NYCReview

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

A spread of Filipino dishes on a banana leaf-covered table in front of a colorful mural.
8.2

Naks

Filipino

East Village

$$$$Perfect For:Impressing Out of Towners
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The folks behind Dhamaka, Semma, and Masalawala & Sons have a clear game plan: to serve regional dishes that are otherwise hard to find in New York City. It’s not necessarily a winning strategy on its own, but the fact that they’re very good at cooking these dishes has worked well for everyone involved.

Naks, an East Village spot with abstract murals and banana leaf-covered tables, sticks to the same blueprint, but adds a few twists. Rather than Indian, the food is Filipino, and, while there are a few a la carte options available in the casual bar area, the main event is an 18-course kamayan-style tasting menu.

A dining room with vibrant murals on the walls and tables covered in banana leaves.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

The bar area of a restaurant with colorful murals and a few bar stools and tables.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Due to the format, this place has a narrower appeal than its sister restaurants. It takes a little more willpower (and liquidity) to commit to a dinner that costs $135 before tax, tip, and drinks. But if you’re planning a big night out, and want to experience something unique and exciting—highlights, hiccups, and all—Naks will provide that. For every other occasion, the a la carte menu is just as enjoyable, and a lot more practical.

The tasting menu at Naks is currently in a category of its own, and not just because it’s Filipino. (There are plenty of other kamayan-style options around town.) Built around riffs on the chef’s childhood meals, the extensive meal is regional and idiosyncratic, with fun twists like a tart, drinkable take on balut, a scallop smothered in processed cheese, and street food-style skewers warmed on a tableside grill.

You are, unfortunately, bound to forget several of the introductory small bites, in part because the last few larger dishes hoard all the attention. Two-thirds of the way through, a server will arrive with a bowl of pancit tossed with creamy cubes of liver, dump the contents on your table, and tell you to eat the warm, chewy noodles with your hands. After you’ve foraged for every last scrap, you’ll get a glistening slab of pork belly, round as a hockey puck, with skin like glass. Give it a squeeze, and you’ll see how juicy it is.

Naks image

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Two round slabs of pork belly with a few vegetable side dishes.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Little bites of sea cucumber sitting in hollowed out bits of cucumber.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Two tiny portions of beef tartare sandwiched inside of chicharrón.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Naks image
Two round slabs of pork belly with a few vegetable side dishes.
Little bites of sea cucumber sitting in hollowed out bits of cucumber.
Two tiny portions of beef tartare sandwiched inside of chicharrón.

The tasting is nearly worth it for those two items alone, but if it’s just a few highlights you’re after, the a la carte section works just as well. Near the bar by the entrance, in a noisy room with a handful of two-tops, you can enjoy Southern Filipino ribeye skewers and a mound of fried duck with custard-like fat. You should know, however, that the a la carte menu is neither long nor cost-effective. The small plates—around $20 each—are easy to plow through, and some dishes, like the chalky fried chicken, are surprisingly disappointing for a restaurant group that tends to hit all its shots.

If it’s perfection you’re after, Naks may not be for you. The food mostly ranges from fantastic to just mildly interesting, the menus are a bit awkward, and the hand-holding speeches throughout the two-plus-hour tasting occasionally border on corny. But all of that is a little beside the point. Naks is, by design, unlike anything else. This place brings something new to the city, and that something new packs enough punchy flavor and crispy pork skin to earn itself a visit.

Food Rundown

A spread of Filipino food on a banana-leaf covered table.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Kamayan Tasting

The 18-course tasting starts out slow, with a few one-bite items like a bit of sea cucumber with tangy spiced vinegar, and a dollop of beef on crisp chicharon. These introductory snacks are pleasant, but unremarkable. Things get much more interesting once you receive a bowl of bas-oy with chewy tripe in a spicy broth, followed by some other mid-sized dishes like grilled fatty chicken skin served in a pool of vinegar. (Vinegar is a big part of the Naks experience.)

A pile of noodles on a banana-leaf covered table.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Pancit Batil Patong

One of the main events of the tasting menu, this pancit is based on a dish from Tuguegarao in Northeastern Luzon. The thick, peppery noodles are topped with a fried egg and mixed with ground beef and liver. Get a big handful. It’s what you came here for.

A dish of pork belly rolled into a circle with crispy skin on the outside.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Lechon Liempo

Another tasting-menu standout, this pork belly is stuffed with lemongrass, rolled into a log, and sliced like a swiss roll. The skin is crunchy, but the inside is incredibly moist.

Skewers of beef dipped in a bowl of curry sauce.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Satti

About half of the a la carte options consist of little plates of grilled meat, like this short rib satti (traditionally eaten for breakfast). It doesn’t amount to much food, but the charred beef and thin curry sauce bring out the best in one another.

A small dish of thinly sliced beef topped with onions in a pool of sauce.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Imbaliktad

Once again, the portions are small, but the flavors are big. If you’re a fan of garlic, order this little plate of thinly sliced ribeye.

A dish of fried duck cut into big pieces with crispy skin.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Pritong Itik

Naks’ fried duck—a street food popular south of Manila—is our top pick from the a la carte selection. Its meat falls right off the bone, and the fat melts in your mouth.

KFC (Kanto Fried Chicken)

We had very high hopes for this fried chicken, and we were disappointed to find that it has few redeeming qualities. The crust is dry and mealy, and the pieces are tiny. It’s all very dusty.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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