Since the Second Avenue subway line broke ground last spring, the blacktop between East 91st and 95th Streets has been chewed up by excavators and the sidewalk has been cleaved from the street by chain-link fencing. It’s not pretty. But a few blocks south, in Yorkville, life (and Eastern European–flavored commerce) goes on. Though some 52 tenants will ultimately be uprooted to make way for subway entrances, the blocks from Third Avenue to the East River and from 77th Street up to 90th are packed with a lively mix of recent college grads and fancy-stroller people, Hungarian newsstands and SoCal-style boutiques. Its specialty- food shops are tops in the city, and Carl Schurz Park’s view over the East River makes a great picnic backdrop.
1. Lifshitz Gallery
247 E. 77th St., nr. Second Ave. 646-573-3066
Elias Lifshitz stays busy by selling and repairing antique Rolexes, but his real passion is his figurative bronze sculptures (from $4,000) and selection of vintage Tiffany-style lamps (from $50).
2. Orwasher’s Handmade Bread
308 E. 78th St., nr. Second Ave. 212-288-6569
You’ll smell Orwasher’s before you see it. The 92-year-old boulangerie perfumes the surrounding blocks with the scent of freshly baked challah and marble-rye bread.
3. Hungarian Meat Market
1560 Second Ave., at 81st St. 212-628-5147
One of a handful of butchers left on what was once termed Goulash Avenue. The shop sells the same types of sausages, smoked meats, and headcheese it did 50 years ago.
4. Bar @ Etats-Unis
247 E. 81st St., nr. Second Ave. 212-517-8826
Livelier and louder than its haute predecessor across the street, Bar @ Etats-Unis is filled with small groups sopping up fondues ($19) and chilaquiles ($17).
5. Emack & Bolio’s
1564A First Ave., nr. 81st St. 212-734-0105
The homey ice-cream shop spruces up the standards: It’s not vanilla, it’s “triple fold Madagascan vanilla with marinated vanilla beans in an egg custard” ($3.85 a scoop).
6. Comic Strip Live
1568 Second Ave., nr. 81st St. 212-861-9386
The hit-or-miss stand-up institution pulls in Times Square tourists with weekday promotions. The talent is better on weekends, but book in advance.
265 E. 78th St., nr. Second Ave. 212-288-3800
Karyn Riale’s boutique has carved out a surprising niche: the year-round beachgoer. Her collection of flattering tanks, tees, and dresses are from primarily SoCal designers.
8. Blue Danube Gifts
217 E. 83rd St., nr. Third Ave. 212-794-7099
Embarrassingly behind on your Hungarian-celebrity gossip? The racks here have nearly 200 tabloids, glossies, and broadsheets, all from Hungary and refreshingly Britney-free.
9. Logos Bookstore
1575 York Ave., nr. 84th St. 212-517-7292
The indie bookshop houses a small but well-curated crop of fiction and a reading group called Kill Your TV that meets on the first Wednesday of every month.
10. The Ethiopian Restaurant
1582 York Ave., nr. 84th St. 212-717-7311
A welcome break from the area’s Italian and Eastern European overload. The bigger-than-it-seems dining room and far-east address mean no lines for a table.
11. Jacques Brasserie
204–206 E. 85th St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-327-2272
Killer steak ($28) whenever, but drop in on Mondays, when moules-frites and a draft beer are $20.
1628 Second Ave., nr. 84th St. 212-861-1141
Billed as a Whole Foods for kids (complete with mini shopping carts), the market’s target customers congregate in a play area while parents shop for packaged, mostly organic meals.
1566 Second Ave., nr. 81st St.; 212-571-6868
For the arts-and-crafts equivalent of “adult swim,” drop by this kids’ art studio on Thursday through Saturday nights, when free wine may enhance (or impair) your dog-bowl-painting skills (from $16, with pottery).