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During my final NYC visit of 2011 I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and continued on my never-ending quest to explore the unique bites that make the city the best place to eat in the U.S.

Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is a lovely spot for a stroll, and now that I’ve discovered Christie's Jamaican Patties I’ll always have a go-to spot for a quick, cheap snack for the park. Spicy, flaky and authentic, these patties prove popular with a colorful mix of budget-minded hipsters, cab drivers needing a snack, and devoted locals picking up a dozen for entertaining guests at home.

 

 

 

 


Queens’ Corona neighborhood is a bastion of Mexican culture, and the relative newcomer Tortilleria Nixtamal is a one-stop shop for freshly made tortillas and inexpensive tacos and tamales. Sold by the pound, the corn tortillas have a deeply unctuous flavor that’s rarely found in a grocery’s tortilla section, and the firm, chewy discs quickly improve any at-home Mexican recipe one can think of. The mole tamale wasn’t too shabby either.

 

 

 


Any opportunity to swing by the Lemon Ice King of Corona is a welcome one. Just a short stroll of Nixtamal, this legendary stand is a borough institution, regardless of the weather, for its tart, refreshing lemon ice. They won’t let you combine flavors, so I usually grab a small lemon followed by a small scoop of another flavor -- cantaloupe is a current favorite.

 

 

 

 

I try to make it out to Flushing at least once a year, as true Asian food lovers know this frenetic Queens neighborhood is NYC’s #1 spot for truly authentic treats from all corners of the continent. I headed to Sky View Mall, a new development on the edge of the neighborhood, not for the area’s first Five Guys, but to check out Sky Foods, a glistening “big box” Asian supermarket. The produce section particularly stood out, as it was stocked with numerous unrecognizable objects and a killer seaweed bar.

 

 

 

Rounding out my outer borough discoveries was Yun Nan Flavour Snack, a shabby shack tucked away off of 8th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. English is limited in this six-seat operation, but a bit of research revealed that the husband-and-wife duo at the counter churn out a variety of exotically-flavored soups from China’s Yunnan province. For about $5 you’ll get a steaming bowl filled with spongy rice noodles, your choice of meat, and a dollop (stick with one) of homemade chili paste. The blogosphere has caught on to this place, meaning that you’ll likely squish yourself between a homesick local and an adventuresome culinary explorer.

 

 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a pair of Manhattan destinations that, for whatever reason, I’ve often overlooked: Schaller and Weber and Malaysia Beef Jerky.

The Upper West Side’s Schaller & Weber is one of the neighborhood last remaining holdovers from when it was the city’s center of Germanic food and culture. A virtual cornucopia of German treats, it remains a first-class, old-school operation complete with incredibly knowledgeable (and often cranky) butchers and an endless array of imported foodstuffs. Best of all, even the tiniest NYC kitchen can accommodate this shop’s award winning sausages and charcuterie -- all you need is a pan or an oven (even a toaster oven will do).

 

 

 

Located where Chinatown melts into Nolita, Malaysia Beef Jerky is a humble storefront that sells intensely flavored strips of jerky that will make even the most skeptical jerky naysayers rethink their stance. Pork, shrimp, chicken and beef is sold in both chopped and sliced varieties -- I preferred beef and pork and found both the chopped and sliced varieties to have an invitingly smoky flavor and unusual-but-fun mouth feel. Eaten straight-up or fried and chopped into a dish or a salad, these Asian delights provide an only-in-NYC (unless you want to fly over the Pacific) culinary experience.

 

 

 

While in NYC my focus usually stays tethered to my stomach, but since it was the holiday season I managed to fit a couple of shopping trips into my agenda. (When it comes to presents, the Malaysian jerky doesn’t travel as well as a keychain or t-shirt.) Barneys hosted Lady Gaga’s Workshop, and while I’m not the biggest fan of her music, she clearly has a unique sense of style, as evidenced by the Gaga-curated wares on offer. Even fellow shopper David Geffen seemed impressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equally impressive was the Wired Magazine Pop-Up Store in Times Square (held in the space vacated by the ESPN Zone). The futuristic shop was grouped by theme and filled with prototypes and cutting-edge technology, and it was the “Gastronaut” section that really caught my eye. If only the Paul Frank kitchen-ready air purifier ($500) fit into my carry-on! Talk about an easy, functional way to add some style to your home kitchen.

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