| Poor relative: craftbar is Craft's cheaper neighbor.
Even after an "expansion," this tiny BYOB café is as cramped as a car on the subway line it's named after, populated by a mellow mix of Columbia students and Upper West Siders communing over French-Caribbean-accented small plates with equally small price tags ($6–$10). There's a fiery kick to the escargots with cilantro-chili butter, and the hot grilled avocado with a dollop of spinach mousse where the pit used to be is a nutty experiment that works, smooth as butter in a puddle of shiitake-sesame vinaigrette.
947 Columbus Ave., at 106th St.; 212-531-1643
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
Easily the most stylish panini bar in town -- and, happily, bearing no stigma from last month's visit by a gun-wielding madman.
175 Second Avenue; 212-260-3200
Bistro St. Mark's
Every Monday night, chef Johannes Sanzin composes a four-course tasting menu for $25, a spectacular bargain when you see what tasting portions look like in Brooklyn. (Skip lunch.) Sanzin, an alumnus of Bouley, inherited that kitchen's way with fish and the perverse knack of its ultrarich potato purée, which came one night alongside seared black bass with littleneck clams. He revels in unexpected touches, like toasted walnuts and Asian pear in a woody mushroom salad, and a summer succotash of limas, tomato, and corn with the rack of lamb. The high-ceilinged space is an echo chamber, and the staff gets stretched thin, but nothing seems to faze the multicultural clientele of brownstone renovators, bam-goers, and the upstairs neighbor making a solitary dinner of oysters and beer at the bar.
76 St. Mark's Avenue, near Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 718-857-8600
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
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
Neither shabby-cheap nor trendy-chic, Nam claims the sparsely populated Vietnamese-restaurant middle ground: understated Tribeca hip with handsome bamboo-and-wheatgrass décor and an appealing, surprisingly affordable menu (entrées, $11–$16). Rice-paper wrappers are as fresh as the whole shrimp they're stuffed with; stir-fried chopped monkfish on a black-seeded rice cracker is a terrific textural contrast; and the Hanoi-style barbecued pork is delectably charred and speckled, like most everything else, with chopped peanuts. Toasted coconut renders the homey warm banana bread just exotic enough.
110 Reade Street, 212-267-1777
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
The menu at this New Age noodle parlor should employ quotation marks to let you know when the kitchen's being cute. The slick "chicken linguine" seems more Tokyo than Tuscany ($9), and the "tower of wontons" reveals itself to be a stack of fried wonton skins, a single tender shrimp tucked between each pair of layers ($7). Everything's light, impeccably fresh, and full of flavor, especially the citrusy green-papaya salad ($7) and the fluffy, delicious peanut sauce that makes the mushroom rolls a compulsory order ($6).
349 East 12th Street, 212-614-0155