We like to think of Jess Bender as a human restaurant app—relentless, thorough, and programmed with excellent taste. Before we were lucky enough to nab her, she reviewed countless restaurants for Seamless and Zagat. Let’s just say Jess has eaten something in every neighborhood in this town (and probably on most blocks) and taken meticulous notes and pictures. Not only does she know what the appetizers are at, say, Lupe’s East L.A. in Tribeca, she knows what’s good (the veggie tamales). That’s why we turn to her every time we’re looking for the perfect restaurant in Williamsburg (The Commodore, she says), a fun place to eat outdoors with friends (Bierstrasse in Harlem), a great bar in Queens (Diamond Dogs), or a date-night spot in the East Village (Edi & the Wolf). We love that Jess seeks out the hole-in-the-wall noodle shops and the humble hot dog stands and is always game to try everything and anything—from fermented duck embryos to skewered tuna eyeballs to 172 doughnuts—as she goes.
She’s still on the hunt for the perfect iteration of her favorite cocktail, the old-fashioned, though. Any recommendations for her?
Jess Bender’s Best of New York City
Bar Buddha Beer Bar on the cusp of Washington Heights and Inwood. Its draft list is ever-changing and highlights a lot of breweries you don’t often see at your usual neighborhood bar. Its wings are also some of the best I’ve ever had.
Ice cream Ice + Vice is a game changer in the ice cream world. The seasonal flavors are outrageous (black garlic ice cream with sweet corn crumble, what?!), but my usual order is the Opium Den (white sesame ice cream with toasted poppy seeds and a lemony crouton).
Taco I used to live around the block from Tehuitzingo in Hell’s Kitchen, so I would go there and order late-night lengua + al pastor tacos more often than I should have.
Dessert I’ve gone significantly out of my way several times to pick up a slice of Ovenly’s Brooklyn Blackout cake. It reminds me of the scene in Matilda in which Ms. Trunchbull forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of his classmates. I’d probably do the same thing with this cake if I had the chance.
Breakfast I can talk about bagels for hours, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve talked about the ones made at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company (specifically the location on Broadway in Astoria). My go-to order is a whole wheat everything with lox-scallion cream cheese.
Bloody Mary The bartenders at Jacob’s Pickles put an entire breakfast in your Bloody BLT. The smoky bacon and jalapeño-pickled egg is practically its own appetizer.
Coffee shop Sweetleaf on Center Boulevard in Long Island City. I still go out of my way to visit now and then (even though it takes an hour, but long commutes are why podcasts were made, right?), and the trip is worth it for the raspberry oat bars and superstrong iced coffee.
Restaurant for dinner with your parents My parents are huge fans of Cafe Habana on Spring Street. It’s not the usual crowd that most parents go for, but they really love people-watching while eating their corn on the cob smothered in Cotija and lime juice.
Food truck You should try a torta at least once in your life, and you should be getting it from the trunk underneath the 7 train in Corona called Tortas Neza. Its Tortas Pumas is a monster and could feed a family, but you won’t regret eating the entire thing in one go.
Day trip One of my new favorite fall activities is taking Metro-North to Beacon and exploring all the unique large-scale sculptures among the foliage at Storm King Art Center. If you visit the area early enough, get yourself to Beacon Bread and grab a loaf of bread to snack on.