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New York’s Best Cheap Eats

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THREE STARS


25. Inside
This perpetually under-the-radar Village sleeper is a civilized oasis in the boozy Bleecker–West 4th corridor. The cooking is seasonal American, which these days can mean almost anything, but here translates to sturdy wheels of fried green tomatoes with a thick, tangy Green Goddess dressing, crisp-skinned roast chicken on a bed of buttery spaetzle, and perhaps New York’s most fiendish snack: almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, coated in some presumably controlled substance, and baked to a crisp.
9 Jones St.; 212-229-9999

26. Blue Smoke
The authenticity arguments could go on forever, but there is no question that much of the food served at Danny Meyer’s G-rated “joint” is eminently cravable, from the juicy cheeseburger to the best mac-and- cheese in town to the incongruous Greekish chopped salad. Speaking as non-Texans, we often find the brisket to be pretty good, and as non-Southerners, we deem the fried chicken as delicious as it is underrated. It’s not the best barbecue in town, but it’s a great restaurant nonetheless.
116 E. 27th St.; 212-447-7733

27. Tulcingo del Valle
A Hell’s Kitchen Mexican deli made good, Tulcingo annexed the store next door for a full-fledged sit-down restaurant—tablecloths, white Zinfandel, and all. The setting is nice and the service nicer, but you’re here for the food, which is fresh, well seasoned, and extremely filling. Skip the antojitos and soups (except maybe for the soothing posole) if you want do full justice to a plato, which you will. Especially if it’s the pipian de pollo, a couple of long-cooked chicken parts in a verdant sea of creamy pumpkinseed sauce that is so ample it will employ every single steamed tortilla in the basket. Of the three abnormally fresh, flavorful house salsas, green is best.
665 Tenth Ave.; 212-262-5510

28. iCi
This seasonal American restaurant in French-bistro clothing (the effortlessly suave owner, the flawless breakfast croissants) might be single-handedly keeping any number of local farmers in business. Purveyors figure big on the menu, from Cloonshee Farm chicken to Flying Pigs pork, and the chef gives adulatory credit where credit’s due, be it Added Value farm in Red Hook for collard greens or Il Laboratorio del Gelato for a custom-crafted bitters-flavored ice cream. In a day and age when local-and-seasonal sounds more like advertising copy than a culinary philosophy, does that fact alone merit three stars? Yes, when the cooking’s so heartfelt, the flavors as so bold, the wines so affordable, and the garden so peaceful.
246 DeKalb Ave., Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-789-2778

29. Sentosa
Residing in indecision-provoking proximity to Sichuan-favorite Spicy & Tasty, Sentosa celebrates the characteristically pungent, sometime incendiary flavors of Malaysian cuisine. Experience them in the roti canai—a delicate, flaky flatbread vehicle for scooping up chicken-potato curry—and the complexly spiced beef rendang, which has enough heat to make a strong impression but not enough to scare you off.
39-07 Prince St., Ste. 1F, Flushing; 718-886-6331

30. Totonno’s
A medieval crust, a sloppy splash of sauce, and the sweetest, freshest mozzarella make the pie at this famous pizza shack the best of its coal-oven kind by a wide margin. The occasional pizzaiolo outburst, the casual policy concerning store hours (open until the dough runs out), and the no-frills, airplane-wine-bottle selection only add to the charm. Forget about the Manhattan branches and their foggy affiliations. Every self-respecting pizza-loving New Yorker should visit the Coney Island original at least once in his lifetime. Go soon before they run out of dough permanently.
1524 Neptune Ave., Coney Island, Brooklyn; 718-372-8606

