Presenting the county’s best homestyle comfort foods. Full of carbs (and nostalgic appeal), simply prepared—and just plain yummy.

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Comfort food is the edible equivalent of your childhood blankie: Its warmth envelops you, making you feel cozy, lethargic, and contented. These typically warm, soothing, and traditional meals and snacks evoke a sentimental, sometimes nostalgic, feeling of well-being. Often characterized by starchiness and simple preparation, the carbohydrates, fat, and protein usually found in these dishes make a salivating trifecta.

We tasted, analyzed, adjusted our belts and re-tasted (to be sure!) and compiled 67 of the most soul-warming comfort foods at Westchester restaurants. 

Top: The mac ’n’ cheese with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and sharp cheddar at Cedar Street Grill in Dobbs Ferry; Above: Be on the lookout for the special of house-made chips with Maytag blue-cheese dip at Beehive in Armonk.

Cheesy

Gloriously ooey, gooey, sharp, pungent, crumbly, or creamy, cheese is just about the best food on earth (besides chocolate). And what says cheesy better than mac ’n’ cheese? Many restaurants have caught on to what a wonderful vehicle this traditionally kiddie dish is, concocting their own Rolls Royce variations of the theme. Among much competition, our (unofficial) Big Cheese Award goes to Westchester Burger Co., with locations in White Plains, Mount Kisco, Rye Brook, and West Nyack, for its six kinds of mac ’n’ cheese. All start with cheddar and Monterey Jack and are completed with browned Panko breadcrumbs. The pesto version offers a confetti of fresh basil, garlic, and Parmesan. Also notable are the truffle mushroom, Cajun shrimp, and jalapeño popper varieties—the last of which uses fresh, bright-green wheels of pepper, the spicy seeds clinging tenaciously. “Mac ’n’ cheese is an American food, but of course we wanted to throw in a twist,” says founder and CEO Angelo Di Feo.

Next, we applaud The Oath Craft Beer Sanctuary (Tarrytown) for its mac ’n’ cheese with pulled pork and sweet Belgian waffle croutons. Tucked into the pasta and oozing cheese is house-made, drippings-basted pulled pork, plus cushiony waffle croutons with minuscule sugar pearls. 

Emma’s Ale House (White Plains) does mac ’n’ cheese right. Pasta in a three-cheese (cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella) sauce is studded with smoky bacon and peas before being broiled until golden and bubbly. 

Cedar Street Grill (Dobbs Ferry) also steps it up with Parmesan, cheddar, fresh thyme, toasted breadcrumbs, and the option to add bacon or lobster. The mac ’n’ cheese bar at The Wooden Spoon (New Rochelle) begins with a huge portion of elbows drenched in Colby, Monterey Jack, and cheddar, and then lets you choose mix-ins such as chopped burger or fried chicken. “We give you the cheesy base, and you go from there,” says owner Nick Triscari. 

Cheese steals the stage in other ways at Armonk’s Beehive, where the specials menu sometimes tempts turophiles with its almost translucent, crispy, house-made chips, ideal for dousing in the creamy and pungent Maytag blue-cheese dip. And Ardsley Diner’s steak quesadillas are so redolent with cheddar, the melty orange-gold streams out from the quesadilla to your mouth with each bite. 

 

A.M. Comfort

Looking for comfort food as soon as you wake up? You can’t go wrong with these three classic bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches.

Rooster’s Market
White Plains
This classic sandwich features two eggs and crisp bacon on a fluffy white roll. Or shake things up by swapping the bacon for turkey, pepperoni, or pastrami.

Cedar Street Grill 
Dobbs Ferry 

Hangover Sliders ( above) at brunch slip in scrambled eggs, applewood-smoked bacon, and cheddar.applewood-smoked bacon, and cheddar.

Ardsley Diner 
Ardsley

Grab the classic sandwich anytime, because breakfast is available all day; enjoy it in a booth or wrapped in foil to go.

Plump soup-filled dumplings are stuffed with pork and minced crab at Noodle +.  Below: The recipe for the pierogies at Copper Kettle Cafe comes from an authentic source—a Polish grandmother.

Dumplings

First off, the name dumpling is so darn cute and cuddly. These plump pockets of dough, sometimes filled with flavorful ground meat, herbs, vegetables, or cheese, pop up in almost every culture—from the Tibetan momo to the Polish pierogi and Italian ravioli.

