco

Domo: tiny space, brief menu, big flavors

domo

One thing I miss most about New York is the overload of coveted sushi offerings. Restaurants with Japanese-born and trained sushi chefs. Restaurants with fish fresher than Tokyo. Sushi restaurants that are actually fun, not stale as a library, with cocktails and energetic music. These are few and far between in my little Pac Heights enclave (though I do love Umami on Webster), so I was thrilled to pin down Domo in Hayes Valley last night. Wow. This place is awesome.

Though I love sushi, I dread sifting through four-page-lists of roll combinations, which are often accompanied by an additional cut out menu of specials. Tuna, unagi, fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber in different forms – the rolls start to blend together quarter-way down the list. Domo removes the perusing legwork with a clearly laid out, one-page menu. Simple and succinct. People don’t need 10 variations of spicy tuna, and they don’t want to put off catching up with friends to study a menu. And on Domo’s menu is a wide variety of hot and cold small plates, salads, and other concoctions I could never imagine on my own. As tiny and intimate as this bar-seat-filled spot may be, it’s got a menu that lures a big group of repeat customers every night (which means you should get there early if you want to avoid a wait).

Emily in Domo

Emily in Domo

Fortunately, my friend Emily arrived hungry, so we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. And because each one was mouth-watering, I can vouch fairly that this is one of the best sushi spots I’ve tried in SF. We started with the daikon salad, thinly sliced, crisp layers of cool daikon topped with bonito flakes and garlic ponzu. The salad was light, crunchy, and pungent – a creative alternative to the typical wakame salad. We then tried the hamachi carpaccio, which was seared and beautifully plated with a light, tangy garlic ponzu, tobiko, and thinly sliced jalapeno – a fresh fish celebration. Then, the cold and simple Spicy Hulk roll, amazingly fresh spicy tuna with avocado surrounded by a crisp cucumber wrapper. I loved this because the spicy tuna was only subtly dressed – not laden with a garlicky mayonnaise like I find in most sushi restaurants. The two special rolls we ordered were incredible – the Wiki Wiki was a creative mix of fried shitake mushrooms, cucumber, and avocado topped with silky seared butter fish. Totally addictive. And crispy rice cakes, move over – I popped the fire cracker balls in my mouth pretty much like popcorn. These dense, miniature, panko crusted tuna balls with spicy mayo, unagi sauce, scallions and tobiko blow any other fried sushi out of the water.

daikon salad

daikon salad

hamachi with garlic ponzu

hamachi with garlic ponzu

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

fire cracker balls, like little nuggets of heaven

two special sushi rolls

two special sushi rolls

spicy hulk roll

spicy hulk roll

Along with our cold, dry sake, the entire meal was incredible. Each roll was a piece of art, a stunning culmination of so much attention to detail that revealed itself as perfection to my tastebuds. This is undoubtedly my favorite sushi restaurant in San Francisco – it’s worth any wait, as well as the distance if you’re not in the neighborhood. If you need more incentive, plan a post-dinner stroll down Hayes to Smitten Ice Cream, where they freeze to order with liquid nitrogen to make some of the creamiest concoctions of your life.

Go here.

Go here.

My experience at Domo only further confirms my theory that Hayes Valley is THE place to be in SF!

Grade: A+
Location: 511 Laguna Street @ Linden Street
Website

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Filed under Asian, Erin's Favorites, Japanese, San Francisco

Kitchen adventures: festive rice krispies treats

Up until last week, I was pretty much a rice krispies treat hater. I’ve always sworn by the fact that stirring cereal into melted butter and marshmallows is a poor excuse for “baking,” and considering they’re chocolate-free, a bite of one of these can be completely forgettable. Then, my friend Natalie gave me the genius idea of switching up the original recipe for Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter rendition, using Cocoa Krispies instead of Rice Krispies, and adding orange candy to make something festive for Halloween. When my friend Katie turned to me to say “these are different, and they’re really f*ing good” at the Halloween potluck where I unleashed the finished product, I knew that this American-born baked good and I had turned a new leaf. The opportunities to elevate this simple, three-ingredient classic into a creative and delicious dessert are surprisingly endless. I was blind, but now I see.

Halloween treats!

Halloween treats!

