Forgive me broader readership, I’m going super local today. Many of you probably know that I live in Westchester County, which borders New York City to the north and is flanked by the sailboat-dotted Long Island Sound to the East and the mighty Hudson River to the West. With the exception of college in Western Mass and a decade in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I’ve lived here for most of my life, and thought that was as good an excuse as any to offer a tour of my regular haunts. To be clear right up front: This is not a Best of Westchester List. It’s my very own, very biased hit list. It is especially biased towards the Rivertowns (Yonkers, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown) since that’s my hood, and also towards the lower Long Island Sound towns around Larchmont (since that’s where I grew up)…But what good is a list if it’s not subjective? ENJOY!
Favorite Bar: Harper’s Restaurant and Bar (Dobbs Ferry) You already know we like their gochujang ribs so much, we wrote about them in our latest Bon Appetit column, but beyond that, we love Harper’s for it’s seasonal menu, pressed tin ceiling, string-lighted garden patio, and most of all for its bar. I mean the drinks, of course — their cocktail menu is fresh and inventive without being gimmicky — but what I really mean is the bar itself. When we find ourselves with a kid-less evening, or when I just want to meet a friend for a quick weeknight dinner, I’ll shoot down here to have, say, a Smoked Orange Boulevardier and a sampler of small plates. (Insider order: You will never go wrong with the Bibb salad or the trout with the fennel and pickled onions.) Honorable mention for meze-at-the-bar: MP Taverna (Irvington)
Favorite Old School Pizza: Sal’s (Mamaroneck) Right off the bat, you should just assume that the foods I grew up eating while wearing ribbon barrettes and cut-off Esprit sweatshirts, are going to be the ones that instantly rise to the top. That is definitely the case with Sal’s in Mamaroneck, where I went for lunch almost every day in high school to eat a regular slice and throw back a Dr. Pepper. (For reasons that remain mysterious, it is still literally the only place I ever order a Dr. Pepper.) But here’s the thing: when I dragged Andy there soon after we met in college, he grew just as attached to it. As the years went on, we fell in love…with their salad pizza (shown above), which features tomatoes and shredded romaine tossed in that oregano-heavy oil and vinegar you can somehow only ever get at a legit Italian American restaurant. That slice alone makes it a destination spot for me, especially since it’s right in the heart of bustling Mamaroneck, and afterwards I can walk up and down Mamaroneck Ave procuring ingredients and Italian speciality items for all my future meals. (More on that below.) Insider tip: In high school, my brother, Phil, famously said, “There’s always a parking spot in front of Sal’s.” And it’s true! It’s like magic! (But maybe it only works for those of us who grew up here; keep me posted.)
Favorite New School Pizza: The Parlor (Dobbs Ferry) On a weekly basis, our family sits down at this spot, a five-minute drive from our house, and one of us says “How did we survive without The Parlor?” Dave DiBari (of Cookery fame, and something of a celebrity chef in Westchester) opened it two or three years ago and ever since, we’ve been obsessing over his brick oven artisanal pizzas topped with brussels sprouts and bacon, light-as-air polpette with ricotta, béchamel and hen of the woods. The David Chang-esque fried Brussels Sprouts salad with chili-honey and Rice Krispies might be our favorite dish in the Rivertowns. (Though their “salzone,” a calzone stuffed with creamy-dressed Bibb and gorgonzola might be closing in on that title.) The brick is exposed, the space is industrial, the music is loud. On Thursdays and the weekends it can be a long wait, so if the weather is cooperating, we often order take-out and bring it down to the Dobbs Ferry waterfront, three minutes away, for the world’s greatest picnic.
Favorite Place for Al Fresco Dining: Waterfront Park (Dobbs Ferry)…About that World’s Greatest Picnic. Almost every Rivertown has a waterfront park with dramatic views of the Hudson and Manhattan skyline, twenty-ish miles south. But only Dobbs Ferry’s has this picnic table (located at the northern-most point in the park) that is always covered in shade and offers the perfect perch for sunsets, skylines, and sailboats. When we can’t deal with having people over for dinner, we bring a tablecloth and our favorite take-out here, while all the kids play soccer or cavort on the playground. Honorable Mention for Waterfront Park (but no picnicking allowed): Manor Park (Larchmont), possibly my most favorite place in all of Westchester.