Joseph D’Angelo, owner and chef of Copper Kettle Cafe in Hartsdale, orders whole rabbits from John Fazio Farms in Modena, New York, for his take on Southern-style chicken and dumplings. The chef tosses baby carrots, snap peas, and mushrooms with shredded chunks of rabbit, doughy dumplings, and savory broth. “We braise the entire rabbit for the broth, and it’s not gamey; it’s got a sweetness to it,” D’Angelo says. Also try the house-made pierogies, a recipe by his girlfriend’s Polish grandmother. Slightly crisp on the outside with ribbons of not-quite caramelized onions on top, the puréed potato is smooth and creamy inside, with a whisper of New York cheddar.

The xiao long bao, or steamed soup dumplings, look like little volcanoes cresting with shredded ginger at Noodle + in White Plains, as well as Dumpling + Noodle in Bronxville, two separately owned, independent eateries with delicious dumpling expertise. Handcrafted, delicate folds seal in the pork, shrimp, or crab filling. At Roc-N-Ramen in New Rochelle, saucier Jeannie Lenoci ladles her sauce of soy, ginger, onion, carrot, and sesame oil on the Japanese-style pork or chicken Gyoza dumplings, lightly browned and sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions.

The Wooden Spoon’s chicken and waffles

Deep Fried 

Whether you’re a little hungover or just hankering for naughty deep-fried goodness, this comfort-food category is rich with possibilities. Considering Declan Farrell of Vintage Lounge & Restaurant (White Plains) grew up in Ireland, it’s no surprise his Galway-style fish-n-chips have the ideal crispy, light ale batter, while keeping the flaky white cod moist. Another fish dish fried to near perfection is the salmon cakes at Ardsley Diner. Poached, bound with mayonnaise and mustard, flavored with salt, pepper, capers, dill, red onions, and cornmeal, these pink patties are then rolled in Panko before taking a dip in bubbling-hot oil.

With fried food, beer is often involved as an ingredient or accompaniment. Cedar Street Grill’s (Dobbs Ferry) beer-battered pickles are tangy sliced rounds with a fluffy coating and roasted pepper remoulade. Horsefeathers’ (Tarrytown) onion rings are as large as your palm and coated in batter spiked with Budweiser. When you bite into a ring, the crunchy coating shatters in your mouth.

A mustard-and-mayo sauce comes atop the salmon cakes at Ardsley Diner  

Is there any food that tastes better deep-fried than chicken? While The Oath’s (Tarrytown) chicken and waffles dish boasts the best waffles, Wooden Spoon’s (New Rochelle) buttermilk fried chicken thighs, crispy outside and moist within, lead the brood. “This batter really sticks to the chicken,” says owner Triscari, who uses his uncle’s recipe. Clarified butter and pancake syrup drip across the two thighs, perched atop a pair of waffles. Diners ordering fried chicken at Cedar Street Grill get a thigh, breast, and leg, covered in dense coating with branches of woody herbs, charred lemon, and a silver gravy boat of Sriracha maple syrup, made with organic Crown Maple Syrup from Dutchess County. “You can pour it, but most people pull apart the chicken and dip it,” Chef Matt Kay says. 

Masala Kraft Cafe (Hartsdale) shows how well India does fried food with its samosas—bubbly, crunchy pastry pyramids stuffed with warm mashed potato mixed with peas and spices. Chef Shyam Shyam Jith grinds ginger and green chiles into a paste, roasts coriander seeds until fragrant, and sprinkles in turmeric powder, lime juice, and chopped cilantro. The sweet-savory dip is flavored with tamarind, dates, cane juice, and cinnamon sticks.

Cabin Restaurant’s chicken soup is served on a white paper doily with a package of Westminster Bakers Co. Oyster crackers—it’s like being transported to a June Cleaver dinner party.

Soups, Stews, and Chili 

Roc-N-Ramen (New Rochelle) is a great spot for warming up to the most universally accepted comfort food ever: soup. “Many people lean right down over the bowl and slurp the noodles because they’re inhaling the broth,” says Lenoci, the saucier. The signature Tonkotsu ramen’s pork-bone stock includes umami-rich bone marrow, simmering with vegetables and spices in 80-gallon pots for three days, to create a full, complex flavor and an almost creamy, cloudy texture. The ramen at Kishuya (Hartsdale) is worth a slow inhale and noisy slurp, too. 

