928 Broadway, nr. 22nd St.; 212-780-5100
Design snobs will tsk-tsk the generic trattoria décor, but get past this and you have in Bar Stuzzichini one of the best new—if not the best—moderately priced Italian restaurants in town. Chef Paul DiBari honed his craft slinging schnitzel at Wallsé, but trapped within this cook’s stout frame there must have always lurked the soul and spirit of a Southern Italian grandma—albeit a Southern Italian grandma who speaks in a low voice and wears a short goatee. His stuzzichini (counter snacks like grilled scamorza, arancini, and polpette) are unsurpassed, and he has a refined Wallséan way with pastas, on display in an ethereal gnocchi all’ amatriciana. His pièce de résistance, though, is his ragù, served Sunday-supper style with toothsome hunks of meat over mezze rigatoni—just the way they do it in Naples and in the finest kitchens of Bensonhurst.
391 Henry St., at Warren St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-243-2522
In the perfect universe, every neighborhood would have its designated panini parlor, a modern-day public house where the villagers could convene to nibble Italian-accented snacks and work their way through a moderately priced, not-entirely- familiar wine list. Cobble Hill has exactly that in the form of Bocca Lupo, a quasi-industrial, glass-fronted corner spot that supplements its tasty panini, tramezzini, and bruschette with small plates and daily specials. Tender meatballs come not on top of spaghetti but on a sauce-slathered slice of bread, and “Italian tapas” like pork tonnato and oil-packed tuna salad are executed with aplomb. Still, the reputation of every panini parlor rests on the strength and the structure of its sandwiches, and here, the quality of ingredients, flavor combinations, and beautifully articulated balance do the ever- burgeoning genre proud.
271 E. 10th St., nr. Ave. A; 212-533-5600
It’s not easy to capture a breezy tropical vibe in Manhattan’s asphalt jungle, but with its rough-hewn surfaces, someone’s framed Havana-vacation photos hung on the walls, and windows flung open to East 10th Street, this tiny café has pulled it off. The ambience feels as effortless as the $10-and-under menu, which keeps things simple by sticking to sprightly salads (like a tasty toss of black-eyed peas, red onion, and cilantro), pressed sandwiches (including respectable Cubanos and medianoches), and traditional plates (like the simmered ground beef called picadillo and the roast pork adorned with aïoli and congri). A liquor license is forthcoming, but its momentary absence is ameliorated somewhat by the very refreshing mint lemonade, and brunch presents the opportunity to discover how one puts a Cuban spin on pancakes (with drunken bananas, apparently).
Boi to Go
800 Second Ave., nr. 43rd St.; 212-681-1122
The increasingly ubiquitous bánh mì has found its way to the once-bereft Turtle Bay neighborhood, where the owners of Boi restaurant have expanded with this bright and shiny takeout shop. Of course, there are much cheaper bánh mì. Chinatown and Sunset Park are full of them. But Boi distinguishes itself in a couple of ways: Its version of the classic bánh mì is smeared with a fancy port-enhanced duck-liver pâté and, perhaps to attract the health-obsessed, substitutes avocado for the traditional mayonnaise. There’s a grilled-chicken rendition, too, with arugula, and both are much bigger than what you’d find elsewhere, served on large sections of baguette instead of individual rolls—more than enough for two bánh mì lovers to share.
153 Rivington St., nr. Suffolk St.; 212-253-5311
You can’t really get any farther from Australia’s sun-splashed Bondi Beach, geographically or spiritually, than Rivington and Suffolk, but that’s where you’ll find this cramped, lively bar masquerading as an Aussie fish-and-chips shop, where paper menus are filled out like SAT forms and alcoholic concoctions in frightful neon hues recirculate in plastic tanks behind the bar. The antipodean seafood comes grilled, breaded, or fried, accompanied with unfussy sides like roasted corn and orzo, or dense, starchy potato scallops, and the “Salt n Pepper” squid hotpot harbors a reservoir of murky, subtly spiced sauce. Australia’s wines and beers are well represented, as are its citizens whenever in need of a fish-and-chips fix.