After the epiphany, I couldn’t wait to try a different variation of the recipe for my friend Leah’s birthday this weekend. And I have to admit I got the inspiration from the adorable ones I saw at SusieCakes, which had specks of fall leaf sprinkles. I altered the Smitten Kitchen recipe only slightly, adding 6 tablespoons as opposed to an entire stick of butter (the original recipe on the cereal box calls for 3), and throwing in festive birthday sprinkles with the cereal. Within minutes I had whipped up a treat that was adorable and absolutely addictive.

mixing in the krispies and sprinkles

mixing in the krispies and sprinkles

perfect birthday treats

perfect birthday treats

The recipe can be found here, is very easy to follow, and upgrades the original in a MAJOR way. Any mix-ins should be added with the Rice Krispies so they don’t melt. I suggest cutting with a thin sharp knife, and if you’re really obsessive like me, cutting a millimeter of the outer edge to outfit each square with four perfectly straight edges. I’m so glad I discovered a new go-to, simple recipe for potluck events – I hope you’ll try this!

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Kitchen Adventures, Sugar Surge

Jane on Fillmore: a neighborhood café to die for

JAne

As bustling of a food-city that San Francisco is, I’ve always been disappointed by the lack of bakeries or coffee shops with awesome home-baked goods. New York City is chock-full of them – from Amy’s Bread to Billy’s Bakery, there’s a bakery available to the cookie obsessed and the cake fanatics in every neighborhood. Sure, San Fran has a few cupcake shops (I love Kara’s cupcakes off Chestnut), and incredible artisanal bakeries that aren’t as accessible to the Pacific Heights resident (Tartine is amazing), but homey cafés with an abundance of cakes, muffins, cookies, scones, and other butter, flour & sugar concoctions are SERIOUSLY lacking. Maybe my 4 years working at UC Davis’s Coffee House, which pumped out cakes (and cookie samples) by the hour, caused my withdrawal. Whatever it is, it’s a well justified concern.

jane from second floor

jane from second floor

Thankfully, Jane on Fillmore street has recently come to the rescue. Over the last few weeks of fun-employment, despite having the chance to explore all my neighborhood has to offer, I just can’t get enough of this café’s almond milk cappuccinos and scrumptious baked goods. The plentiful case displays more than enough options, but I can proudly say that I’ve pretty much tried every single one of them. They’ve got a buttery citrus brioche. A savory scone with ham, chives and cheese. Banana bread – both vegan and regular. A vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffin for those sweet-craving mornings. The blueberry-banana muffin for the days I’m pretending to eat a healthy breakfast. There’s also a “Cooking for Breakfast” cookie that’s subtly sweet and stuffed with dried fruit and oats, for those who those who like that sort of thing. The cookies – which include flavors like sprinkles, salted white chocolate chip oatmeal, chocolate chocolate chip, chocolate toffee chip, and peanut butter-quinoa-millet are to die for, especially the ones that sandwich a scoop of cream cheese frosting. As I write this blog, I’m noshing on a “Crazy Cookie” filled with chips, chocolate chips, toffee, and marshmallow. True, it doesn’t get much crazier than this.

cappuccino

cappuccino

my fantasy display case

my fantasy display case

cake of the day

cake of the day

savory quiche

savory quiche

But that’s not all – Jane has amazing food to order as well, all homemade and most of the time organic. The granola – both vegan and regular – is like crack. I’ve bought them both, and I eat the oats by the handful. The breakfast sandwiches, like the one with egg, cheese, avocado, and roasted tomatoes stacked between two thick-cut pieces of griddled sourdough bread, are the perfect hangover helper. And the salads (there are about 10 of them) are fresh, healthy, and delicious, especially the ones with their house-made green goddess dressing. And how could I forget the energizing green smoothie with apple, lemon, kale, and ginger?

chopped veggie salad with green goddess dressing

chopped veggie salad with green goddess dressing

salad nicoise

salad nicoise

smoked salmon platter

smoked salmon platter

egg white breakfast sandwich

egg white breakfast sandwich

The space itself is beautiful as well – the natural light and the black and white motif are the perfect setting for zoning out on a laptop. And, though it’s always bustling in here, the energy is contagious, not overwhelming.

To put it lightly, I am freakishly obsessed with this place, and I fear that my pre-business school food budget is going to rapidly dwindle if my daily habit continues. But when I’m saddened by the thought of a day without a creamy almond milk cappuccino, I realize that it’s totally worth chipping into my school books’ budget. I’m just waiting for the day that the barista remembers my name.

Grade: A+
Location: 2123 Fillmore between Sacramento and California Streets
Website

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Filed under Brunch, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, San Francisco

Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

Shake Shack: do I really need to explain?

shake shack

I’m not a burger connoisseur. And I can confidently say that unless I’m hungover, it rarely ever occurs to me to open up a menu and order a juicy, meaty hamburger. But ever since I waited in line at Shake Shack for an hour and got so hungry and light-headed that I had to give up to search for something I could eat IMMEDIATELY, I’ve been craving the juicy burger I was so close to having like no other.