Tonkotsu ramen at Roc-N-Ramen

Then there’s the ol’ Americana favorite, “Grandma’s Chicken Soup” at The Cabin Restaurant (White Plains). Thready strips and chunks of chicken breast swim in clear broth beside chopped celery, carrots, and spaghetti noodles. The chicken pot pie soup crowned with a biscuit at Horsefeathers (Tarrytown) is hearty and not for the faint of heart (or appetite). The chicken stock base is thickened with potato purée and bulked up with onions, celery, peas, carrots, potato cubes, chicken chunks, and short, flat noodles. 

For an upgrade from your Campbell’s-and-Kraft-singles combo from childhood, try a Grown-Up Grilled Cheese at Mt. Kisco Diner (the most popular of the four varieties features Swiss and goat cheese, apple, spinach, and fig jam): It comes with a cup of creamy roasted tomato soup, flavored with vegetable stock, shallots, garlic, heavy cream, and roasted beefsteak and plum tomatoes. The diner’s chicken matzoh ball soup also draws fans, especially during Jewish holidays, for its simple adherence to tradition, says Harry Georgiou, whose family has run this diner for 22 years.

The Grown-Up Grilled Cheese at Mt. Kisco Diner comes with roasted-tomato soup.  

And don’t forget soup’s comfort-food cousin: chili. For a standout chili flavor with a slightly lighter touch, help yourself to the fragrant chicken chili at Westchester Burger Co., dotted with fresh vegetables and white beans. 

Garlic knots, a simple indulgence at Marcello’s. Below: BLT Steak’s signature popovers are made with Gruyère

Baked Goods And Bread

Bread is among the most basic of comfort foods. Inhale the yeasty nirvana wafting into the parking lot as you approach Sonny Orza’s century-old The Bread Factory (New Rochelle). When you open the door, it’s a heady assault of dreamy scents. Its most popular item these days is the cranberry-raisin-walnut rolls, which are soft, nutty, and sweet, dense with grains but still squeezable. Artisan breads pump out of the 10,000-pound German deck oven at The Kneaded Bread (Port Chester) where lines are long for the rotating 14 or so varieties of bread. Most popular is the provolone bread. “We use aged provolone in our dough,” says co-owner Jeffrey Kohn. “The cheese forms a cracker-like crust on the outside.” 

If you’re craving tasty rolls and knots, wander into Marcello’s Gourmet Pizzeria (Pelham) with just a dollar to get four garlic knots, shiny with olive oil and flecked with heady roasted garlic, dried herbs, and grated Parmesan. The knots are slightly crunchy, soft, and moist. The garlic rolls at the no-frills takeout counter of Clino’s Pizza Pasta & Things (Port Chester) are dusted with seasonings, herbs, and salt, with an irresistible crunchy outer coating you can only get from deep-frying. For a bread-before-your-meal twist, the Gruyère popovers at the fine-dining BLT Steak (White Plains) are golden, airy puffs of wonder. Or, bite into warm pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese puffs) for a melt-in-your-mouth ethereal experience, served with your meal at Copacabana Steakhouse in Port Chester. 

Two stellar bakeries selling sugary comfort behind their glass cases are The Sidecar at the Tavern (Croton-on-Hudson), whose excellent crumb cake is sold whole and by the slice (and at The Tavern's weekend brunch). Expect a deep layer of oversized, cinnamon-sweet crumbles clinging to the freshest of vanilla-flavored cake. And Fleetwood Pastry Shop (Mount Vernon) has a moist, bright lemon pound cake with a gooey top layer under its sugary glaze, as well as a mildly chocolatey swirled marble pound cake.