Borough Food & Drink
12 E. 22nd St., nr. Broadway; 212-260-0103
Okay, this Jeffrey Chodorow production (with Zak Pelaccio) is only cheap relative to the serial restaurateur’s other pricey holdings. And our waiter one night was as goofy as anyone who’s ever pulled up a chair to chat about the daily specials. But we like the gimmick, which is celebrating the city’s greatest gastronomic achievements—from an uncredited Shopsin’s-inspired mac-and-cheese pancake to whatever it is Staten Islanders eat when they’re not gobbling down pizza at Denino’s. Some dishes, like oysters Rockefeller, evoke the city’s culinary past. Some give a shout-out to a particular ingredient like DiPalo’s ricotta or the Calabria Pork Store’s sweet Italian sausage. And some, like the three-herring plate with toasted black bread, come straight from the source—in this case, the Lower East Side’s Russ & Daughters. With its salvaged woods, exotic Pelaccio- curated pantry shelves, backroom pool table, and cheesy-paperback-reading nook, the place feels like the rec room at some sort of culinary summer camp in the Adirondacks. In short, it’s pretty themey, a little hokey, and kind of fun.
71-34 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights; 718-803-1820
Kind of Thai, kind of Indian, with some singular Chinese fusion dispersed throughout, Burmese food is still distinctive enough to taste only vaguely familiar. This homey kitchen provides a crash course in intriguing new flavors, like the fermented tea leaves that compose one of the country’s best-known salads. Another, the Baya Gyaw Thoke, scatters crispy crushed yellow-split-pea-and-onion fritters over a tangy assemblage of tomato strips, julienned cabbage, hot peppers, and cilantro in a tamarind-and-fish-sauce dressing, for a texture and flavor effect that falls somewhere between samosa chat and a Burmese panzanella, if there were such a thing. Noodles and curries abound, like the Wet Thar Thayet Thee Thanut, in which various cuts of pork (dark and moist, white and dry, cubes of pure fat) are dwarfed by chunks of delectably sour mango pickle in a thick sauce that exudes hot red oil. Watch out for pits.
Casellula Cheese & Wine Café
401 W. 52nd St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-247-8137
Unwilling to leave cheese fetishism to the Picholines and Artisanals of the world, this plucky Hell’s Kitchen canteen offers nearly three dozen carefully curated, perfectly aged, elegantly garnished selections at $5 a pop—and just as many wide-ranging (if a tad pricey) wines by the glass. If you’d rather not take your butterfat straight, there is a menu of small plates, many of them incorporating cheese in original, whimsical ways, like the goose-breast Reuben with Fontina and horseradish aïoli, and the gratinéed Comté with oxtail rillettes, a cold-weather dish slated to reappear this fall. A boon for theatergoers and denizens of this increasingly young and trendy neighborhood, the bar stays open late, with wheels carved into the wee hours.
Cecel Café Crepe
135 First Ave., nr. 9th St.; 212-460-5102
Credit Kaz Yokoi for creating the neatest street food in town: At his tiny East Village shop, he wraps his sweet and savory crêpes in little brown-butcher-paper cones that you peel back and nibble at the way you would a Nutty Buddy. Fillings go way beyond bananas and Nutella and reflect time spent in the kitchens of Sushi of Gari and Payard Patisserie and include everything from the tofu, Parmesan, and yuzu dressing combo to the sweet Double Mango—fresh mango, mango sauce, and bits of sponge cake (our favorite). Another notable innovation: He fills most of his sweet crêpes, including the Double Mango, with a dollop of pastry cream as if they were Beard Papa’s cream puffs.
318 Lafayette Ave., at Grand Ave., Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; 718-230-5234
With its emphasis on organic, nominally healthy fare and its scuffed, paper-strewn communal table, this Clinton Hill café and takeout shop has the boho vibe of a hippie hangout in a college town—which, with Pratt just a block away, it sort of is. But the food tastes much more cosmopolitan: A prosciutto panino is embellished with raclette, steamed potatoes, and cornichons. An estimable pan bagnat utilizes high-quality imported tuna and a ciabatta crusty enough not to disintegrate. Offbeat seasonings and spices insinuate their way into everything from an aji amarillo-sauced tilapia sandwich with radish sprouts and cilantro to a rosemary-aïoli-dressed BLT. And it takes an iron will to resist the lure of the display case, stocked by a Mexican pastry chef equally conversant in cheesecake-brownie-speak and the lyrical language of moist-crumbed, meringue-fluffed tres leche cake.