Favorite Parkway Pull-off: Rocky’s Millwood Deli (Millwood/Briarcliff Manor) When you live in Westchester you spend a lot of time on parkways — truck-less highways that often snake along rivers and lakes, and were built about a century ago in an effort to make trip into New York City a more scenic experience. (Think: The Anti-Bruckner.) Unless it’s rush hour, most of them live up to the mission, but in our house, it’s the Taconic, which cuts through the Hudson Valley straight up to Albany, that wins the prize for most fave. Mostly this is because we can make a pit-stop at 50-year-old Rocky’s Deli to pick up their famous Chicken Cutlet Sandwich. Rocky’s is an institution — equally popular among families on their way to soccer games, cyclists who hop off their trails (the North County Trailway runs right by it), travelers on their way down or upstate, and regulars who take advantage of its decidedly non-suburban hours: Open 24 hours, seven days a week. (Honorable Mention for Crispy Chicken Sandwich: Scaperrotta’s Deli, or “Scappy’s,” Dobbs Ferry.)
Favorite Japanese Market: Nijya (Hartsdale) Whenever you see sushi or raw fish on this blog, there is a 100% chance that it came from this market, a diamond in the rough on strip-mall-city Central Park Ave, the main drag that runs north-south in Westchester and essentially cuts the county in half. The store is part of a national chain, but somehow has the feel of a small-town vendor at the farmer’s market. When it’s sushi night (or poke night or sushi bowl night) in our house, we do a one-stop shop here. Not only is the fish the freshest (there is virtually no smell in the seafood section of the store in the back), but they sell beautiful, hard-to-find produce, like shiso leaves and the skinny Japanese cucumbers that are perfect in sushi rolls. My kids will tell you, they also offer an impressive selection of Wacky Pops, which somehow always end up in the shopping cart as well. Insider tip: If you need more than Japanese ingredients, Golden Village (Hartsdale), a mile or so south, will have literally any Asian ingredient you need.
Favorite Middle Eastern Market: Yaranush (White Plains) This place reminds me of the home in The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. A few blocks away from a I-287 junction, sandwiched in between car dealerships and gas stations, sits this old-school little Armenian-owned gem that offers everything you want a Mediterranean market to offer: dried fruits, grains and spices in bulk, hummus, babaganouj, home-baked pita, halvah, olives, honey, baklava. My friends Andy and Diron load up on all their apps (stuffed grape leaves and an assortment of pita and dips) when they’re entertaining and I’ve always meant to follow suit. Insider tip: Don’t leave without a bag of plump dried apricots and the Greek sheep’s-milk feta.
Favorite Mexican: Taco Project (Tarrytown) Anyone who follows me on instagram will not be surprised to see the Taco Project here. (Or, if you live in our house, “the Taco Proj”) This place rules. The tacos, of course are amazing: fresh, authentic, perfectly sized. But what I love is that it’s counter service with a few tables and a perimeter counter for casual eating. The room itself, with its brick-exposed wall and bright, happy teal and orange palate, is a reminder that it doesn’t take a lot to make a space feel spirited and fun. When we want to go out to dinner, but don’t want to a) drop a load of cash or b) eat pizza, this is an awesome option. It’s also an awesome option for after-school churros. Just sayin!
Favorite Hot Dog: Walter’s Hot Dogs (Mamaroneck)
I’ve had a lot of good luck in my life, but right up there at the top of the list has to be the fact that I went to high school across the street from Walter’s, home to what Gourmet magazine once awarded America’s best hot dog. (The locals were both honored and outraged by the accolades — as if the lines weren’t already long enough!) I know what you’re thinking: It’s not very hard to make a hot dog taste good — even the water-soaked limp dogs they pull from a street cart in Midtown is going to have its own special appeal — so really, how much better can Walter’s really be than most? Let me tell you the answer to that: A LOT BETTER. To begin with, they go with a blend of beef, pork, and (eek) veal, so right away it tastes a thousand times more flavorful. On top of that, they split the dogs, then fry them cut-side down in butter before slathering them on toasted buttered buns with their signature brown mustard. Lastly, they’re sold through the windows of a nearly 100-year-old Chinese Pagoda (below), deemed a National Historic Landmark in the 30s. I mean…how can you top that? (Insider tip: Lines are a lot shorter in the rain.)
Favorite Mexican, Part 2: Los Gemelos (Port Chester) They’ve moved locations in the past few years — and we miss their old, more intimate, more dive-y location right next to the Capitol Theater — but their food is still as authentic (and well-priced) as ever. We hit Los Gemelos for tostadas, burritos, and tacos on housemade corn tortillas after a morning walk through Pepsico Sculpture Gardens in Purchase (awesome), or before a concert at the Capitol. It’s the only place in Westchester where I don’t resent the TVs — mostly because they’re almost always tuned to soccer games. (Insider tip: For those of you whose first choice for tacos is the chain Bar Taco down the road, know that this is an excellent, dare I say, even-better option when their lines are just too epic.)
