Whether you're vegan or a porkoholic, there's lots to choose from at the four independently run kiosks at the new Whole Foods Market.
My favorite bites from each are in my order of preference.
With a talented young chef in Elaine Gardner turning out toppings for the signature hummus, this stand consistently produces the most restaurant-like variety. I loved Gardner's takes on chicken - ground and scented with Yemenite hawaij spice and pickles, or dusted with cuminy shabazzi and braised with apricots and carrots. A fork-tender brisket was sparked with crispy onions and pickled serrano heat. The hummus is available by the pint ($9) for an easy take-home hit, with six pitas for $6. Don't miss this oft-overlooked gem: a hot pan of spicy shakshouka tomato stew, baked-in-the-oven eggs, and a wedge of focaccia.
Cheu Noodle Bar
Cheu serves an abridged version of its 10th Street menu with some rock-solid classics. The pork-and-miso ramen is as close as Cheu gets to traditional, with well-cooked, snappy noodles and a lip-glazing broth that's actually more flavorful than the original, due to Whole Foods' requirement for better quality base ingredients. The crackle-crusted buttermilk black garlic wings are spot on - tender and sticky sweet. When feeling virtuous, I'll go vegan for the coconut-curried noodles with squash and a dose of spicy peanut sambal. The pepperoni dumplings created exclusively for this stand are pretty much impossible to resist, the pizza-tanged pork zipped up with an orange glaze of chili-sesame oil.
This new project from the team behind Vedge and V Street has promise but feels like a work in progress. I've tasted notable improvements since the launch in the signature sandwich, an excellent vegan "cheesesteak" that melds an umami-boosted mince of wild mushrooms and seitan with caramelized onions and a cheese-sauce-like rutabaga fondue I actually prefer to "real" Whiz. But with just four main courses, two bready sandwiches feels very heavy for what I'd expect to be a veg-focused brand. My surprise favorite items here: the outstanding chopped salad with zesty green goddess dressing, and Jacoby's whimsical hemp brownies with miso-sriracha-glazed peanuts.
Severino Cucina Rustica
The pasta company is very good at making noodles. But as a novice in the restaurant business, it's the weak link in this lineup. While it will appeal to conventional tastes, I found some fresh pasta overcooked, the sauces too heavily sloshed on (the meat-sauce is more like chili than Bolognese). One exception: the cavatelli with sweet fennel sausage was excellent.
- Craig LaBan