135 N. 5th St., nr. Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-302-5151
This southern-style breakfast spot that used to operate mornings only out of Sparky’s hot-dog emporium is not new. But it’s become so popular among the formerly Kentucky-ham-and-scrapple-deprived locals that Egg mastermind George Weld has teamed up with ex-Pies-N-Thighs partner Steve Tanner and bought out Sparky’s, adding a short-but-sweet lunch menu. Continuing in the Sparky’s artisanal-ingredients tradition, Weld fashions his hamburgers from pasture-raised beef, but the meat is too lean and dwarfed by its oversize bun. Much better is a roast-chicken-salad sandwich, and a grilled-cheese number made with sharp Grafton Cheddar—its expertly griddled bread almost pure golden-brown crunch. As delightful as lunching at Egg can be, the really exciting news is that breakfast is now served along with lunch until 3 p.m.
436 Union Ave., nr. Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-387-0303
The biggest difference between this skinny Williamsburg pita hut and the one that preceded it (the late Uncle Mina’s) is that now there’s air-conditioning. There’s also the same peaceful, grapevine-trellised garden, the same Egyptian influence, and the same care in the construction of crisp, very well-seasoned falafel sandwiches, and all manner of Middle Eastern salads and spreads. The tender, lemon-kissed stuffed grape leaves are standouts, and the fuul medames (mashed fava stew) packs a potent garlic-and-chile-pepper punch. The new owners are the same folks who run nearby Taco Chulo.
The Farm on Adderley
1108 Cortelyou Rd., nr. Stratford Rd., Ditmas Park, Brooklyn; 718-287-3101
Some restaurants are instantly embraced by their famished neighborhoods, and so it was when this casually rustic spot opened last summer in Ditmas Park, a corner of Brooklyn where the Victorian fixer-uppers attract the sort of Manhattan expats who expect to find Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam on the cheese plate and crispy tofu with sweet corn on the kids’ menu. And so they do at the Farm, where seasonal ingredients are duly worshipped in preparations like housemade fettuccine with peas and pea shoots, and bluefish with corn and okra. To the place’s credit, there is also a serene little garden, a nice long bar where the “local and organic” motto extends to some of the beer and wine, and a respectable English-muffin burger that’s overshadowed by its world-class fries.
Fishers of Men
121 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-678-4268
This is the only place in town—and probably the planet—where you can get a Papaya King hot dog, a gaggle of fried whiting, and a piece of homemade coconut cake all under one roof and read some Scripture on the wall while you’re at it. It’s the brainchild of the churchgoing family behind the original Fishers of Men on 130th Street in Harlem (and also the tiny Famous Fish kiosk up on 145th), who, with what must have been divine inspiration, snapped up the franchise license of a failing hot-dog stand and, corporate fast food style, combined the two concepts (a fried-fish shack and a Papaya King) into one synergistic success. Unlike those Taco Bell–KFC dens of terror, though, the food (especially the whiting sandwich and the whiting with grits) is not only edible but absolutely delicious. And no rats.
76–78 St. Marks Ave., nr. Sixth Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-622-3276
If the interior seems too stark and somber, head straight back to the spacious garden, shared jointly by the separate-entranced bar and dining-room components of this latter-day Brooklyn gastropub. The concept, hackneyed as it’s gotten to be, is “seasonal, sustainable, and local,” and that extends to the New York–centric beer list. The food is comforting and hearty—sometimes unseasonably so—and often adopts a southern accent, as in the eggs and grits at brunch. We can’t imagine a time of year, though, when the French dip wouldn’t hit the spot.
83-17 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights; no phone
Following in the multinational footsteps of the Guatemalan chicken chain Pollo Campero, Frisby is a Colombian fast-food franchise with its eye on the American market. Its first foothold lures the Jackson Heights populace with crunchy, salty fried chicken—thickly battered and moist-fleshed, $2.95 for a two-piece serving, with packets of Kraft honey to drizzle on top—plus sides like boiled potatoes, sweet corn, fried plantains and yucca, and tough little hockey pucks they call arepas. Cowboy-style beans are a better choice.
