Discover more from Rat Report
Rat Report Dining: Lovable Shitholes
Bad Vibes = Great Food
One of the best parts of living in New York City is exploring all of the authentic hole in the wall restaurants. A good hole in the wall is a refreshing reminder that not all restaurants in the city have a vibey, TikTok-inspired atmosphere that is all too common in hip restaurants these days. One of the great difficulties of living in the city is receiving a restaurant recommendation and not knowing whether the food is actually good or if it’s just a fun place to take pictures.
In fact, any restaurant that has invested too much in good vibes is likely to have sub-par food. The more grungy and bare-bones the restaurant is, the more likely it is to be delicious; if a restaurant in New York City has terrible vibes then the only way it can stay in business is by serving amazing food. All this is to say that the best food in New York City can often be found in restaurants that kind of look like shitholes.
But how do you know if a restaurant is a shithole? There are several telltale signs.
Bad Lighting - Is the restaurant illuminated entirely by fluorescent lighting? Do your retinas ache after spending too much time there?
Frightening Bathroom - Does the bathroom look like a CIA black site? Do you fear contracting an illness while using the facilities?
Cash Only - Does the restaurant only accept cash? Are they delaying joining the 21st century and probably evading taxes while they're at it?
Lack of Decor - Does it have terrible decor, or better yet, lack decor entirely? Does it resemble a college freshman’s dorm room?
If a restaurant adheres to one or more of the guidelines described above, it’s probably kind of a shithole, but that’s a good thing because if the vibes are 0, the food is often a 10. Here are a few of our favorite shithole restaurants.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou
This restaurant boasts drab walls, grimy floors, and disposable plastic plates. It's ambiance is closer to that of a sad laundromat than a restaurant. Oh, and they also serve some of the best dumplings I have ever tasted. This particular restaurant is called Shu Jiao Fu Zhou, and no, I don't know how to pronounce it; you and your friends will probably just end up calling it "the dumpling place," and that's okay. They have other food too, like simple noodle dishes, but the dumplings are the star here.
It’s crowded, cash-only, and chaotic.
From the outside you'd think it was some type of money laundering operation.
Sunny & Annie’s Deli
Sunny & Annie’s Deli is a bodega on Avenue B, and is more like a tiny convenience store than a deli. You walk into a cramped space where people congregate around an enormous wall of handwritten menus made of construction paper which describe dozens of types of sandwiches. A hat, barely visible above the menu wall, floats back and forth behind the menus. That’s the sandwich man.
The line seems to have no beginning and no end, so you just stand there and wait for the sandwich man to bark out in a gruff voice to nobody in particular, "can I help you?" You can't see him, but you state the name of the sandwich you want. He'll ask, "hot or cold?" You tell him hot or cold but will receive no acknowledgement. I hope he heard me, you'll think to yourself. Don't worry. He heard you.
Two photos of celebrities beam down from the walls. I've come to realize that a telltale sign of a good hole in the wall restaurant is pictures of celebrities with the restaurant owners. If multiple famous people have climbed out of their limousines to buy a sandwich in this claustrophobia-inducing bodega then it must be good.
I order the Pho #1 sandwich, and it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had. I’ve been back countless times and have tried others, but keep coming back to the Pho #1.
I also love that these sandwiches can be eaten by a normal person in one sitting. Rather than relying on the "giant sandwich" gimmick that so many mediocre delis seem to employ, Sunny & Annie's just serves great sandwiches. You'll walk away with one normal-sized, delicious sandwich rather than a shitty sandwich the size of a toddler.
Months later, as you're reviewing purchases on your credit card, you'll see a charge for something called "ONE PLUS ONE TWO INC" and rack your brain trying to remember what that the hell that was. You'll begin to panic, thinking that someone has been using your credit card to buy things. Only later will you realize that ONE PLUS ONE TWO INC is just Sunny & Annie's calling itself something weird on your credit card statement, just proving one final time that it’s kind of a shithole. Truly nothing about going to Sunny & Annie’s Deli is pleasant until you get your sandwich, but the sandwich makes it all worthwhile.
Saravanaa Bhavan is a little different than the other restaurants because it’s a chain restaurant from India with over 100 locations around the globe. I believe that this earns them extra credit because they’ve managed to maintain their terrible atmosphere despite achieving commercial success.
Saravanaa Bhavan is a box on 26th and Lexington with white walls, beige floors, and a white ceiling, which makes it feel like you’re eating dinner in Purgatory; it’s a glitch in Manhattan absolutely devoid of stimulus besides your food and fellow diners.
The menu looks like it was made in Microsoft Word.
The food is served on a metal tray reminiscent of a prison cafeteria, and the tables are so small that your food extends over the edge where it obstructs the walkway between tables.
All these details aside, the food here is amazing. Saravanaa Bhavan serves dosas, which are like crispy Indian pancakes made from lentils and rice. Sometimes it comes with stuff inside like cheese and potatoes.
To sum it all up, these are three amazing restaurants that also happen to be shitholes. By focusing on the food rather than the vibes they are able to provide truly spectacular meals. Sometimes, if you want to go where the good food is, you have to go where the vibes aren’t. And that’s okay. Here at Rat Report, we’d take good food over good vibes any day of the week. We highly recommend you stop by one of these establishments for dumplings, sandwiches, or dosas.
If you know of any delicious shitholes around the city that we should check out, let us know in the comments!
Get Rat Report delivered directly to your inbox!