Keep an eye out for these must-try restaurants in local strip malls. Courtesy of Alan T. Meyerson
Some of Westchester County’s best eating (and drinking!) takes place in unassuming strip malls and shopping centers.
Your local strip mall is a sensible spot for a quick slice or a bacon, egg, and cheese during Saturday-morning errands, but it’s hardly a place that comes to mind when planning a nice meal out. However, in the case of these 10 restaurants, it should be. Each one is sandwiched between bustling retail neighbors, like pharmacies, shoe stores, and pet shops, offering easy access, free parking, and some of the best fare in Westchester — boasting ambiences sure to eclipse the memory of whatever frenzy you may have endured on approach. (And if the drugstore next door happens to have late hours, even better!)
New Rochelle; dagiorgiorestaurant.com
An urgent-care site and 16 flavors of fro-yo keep this shopping spot hopping, but the mood is cheery and bright with chef/owner Giorgio Giacinto (who trained throughout Italy) serving up the staples of his Calabrian roots via a succinct lineup of antipasto and pasta, coupled with classic chicken scarp, tender veal scallopini, and branzino oreganata.
Don Jose Mexican Restaurant
A well-known bath-and-bedding outlet looms large, almost overshadowing this cozy, welcoming Mexican gem where a couple of Puebla pals serve homespun dishes with the skill and finesse of the restaurant vets they are. Traditional tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are on offer, along with a near endless array of noteworthy entrées, like airline chicken in a mole poblano sauce of 46 ingredients, ripped from the pages of Abuela’s recipe book.
A certain doughnut shop brings the crowds, but a wall of glass, tables dressed in white cloth, and cool, blue banquettes beckon just as effectively, with the added allure of thin-crust brick-oven pizza, pasta, and every Italian entrée under the Tuscan sun. The petite, stainless-steel bar is the perfect spot for a splash of red or a dessert-style cocktail.
KUMO Sushi & Lounge
A busy, double-height hub on a hill, which includes a popular family-run supermarket and a pediatric dentist, stands in sharp contrast to this chill, dimly lit den of blossoming sushi and elevated Japanese cuisine. Yet the setting was just right for K Dong and his co-owners, who viewed its “accessibility and convenience” as selling points. “Although we were limited on the exterior of the restaurant, our team had the ability to invest in the interiors,” which includes a traditional sushi bar (order the geisha roll), a sleek cocktail bar (for sweet sakitini sipping), and a sophisticated dining area.
Although virtually surrounded by competing Asian food markets and cafés that populate this stretch of Central Ave, the appetite and attention is singularly focused with just one step across the threshold due, in part, to stunning, transporting Ming dynasty decor, not to be outdone by Chef Eric Gao’s Chinese-food cooking cred. Crispy Peking duck is an in-house, from-scratch signature, and tender, luscious soup dumplings are a Mandarin must.
A tummy-tempting two-dozen pasta dishes dominate the menu at this intimate, inviting Italian, where exposed brick and old-country classics exude nonna-style nourishment and comfort, smack dab in the middle of Central Ave. Expertly prepared entrées of chicken, veal, and fish are homey and hearty, and lighter-side salads are just as satisfying, particularly the one with jumbo lump crab, baby spinach, avocado, grilled Bermuda onions, Mandarin oranges, and a citrus vinaigrette.
A meandering food-and-shopping “village” of sorts is an apropos setting for a down-home, upbeat Mexican joint where crowd-pleasing tacos and burritos, spun from family recipes, are the main name of the game. Live mariachi musicians and creative cocktails also aim to please, particularly those fueled by tequila and mezcal, of which there is plenty behind the bar.
Sea Flame Seafood & Steakhouse
Right on Route 22, flanked by high-end clothing stores and an all-star phone retailer, co-owner Peter Bicaj presides over what he calls “proper dry-aged steaks” at an eatery that’s half steakhouse, half fish house, and 100% exquisite. USDA Prime Black Angus beef, sourced from Midwest farms, arrives on-site partially aged, to be finished in-house, as fresh-catch seafood is served raw, chilled, grilled, and/or broiled.
Spaccarelli’s Italian Restaurant
Practically a town unto itself, this expansive retail-and-food complex is anchored by chef/owner Tony DeNardis, who left his native Spaccarelli, a little village in Italy’s Abruzzo region, as a teen. “With my mother in Italy, I cooked the sauce; I made the pastas,” recalls DeNardis, who makes pasta and mozzarella by hand for nearly four decades of regulars who also crave his stuffed artichokes, veal meatballs, and outrageous ragouts of lamb, rabbit, and goat.
Tipsy Taco Bar
Mount Kisco; tipsytacobar.com
Ship a package or snag a seat at this super-hip hotspot where Mexican food lover, Milton Torres of Ecuador, showcases what he calls the second-best cuisine in the world, after Italian. He relies on “healthy, local, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible,” for his tacos, burritos, and quesadillas of seared ahi tuna, fried oysters, raw wild salmon, and Black Angus steak, which pair perfectly with 60-plus tequilas and mezcals.