The bigger, better version of the Middle Eastern joint that stole the financial district’s heart still rolls a terrific falafel, crunchy with neon-hued pickles and enlivened with hot sauce. But it’s the specials, like a delicate vegetarian kibbeh, that make the place shine.
8 Maiden Ln.; 212-528-4669
Anyone who has ever worked there knows that there is nothing to eat in midtown. Not a morsel. Mangia may seem like lunchtime nirvana the first few times around. A hundred or so salad-bar visits later, you want something else. That’s when it’s time to amble over to Oms/b, which stands for omusubi, the variously shaped and stuffed Japanese rice balls and cakes. We like the triangular ones wrapped in nori and filled with a modest amount of spicy tuna or salmon. Two or three will buck you up and remind you that New York’s culinary delights can be found anywhere—even midtown.
156 E. 45th St.; 212-922-9788
84. Pio Maya
Giving the lie to the presumption (by Californian know-it-alls, mostly) that there’s no authentic Mexican food in New York, this tiny, unassuming taquería proceeds to grill up smashing chorizo tacos and roast some of the cheapest and tastiest rotisserie chicken in downtown Manhattan. No booze, no room for large parties, and no atmosphere, but get it to go, and don’t forget extra green sauce.
40 W. 8th St.; 212-254-2277
The way the young droopy-drawers crowd gathers outside this mod Thai canteen, you’d think there was high-quality crack in the pad prik king. But no, it’s just the deft spicing and clean presentations that stand out in a Siamese sea of contenders. We’re suckers for the greasy (in a good way) curry puffs, the crispy-duck salad, and the drunk-man noodles, which are as good delivered as they are on premises.
60 University Pl.; 212-982-3758
Join the lunch-hour line leading up to Tony Dragonas’s East 62nd Street pushcart and you may find yourself in the company of young bankers in shirtsleeves, hotel maids in uniform, beefy FedEx men, even a master cobbler for ritzy men’s custom-shoe store John Lobb, in from Paris to measure some feet. Tony, the Sirio Maccioni of street food, deftly manages the proceedings as he’s done for nearly twenty years. Everything is good and cheap, but the thing to get is Tony’s signature charcoal-grilled chicken plopped down on a pile of rice with a side salad and a goodish gob of tsatsiki, which everyone at Tony’s calls “white sauce.”
62nd St. at Madison Ave.
87. Pepe Rosso To Go
The teeny-weeny trattoria that launched an army of loosely affiliated Pepes around town is still packing them in. (With five tables, it’s not that hard.) The menu hasn’t changed, but why should it? If you can’t choose between the spaghetti pesto with potato and string beans or the penne arrabbiata, get the oddly tasty (and doubtfully Italian) chicken panini with bacon and guacamole, and splurge the extra buck for homemade focaccia. As it says on the menu, “No Diet Coke. No Skim Milk. Only Good Food.”
149 Sullivan St.; 212-677-4555
88. Tuck Shop
An Aussie snack shop determined to infiltrate the local fast-food market with individual-sized savory pies and sausage rolls, Tuck Shop stuffs its buttery pastry with seasoned ground beef, creamy chicken stew, or curry vegetables. This is Down Under drinking-man’s food at its best, designed to provide late-night sustenance for further drinking, and traditionally eaten out of hand, in the manner of a mid-race triathlete gulping down a banana. But you needn’t be drunk nor Australian to enjoy it.
68 E. 1st St.; 212-979-5200
89. Zucco Le French Diner
In a city of cookie-cutter bistros and Balthazar clones, Zucco stands out with its esoteric décor and personal style, dictated by chef-owner Zucco himself, a hipster Frenchman lithe enough to navigate a bar and restaurant that’s probably smaller than some tenement bathrooms. The fare is classic French with all the characteristic flourishes—crusty bread and good butter, salads moistened with good vinaigrette—and if you can stand the wait for a seat, you’ll feel like lingering all night.
188 Orchard St.; 212-677-5200
This is where it all began, where Gennaro Lombardi first shoveled a blob of dough into a coal oven and never looked back. No serious pizza aficionado has never been to Lombardi’s. The clan was so dedicated to its art that, according to Gennaro’s grandson (also named Gennaro), his grandfather, his grandmother, and his father all “dropped dead behind the oven”—but not at the same time, of course. The oven in question finally collapsed (subway tremors), and although the new one reaches an infernal 800 degrees, it has yet to kill anyone. Sadly, quality has slipped a bit since a recent expansion. But nowhere outside of New Haven will you find a better white clam pie.
32 Spring St.; 212-941-7994
This Japanese street-food shack specializes in two delicious snacks you won’t find on just any street: takoyaki, a.k.a. “octopus balls,” the light and airy croquettes that come with a chewy chunk of octopus hidden in their centers; and okonomiyaki, which literally translated means “as-you-like-it fried thing,” the fried thing part being a glutinous pancake made from eggs and shredded cabbage, the as-you-like-it part referring to the choice of toppings: squid, pork, beef, corn, or shrimp. Both come with lashings of a sweet brown sauce, a shower of bonito flakes, and a squiggle of mayonnaise.
