NYCReview

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

53 image
8.6

53

Southeast AsianChinese

Midtown

$$$$Perfect For:Special OccasionsBusiness MealsImpressing Out of TownersSmall PlatesDrinking Good Wine
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When eating out, we often have one of two thoughts: “The room’s really cool, but the food’s just okay” or “Everything’s delicious, but the decor is kind of meh.” Turns out, a lot of places that are killing it in the kitchen look like page 27 of a Room & Board catalog. 53, however, has a space that should be studied at Parsons and food that’ll make you book your next reservation before you even finish your meal.

This “contemporary Asian” spot from the Marea team is right next door to the MoMA, so it’s only fitting that it raises the bar for restaurant design in NYC. The street-level lounge, which is covered in a backlit structure resembling an upside down half pipe, looks like the airport hangar Anna Wintour would build for her private jet. Downstairs, there’s a larger dining room where you’ll see CFO types on post-divorce dates and travelers who are in town “on business” because their parents just scooped up a whole floor of condos on Central Park South. It features sweeping curved, rainbow-colored blades across the ceiling that will make you think of strings on a giant harp.

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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

In a space like this, you might expect all of the food to be avant-garde, covered in edible flowers. Some dishes do lean dainty—but most of the menu consists of things like dim sum, fried rice, and stir-fried beef and vegetables. You'll try some items that look familiar, but they'll feel brand new after a few bites.

Everything here is prepared with as much precision as NASA would demonstrate for a mission to Mars. One chef is exclusively dedicated to making dumplings, and it shows. The chicken and truffle soup dumplings are the best we’ve had, and they’re smartly cone-shaped, which allows them to hold more slurpable broth. The two best entrées are the banana leaf-wrapped skate smothered in funky and spicy sambal and the incredibly moist Hainanese chicken in a pool of sweet soy. We won’t even try to recommend one over the other. Just get both.

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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

On most days, you probably want to head to a neighborhood spot, get your favorite dish, and eat it in a very normal room. But sometimes, you’re looking for something out of the ordinary—the restaurant equivalent of that two-week vacation you’ve been saving up for after working the other 50 weeks of the year. On those occasions, head to 53 for an unforgettable dinner in a room that might as well be an official extension of their next-door neighbor.

Food Rundown

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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Salmon Carpaccio

On this plate, you'll get slices of fresh salmon with sesame oil, scallions, and a hint of shio kombu. The preparation is simple, the fish is of the highest quality, and you’ll receive a lot more salmon than you’d expect.
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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Xiao Long Bao

We can’t remember ever having soup dumplings that are better than the ones here. They’re made with chicken and truffles and are taller and more conical than most xiao long bao, making them much easier to pick up.
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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Skate

A steaming sambal-covered portion of skate comes to your table wrapped in a banana leaf, which your server will unwrap like a birthday present. That's apt, because you'll love this dish as much as something you've had in your Amazon Wish List for years. Squeeze some lemon on top for some acid.
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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Hainanese Chicken

We think about this dish all the time—especially when eating other chicken dishes that don’t measure up (i.e., almost every chicken dish out there). You’ll get several plump and boneless cuts of chicken with golden brown skin. Use the Thai chili and ginger scallion sauces that come on the side liberally.
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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Beef Tenderloin

This dish looks like a pepper steak stir fry that you can get at hundreds of Chinese restaurants, but the version here is what all those others aspire to be. Order it. The beef is so soft that it seems like it was tenderized with a jack hammer. We don’t think we’ve ever called beef “pillowy,” but that's the word that comes to mind.
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photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Duck Clay Pot

53's clay pot dishes will remind you of hot stone bibimbap, in that the bottom layer of rice gets crunchier the longer it sits. Our favorite is the one with confit duck seasoned with five spice. A server will pour a bunch of tamari in—but using all of the tamari makes this dish a little too salty, so take the reins from your server and gradually add the sauce yourself.
53 image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Mango Pudding

Your server will push this dessert on you, which is a little bit annoying and might make you want to order it less. In this case, listen to them. This pudding has a flan-like texture and comes with syrupy mango sauce and sago pearls. Greek yogurt ice cream is the perfect topping because it’s a cold, creamy, and not-too-sweet contrast to everything else.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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