The Science Of Comfort Food

There are emotional and biochemical reasons why we turn to soft, warm proteins and carbohydrates when we hunger for comfort, says Mary Gocke, director of nutrition at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook. First, aroma and taste can evoke a sense of well-being and nostalgia of happy childhood memories, when you felt safe and cared-for, she says. Then, the science: Animal and plant proteins contain the amino acid tryptophan, which piggybacks onto carbohydrates to carry it through the bloodstream and into the central nervous system. There, the acid transforms into the neurotransmitter serotonin, a happy, mood-stabilizing chemical, which also makes melatonin, a sleepy chemical. Cold weather also contributes to our instinctual desire for heavier foods. High-calorie, fatty foods are digested more slowly and create a steady flow of energy to raise your core body temperature (perfect for winter months). “Comfort food really is soothing, not just as an emotional response, but on a biochemical level,” says Gocke. “It’s not [the same with] salads. It’s just not.” Comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy to produce these effects, however. The Blum Center’s “One-Pot Wonders: Healthy Comfort Food” cooking workshops demonstrate this fact. Think three-bean turkey chili and Indian-spiced chicken and vegetable stew. “It’s healthier, but still has that balance of carbohydrates and tryptophan,” Gocke says.


Potatoes

 The myriad ways we love thee, oh mighty tuber. Fries get their own category (see below), but we can’t forget the creamy, skin-on mashed potatoes accompanying meatloaf at Cedar Street Grill (Dobbs Ferry). 

The frites at Appetit Bistro are some of the best around

They’re fragrant with thyme, made using a cream sauce of garlic, onions, butter, heavy cream, and thyme. And the potato gratin accompanying the cowboy rib-eye at X2O Xaviars on the Hudson (Yonkers) is so creamy and rich, you might swoon. Also in Yonkers, Carlo’s Restaurant makes potato croquettes—little footballs of creamy carbs, cheese, and ham surrounded by a browned, crunchy coating.

Now more about those no-utensils-necessary french fries: Mt. Kisco Diner kills with its frites bar, offering six varieties—such as rich truffle fries, topped with grated Parmesan, fresh thyme, and rosemary—served in paper-lined cones. Westchester Burger Co. combines Canada’s messy poutine with the South’s barbecue pulled pork for its skin-on waffle fries smothered with melted pepper Jack cheese and brown gravy. The restaurant roasts pork butt with seasonings, and then hand-pulls the meat. Because “it’s such a heavy, filling dish,” founder and CEO Angelo Di Feo keeps it to what he calls “a reasonably sized portion.” It’s enough. Believe us.

Tarrytown’s The Oath offers another stellar pulled-pork poutine starting with Idaho potatoes cut into three-eighths-inch fries. “The pulled pork has this unctuous quality,” says Chef Tom Ciccarelli. “My favorite bite is at the end, when all the sauce has soaked through.” Q Restaurant & Bar (Port Chester) also has a hearty helping of well-seasoned hand-cut Q Fries, loaded with chopped barbecue brisket and cheese sauce. 

Those who need a little zest should try the Cajun fries made with five spices (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper) at Ardsley’s PourHouse Bar & Grill, and don’t miss the stellar frites (pictured) at Appetit Bistro (Port Chester). Chef Edi Rivera picked up a trick or two about making authentic frites from his 10 years working in the kitchen of L’escale in Greenwich. 

The house-made lasagna Calabrese at Da Giorgio in New Rochelle 

Pasta

While a bowl of noodles is a cinch to whip up at home, ordering an indulgent pasta at a restaurant is even easier. The house-made lasagna Calabrese at Da Giorgio (New Rochelle) melds hardboiled egg, miniature meatballs, caciocavallo cheese, and paper-thin prosciutto cotto between pasta layers for a full-body-warming experience. “My lasagna is a mix of what I’ve seen in Italy and what my mom makes,” says Chef/owner Giorgio Giacinto, who has roots in Calabria, Italy. Or, sink into the ricotta gnocchi with mushroom marsala cream sauce and Asiago cheese at Moderne Barn (Armonk). Using ricotta hung in cheesecloth overnight to drain excess liquid, the gnocchi’s cheese base only has a dash of flour, plus Parmesan and eggs for binding. “It’s definitely rich,” says Executive Chef Ethan Kostbar.   

The charmingly weathered Piero’s Restaurant (Harrison) serves a gnocchi akin to pillows of potato luxuriating in creamy pink sauce dotted with bits of prosciutto and herbs waiting to be showered with grated Parmesan from the server’s bowl and spoon.

Tuesday’s half-price-pasta night at nessa (Port Chester) is an ideal time to try its silky, handcrafted cavatelli, tossed in a light cream sauce with spicy sausage, roasted garlic, and broccoli rabe, or the classic rigatoni Bolognese with ground veal, pork, and beef ragù with ricotta—a house specialty.

