| Holy smokes! The unstoppable ribs at Pearson's Texas Barbecue.
The pressed hanger-steak slider on a bialy and the flaky pork empanada with cilantro-and-collard-green relish are just two of the reasons this multicultural snack shop remains our favorite place to eat on Clinton Street, despite the proliferating competition. There's also the eclectic wine list, the refreshing house cocktails, the relaxed, hospitable vibe, and the fact that only two dishes (the $13 "bigger hot plates") cost more than $8.
49 Clinton St., 212-979-6096
Hovering somewhere between aKa Cafe's glorified bar food and 71 Clinton Fresh Food's pricier productions, this nouvelle bistro serves creative comfort food to a hipster clientele. Chef Scott Ehrlich treads on hallowed Gus's and Russ's territory with Lower East Side–inspired dishes like a pickle plate and smoked sable, but he leaves the Zip Code far behind with crispy-crusted duck confit ($8), hanger steak with Yorkshire pudding, and smoky shrimp with a wild-rice pancake (both $18). The wine list is short, diverse, and user-friendly; the doughnuts served with their cream-stuffed holes are adorable; and despite what common sense dictates, avocado tastes great with crème brûlée.
76 Clinton Street, 212-505-5011
At lunch, the public is welcome at Astra, Charlie Palmer's fourteenth-floor party space in the D&D Building. First-rate salads, sandwiches, and pastas run $8 to $14, and the terrace views? Priceless.
979 Third Avenue, near 58th Street; 212-644-9394
Bar @ Etats-Unis
The Bar @ Etats-Unis shares a kitchen, a wine list, and a pastry chef with the fancy flagship. And the sautéed tiger shrimp with mango and cherry tomatoes sells for $15.
247 East 81st Street; 212-396-9928
Tasting portions of Verbena appetizers plus sumptuous tidbits like skewered croque monsieur come on tiered trays ($12–$20, for two) at first-date nirvana Bar Demi. Great half-bottle list, too.
125 1/2 E. 17th St., 212-260-0900
BB Sandwich Bar
The sole menu item here is a lip-smackingly great Philly-style cheese steak ($4) -- daringly served on an untraditional kaiser roll with a fistful of caramelized onions and a fancy red-pepper relish -- that's as neat as a cucumber sandwich. Unfortunately, to keep up with demand, BB has started making them ahead of time and keeping them warm in the oven. Under normal circumstances, that might be cause for alarm. Here, it's only a minor -- and we hope temporary -- setback. In any case, these babies are so damn good we'd eat them cold.
120 West 3rd Street, 212-473-7500
The City Bakery
Known for its minimalist tarts and iconoclastic pretzel croissants, this gourmet emporium is also home to the city's best salad bar and a lunch counter that chef Ilene Rosen playfully calls Lucille. Her Lucille Lunch menu is an inspired collection of dishes never before brought together under the same roof: miniature cream-cheese-and-guava tea sandwiches ($4.50), Lebanese yogurt with Cypriot cheese and Indian bread ($7.50), a Greenmarket mixed fry of tempura vegetables ($10), even a corn dog ($2.50). Drink coconut water from the shell, and don't skip the homemade peanuts-and-beer ice cream for dessert.
3 West 18th Street, 212-366-1414
Craftbar's menacingly crisp panino of duck ham, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and Taleggio costs $1 less than a side dish of said mushrooms next door. Get two.
47 East 19th Street; 212-780-0880
Deborah's is one of those seemingly generic menus -- meat loaf, pork chops -- that provoke several minutes of indecision outside the restaurant. "Well, whaddya think?" you mutter to your cohort. "Umm, I don't know, what do you think?" she mutters back. Just move it inside. You'll be glad you did once you tuck into some seriously fresh, aggressively seasoned, just-tweaked-enough American comfort food: grilled-shrimp-and-avocado salad; a juicy cheeseburger with roasted tomato, chipotle mayo, and some of the best hand-cut fries in town ($9); beer-battered fish and chips to make a Brit blush ($10); and a cool Key-lime tart that even Steve Tarpin, Brooklyn's Key-lime-pie kingpin, would tout. You won't hesitate outside this door again.
43 Carmine Street, 212-242-2606
Judging by the ancient tiled floor and the weathered tin ceiling and walls, you'd never guess DuMont is a relative newcomer to the Williamsburg scene. But it's already become a popular destination for brunch, for takeout, or to while away a solo dinner with a book at the bar. Settle in to friendly service, Sancerre by the glass, and tasty renditions of glorified diner food like lardon-studded "DuMac and cheese" ($9), hearty vegetarian entrées, and blackboard specials like crispy roast chicken slathered with garlicky salsa verde over a salad of fennel, radish, and watercress ($13.50).
