The rich scent of real hickory, apple, cherry, and oak wood drifts from low smoldering fires, infusing the racks of meat above with flavor in a Southern Pride smoker. Drawing inspiration from all over the south, SuzyQue?s BBQ & Bar?s cooks apply spicy dry rubs to every ounce of meat before slow-smoking them, then diners can either enjoy it au-natural or slather plates with one of their signature sauces. Their sauces are inspired by recipes from Texas, North Carolina, and St. Louis and built upon a Vinegar, Tomato, or Molasses base. They also whip up an Orange Habanero sauce full of peppery spice.
The resulting mountains of melt-off-the-bone ribs, smoked wings, sausage, and brisket come to table alongside fine dining entrees, including rib-eye steak, fried chicken, and grilled salmon. Eight on-tap and 18 bottled beers lodge at the full bar, along with glasses of craft cocktails and wine, preparing palates for dessert and punctuating the sound of live bands, comedians, and poker games.
Though they can grill up tender pork ribs and make a mean barbecue sandwich, the chefs at Pepe’s BBQ really shine with their authentic Peruvian cooking. Within their smoky kitchen, they fold tender slices of steak into traditional dishes such as lomo saltado and bisteck a lo pobre. They pluck plump chickens straight from the spears of fiery rotisserie grills, then serve the birds Peruvian-style: dressed in spices and hand-knitted alpaca caps. To craft their ceviche dish, the chefs marinate fresh seafood in lime juice, onions, and cilantro. Diners await meals such as this next to the lofty windows in the seating area while sipping on fizzy Inka Cola—a sweet soft drink imported from Peru.
Yes, Hill Country is a restaurant, but no hostess will seat you and no server will come by to take your order. Instead, arriving patrons are given a meal ticket, which they carry into a Texas-style market. At one counter, they order meats by weight, watching as pitmasters pull their selection from smoking pits fueled with Texas post oak and the menus of lesser barbecue restaurants. The menu includes the signature moist brisket—juicy, fatty morsels that New York Times’ reporter Pete Wells is said to order a pound of every time because it shows “Hill Country’s rotisserie barbecue pits at their finest.” Whatever meat guests choose, it’s carved onto sturdy sheets of butcher paper they carry with them as they stop at additional counters to collect sides and desserts.
Though all meat is served with white bread or crackers, a lineup of sides includes corn pudding, Longhorn cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, and sweet potato bourbon mash. The dessert case displays temptations such as banana pudding, which Wells gushed is “built upon a custard so thick with eggs and cream it brings Paris to mind.” Guests can return to the counters as many times as they like; each item ordered is noted on their ticket, which they turn in to the cashier at the end of the meal. The menu has some devoted culinary fans—renowned food critic Frank Bruni named Hill Country one of his five favorite restaurants, for instance—but the eatery attracts a musically inclined audience as well. Downstairs in the Boot Bar, a state-of-the-art stage hosts nationally touring blues, alt-country, and honky-tonk acts that have included Dale Wilson and Roseanne Cash. The shows take place Tuesday–Saturday nights, and are often free of charge.
At the center of the platters of miso-soaked steak, intricately marbled Kobe-style short ribs, garlic shrimp, and fresh veggies that crowd any given table at Gyu-Kaku sits a yakiniku grill, ready to bring all these flavors to life. At more than 700 locations worldwide, parties choose from a cornucopia of ingredients, tell their servers how they'd like them marinated—in sauces ranging from the strictly traditional to basil pesto—then begin searing their feast over the smokeless gas grill. New York magazine admired how "dominoes of harami skirt steak, marinated in sweet dark miso, turn caramelized and succulent on the hot grill." If protein overload looms, there are stone bowls of bibimbap and ramen to add balance. Patrons can wash down their meals with super-premium daiginjo sakes, sweet Japanese plum wines, and Asahi Super Dry beer, known to enhance its imbibers' deadpan witticisms.
Eight Mile Creek unfurls across two floors, transporting New York diners down under with an exotic spread of Australian pub-style cuisine and imported spirits. Splashed in the flickering glow of candlelight, bronze-tiled walls establish the restaurant's rustic feel, as guests browse menus stocked with grilled-kangaroo skewers, burgers, and elegant entrees such as racks of Aussie lamb. On the first floor, live music further inflates casual airs with energized tunes, and themed holiday parties offer visitors an alternative to stuffy office banquets and get-togethers with socially awkward snowmen. During summer months, Aussie beers and New Zealand wines accompany warm breezes on an outdoor patio, where a wooden deck and an exposed-brick walls combine to create a tranquil dining experience.
Pat and Gina Neely are comfortable with helping feed the masses. In addition to owning and operating family barbecue restaurants in Tennessee, they host Food Network’s Down Home with the Neelys, teaching a national audience to create satisfying Southern comfort foods. At Neely's Barbecue Parlor, the couple brings a bit of Tennessee to the Big Apple while still making room on the menu for other Southern staples and regional classics. In addition to re-creating classic Memphis-style baby back ribs, the chefs forge tangy Kansas City–style ribs and smoky Texas-style brisket. Even with these regional variations, virtually every dish seems to have been culled from a family cookbook of simple, hearty, and down-home favorites. Blackened catfish and country-fried steak cling to their Southern roots, as do the side dishes, which include everything from cornbread and molasses baked beans to collard greens and creamed corn. This homespun influence is most apparent in the restaurant's decor, which brims with handpicked vintage furniture and accessories. "'Parlor' is the operative term here," according to the New York Times, and the mismatched dining chairs and french windows contribute to this casual atmosphere. The restaurant is divided into seven seating areas, each of which embraces its own theme by mimicking a room of a stately Southern home. The den's wooden accents and neutral-toned walls stand in stark contrast to the more formal and intimately sized dining room with its damask-patterned red walls and solitary chandelier.