31. Bar Jamón
There are veal-calf pens more spacious and forgiving than this tiny tapas bar’s U-shaped dining hutch/torture chamber. A yogi master, a Romanian gymnast, and the Human Pretzel from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! would find it difficult to sup here simultaneously. It doesn’t help matters that the baying young crowd is territorially aggressive like junkyard dogs. But the food, if you can find a place to put it, is terrific—more traditional and less expensive than Casa Mono next door. Especially the chorizo with piquillos, the ham-and-cheese bocadito, and the house-cured tuna served in a pickled- fennel boat. If you go off-hours—right before the 2 a.m. last call, or on a weekend afternoon—you lessen your chances of being jabbed in the ribs or poked in the eye.
125 E. 17th St.; 212-253-2773

32. Chestnut
Somewhat eclipsed by the Grocery, its Zagat-sanctified neighbor to the south, Chestnut is a Smith Street gem, its seasonal menu infiltrated with the random Mexican dish or two. The achiote-chicken soup is spicy as advertised; the charred-octopus salad a marvel of unrubbery flesh showered with chickpeas, kale, and feta. The garden, the drink list, and the homemade-bread-and- pickle plate earn the humble Chestnut a third star. L 271 Smith St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-243-0049

33. Congee Village
This is New York’s premier Cantonese restaurant, and for a place that traffics in goose intestines and fish maws, it’s surprisingly popular with a multiethnic crowd. Skip the congee unless you have a thing for hot breakfast gruel and opt instead for House Special chicken, crisp and juicy and showered with fried garlic. Flounder in Two Tastes is really two textures—steamed and fried—both delicious. And who can resist the giant sautéed crab with ginger and scallion? If you’re with your entourage, try to commandeer a table on the upper deck, with the lazy Susans and chair backs carved into giant eagle heads.
100 Allen St.; 212-941-1818

34. Katz’s
With a George Costanza–like flourish, make a show of tipping the counterman a dollar. Provided you don’t annoy him too much, he’ll hand you a slice or two of hand-carved meat—not to see whether you approve, but as a kind of reverse tip. “Here you go, buddy,” he’ll say, flinging it over the counter like a zookeeper tossing a sardine to a seal. That’s just one of the Old World niceties that still distinguish this ancient delicatessen. Pastrami is the way to go. But the hot dogs and the garlic-laden sausages known as knoblewurst (stukel to old-timers) are first-rate, too. Fressers order a pastrami sandwich with two dogs on the side.
205 E. Houston St.; 212-254-2246

35. Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen
With his Harlem empire and his partnership in the new Rack & Soul, it seems a bit reductive to identify Charles Gabriel only with his golden-brown, skillet-fried chicken, a thing of uncommon beauty and savor. After all, the man must be praised for the rest of his oeuvre—his oxtails, his salmon cakes, his barbecued ribs, and all the textbook soul-food sides that accompany them on one of the best $11.99 all-you-can-eat buffets in town.
2841 Eighth Ave.; 212-926-4313

36. The Queen’s Hideaway
This Greenpoint curiosity has more personality than it has seats, so be prepared to wait. The menu changes weekly with the vagaries of the season and the whim of the chef, whose eclectic cooking is at once homey and worldly and often inspired by the bountiful plates of the American South. The garden is a bit ramshackle and overgrown, but there are few more atmospheric places to linger over a bottle of wine or a slice of home-baked pie.
222 Franklin St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-2355

37. ’inoteca
The bigger, brasher offshoot of tiny ’ino expands upon the panini-and-tramezzini theme with a handful of main courses and delectable fritti, and the joint is so popular that visits must be timed to the off-off hours. But snag a table and all’s well in your highly trafficked corner of the Lower East Side, with a savvy wine gal guiding you through the all-Italian list and an engrossing urban spectacle passing you by.
98 Rivington St.; 212-614-0473

38. Nick’s Pizza
Nick Angelis isn’t Italian, and his ovens run on gas. Despite those obstacles, he has earned a spot in New York’s pizza pantheon, alongside Gennaro Lombardi and Totonno’s Jerry Pero. Not only is his Forest Hills pizzeria consistently excellent, he’s parlayed his success there into a mini-empire that includes Adrienne’s downtown and a Nick’s on the Upper East Side. Killer cannolis, too.
108-26 Ascan Ave., Forest Hills; 718-263-1126

