60. Marlow & Sons
Sometimes, all you want is a plate of oysters or a platter of perfectly aged cheese, a bowl of olives or a wedge of a Spanish tortilla, and at those times, you head for Marlow, a vaguely nautical back-room restaurant so perfectly constructed it fairly glows. There are heftier plates, too—stews and sandwiches, and good desserts—but to us, Marlow is a grazer’s paradise, with a nice wine list and the best lighting in Williamsburg.
81 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-1441
61. Yakitori Totto
Avian-flu obsessives, read no further. Everyone else, make haste to this second-story theater-district yakitori bar, where all-business grill chefs skewer and cook every conceivable poultry part, from skin to tail. There are thighs, hearts, livers, gizzards, necks, and the ever-popular “soft knee bones.” It’s all delicious, especially the skewered chicken “meatballs,” tender torpedoes of minced meat prepared three ways: plain, glazed with sauce, or stuffed in shishito peppers.
251 W. 55th St.; 212-245-4555
Convivial and convincingly French, with charming waiters and a multilingual crowd, this Long Island City bistro is snappily run and perpetually packed. The food’s good, too, and just offbeat enough to keep things interesting. There’s steak-frites, of course, but also cheesy tartiflette (an occasional special), and a mysterious affinity for un-Gallic garnishes like pineapple. Unlike many of its Manhattan brethren, Tournesol has managed to avoid the dreaded price creep—a boon for the neighborhood and romantic skinflints everywhere.
50-12 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City; 718-472-4355
63. La Taza de Oro
WE SERVE MARGARINE reads the sign affixed to the wall behind the Formica counter. Whether that’s a boast or a warning, you get the feeling that little if anything, including the butter substitute, has changed over the years at this venerable Puerto Rican luncheonette. Not that anyone’s complaining. Even the prices of the main courses, which come with a heaping plate of rice and beans, seem held over from another era. The daily specials keep things interesting: Feast on stewed codfish on Monday, goat stew on Tuesday, and roast pork with its occasional bonus snout (this is a nose-to-tail kind of joint, after all) on Wednesday.
96 Eighth Ave.; 212-243-9946
64. Buenos Aires
Always a challenge for the penny-pinching epicure, steak seldom fits the Underground Gourmet’s budget. That’s where Buenos Aires comes in, with its myriad cuts of Argentine-style grass-fed beef (procured, thanks to a ban on the genuine article, from Uruguay and Nebraska). While you won’t mistake it for Kobe, you probably won’t find a better inexpensive steak-frites (be sure to request your fries blitzed with garlic and parsley). And even if your harried waiter can’t elaborate on the subtle differences between the various Malbecs, they’re cheap enough for you to find out for yourself.
513 E. 6th St.; 212-228-2775
65. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
It’s not that the pork ribs, the beef brisket, and the Texas hot links aren’t good. It’s just that the giant spice-rubbed and pit-smoked chicken wings—as toothsome an appetizer as ever was dipped into a tiny plastic cup of blue-cheese dressing and chased back with a celery stick—are such a hard act to follow. Considering the raucousness of the crowd, the hostess and the servers are surprisingly in control, like professional rodeo hands. And despite the faux-roadhouse décor, there seems to be an abundance of genuine honky-tonk women barreling about the premises, which is pretty much what you want in a barbecue joint.
646 W. 131st St.; 212-694-1777
66. Azuri Cafe
In the hierarchy of most-feared food figures, Ezra Cohen falls somewhere between the Soup Nazi and Alessandro, the retired sandwich maestro of Melampo Imported Foods. That reputation might not be deserved, but the one for Mr. Cohen’s falafel certainly is. His platters teem with delectable Middle Eastern salads and spreads, and his soups, a lesser-known but equally precious commodity, have a devoted fan club.
465 W. 51st St.; 212-262-2920
67. Super Taste
This tiny soup shack at the edge of Chinatown makes what is indisputably a five-star bowl of beef noodles for a paltry $4. Try No. 2, or “Hand-Pull Noodle w. Beef In Hot & Spicy Soup”—about a quart of deeply flavored, sinus-clearing broth with an anchor of perfectly chewy noodles. Alas, the mood, as set by the glum slurpers who patronize the establishment, is as cheerful as a July 4 picnic at Guantánamo Bay and weighs in at zero stars, giving Super Taste an average of two stars.
26 Eldridge St.; 212-625-1198
68. Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery
Don’t be fooled by the jewelry-store facade: This schitzophrenic Chinatown storefront is actually home to some of the city’s best Vietnamese sandwiches. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, imagine a baguette-style roll toasted and anointed with mayo and hot sauce, then stuffed with various pig products—in this case, paté, pork roll, and succulent roast pork. The coup de grace is the lovingly applied vegetal matter: sliced cucumbers, hot peppers, pickled carrots, and cilantro. No less a connoisseur than chef Sara Jenkins gets her bánh mì fix here, after grabbing her ticket at Di Palo across the street.
138-01 Mott St.; 212-941-1541
With its tiny tabs and casual converted-pub vibe, Chino’s gives a good name to two much-maligned trends: Pan-Asian and small plates. Thanks to bright, fresh flavors, the combination works, especially in the genius Lilliputian roast-pork sandwich slicked with mustard and kimchee. Nothing seems frightfully authentic, just undeniably tasty.
173 Third Ave.; 212-598-1200
70. Rajbhog Sweets
A big name in the Indian-kulfi-and-sweetmeats business, Rajbhog also operates a modest vegetarian kitchen specializing in the cooking of Gujarat, a region renowned for its tradition of snacking, its characteristic sweet-and-sour flavor profile, and its expertise with pickles. The selection changes daily, featuring vegetables unknown to even the most intrepid Greenmarketeer, and if you’ve never had khaman dhokla (steamed chickpea-flour cakes dotted with black mustard seeds), you’re in for a pleasingly spongy, zestily spiced surprise.
