La Vara’s Alex Raij Is All About Spicy Food and Her Chinatown Haunts
To-Go Takes is Resy’s regular feature wherein we quiz the folks behind some of our favorite restaurants about all things related to takeout.
In this edition, we speak to Alex Raij, the chef and co-owner of La Vara, currently open for outdoor dining, and Saint Julivert Fisherie, currently open for pickup and delivery. Below, she shares some of her favorite takeout tips, tricks, cocktails, and regular stops.
Restaurants: La Vara + Saint Julivert Fisherie
Name + Title: Alex Raij, Executive Chef & Owner
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Resy: What’s your favorite dish from your takeout menu?
Raij: It’s kind of a happy meal. I would start with Saint Julivert’s ceviche, and then I would have the sweet corn and silver fish tostada, and I would follow up with a pint or a bowl of our delicious conch and corn chowder that’s finished with just a little bit of coconut milk.
Where are you getting takeout from and what are you ordering?
My favorite places to get takeout are Ugly Baby, which has just sensational, super spicy Thai food. If you’re an adult I would say go for it. Just be warned: It’s hot and spicy. And if you’re trying to feed your family, they do have a fried fish that’s not too spicy.
My other favorite is Ming’s on Division Street. It’s a little Chinese café. They do exceptional wonton soup and jade dumplings, and they also have the most delicious, super spicy vegetarian wrinkled string beans with fermented cabbage and radish — not to be missed, but very spicy.
Best tip to amp up your takeout?
My favorite way to amp up takeout is to add a little bit of Kitchen Garden’s habanero sriracha to it. It is fruity and spicy, and it really wakes up any dish that’s been sitting in the container for a minute.
What’s your favorite place for cocktails to go?
My favorite place for cocktails to go is Bacaro. It’s in my neighborhood. I especially like all of their amaro-based and Campari-based drinks. It’s a little Italian neighborhood restaurant that’s got a lot of charm. Also, [they] have an extraordinary wine list — often natural wines made by women — and Kama [Geary], the owner and manager, is just a consummate host, so kind, and is really an inspiration.
What single restaurant dish would you walk miles for?
The single restaurant [dish] that I would walk miles for would be SriPraPhai, just to have that crispy watercress salad and walk around that vibrant neighborhood. SriPraPhai and their crispy watercress salad are worth traveling for on foot, by train; however you’re going to get there, get there.
What restaurant do you wish was open?
I know that we’ve lost a lot of restaurants to this calamity and I was really missing Wu’s Wonton King and Great NY Noodletown, but they are just back and delicious. So more than saying a restaurant that I miss: “I missed you and I’m glad you’re back.”
What do you miss the most about restaurants?
If I had to pick one thing I missed most about New York restaurants, or just restaurants in general, it’s definitely sort of how relaxing it is to sit inside and listen to music while you’re eating. I miss playlists that you can hear. And I miss the sort of coziness of really desiring a table and a special corner of a restaurant. And I miss engaging with people and seeing their beautiful faces.
The other thing I miss about restaurants is quality. You can’t sugarcoat how challenging this has been for a lot of restaurants. For us, it’s been an inspiration for a lot of creativity and an opportunity to cook more intimately, more detailed, because we’re cooking for less people. For some people, it’s been a hemorrhage of staff, of talent, which means that oftentimes, the quality can be sacrificed.
I miss seeing all of your beautiful faces and I miss quality, but I’m here for you in the interim.
La Vara is open for outdoor dining seven days a week for dinner. Saint Julivert Fisherie is open for pickup and delivery, which you can order here.
Raij is also the executive chef and owner of Txikito and El Quinto Pino, temporarily closed in Chelsea.