39. Alta
In this post-tapas world of the multiethnic, foam-speckled small plate, Alta has managed to stay both relevant and delicious, thanks to the efforts of Harrison Mosher, the genial chef whose kitchen one passes through on the way to the best seat in the house, a second-floor perch overlooking ridiculously quaint West 10th Street. The extremely eclectic selection guarantees there’s always something new to try—unless you opt for “the Whole Shebang,” all 45 plates for $320.
64 W. 10th St.; 212-505-7777

40. 360
One of Red Hook’s first destination restaurants, 360 retains its idiosyncratic atmosphere and pioneer spirit, even if its chefs seem to change as often as the $25 prix fixe menu. But owner Arnaud Erhart maintains strict quality control, not to mention one of the more unique wine lists in town, showcasing organic and biodynamic bottles from small French producers.
360 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn; 718-246-0360

41. Via Emilia
Like those Irish pubs you can send away for and build from a kit, most casual Italian restaurants follow a tired old formula. That’s not the case at this low-key trattoria, where chef-owner William Matteo delves into the regional delicacies of his native Emilia-Romagna like gnoccho fritto, puffy pillows of fried dough to wrap around prosciutto di Parma; cotechino sausage with lentils; and all manner of tortellini and its supersize cousin, tortelloni. It’s rich food best accompanied by a bottle of fizzy Lambrusco, of which Matteo has the widest selection in town.
47 E. 21st St.; 212-505-3072

42. Freemans
Hipness and deliciousness tend to be mutually exclusive, but not, surprisingly, at this taxidermy-happy pseudo-lodge at the end of the Lower East Side’s most heavily trafficked alley. The service is warm, the bartenders accomplished (try the tart, tangy house cocktail), and the food unexpectedly satisfying, if simple. Brunch is best, when the crowds abate and the kitchen turns out variously fashioned eggs, horseradish-creamed trout, and that unlikely retro signature dish, hot artichoke dip.
End of Freeman Alley off Rivington St. bet. Bowery and Chrystie St.; 212-420-0012

43. Alias
Now that the pioneering 71 Clinton Fresh Food and aKa Café have closed their doors, Alias is the sole survivor of the restaurant family that made Clinton Street’s culinary name. Maybe that’s because the prices are low enough and the menu flexible enough to keep the locals coming back. But the kitchen’s genuine reliance on seasonal ingredients, and the offbeat way it combines them, as in a recent salad of Greenmarket strawberries, fried capers, and Di Palo’s ricotta, gives it a distinct identity on a block where it’s gotten much tougher to stand out.
76 Clinton St.; 212-505-5011

44. Grand Sichuan St. Marks
This great Sichuan chainlet has blazed a chile-pepper trail from Chinatown, up Ninth Avenue to Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, crosstown to Murray Hill and over to Second Avenue, and now to St. Marks Place, where the newest branch features all the old favorites, from the eminently fatty Red Cooking pork with chestnuts to the humble but delicious shredded potatoes with vinegar sauce. Is this branch the best? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s the one in our neighborhood.
19-23 St. Marks Pl.; 212-529-4800

45. 202
English chef Annie Wayte is the guiding culinary force behind Nicole Farhi’s transatlantic in-store cafés, and at 202 at Chelsea Market, her seasonal salads and sophisticated sandwiches provide just the Mediterranean-inspired, Brit-inflected sustenance you’ll need after browsing the racks. Wayte’s guacamole-slathered tuna burger is superb, and cheaper here than at sister restaurant Nicole’s uptown, and her savory chicken curry is a model of flavorful—but not belligerent—spicing. A little-known fact: 202’s baked goods are delicious, and available to go.
75 Ninth Ave. (in Chelsea Market); 646-638-1173