Favorite Food Truck: Pink Panther Taco Truck (Yonkers/Hastings border) Speaking of authentic tacos, THIS! Along Saw Mill River Road, always parked just south of the Farragut intersection in Hastings. Eating chicken tacos while sitting on the hood of our car in between camp and the pool: Summer in a nutshell.
Favorite Gourmet Market: Tarry Market (Port Chester) Walking in here is like walking into a dollhouse version of Eataly — not surprising, since it’s owned by the Batali-Bastianich empire, a team that knows how to bring it in the quality department. This is the place we one-stop shop for meat, produce, pasta, and cheese when we’re cooking for the boss or a special occasion. But even if we’re just in the area, without a boss to cook for, we’ll hit the espresso bar up front for Limonatas and caprese paninis.
Favorite Bagels: Bagel Power (Scarsdale) A common complaint from recent New York transplants is often: I miss the food. We were those complainers. We still are. But one thing you’ll never hear us complain about are the bagels. I can’t seem to drive more than five miles without finding world class options. Two minutes from our house is Hastings Own Bagels; in New Rochelle there’s Sammy’s New York Bagels; In Bronxville there’s Park Place Bagels. But after careful consideration and much consumption, the DALS family is in agreement that you’ll find the best Westchester bagel in a strip mall in Scarsdale at Bagel Power. Most of the time they’re warm (key), the flavor is slightly, subtly sweet, the crispy outside and doughy inside offer the ideal contrast, and most important for the under-12 set: They Have Rainbows. Insider tip: You won’t regret picking up a bag of the bagel chips or the rainbow cookies by the register.
Favorite Doughnuts: Galloway’s (Scarsdale) You gotta love a place that is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This old-school bakery (ca. 1956!) is famous for its pies (chocolate cream and apple crumb specifically), but if we’re in the hood, we forgo those for their fresh-baked warm doughnut holes dusted with cinnamon sugar. Be warned: The place is packed floor to ceiling with a ridiculous array of baked goods, so if you go with kids, you’ll walk out with way more than just doughnut holes. (Doughnut Honorable Mention: Westchester Greenhouses and Farms, Hartsdale)
Favorite Wine Shop: Rochambeau Wine & Liquors (Dobbs Ferry) From Andy, who is the chief wine patron in our house: “It’s our favorite but not just because they sell great and varied and well-priced wines. It’s great because they care, and because they actually know what they are talking about. There were days when I used to browse at wine stores, looking for things I recognized, trying to learn. Those days are gone. Now I just walk right up to the register and say, ‘Hey Jeff [Jeff Wooddy, the man in charge] we’re having people over for a BBQ tonight and we’re gonna sit outside and eat a bunch or ribs. I’m looking for a good rose.’ And then I will watch Jeff’s eyes light up. He will leave his perch behind the counter and show me what is new, tell me what he likes, and why it’s special. As he talks, I take mental notes so that I can then casually mention all of this to our guests, who will, in turn, assume that I actually know something about wine. The people who work at Rochambeau don’t just work at Rochambeau: they also buy for Rochambeau, and meet with all the best vendors and winemakers, and that kind of passion and knowledge is hard to come by. You can find it here.”
Favorite Farmer’s Market: Hastings Farmer’s Market (Hastings-on-Hudson) When sport schedules allow, you can pretty much always find us here on Saturday morning, prowling around for our favorite local treasures like lions on the hunt. Located in the local library’s parking lot, the market has breathtaking views of the Hudson and the Palisades, and under the guidance of superwoman Pascale LaDraoulec over the past decade, has exploded. You can almost always track down whatever Fetishy Food Find is in season (think: garlic scapes, ramps, rhubarb, favas), but more important, you can’t walk an inch without running into a friend or neighbor. (Our Saturday farmer’s ritual is so sacred, there’s an entire section devoted to it in my next book.) Don’t leave without: Pomegranate chutney from Bombay Emerald, Duck breasts from Hudson Valley Duck; the eggs and cider doughnuts (that one is Abby’s pick) at Wrights Farmers; any of the produce from Taliferro or Neversink; sweet Italian sausages and grass-fed burger patties from Southtown Farms; and whatever is local at Pura Vida Fisheries. This last one is the most important. We never leave without a bag of Little Necks, soft-shell crabs, striped bass, or grey sole, which will inevitably be dinner on Sunday night.