273 W. 38th St., nr. Eighth Ave.; 212-730-5555
Why they named this Japanese curry shack for the number on Hideki Matsui’s back, we don’t know. (Go, with or without the exclamation point, means “five” in Japanese.) But they take every opportunity to play it up: The telephone number’s last four digits are 5555, the business day starts at 10:55 and ends at 9:55, and there’s a smattering of sports memorabilia, like the jersey donated by some hockey player who is also a 55, on display. The specialty of the house, of course, is the thick, gloppy, slightly sweet brown sludge that fortunately tastes a lot better than it looks, served with sticky white rice and a choice of deep-fried toppings of which the pork katsu, or panko-battered pork cutlet, is the best. It’s doubtful that the slugging colossus himself comes here to celebrate after he hits a home run, but if you do, you are entitled to a free topping coupon.
333 Henry St., nr. Pacific St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-260-8052
Hibino means “daily” in Japanese, and one of the ways this personable restaurant aspires to become a quotidian habit for its Cobble Hill neighborhood is by posting the day’s obanzai, or home-style small plates, on its blog. Another is by offering fare that can’t be found at neighboring sushi bars: so-called Japanese comfort food like fresh tofu, served in small glass jars; beef kakuni, chunks of tender short rib braised in sweet soy sauce and set afloat on rounds of daikon in a rich vegetable purée; and soft, succulent eggplant caramelized to an almost meaty richness. The various oshi, or pressed sushi, are another highlight, especially the one layered with shiso leaves, microgreens, and egg, topped with soy-marinated fish.
34-08 31st Ave., Astoria; 718-626-0087
You might flit by this frumpy storefront, dismissing it as just another cupcake parlor. That would be a grave mistake. Inside, past the muffins, baby bundt cakes, and “Insane Homemade Brownies,” the delicate art of panini pressing is practiced almost clandestinely and with a high degree of finesse by Darren Lawless, who worked at Oceana and Lavagna in the East Village. In addition to panini, which runs the porcine gamut from coppa to prosciutto, there’s a wide range of snacky items, like a juicy tomato stuffed with tuna confit and preserved lemon, and an egg-salad crostino judiciously drizzled with truffle oil. At night, they dim the lights and place candles on the tabletops like a BYO Astoria version of ’ino.
78 Rivington St., at Allen St.; 212-529-3901
Whenever a newfangled Asian restaurant opens in this town, the dismissive foodie temptation is to compare it first with the inevitably cheaper and arguably more authentic competition in Chinatown, and then with the beloved and original Momofuku. Neither comparison is truly apt for this handsome communal-tabled noodle bar, where chef-owner Ratha Chau offers his fresh, flavorful, and well-spiced interpretations of Cambodian street food. He swaddles grilled corn in coconut-chile mayo, garnishes cold egg noodles with a chicken-and-egg omelette and an incendiary red-pepper sauce, and even has the audacity to concoct such vegetarian-friendly fare as a Cambodian-style crêpe with shiitakes, soybeans, and butternut squash. Does a plantain num pang (the Cambodian version of bánh mì) even exist on the streets of Phnom Penh? Well, it does here, and with its pickled red cabbage and pungent ground peppercorns, it makes a delicious case for inauthenticity.
128 First Ave., nr. St. Marks Pl.; 212-228-4805
When we asked Turgut, our Turkish-born cabdriver, whether he knew of any good restaurants, he unhesitatingly advised us to head to Kebab Garden in the East Village ASAP. Our policy being always to follow blindly the advice of Turkish cabbies named Turgut, that is precisely what we did. And what we found was an all-night cafeteria, outfitted with prefab suburban diner-style furnishings, kitschy plastic fruits hanging from the ceiling, and a glum, mostly male, potentially taxi-driving clientele shoveling various foodstuffs into their maws like coal into a steam-locomotive firebox. We also found some surprisingly tasty, inexpensive grub, like eggplant moussaka, hot and cold dolmas, chickpea stew, and countless other spreads and salads, all priced to move at $5.99 a pound and self-served from a buffet table that nearly runs the length of the dining room. A paltry $7 buys a hefty kebab or shawarma plate, grilled to order or sliced off the spit and served with rice and salad. As good as everything is, Turgut reserved his highest praise for the pastries, which come directly from the famed Gaziantep-based bakery Güllüoglu and can be found near the checkout counter. “Make sure they are fresh,” our cabbie friend advised. “And tell them Turgut sent you.”