46. Li Hua
For some, comfort is best found in a bowl of chicken soup. That’s only because they haven’t tried Li Hua’s kimchee jjigae, an incendiary pork-and-cabbage stew. This isn’t one of those raucous table-grill Korean barbecue joints you’ll find in midtown, where its sister restaurant, Mandoo Bar, is located, but an unassumingly serene (and seemingly overlooked) oasis on the edge of Chinatown. Unlike many of its pork-loving ilk, Li Hua offers some vegetarian options, including one of the better tofus out there.
171 Grand St.; 212-343-0090

47. Rack & Soul
It used to be you had to go much farther uptown—42 blocks, in fact, to Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen—to find skillet-fried chicken this good. But now that Charles Gabriel himself has become a poultry-consultant partner at this cozy new soul-food spot, downtowners have a shorter trip. Once they make it, though, they shouldn’t overlook the rest of the menu: flavorful pulled pork, melting short ribs, and saucy baby backs are all worthy digressions, served with the customary two sides and glazed biscuits almost as sweet as the tea.
2818 Broadway; 212-222-4800

48. Saravanaas
There are few better places to be a vegetarian than southern India, the region that gave us spongy steamed idlys, crispy fried vadas, and those titanic rolled and stuffed crêpes called dosas, all of which can be found with their attendant chutneys and sambas at this bare, bright Curry Hill spot. The experimental (or indecisive) can order a thali—a round tray ringed with small metal bowls of soups, curries, rices, and sauces, of varying and harmonious degrees of spiciness. Nice wine list, too, courtesy of Best Cellars’ Joshua Wesson.
81 Lexington Ave.; 212-679-0204


49. Bar Carrera
New York restaurants have stretched the definition of tapas almost beyond recognition, but not this narrow nook of a late-night hangout, where the seating is tight, the music a bit loud, and the focus resolutely Spanish. Plates are small and, at $3.50 a pop, priced accordingly, and despite a tip of the beret to the Spanish avant-garde—a tomato sorbet here, a brûléed pork belly there—the simplest things are best: smoky chorizo tucked into a crusty mini-baguette like an Iberian frankfurter; piquillos stuffed with tuna-and-red-pepper mousse; oozy, ultraripe Torta del Casar slicked on bread and topped with gooey candied chestnuts.
175 Second Ave.; 212-375-1555

50. Rai Rai Ken
You won’t find a better East Village alternative to the perpetually mobbed Momofuku than this traditional ramen bar. The flavorful broths come chock-full of various delicacies like fish cakes, roast pork, bamboo shoots, and crispy garlic. Show the chef you appreciate his handiwork and attack the bowl in proper ramen-connoisseur fashion—lowering the noggin to within an inch of the steaming broth and slurping away as if you suddenly remembered you had a bus to catch.
214 E. 10th St.; 212-477-7030

51. Bouillabaisse 126
Chef-about-Brooklyn Neil Ganic has settled down (for now) at this bigger, better version of the cult-favorite fish house he opened over a dozen years ago. Certain concessions have been made to public demand: Credit cards are accepted; wine and beer are served. But very little has changed about Ganic’s food—the meaty, succulent crab cake, the aromatic fish stews—or the way it’s advertised, on portable blackboard menus that have neighboring diners craning their necks for a peek.
126 Union St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-4405

52. Kabab Cafe
There’s a menu at Kabab Cafe, the most distinctive of Steinway Street’s Middle Eastern joints. Regulars never look at it. Instead, they strike up a conversation with chef-owner Ali El-Sayed, who ambles over and intuits what they feel like eating. Meals seldom commence without an improvisational meze plate, and touch down in such unfamiliar territory as Latin-American humitas and Egyptian fava-bean falafel.
25-12 Steinway St., Astoria; 718- 728-9858

