Cipriani Le Specialità
Forgo the scene at Harry Cipriani, and savor top-notch espresso, rich pastas, and an assortment of sophisticated Italian sandwiches at Cipriani Le Specialità, a café with just three tables. (Be prepared to share yours with a stranger.)
110 East 42nd Street; 212-557-5088
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
Arriving at Cosette on a dark Murray Hill side street is like being lost in the French countryside and stumbling upon a warm and welcoming sleepy-village bistro. From the moment owner Bernard Massuger insists on putting the Côte de Brouilly on ice when he senses it hasn't hit the perfect serving temperature, you know you're going to be well taken care of. Things only get better from there with chef Boubaka Segda's tasty phyllo-dough aumôniére filled with chèvre and grilled portobellos ($9), a gut-busting wintertime cassoulet ($19), and first-rate steak-frites ($18).
163 East 33rd Street, 212-889-5489
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. Wash it all down with tart sangria, left. You won't hesitate outside this door again.
43 Carmine Street, 212-242-2606
D.O.C. Wine Bar
With its out-of-the-way charm and candlelit farmhouse tables, D.O.C isn't the Autogrille, but it makes a good pressed mortadella.
83 North 7th Street; 718-963-1925
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
We were stunned to learn that this tiny Washington Heights Ecuadoran joint had recently been renovated: With only two tables and an open kitchen crammed with peppers, simmering stockpots, and bags of rice, what could it have possibly looked like before? Regardless, if you're interested in tasty, aggressively seasoned Latino fare at rock-bottom prices, make a pit stop here on your way to or from the Cloisters for big bowls of soupy, citrusy seviche ($11), pollo guisado ($7), and, on Saturdays, a selection of Ecuadoran snacks like empanadas and llapingachos. Beware what looks like homemade coleslaw -- it's full of aji pepper, and will blow you away.
511 West 181st Street, 212-923-3030
Endure clueless service and discomfiting staff imbroglios for what amounts to an Israeli vegetarian feast, starting with gratis pickles and olives, followed by an appetizer sampler and thick pita bread, and dominated by liberal (if painful) applications of z'houg, the Yemeni hot sauce. The lemon-and-oil-drenched appeal of Middle Eastern food shines in starters like spicy red-pepper-and-tomato Moroccan salad ($4) and smoky baba ghannouj ($4.50). And how can you resist a place that makes such transcendent hummus? Leave room for malawach ($6), the flaky fried flatbread, and jachnun ($7), the Saturday special of 24-hour-baked cylinders of dough.
7 Seventh Avenue South, 212-206-7374
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 (see photo at left) 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
Il Posto Accanto
An ambitious little enoteca from the owners of Il Bagatto.
190 East 2nd Street; 212-228-3562
The heated competition of Jackson Heights's bustling Indian enclave makes it a compulsory bargain-buffet destination. A couple doors down from the bigger, better-known Jackson Diner, this plucky David undercuts the ballyhooed Goliath by a buck, charging $6.95 (weekday lunch) for its all-you-can-eat feast of golden-battered vegetable pakora, mixed grill, savory goat curry, a surpassingly rich chicken mekhani (the house specialty), and a lineup of vegetables that have been cooked into fragrant, spicy submission. Remember: No doggie bags and no sharing.
37-25 74th Street, Jackson Heights, Queens, 718-651-4187
Panini notable for lightness of bread and perfect proportion of filling.
21 Bedford Street; 212-989-5769
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
The Jerk Center
Here's a "Cheap Eats" dining tip: Make sure you have the correct number before calling to ask directions to any eating establishment that happens to have the word jerk in its title. In particular, the question "Is this the Jerk Center?," we've learned, does not go over well with anyone who doesn't actually prepare or serve Jamaican barbecue for a living. No matter the difficulty of getting there, the Jerk Center, a shabby space located at the back of a defunct Bronx cell-phone-and-beeper store, is worth the effort. The joint's tenaciously spiced, minimally sauced jerk chicken (in $4, $6, and $8 portions, with cabbage, salad, and rice and peas) may be the deepest, smokiest, charcoaliest barbecued bird in the five boroughs. Danny Meyer should send a spy.
1296 East Gunhill Road, the Bronx, 718-547-1970
Joe and Pat's Pizzeria
At the risk of enraging the Staten Island pizza mob, those who crave a true thin crust, a mildly sweet crushed-tomato sauce, and a delicate dose of mozzarella might consider bypassing the hallowed grounds of Denino's for this nondescript, unatmospheric pizzeria done up in pre-fab Greek-diner décor and staffed by what must be half the local sophomore class of idly gossiping high-school girls. But when one of them can be troubled to take your order and deliver your fourteen-inch medium pie ($9.75), the environs melt away like artful dabs of cheese into a winningly thin crust.
1758 Victory Boulevard, near Manor Road, Staten Island, 718-981-0887