222 W. 79th St., nr. Broadway; 212-873-0200
Onera’s conversion into Kefi late last winter was one of the best things to happen to cheap eaters in ages. Not that we had anything against Michael Psilakis’s elegant, inventive approach to Greek dining, his daring offal-tasting menu, or his Greek take on crudo. It’s just that with Kefi, he’s given the Upper West Side—all of New York, in fact—a wonderful source for homey, delicious, rustic yet refined Greek cooking, at wallet-friendly prices (even so, not accepting credit cards is just a nuisance). It’s impossible to choose among the meze, and sometimes we don’t, preferring to make an entire meal of the pungent spreads, the rusk-enriched meatballs, the garlicky crispy cod, and the anchovy-topped, caper-strewn warm feta with its brash smack of saline. The pastas are lush, the pork souvlaki succulent. The plain, windowless room never matched Psilakis’s grand intentions, but for the comforting Kefi, it’s a perfect fit.
705 Ninth Ave., nr. 48th St.; 212-974-6012
With its serene cocoon of a dining room, its meticulously plated confections, and its Japanese flavor palette, Kyotofu puts its own distinctive spin on the dessert-bar trend. Silky housemade tofu is a particular specialty, but many of the sweet and savory plates are stealthily infiltrated with soy in many unexpectedly delicious guises, from the teriyaki-grilled chicken meatballs to a sake-infused, sesame-crusted cheesecake. The cocktail and wine lists are well worth exploring, and if you find it impossible to choose among the refined sweets, do the only practical thing and order the $15 kaiseki prix fixe, dessert in three leisurely, demure courses.
133-43 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing; 718-939-7788
Haunted by the brow-mopping ghost of Spicy & Tasty, the Sichuan bastion whose original location it now occupies, Little Pepper has still managed to make a name for itself in Queens’s bustling Chinatown (two, actually—its proper name is Xiao La Jiao). Despite the restaurant’s relative youth, a few dishes have already become signatures, and the eagle-eyed manager will helpfully attempt to foist them upon you: the cumin-rubbed spicy lamb, for one, and the magnificent shriveled green peppers in a sauce the menu calls “salt and sour.” Resistance is not necessarily advised, but Little Pepper is the type of place that rewards experimentation. Where else will you get the chance to light your mouth on fire with diced rabbit in red-chile sauce and bullfrog with Sichuan pickled hot pepper, and then douse the flames with crunchy cubes of garlic-slicked cucumber?
575 Henry St., nr. Carroll St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-858-4086
Like Dom DeMarco and Anthony Mangieri before him, Mark Iacono is a pizzaman obsessed. You’d have to be, if all you did, day in, day out, was stoke the flames, knead the dough, and sprinkle the Grana Padano atop each homespun pie. The room is cozy and lived-in, the menu unapologetically confined to whole pies and puffy oven-baked calzones, and the amenities few (no plastic, no liquor license). But that doesn’t stop the crowds from toting their bottles and jamming the place, all happy to bask in the wood-smoked atmosphere and watch an artisan ply his craft.
38 Union Square E., nr. 16th St.; 212-260-1988
The first New York outpost of this European chain has made its mark on the New York fried-chickpea-fritter market in two pronounced ways: First, unlike most of the joints around town, this Union Square storefront is slick and stylish, a sort of anti-Mamoun’s (which is either good or bad, depending on your tolerance for aggressive branding). Second, its main attraction, other than its crisp falafel, is its salad bar, which shifts the sandwich-accessorizing duties to the customer. It’s a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially considering the tragic consequences of overloading tender fried cauliflower, tangy pickled eggplant, and multiple salsa and sauces.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Ave., at 13th St.; 212-254-3500
Since its opening last summer, this wildly eclectic East Village restaurant has rejiggered just about everything except its name and address. Initially designed to showcase the assembly-line burritos called ssäms, it now offers them only until 5 p.m., at which time the sleek wood-paneled space morphs into an unclassifiable American restaurant with table service and prices that sadly break the Cheap Eats bank. But cafeteria-style daytime is still a good deal, with a nimble crew assembling massive, stuffed flour pancakes, or rice bowls served with a stack of Bibb-lettuce leaves for wrapping braised pork, chicken, brisket, or tofu, accessorized with exotica like pickled shiitakes and Kewpie slaw. The famous Momofuku steamed buns are also on offer, should the unlikely occasion arise that one’s appetite isn’t sated by a single ssäm. If there were any justice in the fast-food world, this place would expand like Starbucks—or at least Chipotle.