53. Frank
The seating is tight, the service brusque (but efficient), and the cash-only policy absurd when you consider the length and breadth of the all-Italian wine list, but Frank still manages to charm and satisfy. The menu celebrates red sauce in all its unabashedly retro Italian-American glory with “Grandma Carmela’s tomato and meat gravy” and the polpettone, a hefty hunk of seasoned meat loaf. Seldom have riper tomatoes graced a bruschetta.
88 Second Ave.; 212-420-0202

54. Daisy May’s BBQ U.S.A.
Judging by the riotous red-faced crowd stuffing their maws in the back room of this Hell’s Kitchen rib joint, you’d never know New York was such a (purportedly) barbecue-challenged town. Adam Perry Lang, veteran of the estimable rib joints Daniel and Le Cirque, has a fleet of chili-packing pushcarts and is also responsible for the X-rated steaks at Robert’s, but this is his home base, the place where he smokes his first-rate Memphis-style ribs. Sides are almost uniformly goopy, if you like that sort of thing, and the pulled pork dry. But the special-order whole hogs and pork butts are full-fledged Falstaffian affairs. Call ahead and prepare to don plastic surgical gloves and bibs.
623 Eleventh Ave.; 212-977-1500

55. La Pollada de Laura
Tragically underappreciated, Peruvian food has yet to scale the ethnic-cuisine heights occupied by Thai, Japanese, and Indian, despite its uncontested superiority in the crowd-pleasing realms of rotisserie chicken and seviche (not to mention that estimable libation the pisco sour). This cozy Corona storefront ladles up some of the best citrus-juice-marinated seafood in town, including a version that’s half corvina seviche, half fried calamari, and all tangy, onion-smothered goodness.
102-03 Northern Blvd., Corona; 718-426-7818

56. Schnäck
Follow the sweet smell of the Frialator into this kitschy Carroll Gardens burger joint, and be prepared to quiver, if not with Proustian emotion, then at least with Augustus-Gloopian glee. The giant murals of hot dogs and Carling’s Black Label beer set the nostalgic tone. From the kitchen come snappy skinned frankfurters and various sausages made by old-school butchers as well as succulent sliders served on mini-buns. You can wash it all down with a beer milk shake. But whatever you do, don’t miss the onion rings—not so much a side dish, as an all-you-can-eat buffet of fried-onion clumps, spectacularly crunchy and shamelessly salty.
122 Union St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-2879

57. ’wichcraft
Tom Colicchio’s gleaming, industrial-chic chain of sandwich shops is the textbook example of an haute chef’s attempts to fill a downmarket need. Downmarket, of course, is a relative term, considering the quality of ingredients and the skill with which they’re combined. Lately, we’ve been on a breakfast-frittata-with-roasted-tomato-and-cheddar bender, but the muffaletta-style salami-and-cauliflower number and the white-anchovy-and-egg curiosity have yet to lose their potent charms.
Various locations; wichcraftnyc.com; 212-780-0577

58. Hummus Place
It might be a one-trick pony, but turning out such consistently rich and creamy, oil-dappled chickpea paste is one mighty fine trick. Get the version called foul, enriched with stewed favas and a hard-boiled egg, and you’ll exceed your protein quota for the week. For the full Israeli fast-food experience, scoop it up with puffy pita, wash it down with mint-sprigged lemonade, and don’t stint on the hot sauce and pickles.
109 St. Marks Pl.; 212-529-9198

59. Egg
Unlike establishments that offer breakfast as an afterthought, Williamsburg’s Egg has made the morning meal its raison d’être. The menu has a southern slant—as does, in a way, the ramshackle, un-air-conditioned premises—and celebrates artisanal foodstuffs like Anson Mills grits, free-range eggs, and the saltiest, smokiest, meatiest Kentucky ham, best tucked into a buttermilk biscuit with Grafton Cheddar and a swipe of fig jam. Eggs are fried and pancakes flipped only until the stroke of noon, when the space transforms into Sparky’s burger-and-hot-dog shack.
135 N. 5th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-302-5151


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