Favorite Bakery: By the Way Bakery (Hastings-on-Hudson) Though we can no longer count this as Westchester’s own, we are inspired and proud that Helene Godin’s gluten-free empire has expanded into Manhattan and beyond. (The corporate-lawyer-turned-entrepreneur has come a long way in a few short years!) We are obsessed with her almond cloud cookies and her marble tea cakes, but she seems to have gained a sizable following for big-ticket special occasion cakes, too. Also, not to be discounted: BTW serves Stumptown coffee.
Favorite All Around Place in the World: Stone Barns (Pocantico Hills) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can’t believe we live 15 minutes away from Stone Barns, the Rockefeller-owned agricultural center that is home to 1) The farm camp where my kids learned how to, among other things, make zucchini pancakes, teach baby chicks how to eat, and identify champagne currants, sorel, mugwort, and jewel weed in the wild. 2) Miles and miles of woodsy running and hiking trails that wind through cow pastures and around crystal blue lakes 3) The Grain Bar, a cafeteria-style cafe in the main courtyard where, after hiking or running, you can reward yourself with homemade bologna sandwiches and pickled vegetables, cheddar-kale scones, frittatas, tomato foccacias, all made with ingredients that come right from the fields surrounding the barn. 4) Blue Hill, Dan Barber’s restaurant, where we’ve celebrated milestone birthdays and anniversaries over some of the most innovative, farm-fresh dishes I will likely ever eat. (The eggplant cooked sous vide in the heat-generating compost pile comes to mind first.) Insider Itinerary: For the most perfect day trip to Westchester, head up in the late morning, hike to and around Swan Lake from the lower parking lot, finish at the cafe for lunch, then hit the gift shop/market and pick up a dozen eggs I can only describe as life-changing.
Favorite Special Occasion Restaurant: Inn at Pound Ridge (Pound Ridge) When you’re a 30-minute train ride away from the restaurant capital of the country, it can sometimes be hard to justify staying in the burbs for a high-qual celebratory dinner. But then we went to The Inn at Pound Ridge, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant built in a ca. 1833 inn, in the heart of a more rural part of the county, where lawns are sweeping, the roads are windy, and have names like Old Stone Hill and Twin Fawns. It’s not a “restaurant that could be in New York,” which is the way people tend to describe any place in Westchester that does not use parasols in their specialty cocktail, and that carries a slight whiff of resignation. With its original stone fireplaces, a menu majorly sourced from the Hudson Valley, and an elegant-yet-somehow-still-family-friendly vibe, IPR is uniquely, proudly Westchester and superior by any standard. The lighting alone — soft, golden, romantic is worth the price of admission. (Insider tip: Order the rigatoni with smoked ragu if it’s on the menu.)
Favorite Italian Specialty Store: A. Mercurio Sons (Mamaroneck) I grew up on this old-school Italian market’s offerings — my childhood freezer was stacked with boxes of cheese ravioli and little plastic pints of bolognese — but it took moving across the county for me to really appreciate it. Now, whenever I’m on that side of Westchester I LOAD up on so much more than I used to: the ravioli and bolognese of course, but also the prepared lasagna, baked ziti, chicken parm, the rigatoni they sell in the freezer at the register, their house-made mozzarella, and loaves of long Italian breads that I’ll slice and freeze (and top with that mozzarella) for the lunch box all week. As the dudes in The Incredibles said, “No School like the Old School.” Insider tip: While you’re on Mamaroneck Ave, head down the street to Cosmos and pick up sausages or Italian heroes or just to check out the ambitious offering of Italian speciality goods like olive oil and one-of-a-kind dried pastas.
Favorite Coffee: Multiple Options! (Tarrytown, Hastings) This is a tricky one. I am a writer, so naturally, coffee shops are sacred spaces for me — I’d estimate 75% of my work output over the past six years has been fueled by a caffeine-jacked cup of coffee while sitting in a cafe somewhere in Westchester. I don’t have any one favorite, but I tend to return to the same handful depending on my mood. Antoinette’s (Hastings) is presided over by the charismatic Kus, who roasts his own small-batch blends (Giacobean) in nearby Yonkers. Hanging out here will quickly disabuse you of the notion that everyone in Westchester walks around in tennis whites and Lululemon. The place is packed with screenwriters and media types and I find it’s just the right place to connect with locals and read the paper in the morning. Hastings Station Cafe is great for this, too, especially since so many locals have to walk by you to catch their train. I tend to visit Coffee Labs (Tarrytown) a lot, mostly because it’s convenient for me to sit there while my kids (who love the cute latte art, above) are at some practice or camp nearby — unlike Antoinette’s they have Wi-Fi; but my husband will drive out of his way to go here for the coffee, his top pick in the area. (They blend their own as well.) Down Main Street from Coffee Labs towards the river is relative newbie Muddy Water where I am right now actually), which is my vote for the most comfortable place to write. The space is sunny, the tables are long, the pastries are fresh, and the coffee is Bing Bang out of Peekskill.