Fortunately this week, my college friend and burger-lover Ashley was in town with quite the eating list to tackle. Shake Shack naturally made the top of the list, so we decided to wait in the infamous (yet MUCH shorter than it used to be) line for the whole burger sha-bang. Since I’m such a burger novice, I still hadn’t figured out if I like my burger with or without cheese. This time, I tried the Shack burger without, and piled it high with tomato, lettuce, onions and ketchup. This combination is my new go-to, because the patty on its own is decadent enough – the cheese would have masked its crispy, seared outside and intense flavor. Whereas at In-N-Out, the real standout of the burger is the thick cut tomato, onion and soft toasted bun, at Shake Shack, it’s all about the meat and soft potato bun, which are the ingredients that in my opinion really matter. I’m craving another one as we speak.

IMG_1689

Ash Bash super excited for what’s about to go down

The fries were nothing sort of awesome. The jagged shape creates lots of crispy edges surrounding a fluffy potato center. They’re clean-cut and not too greasy, and actually quite good inside the burger itself.

Since the custard flavor of the day was chocolate chip cookie, I obviously couldn’t resist, but I was disappointed by the soupey texture. It should have been dense and cold, yet instead it turned out to be melted with lumps of chocolate. The flavors were there, but they need to repair their machine at this location.

Overall, I am oh-so happy I finally can check this burger off my list of must-dos before the dreaded NYC move.

Grade: B+ overall due to melted frozen custard, but the burger was amazing
Location: Multiple
Website

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Filed under American, Cheap Eat, Chelsea, Erin's Favorites, Flatiron, Union Square

Ippudo: everything they say it is

ippudo-storefront

I used to be ashamed to say that I have never been to Ippudo as a 5-year downtown New York resident. Shame, be gone, because guess what – I went last night! And because most New Yorkers were out of town celebrating America’s independence, my friend Sara and I only had to wait 1 hour at 7pm, which is pretty much a miracle given the average wait time each time I’ve asked has been no less than 3 hours. 

While I came for the ramen (yes, it’s ridiculously, unbearably hot in New York but I’m recovering from the flu), I leapt for joy (alone) when I examined Ippudo’s awesome cocktail list. After a little shochu with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and soda at the bar, Sara and I were seated in the chaos of shouting ramen chefs and privileged foodies chompin’ at the bit for their ramen to hit their table. Given I’ve waited 5 years to eat here, I didn’t want to mess around – we ordered the steamed pork buns, fried chicken wings, a green salad, and the Wasabi Shoyu Ramen, a soy sauce and vegetable based noodle soup that the waiter recommended as a lighter version of the thick pork broth that can get a little salty. The pork in the pork bun was perfectly crispy and meaty with just the right amount of fat content, but I by no means welcome mayonnaise in anything, and I couldn’t really get over the glob of mayo that caught my eye. The hot fried chicken wings with Ippudo’s black pepper sauce made up for it – a plate of 3 for $7 was a steal, and they were meaty, hot, crispy and totally unique in tangy peppery flavor. The crispy cabbage on the side rounded it out as the perfect small meal. The green salad was nothing to boast about, but that’s to be expected. 

steamed bun with pork

steamed bun with pork

crispy chicken wings!!

crispy chicken wings!!

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

wasabi shoyu ramen (the only vegetarian option)

Now, the ramen. I know the traditional order is one of the ramens in pork soup, but as a sickling all I wanted was something light and brothy. The shoyu ramen was the perfect answer. It was dark, earthy and rich in flavor, and with the side order of pork and a bounty of curly ramen noodles, it was absolutely filling. While the bamboo shoots were a little tough to chew, the soft slices of seaweed added a unique texture, I only wish there had been more. 

At just $25 per person, I left Ippudo feeling satisfied with the return on my investment – a rarity in this city of exorbitant prices and small food. When I’m willing to wait again with a party of 2 (probably no more, though they have a few pretty large tables), I will definitely be back. 

Grade: A-
Location: 65 Fourth Avenue @ 10th Street (new location in midtown west coming soon!)
Website

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Filed under Asian, East Village, Erin's Favorites, Japanese

Lafayette: neck and neck with Balthazar as my favorite brasserie

dj-laf-blog480

Balthazar is one of the few restaurants that has remained one of my favorites since since moving to New York 5 years ago (I still can’t get over how long it’s been). I love it for the atmosphere – the hastiness of the waitstaff zooming by, the energy of the people in the room, the wide brasserie style seating, and I go back each time of course for the food and drink – the amazing bread and butter, the simple salads, the hot fudge covered profiteroles, and the shockingly strong French 75’s get me every time. Everything about this place screams New York brasserie, which Keith McNally seems to do so well.

