Simonez is a man of many hats. But when it comes to cuisine, he becomes ChefSez, who knows all about the best food spots in the city. Since Fashion Week has just started, we wanted to know where his favorite late night eats are. He has an endless supply of knowledge on that matter.
Simonez: I remember in the mid-to-late-nineties I used to go to Florent in the meatpacking, or Punjabi for fashion week. And all my English friends would head there after hours, after the party. It was the cheapest food, it was easy, and it was amazing, and it was very New York — 24/7, which is what NY is all about. New York now is kind of sad because all of those places are closing down, so it’s harder to find places where you can go 24/7. Vaselka still exists; it’s like a diner — Ukrainian, Russian food. But much more diner food. But it’s good, if you want scrambled eggs, lox. The thing about eating late in New York is that it’s mostly diner food. In the East Village, there is also Empire Biscuit, which is located at 198 Avenue A, between 12th and 13th Streets. They have super-crispy spicy fried chicken sandwich — my fave — but you can also opt for a make-your-own deal if your palate's feeling.
What about the West Village?
The Waverly Inn diner, in the West Village, that’s a classic for late night. I used to go there a lot. I don’t know if they’re open 24/7, but they’re open late, serving dinner. So that should be another spot to go. French Roast, on 6th Avenue and 11th street, it’s in the West Village. That’s a classic. L’Express, which is on Park Avenue. Corner Bistro, that’s a late one. Good burgers. I remember their Tuesdays...
Right next to Beatrice...
Right, so people would go pre-drinks. Because it’s cheap! You can buy a beer there, and if you want to drink cocktails you would go there. I think they made a lot of money because of Beatrice… Because it’s a very neighborhood place, and then people who don’t live in New York would come to get drinks, and then it would take them to corner bistro, and they would say “Oh what’s this? It’s very American, very New York.” So that was the cool thing to do.
There’s another late-night place that would be good to eat, Coffee Shop. This place is on the map; it’s not like I’ve discovered a new place. Coffee Shop is in Union Square. I think it was one of the first places that we would go late at night, because models used to work there. They had a policy where they would only hire models. I know photographers who worked there and models who worked there and for them it was like the New York thing.
I know a couple of Chinese bakeries that serve breakfast, Chinese-style breakfast, and are open at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., it depends. There is also Hopkee, which is famous for late night dining; it’s a Chinese restaurant, and a lot of people go there from the hospitality business, from nightclubs. Another Chinatown late night spot is Wo Hop, on 17 Mott St.
The problem with all of the places I’ve mentioned is they are not necessarily culinary places. It’s not like you go there because it’s refined and with good food. I like Punjabi because it’s actually good food, and cheap. I think it’s the only place that’s like that; Vaselka you could say is like a “food place” but it’s not meant to be that kind of atmosphere. It’s a place where you can go and eat some eggs because it’s 5 o'clock in the morning.
Chinatown has Bayard, 69 Bayard, that’s another place, a Chinese restaurant. Noodle Town, that’s 24/7. That’s a pretty famous one. What else? It’s hard, because New York has changed a lot; there used to be many more places. There used to be Kebab places, Indian places, taxi places, but they don’t exist because of rent; rent goes up and...
What about Uptown? It’s 3 a.m. and you’re in a cab and you’re going to Harlem.
Yeah we could go to Harlem. There’s this place called Harlem Tavern. It’s not the greatest food, but you can have your mac n’cheese, and some lobster. You can listen to Dipset… be very cool and very New York and head uptown for drinks and lobster mac and cheese. If you really want Latin food you can go to Cochifrito, which is in East Harlem, 116 Lexington Avenue. It’s very typical Spanish food, rice and beans and plantains and it closes at 3 a.m. Those are the two spots that are open late if you want to go on an adventure. Those are the two places I recommend.
Tell us about a few late night spots in Midtown.
K-Town, we have the seafood pancake special. This is Kom Gang Sin, between 5th and Broadway, very popular place, people know it. It’s very late night. One of my favorite is called Turntable Chicken; it’s on 5th avenue between 32nd and 33rd; you have to go upstairs because it’s the second level. It’s such a weird place. You walk in and it’s music-themed with turntables; the chicken is delicious — it’s better to go there in groups, because you can order the 12-piece chicken and it’s deep fried chicken — they’re specialists in chicken. I would do my birthday there, actually. Talking about late night partying, you can also go — there’s a taco truck located on 14th between 6th and 7th, opposite Up and Down, right across the street. After a night of clubbing you can go to this taco place. Another Midtown 24/7 place is Empanada Mama, who serves everything from arepas to tapas to heavier entrees like spicy pollo alla plancha. Empanada Mama is located at 763 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd Street.
What about the Financial District?
Well, in the Financial District, it’s very hard to find one, but there’s Cafe Tomato, a sandwich- and coffee-type of place at 142 Fulton St. There is also Cafe de Novo on 94 1/2 Greenwich St, which functions like a deli 24 hrs — but they have Korean food!
I’m also opening a place, a late-night place, called Cafe Bambi on 107 Eldridge. And it’s going to open hopefully soon. The food is going to be an homage to the neighborhood.