Ramen - Ippudo - http://www.ippudony.com/
Burger - Burger Joint - http://burgerjointny.com/
Taco - Los Tacos No. 1 - http://lostacos1.com/
Brunch - Penelope - http://www.penelopenyc.com/Penelope-NYC-Brunch.html
Believe me, our research was not at a loss. Every single place lived up to its reputation for delicious, amazing food. When you're in Japan and thinking about Ippudo's ramen as you slurp up the noodles and drink up the broth at a small ramen shop, that has got to mean something.
When we arrived at Ippudo's East Village location with no reservations to our name, we found ourselves subject to a 2 hour wait. But, we aren't ones to complain, so we sat ourselves at the bar and nursed a drink each for about 1.5 hours until the hostess let us know our table was ready sooner than anticipated. Recommendation - make reservations before you go. I ordered the Akamaru Modern ramen, which has noodles topped with pork chashu and the best part of it all was the fragrant garlic oil, which really made the taste of the broth have that extra bit of garlicy deliciousness. I like my Ramen, or honestly any boiling hot broth, with a nitamago add-in, or as commonly known a seasoned soft boiled egg. When you break into the egg and let the yolky inside permeate through the broth, it's pretty amazing. The levels of flavor in the Ramen at Ippudo are unlike any I've had. For D.C. locals I would say Toki Underground's Ramen is a close second. I'll be checking out Izakaya Seki in a few weeks, so I'll let you know how the Ramen there ranks! ;)
The next morning we explored the Murray Hill neighborhood of New York City. Our hotel was located in Murray Hill, which luckily, is home to one of the top rated brunch locales in the city, Penelope. As I do with most of my friends and particularly useful when you have a party of 2 for brunch, we chose one sweet item and one savory item from the list of wonderful options. Another wonderful part of this restaurant, while you wait, you can help yourself to some complimentary coffee. Once we were seated we had perused the menu sufficiently enough that we were more than ready to blurt out "Nutella French Toast" and "Penny Egg Sandwich" when the waiter came by to ask, "may I take your oder?"
Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut filling, which was then stuffed into the french toast and served with bananas. The Penny Egg Sandwich was a typical breakfast sandwich of eggs, cheese all on an english muffin, but with the addition of pesto, to make for a spicy addition.
After all those carbs, we decided to walk off our immense brunch at Chelsea Market. The indoor Market is filled with restaurants, an amazing spice market, and lots of interesting shops. One of these restaurants was home to critically acclaimed (yes, that's how serious I am about tacos) tacos, Los Tacos No. 1. So, it isn't exactly a restaurant, it's sort of like a food court stand. You walk up you order your food, whether it's tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, or just a drink. Once you get your food there are a series of different salsas and spicy chili pastes that you can add to your plate to dip your taco into. They even have a grilled cactus taco, which was not too bad at all, and a great option for vegetarians. We also got a carne asada (steak) and pollo asado (chicken) taco and shared the three.
Our last stop on this food tour, was to have the alleged best burger of NYC, found at Burger Joint. You walk up and all you see is a neon sign of a burger, that's it as far as signage is concerned. But, trust me, you'll know you're there as the smell of flame-grilled burgers wafts your way. Trust me, this was certainly one of the best burgers I've eaten, and now I don't think I'll ever be able to go to NYC without a stop at Burger Joint. The burger was incredibly juicy! The best part is how simple they keep the burger itself. A slab of American cheese, onion, tomato, pickles, lettuce all on a toasted sesame seed bun, and wrapped in a big sheet of parchment paper. I could only manage a picture after I was halfway through eating it, sorry, I just had no patience to wait and take a picture before eating. I had just been tortured by the amazing aroma!
Now, while all of these may not be the BEST of each category I identified, my research directed me to these places and I think I can say that they are all at least in the top three of each category. But, in my opinion, they're all even closer to #1 than that! My favorites? Ippudo and Burger Joint.