432 Union Avenue, at Devoe Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-486-7717
Hope & Anchor
Red Hook is a culinary backwater ripe for gentrification -- especially with the prospect of a Fairway satellite on the waterfront, a French brasserie under construction nearby, and the recent opening of this friendly diner, a beacon in the Brooklyn wilderness. Stop in for all-day breakfast, a BLT ($5), or inventive, gently priced dinner entrées ($9–$12) like cauliflower ravioli with raisins and capers. Anything deep-fried is (predictably) delicious, even if the clam cakes have a batter-to-crustacean ratio of about ten to one. Plus a decent wine list, service without attitude, and a superb ice-cream sandwich.
347 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, 718-237-0276
The trick to dining at Anne Rosenzweig's comfortable, cut-rate sequel to boom-year bistros Arcadia and Lobster Club is to avoid filling up on delectably lethal bar snacks like deep-fried bacon-wrapped dates, fried oysters, and a mustardy grilled cheddar-and-ramp sandwich. That way, you can savor chef–co-owner Charleen Badman's seasonally inspired salads, homemade pastas, and charismatic comfort food, like roast chicken over a pungent field of spaetzle and "lilies" (a lyrical and botanically correct name for onions, garlic, and shallots) for $16.
9 Jones Street, 212-229-9999
Long Island City Café
This friendly, spare café is mostly a lunchtime operation, but on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, the lights are dimmed, candles are lit, and an American comfort-food dinner menu kicks in, with Tony Bennett on the stereo and entrées like roast halibut and filet mignon bordelaise running from $11 to $17. The fresh-mozzarella salad is distinguished by pre-season cherry tomatoes with decent flavor, and the garlicky stuffed artichoke would pass muster in any of the venerable Italian kitchens nearby.
5-48 49th Avenue, Long Island City, 718-361-2004
Park Slope has wholeheartedly embraced this poor man's Le Bernardin, and with good reason: Chef-owner Aaron Bashy and his wife, Vicki, deliver high-quality, inventively prepared seafood at neighborhood-friendly prices (most entrées run $16–$17). The cozy vibe and diverse wine selection are as much of a draw as the meaty fish cakes with toasted-paprika aïoli and the couscous-crusted scallops with chickpea fries. And between his periodic kids' cooking classes and his all-you-can-eat blue-crab fests, Bashy seems determined to turn his modest neighborhood restaurant into a full-fledged community center.
442 9th Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 718-832-5500
Sara Jenkins cooks with the seasons and shops at the Greenmarket, which makes her small daily menu (entrées range from $12 to $22) fresh, unpredictable, and Chez Panissean in spirit -- think Jonathan Waxman's Washington Park on an East Village budget. Earthy, comforting soups; rich, veggie-strewn pastas; boutique free-range pork and veal; and fresh, expertly cooked fish sound simple but are elevated by first-rate ingredients -- even the house olive oil makes a bold, aromatic statement. The décor is thrift-shop funky and the kitchen is tiny, but what emerges from it is often creative, always satisfying, and a refreshing break from the pervasive cook-by-numbers approach.
31 Second Avenue, 212-460-9171
Pearson's Texas Barbecue
Like fading rock stars who find blue instead of green M&Ms in their dressing rooms, some of the city's new self-styled barbecue connoisseurs are impossible to please. And it's not only the meat that has to be just so; it's also the ambience, which according to these experts should approximate something like Fred Sanford's front lawn. Pearson's has both requirements covered. The new location in the back of a Jackson Heights bar isn't as screen-door funky-grubby great as the old Long Island City one with its backyard picnic tables, but it's got a working man's vibe, a jukebox, and an occasional Hell's Angel with a motorcycle mama in tow. On the other hand, the wood-smoked pork ribs, pulled chicken, chopped pork, brisket, and hot links ($12–$14.50 per pound) -- all available as sandwiches on excellent Portuguese rolls ($5.95– $6.45) -- are so damn good, and dare we say authentic, you'd be happy eating this grub off of a Frette-linen tablecloth with an asparagus holder at Ducasse. Pearson's is the closest New York comes to a quibble-free 'cue zone.
71-04 35th Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens, 718-779-7715
Park Slope panini shop.
195 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-857-1950
Grilled fresh bacon with figs and fingerlings runs $17 on the Tavern Room menu. Sample three-ounce tastes of wine, and split chef Claudia Fleming's incomparable fruit-crisp-of-the-moment.
42 East 20th Street; 212-477-0777