Never did I ever imagine that a newcomer could one up such a longstanding New York staple, but after my epic experience at beautiful Lafayette last Tuesday, I think Balthazar may need to up its game to remain the king of the brasserie crop. Lafayette, which took over the massive Chinatown Brasserie space, is a beautifully spacious, well-lit and enchanting French brasserie that transports you from New York city to a fantasy land (think Great Gatsby) where there’s not a care in the world. I walked in and gasped – a delectable boulangerie with mounds of pastries welcomes you at the entrance, and with staircases and side-by-side booths to optimize the space, there really doesn’t seem to be a bad table in the house. And just like Balthazar, there’s this inescapable and addictive vibrancy – everyone is more alive than ever: happy, hungry and actively people watching.

lafayette bakery

grandiose bakery upfront

Service was humble and spot on. After a few slices of the rustic sourdough bread with salted butter and a delicious glass of champagne (cremant de Bourgogne), we were served Eggs Lafayette, essentially two stuffed hard boiled eggs with sable fish and trout caviar. Absolutely heaven on earth, and pretty much the best, most unique rendition of deviled eggs I’ve ever had. Next was the Pate Maison, which came with brown ceramic jars of unlimited cornichons (great touch) and brown mustard and grilled rustic bread. This paired well with the massive, lightly dressed butter lettuce salad with roquefort and country ham. RARELY am I impressed by a salad, but this was so fresh, light and stunning with the creamy blue cheese. I was dying for a pasta, but in an effort to eat lightly I went for the steamed trout, served with an utterly flavorful bean and tomato “mush” that I couldn’t get enough of.

Dessert was insane too. Hot fried beignets with chocolate mousse fulfilled my craving for something classic, and the Sweet Cheese Cremant with blueberry sorbet proved that there’s more than just traditional dishes at this place. By the end of the meal, I was reluctant to leave our cozy booth for two, but I have every intention of coming back next week for a bowl of the gorgeous black fettuccine that was served to my neighbor.

pate maison (photo from seriouseats)

pate maison (photo from SeriousEats)

blueberry cremant (photo from SeriousEats)

blueberry cremant (photo from SeriousEats)

Compared to Balthazar, I think the standout difference of Lafayette is its slightly more elegant setting and menu (and a few more pastas) – Balthazar is just a touch more core to its rustic French brasserie roots. Either way, it’s going to be a real toss up the next time I’m in the mood for French food.

Grade: A+
Location: 380 Lafayette Street at the corner of Great Jones and Lafayette
Website:

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Filed under Brunch, Business Meal, Erin's Favorites, French, Fun Group Dinner, New American, Noho

Babbo: the special italian gem that never gets old

babbo

Ohh Babbo. I  love everything about this place. I love that it’s tucked away in a Greenwich village townhouse. I love the round table that anchors the space with cheese, wine and gorgeous fresh flowers (same flower director as Gramercy Tavern). I love the beautiful bar upfront, and I love the exposed staircase that leads to the second floor. I also love that they seat parties of 2 next to side by side in some booths. And lastly, but most importantly, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the food!

So, you all know I am a sucker for Italian food, but this I promise you is above and beyond in deliciousness. It’s not any more complex than you would expect, but the chef embraces each ingredient so carefully that you can’t help but cherish the flavor intensity. Absolutely delicious. If you can’t get a reservation (it’s still the hot commodity it always was), go early and sit at the bar.

While every dish I’ve had here has wowed me, the one that I order every time (when it’s on the menu) is the homemade mozzarella with grilled leeks on rustic Italian bread. You can’t go wrong with any of the pastas, and the incredible desserts (which in my opinion is a rarity for Italian restaurants) makes it the perfect spot for a special, celebratory occasion.

burrata special

burrata special

chickpea fritters with ricotta salata

chickpea fritters with ricotta salata

asparagus and fried pancetta tagliatelle

stinging nettle fettuccine with asparagus and fried pancetta 

simple spaghetti with bottarga

simple spaghetti with bottarga

black sea bass

wild striped bass with watercress pesto

way too much dessert

way too much dessert – the cheesecake is mind-blowing

special cookie plate

special cookie plate

Babbo is a little more on the fancier end of the spectrum of Italian restaurants, but don’t be fooled by the white table cloths and formal service – the food is pure, straight forward, Italian goodness. I can’t wait to return.

Grade: A+
Location: 110 Waverly Place btwn 6th Ave & Macdougal Street
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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Italian, West Village