236 E. 9th St.; 212-353-8503
92. Burger Joint
The paper-wrapped burger is fat and juicy. The brown-bagged fries recall McDonald’s (once the gold standard in certain fast-food circles) before they switched from frying in beef fat. But the best thing about this nondescript, booth-lined hole-in-the-wall is its quasi-clandestine location off the lobby of Le Parker Meridien, one of the ritziest hotels in midtown.
118 W. 57th St.; 212-245-5000
93. Hong Kong Station
There may be better bargain bowls of soup noodles (see Super Taste, No. 67), but none that are served in such a bright and shiny setting—more Noho bubble-tea shop than Chinatown soup shanty. The menu gives you a choice of nine noodles (from e-fu to ho fun) and 32 steam-table add-ons (from squid balls to chicken gizzards), all as attractively displayed as anything served cafeteria-style from a steam table can be.
128 Hester St.; 212-966-9382
When the craving strikes for Uzbeki kebabs and lamby noodle soups, one could make a day of it in Rego Park, where Salut and Cheburechnaya compete for the Bukharan-food-loving business. As for us, we take a quick foray to the diamond district, where this third-floor café delivers crusty loaves of bread called lepeshka; a satisfyingly greasy, cilantro-green pilaf called baksh; and a bit of an Orthodox Jewish wheeler-dealer clubhouse vibe. Should you feel like punctuating all the charcoal-grilled meat with a nice piece of raw fish, there's a new kosher-certified sushi chef on premises.
41 W. 47th St., third fl.; 212-768-8001
95. Dumpling House
Look under the cushions of your living room couch and you should be able to come up with enough change to order half the menu at this Eldridge Street snack shop. The crisp fried pork-and-chive dumplings are plump and juicy and, in the best Chinatown-dumpling-dive tradition, are served five for a dollar.
118 A Eldridge St.; 212-625-8008
96. Caracas Arepa Bar
How do you feel about crispy corn-flour pockets? There may be no better place to find out than this slightly less tiny post-expansion East Village arepera, where the menu is devoted to various doughy snacks, mostly stuffed with savory fillings and eaten with your hands. These include dense and spongy arepas (try the de pabellón, a virtual square meal of black beans, plantains, and shredded beef nicely contained within), deep-fried empanadas, and the real sleeper, the cachapa, a sweet cheesy pillow of a corn pancake.
93 1/2 E. 7th St.; 212-529-2314
Any time of day, this cacophonous airline hangar of a noodle bar still packs in a Benetton-ad crowd of the young, the hip, and the soon to be deaf. Its main attraction is its budget-priced Pan-Asian menu, concocted in split seconds by a platoon of bustling chefs and delivered instantaneously to the cafeteria-like communal tables. Fusion noodles (try No. 14—the spicy coconut chicken) might be old news now, but they weren’t back when this pioneer blazed the trail over a decade ago.
37 Union Square W.; 212-627-7172
Mexicans have the burrito and Americans have the wrap (our loss). Indians have both beat with the roti roll, a thin griddled flatbread coated with egg, then stuffed with skewer-grilled chicken or lamb, soft mild cheese or spiced potatoes, and rolled up into a savory, delectably greasy cylinder. It’s superb street food, and just as good consumed in the snug, spare dining room.
97 Lexington Ave.; 212-679-8900
99. Donovan’s Pub
We usually wouldn’t condone risky gastronomic behavior like dining in an Irish pub, but Donovan’s presents a compelling argument in the form of its remarkably flavorful burger. The secret might be the fried onions, a wan fillip elsewhere, but here, rendered uncommonly sweet and pungent.
5724 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside; 718-429-9339
On a street of beer bars, the subterranean Jimmy’s stands out—not for its beers, which are interesting and diverse, nor for the dramatic rehearsals or swing-band hootenannies regularly scheduled in the back room. What makes Jimmy’s unique is its small, often seasonal menu, which ranges from East Village Polish sausages to a lobster, corn, and tomato salad. It might merit a second star if portion size didn’t fluctuate and the chef didn’t go awol on slow nights.
43 E. 7th St.; 212-982-3006
101. Gray’s Papaya
The best of the Papaya Posse, Gray’s (the one located at Sixth Avenue and 8th Street, mind you) griddles the tastiest, snappiest 95 cent dog in town. No less a connoisseur of scrap meats than Mario Batali is a fan. The jury is out, though, on the mysterious Papaya drink: Is it just us, or does that stuff smell uncannily like a cheesy slice of pizza?
402 Sixth Ave.; 212-260-3532