Favorite Sushi: Sushi Mikes (Dobbs Ferry)Whenever we talk about Sushi Mikes with our city friends, they always laugh at the name (we did too when we heard it for the first time); it almost seemed to be going out of its way to sound like suburban, watered-down Japanese food. Turns out Mike Suzuki, the chef and owner here, is the one laughing all the way to the bank. People come from all over Westchester to patronize his warm, always-bustling little corner spot with mermaid murals on the walls. His sushi boats are regular sights at Rivertown parties — kids’ and parents’ alike. Our go-to take-out order, saved on iPhone notes: Six pieces salmon sushi, spider roll, shrimp tempura app, yellowtail scallion roll, shrimp shumai, chicken teriyaki.
Favorite Grocery Shopping: Trader Joe’s (Hartsdale); Mrs. Greens (Tarrytown); Whole Foods (Yonkers) Of all the questions I get the most from locals, it’s this: Where do you do your weekly shop? The answer? It depends what time of year and what kind of weekend it is — weekends being the time when we always do the major shopping. In the best case scenario, we load up on fresh produce, meat, and fish at the Hastings Farmer’s Market (see above), then supplement with a Trader Joe’s shop for the staples. (Produce, as you all know, remains a weak link at TJoes. What is up with that??) But if it’s not market season (June through November) we will try to hit Trader Joe’s plus Mrs. Greens for produce; or, when we don’t have time and we can only do a one-stop shop, we’ll just do Whole Foods for the Whole Shebang. (I try my hardest to avoid this last scenario because our grocery bill, no surprise, ends up about 20% higher.) Also of note: When I first started working from home, I went to Fairway (Harlem and Pelham) in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week…just because I could.
Favorite Birthday Cakes: Riviera Bakehouse (Ardsley, pictured)
Favorite Healthy Meal at Ridge Hill Shopping Center: Sashimi Tuna Salad at The YardHouse (Yonkers)
Favorite Indian Market: Bhavik Market (Elmsford)
Favorite Newcomer: Rosemary and Vine (Rye)
Favorite Fish Market: Bronxville Fish Market (Bronxville)
Favorite Drink with River Views: The roof or terrace at Red Hat on the River (Irvington)
Favorite Hibachi Birthday Party for Kids: Osaka (Tarrytown)
Favorite Pizza Birthday Party for Kids: Frank Pepe (Yonkers)
Favorite Hard-to-Find Foods Shop: Mint (Tarrytown, above)
Favorite Restaurant I Haven’t Tried Yet* But Keep Meaning To Because Seems Like Everyone in Food World is Talking About it: Fortina (Armonk; also Rye Brook, Stamford, CT, Brooklyn in late 206, and Yonkers in Spring 2017)
Favorite Meat Market that I Wish Would Open Already: Campbell’s (Dobbs Ferry)
Favorite (and only) Westchester Shake Shack: Yonkers Shake Shack in the Cross-County Mall (Just opened last week! heading there tonight or tomorrow…wish me luck.)
*Update: I hit Fortina (Armonk) and finally got to see (and eat) what all the fuss is about. Oh my goodness the truffle pizza, the sugar snap peas with the horseradish, the Chicken Parm! Such good vibes in that place. Highly recommend.
Whew! I think it might be time for me to figure out the old slideshow thing.
PS: I’m almost afraid to ask: What am I missing out on??? Please clue me in below!
Photo credits Sal’s Salad Pizza: Yelp; Tarry Market Meat: EarthOceanSkyRedux; Harper’s Bar: 3Industries; Walter’s Hot Dog: Westchester Magazine; Walter’s Exterior: Walter’s Hot Dogs; Yaranush: Test Kitchen; Taco Project: Zagat; Stone Barns: Fifiandhop; Los Gemelos: TripAdvisor; Hastings Market: Westchester Magazine; Inn at Pound Ridge: The New York Times; Coffee Labs: Coffee Labs Instagram; Sushi Mikes: Yelp.