Richard Ho is Californian at-heart. He is from San Gabriel Valley, where he grew up eating his mother’s Taiwanese food. Ho Foods seeks the excellence of the home-cooked Taiwanese meals he experienced as a child, including his well-known beef noodle dish. Beef noodle shops, Richard explained to the Manhattan Sideways team, are like pizza shops in Taiwan, but they were not necessarily always popular. In fact, beef noodles were originally soldier food that ultimately became a large part of the Taiwanese diet.
Growing up in the LA-area, Richard never felt that he experienced any Americanized version of culture or food, but rather was able to be immersed in pockets of culture hard to find elsewhere. When he first moved to New York in 2007, he worked as a manager at Blue Ribbon Sushi, but found while living here that no one made Taiwanese food like his mother did. So, Ho Foods was born in January 2018, with a curated menu that feels like his home.
The idea? Take simple, classic comfort food from his youth and translate it into a restaurant setting. The staff works like a home as well - everyone cooks, everyone cleans, everyone serves. Each member has “kind of been a friend” - they met through mutual connections or college. Richard has been surprised by the passion they have taken to learning about Taiwanese culture, whether that be cooking techniques or even the language. Christian, a member of the staff at Ho Foods, is so confident in his pronunciation of dishes that people often assume he fluently speaks Mandarin.
When we asked Richard about why he chose 7th Street and how it has been working out, he told us that he feels connected to the building. A friend previously lived there and even wrote their name in the cement before he came, so it felt a little like he had been there before. He enjoys his location in the East Village, calling it "not-so-obvious." In addition, he has found that there is a loyal Taiwanese community wanting to support each other, and in search of places that celebrate and capture their culture;. And, through this endeavor, he has realized the extensive, and sometimes unlikely, connections people have to Taiwan.
Laughing, Richard went on to say that he has encountered a number of Polish customers who claim the Taiwanese beer he serves reminds them of one from Poland. Richard’s perspective on the business is in many ways simple. A focus on comfort, taste, and family-like service is always a safe bet. His philosophy comes from an opinion that "Life is just better when there’s food between two people."
We stopped in for an early lunch at Dumpling Man. After hearing from a bartender down the street that the dumplings were “oh so good, ” we had to find out for ourselves. The menu was simple and concise, yet complex in the flavorful concoctions you could pack into your dumpling. One of us ordered a mixture of pork and chicken, and another had the vegetable one. The dumplings arrived – the juicy meat steamed perfectly within the browned casings, and the veggie choice, filled with tofu and mushrooms was delicious as well. As everyone ate their savory dumplings, we were entertained, watching the deft hands of the chefs roll out dumpling dough that would soon be filled, steamed or fried, then eaten by the next lucky customer.
“My parents were definitely not thrilled when I opened the restaurant, ” said Thomas Chen, executive chef and founder of Tuome. It didn’t matter that he had taken classes at the International Culinary Center or worked at restaurants as renowned as Jean-Georges, Commerce, and Eleven Madison Park. His parents, Chinese immigrants who had opened a restaurant to survive, believed that working as a chef was not the way to a better life. Since Tuome opened in 2014 to great critical acclaim, Thomas’ parents have started to come around. But no matter what they think of the restaurant, there is no denying the huge influence they have had on Tuome. According to Thomas, many of the menu items—including his personal favorite, chicken with gem lettuce—are modeled on the foods he ate as a child. Even the restaurant’s name is a tribute to his mother, who called him “Tommy” as a child, but pronounced it “Toe-me. ”Thomas has also taken culinary cues from the high-end New York restaurants where he started his career, and he describes Tuome as “American with Asian influences. ” A trip to Asia played an important role in his cooking style as well—he was especially inspired by the made-to-order dim sum in Hong Kong and the unique flavors of Thai food. I was eager to ask Thomas about his entrees, many of which require hours of preparation. The “Pig Out for Two, ” one of Tuome’s best-selling dishes, is cooked for fifteen hours in duck fat, while the veal and the egg tartare both take three hours to prepare. “We do sell out at a certain point, ” Thomas explained, “because we only have one convection oven and the amount of food we can produce is limited. ” But the restaurant has never had any catastrophes; a former accountant, Thomas has a system in place to predict how much food he will need on any given night. With its hip décor and intimate atmosphere, Tuome is perfect for a weekend date night. But Tuesdays may, in fact, be the best day to stop by, as Thomas tends to showcase off-menu dinner and dessert items at the beginning of the week. I asked him for a few examples and immediately regretted it—for the rest of the afternoon, I daydreamed about duck dumplings, summer sundaes, and Chinese beignets with goat’s milk caramel, fig jam, and red bean glazed ice cream. When I asked Thomas what he cooks at home, he smiled sheepishly. “I don’t really cook at home, ” he said. “Water bottles are the only thing in my fridge. ” Instead, he often goes out to eat at restaurants near his house, finding inspiration in their unique flavors and ingredients. Though he doesn’t live in the East Village, he decided to open a restaurant there because he was attracted to the atmosphere. “It’s a melting pot for different cuisines, ” he told me, “and the locals really appreciate good food in a casual setting. ” Tuome is also a favorite among foreigners—particularly tourists from France, Switzerland, and Hong Kong—who discover the restaurant online. On my way out the door, I asked Thomas about the challenges of owning a restaurant. The hardest part, he told me, is the lack of sleep—on a normal day, he arrives at Tuome around 1pm and doesn’t leave until 1am. But he loves experimenting with new ingredients and creating his own menu, and he is constantly searching for ways to improve the restaurant. And that is what he plans on doing in the near future: changing Tuome’s menu seasonally, mixing things up, evolving.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.