28 Greenwich Ave., nr. W. 10th St.; 212-675-2688
Frothy, refreshing, sweet, and salty yogurt drinks are only part of the Indian-inspired equation at this cheerful takeout shop. There’s also a daily changing blackboard menu of bean stews and salads; intricately spiced chicken, lamb, and vegetables, served with fluffy basmati rice; and a roster of tender, chewy paratha, griddle-cooked flatbread variously stuffed with goat, daikon, or cauliflower. Owner Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez is also a pastry chef, which explains the occasional and gratifying appearance of delectable sweets like chocolate-jasmine pudding and carrot halvah cake.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
163 First Ave., nr. 10th St.; 212-475-7899
It’s a tight squeeze in this blond-wooded nook of a noodle bar. The loyal clientele, many mesmerized local chefs among them, belly in to sample a menu that’s less interpretive Japanese than New York eclectic, with an emphasis on Greenmarket produce and a fresh approach to Pan-Asian innovations like soft-shell-crab steamed buns and kimchi Brussels sprouts. The menu changes often, but you’ll always find the sumptuously porky house ramen. And watching all the action in the open kitchen is great, mouthwatering theater.
31-18E Broadway, Astoria; 718-777-2829
It’s hard to imagine a cuisine that can’t be found in Astoria, one of New York’s most heterogeneous neighborhoods. Almost the same can be said of Mundo, a playful café with one Turkish owner, one Argentine owner, and a kitchen that dabbles in both cuisines. Yogurt-drenched manti (Turkish dumplings) and crispy beef empanadas make sense, but a barley-rusk-and-black-eyed-pea salad? A Cypriot friend of the house gets credit for that crunchy chopped-vegetable medley embellished with creamy feta and herbs. Soft-cooked artichoke bottoms are strewn with dill and served with ring-molded fava-bean purée. Wedges of oil-brushed, spice-dusted house bread are perfect for scooping up smoky grilled eggplant mashed with roasted pepper, tomatoes, and, most notably, garlic—which, judging from its prevalence on Mundo’s menu, seems to be the universal culinary language. For now, cash only and BYO.
150 E. 2nd St., nr. Ave. A; 212-388-1088
Before Nicky’s landed in Alphabet City last summer, you had to hoof it to Chinatown or Sunset Park to satisfy a yen for banh mi, Vietnam’s great contribution to the sandwich canon. Now, in simple quarters furnished with three small tables, Nicky’s indoctrinates East Villagers into the rich and pungent ways of a toasted French baguette carefully layered with pâté, ham, ground pork, and a crunchy garnish of carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapeño. There’s nothing diluted about the basic banh mi, which tastes as good as the one we remember from An Dông, Nicky’s Sunset Park precursor, but Nicky’s offers alternatives made with dark-meat chicken, pork chops, even portobellos.
158 W. 58th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-247-2727
Like Bar Demi, Half Wine Bar Lounge, and Landmarc before it, this sleek new lounge heralds the user-friendliness of the half bottle, with a collection ranging from a $21 Chardonnay to a $185 Bordeaux. That alone would make it an enticing destination for the experimental oenophile, but factor in friendly, nonaggressive service, a calm, grown-up atmosphere, and a small-plate menu ($4 to $15) to match the small-bottle premise, and you’ve got an oasis in the surrounding desert of oppressively fancy restaurants and tourist traps. You’d expect a slick place like this to serve oysters on the half-shell and tuna tartare, and it does. But the kitchen also turns out a juicy cheeseburger, taller than it is wide, and after 11 P.M. (it serves till 3:30 in the morning), breakfasty fare like fried-oyster omelettes and lobster eggs Benedict.
26-18 23rd Ave., Astoria; 718-626-9162
There is something inherently homey about Philoxenia, that rare Astorian Greek restaurant that manages to operate without the tourist-luring benefit of a fluorescent fish display or twirling gyro. Instead, the unassuming restaurant relies on its warm ambience and the considerable talents of its cooks, whose food looks and tastes like something your Greek grandma would serve: warm foil-wrapped feta baked with tomato and olives, assertively seasoned meatballs, pressed nearly flat and lapped with tomato sauce; thick Greek yogurt, a gift from the kitchen, strewn with walnuts and drizzled with honey to ensure your visit ends on a sweet note.
The Queen’s Hideaway
222 Franklin Ave., nr. Green St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-2355
Do not expect royal treatment at the Queen’s Hideaway. Bring a bottle of wine, and your waitress will unceremoniously hand you a corkscrew. Ask for a doggie bag, and you’ll have to pack it. It’s cash-only and BYO. The kitchen—a tiny nook in the back of a bare-bones room—can be sluggish. Astoundingly, none of that matters in the least. The Hideaway feels like a labor of love, like a friend’s dinner party, like real home cooking, like what you pray to find on back roads in small towns on a cross-country trip but end up stumbling over in a remote corner of Brooklyn. It’s a one-woman operation (nearly—someone else bakes the pies) where the chef-owner writes a new menu daily, uses great purveyors and Greenmarket produce, and smokes her own buffalo flank steak out back. There is no pretense, but there are fresh strawberry preserves along with hot, buttery popovers at brunch. Which would you prefer?