‘Top Chef’ Contestant Brings New Yorkers on a Tour of Asia at Playful New Restaurant Near Penn Station

An assortment of dishes from Piggyback NYC | Photo credit: Piggyback NYC

Acclaimed Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen has opened Piggyback NYC, a casual restaurant in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood that combines her favorite meals from travels throughout Asia — and it’s ready for booking on OpenTable.

Cohen is most well-known for a 2009 stint on Top Chef, where she won several challenges and placed sixth. But in NYC, Cohen has made more of a name for herself through her flavorful and lively Lower East Side restaurant Pig & Khao, which focuses on food from Southeast Asia. At her new restaurant, though, Cohen takes inspiration from the entire continent, pulling in dishes from Asia, including China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, and more.

Here’s what to expect at Piggyback NYC.

The food

Cohen’s menu at Piggyback NYC brings together dishes that stood out to her while in various countries around Asia, combining flavors, techniques, and ingredients in novel ways. One dish brings together Chinese shrimp toast with Japanese cabbage pancake okonomiyaki, while a Thai pad see ew uses Chinese rolled rice noodles over the traditional wide rice noodles. Cohen says nearly every table has gone for the Thai fried rice and Malaysian curry puffs.

A lunch menu coming soon will have a thinly sliced ribeye sandwich that merges the flavors of French onion soup and pho through French onion soup spread, melted provolone cheese, fresh jalapeños, and Thai basil on a hoagie roll, served with pho gravy on the side for dipping.

Unlike at her other venue Pig & Khao, which focuses on Southeast Asian dishes on the Lower East Side, Cohen feels more free at Piggyback to play around with flavors, techniques, and ideas from all around Asia. “Along the way over the years, I’ve kind of accumulated dishes that I wanted to put on a menu somewhere, and Piggyback was the best place for it,” she says.

Book a reservation now at Pig & Khao.

The drinks

Asian ingredients also find their way into the drinks, created by beverage director and general manager Ben Schmitt, with Thai basil, gochujang, pandan, and soy brown butter showing up in various cocktails. A mezcal-based drink has cilantro, and one with rye incorporates pandan. Draft beer focuses on local craft options, while bottles come from around the world, with a focus on the United States and Asia. Wine similarly has a global focus, with 80 bottles bringing both Old and New World options.

Piggyback's bar

Piggyback’s bar | Photo credit: Melissa Hom for Piggyback NYC

The space

Cohen and her partner Ben Byruch built out the Piggyback space to reflect Asian street style, with art like American movie posters in Thai, vintage mahjong pieces, and a mural that combines neon signs from various Asian cities. The industrial space seats 100, with a big bar up front and a room at the back that will soon be Way Back Bar, a separate private events space and extra bar on nights it’s not booked out.

When to go

Where Piggyback NYC is located — near major hubs like Penn Station, Herald Square, and Madison Square Garden — is more known for fast-casual chains, salad bars, and pubs than full-service restaurants, especially Asian ones — making Piggyback NYC an extra resource in the neighborhood. Consider it ideal for team dinners, happy hours, pre-concert and -sports game meals, group dining, and more.

Piggyback NYC is now open near Penn Station at 140 West 30th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Hours are Sunday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 a.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight., with lunch starting soon.

Book a reservation now.