72-27 37th Ave., Jackson Heights; 718-458-8512
71. Rickshaw Dumpling Bar
There are cheaper dumplings. Chinatown’s full of them. But it’s the polished accoutrements that set Rickshaw apart: the sprightly salads with vibrant dressings; the insanely rich black-sesame mochi stuffed with molten chocolate; the heat-beating watermelonade. The space is cleaner and more comfortable than the dumpling houses below Delancey. And the dumplings (the steamed vegetarian and the fried pork, in particular) happen to be delicious.
61 W. 23rd St.; 212-924-9220
Sometimes you just want a burger or a grilled cheese—but not just any burger or grilled cheese. Cramped, convivial Westville improves on coffee-shop standards with better, sometimes organic ingredients, the kind of pies you’d find at a roadside stand, and, to justify that slice, a chalkboard “market menu” of vegetables and salads.
210 W. 10th St.; 212-741-7971
A burger and a beer or cayenne-dusted almonds and a copita of sherry—the choice is yours at this old, atmospheric Prospect Heights tavern turned tapas bar. Beast serves small plates that really aren’t. Portions, in fact, are quite generous, and quite affordable, with sliced skirt steak the biggest splurge at $13. Sticky toffee pudding in a puddle of cream isn’t particularly Spanish, but it is delicious.
638 Bergen St., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-399-6855
74. Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
“Have bread, will toast” should be the motto of this shrewd bakery and general store, where any loaf may be sliced, toasted, and topped to order. The high-quality combinations fall generally into three categories: the French-ish (paté, duck confit); the sweet-ish (manchego and honey, hot fudge); and the Jewish (whitefish salad, cream and onions). There’s a ledge to lean against, a sidewalk bench, and all the makings for an ultra-gourmet picnic.
14 Bedford St.; 212-647-0408
Imagine a falafel shack made over by Martha Stewart and you’d have something like Taïm, where the fresh flowers and exotic fruit displayed throughout make you feel healthier before you order anything. When you do, though, be sure to get a sampling of salads, which are fresh and crunchy and perfect for offsetting the creamy richness of the hummus and dense nuttiness of the falafel, which come in three flavors (original is best). The date-lime-banana smoothie evokes the Arabian desert but vanquishes New York’s summer swelter just as well.
222 Waverly Pl.; 212-691-1287
76. Adrienne’s Pizza Bar
Two stars for bringing excellent pizza to the mozzarella no-man’s-land known as the financial district. After making his name with tender, puffy-crusted Neapolitan-style beauties around the greater metropolitan area, partner Nick Angelis has delved into the rarefied world of thin-crust square, or “grandma”-style pizza, and for the first time, to the eternal gratitude of Wall Street, this formerly staunch whole-pie-only guy is serving slices at lunch.
54 Stone St.; 212-248-3838
77. The Good Fork
Some of our favorite things at this cozy new mom-and-pop spot (he built it, she’s the chef) are Asian-inflected, like the juicy pork dumplings and the kimchee rice that accompanies the Korean-style steak and eggs. The rest of the small menu skews seasonal American—a meaty crab cake here, a roasted free-range upstate New York chicken there—but what’s really special is the unexpected charm of the setting, a neighborhood restaurant you wish were in your own.
391 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn; 718-643-6636
78. Sip Sak
According to Orhan Yegen, the passionate, pony-tailed chef-owner of this Turtle Bay café, Turkish cuisine gets no respect. It’s misunderstood and mangled—by everyone but him. Having tasted his hot yogurt soup and dill-flecked stuffed cabbage, we’re inclined to agree. The menu is extensive and varied, but after following the guy around town from kitchen to kitchen, we’ve come across a foolproof ordering protocol: the appetizer sampler, followed by the invariably lamb-based special of the day.
928 Second Ave.; 212-583-1900
The point of an izakaya is to drink sake, which can easily be done in this spare but welcoming East Village spot. So can snacking on traditional Japanese pub fare, like creamy goma tofu and chicken wings that challenge Buffalo’s supremacy. There are comforting bowls of rice soup, small plates of marinated seafood, delicately dressed vegetables, and a laid-back, neighborly vibe that earns this humble izakaya two stars.
647 E. 11th St.; 212-777-1582
Nothing against the all-you-can-eat melee known as the Brazilian rodizio, where skewer-wielding waiters saunter from table to table plying carnivores with carved-on-demand meat. But for a calmer introduction to the pleasures of the Brazilian table, try this white-tablecloth restaurant set down upon a leafy Astoria street. Chef-owner Herbet Gomes turns out all sorts of rustic but refined recipes like the moqueca de camarao, a fragrant stew of shrimp simmered in coconut milk and palm oil. Saturdays are reserved for his lavish feijoada, the classic black-bean-and-meat extravaganza, which takes all of Sunday to work off.
25-35 36th Ave., Astoria; 718-937-4821
81. Joe and Pat’s
If Staten Island had an official dish, it would be pizza. It would be round, it would be thin, and it would be served, most likely, in a dimly atmospheric bar setting, like Lee’s Tavern or the legendary Denino’s. Joe and Pat’s offers a lighter, brighter alternative, with plenty of spacious Formica booths. There is no thinner pie to be found in the borough, and it’s splashed with a sweet, bright sauce and gobbed with puddles of milky mozzarella. It’s an understated pie for a culinarily overlooked borough.
1758 Victory Blvd., Staten Island; 718-981-0887