At Irvington's Mima Vinoteca’s (named after the endearment term for an Italian grandma) the pastas are handmade. Dig into a bowl of cortecce with a spoon, breaking the farm-fresh egg so its golden liquid seeps into the crevices between the rounded pasta, flavored with black pepper, white onion, smoked bacon, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Bacon infuses every bite. The intense cheese flavor and creamy texture reaches just perfectly short of too rich.

The chicken pot pie at Emma’s Ale House in White Plains

Savory Pies

 Latin cultures have the empanada, and the English have their pasties and minced-meat pies. Try an Irish specialty on this side of the pond, with shepherd’s pie at Vintage Lounge & Restaurant (White Plains). The crustless pie seals ground beef, shallots, carrots, peas, and brown gravy with a layer of mashed potatoes. The Horsefeathers (Tarrytown) version of shepherd’s pie comes in beef, chicken, or vegetable-only options, each covered in a blanket of oven-blistered mashed potatoes dusted with paprika. 

 Vintage’s shepherd’s pie

Another favorite rendition of this pastoral pie is pulled together with panache at Copper Kettle Cafe, known for its sophisticated comfort food. Chef D’Angelo braises lamb, pulls the meat off the bone and cooks it in a red wine sauce with herbs and vegetables. Come back for the cafe’s chicken pot pie, too, served in a cast-iron bowl crowned by browned puff pastry, its layers stacked like sheets of paper. Stick a fork through and inhale the steam. Within, there are all sorts of seasonal garden goodies, from beech and shiitake mushrooms and scallions to snap peas and little roasted carrots left whole. The dish’s “very intense flavor” comes from a classic French velouté made with a roasted chicken stock from chicken bones cooked three times, D’Angelo says.

South America’s golden, crescent-shaped contribution to the savory pie world pops up on the specials board at License 2 Grill (Thornwood). Dig into empanadas stuffed with hot dog pieces and sauerkraut, beef and cheese, classic beef, barbecued pulled pork, and chipotle chicken and cheese. 

The meatloaf at Cedar Street Grill comes wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon. Below: Mt. Kisco Diner’s tender Yankee pot roast

Meat

There’s nothing more savory for us omnivores than a slow-roasted hunk of meat, promising satiety for hours. Meatloaf—simple, familiar, and filling—epitomizes the comfort-food appeal of such dishes. No one does it better than The Cabin Restaurant (White Plains). Touted as “better than Mom’s,” the giant Black Angus meatloaf arrives glistening with a glaze of brown sugar and tomato sauce pooling behind the loaf, soaking the edges of the oh-so-creamy garlic mashed ’taters with lumps and skin. Balancing it out are the fresh, sautéed green beans that still have their snap. Cedar Street Grill’s (Dobbs Ferry) applewood-smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf is served with garlic whipped, skin-on Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and a demi-glace that takes days to make from roasted veal-bone stock, fresh herbs, and red wine. Shiitake mushrooms and caramelized onions top it off. 

Then there’s the hallowed Italian meatball. Slice into the stuffed beef, pork, and veal meatball Calabrese at Da Giorgio (New Rochelle), and house-made mozzarella oozes out. 

Let’s not forget other hearty meat dishes. Thyme Restaurant (Yorktown) does braised short ribs with creamy polenta, using Parmesan, milk, and, yes, cream. And the Yankee Pot Roast at Mt. Kisco Diner is so tender because it’s braised for four hours in beef stock, red wine, mirepoix, fresh oregano, and bay leaves. The certified Angus eye-round is accompanied by a crispy potato pancake and braised red cabbage with a touch of sweetness. More in the mood for poultry? The classic oven-roast turkey plate is dressed with gravy made from drippings, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. At firefighter Nick Triscari’s Wooden Spoon (New Rochelle), he’s recreated his firehouse favorite smothered pork chop. Triscari pounds the pork loin super-thin and coats it with Panko bread crumbs, drizzling a light gravy mixed with caramelized onions on top for a crispy, creamy savory result. 

            The best meatloaf in the county just may be at The Cabin Restaurant.


Amy Sowder is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editorial assistant at chowhound.com. Her nana’s chicken-and-dumplings and her mother’s lasagna, chicken cacciatore, and shepherd’s pie are her go-to comfort foods. Learn more at AmySowder.com.