99¢ Fresh Pizza
151 E. 43rd St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-922-0257
We are not Harvard-trained behavioral economists, but we do know enough to tell you that when a dining establishment makes a good slice of pizza for 99 cents, the chances are excellent that there’s going to be a rabble of slavering slice hounds beating down its door. Such has proved to be the case at 99¢ Fresh Pizza, the second hole-in-the-wall branch of a slice-joint concept so foolproof, so compelling, that the elusive owner—who goes only by Abdul—has decided to spell it out in the name. Don’t get the wrong idea. Di Fara’s—or even the old Joe’s—this ain’t. The cheese is standard-issue Polly-O or its equivalent, the sauce is not made from D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes picked and canned by Italian peasants, and the crust is a little pale and lacking in character. But the pizza is fresh as advertised owing to the high rate of turnover, and it has a decent, ungloppy balance. And even though Abdul may have cannily neglected to mention anywhere that, with tax, a 99-cent slice actually works out to $1.07, who’s complaining?
58 W. 38th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-869-7482; and 21 E. 12th St., nr. University Pl.; 212-924-4333
Our favorite Brooklyn transplant since Frankies Spuntino, this Israeli shawarma joint has materialized in the vicinity of the garment district, where its relatively posh surroundings and full bar make it a popular, even hip hangout for homesick Sabras. The glatt kosher menu is excessively meaty, specializing in highly seasoned beef and chicken kebabs, various fried savory pastries, and mammoth falafel sandwiches one may order stuffed into the two-fisted flatbread called laffa. As at all Israeli shawarmeries of its ilk, there is a bountiful salad bar, decent French fries, and two condiments that deserve a place in every food-lover’s fridge: the treacherously hot green zhug, and the more complex sweet-and-sour mango-based amba. Olympic Pita Express is an even newer Greenwich Village outpost with a streamlined menu and a three-table aerie, perfect for private shawarma rendezvous.
1361 Lexington Ave., nr. 90th St.; 212-410-4300
Turkish food has infiltrated Carnegie Hill in the guise of this wood-paneled room with its small bar, cramped tables, and traditional menu. The vegetarian platter is listed as an entrée but actually makes an effective and delicious introduction to the pungent, potent world of Turkish meze, including a respectable hummus, a smoky patlican salatasi (mashed eggplant), and the thick, dill-flecked yogurt called cacik. There are whole grilled fish and various kebabs to be had afterward, but our recommendation is the irresistibly rich adana kebab yogurtlu, morsels of charred lamb over buttery pita croutons, drenched with yogurt and tomato sauce.
144 Union St., entrance on Hicks St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-2632
Neil Ganic has been opening and closing versions of this restaurant around Brooklyn for over a decade now, and the latest incarnation, straddling the BQE in western Carroll Gardens, provides delicious proof that the bargain-seafood concept works. Ganic employs a fish-market conceit, with the daily catch on full display and the menu posted in a window pane overhead, and combines the simplest of preparations (whole grilled porgy, for instance) with the most comforting of presentations (most plates come with buttered vegetables and buttery mashed potatoes). The BYO policy keeps prices low, and despite an expansion into the adjacent flower shop, the space feels as cozy and unpretentious as its predecessors.
Piece of Chicken
630 Ninth Ave., window on W. 45th St.; 212-582-5973
What can you get for a buck these days? At the still-operational kitchen window of the recently shuttered theater-district landmark Jezebel, where owner Alberta Wright launched back-of-the-house takeout service this past winter, you get plenty. One dollar buys you a scoop of black-eyed peas, or a pile of vinegary collards, or a piece of fried whiting, or a fat-streaked rib bit, or a small pile of crispy chicken livers. And yes, it buys you a piece of chicken, fried to a golden-crusted, tender-fleshed turn. The food comes from the same kitchen that once dispensed $32.75 entrées, and all that is required for the steep discount is the patience to wait on a somewhat sluggish line and the willingness to eat your bargain supper out of a Styrofoam container with hot sauce that comes in packets.
Pio Pio Salon
702 Amsterdam Ave., at 94th St.; 212-665-3000
The latest addition to a Peruvian chainlet that began in Queens more than a decade ago and spread to Yorkville and the Bronx, Pio Pio Salon stays true to the crowd-pleasing formula: luscious spice-marinated rotisserie chicken served at bargain prices. The $28 Matador Combo (a whole bird, rice and beans, tostones, and avocado salad) is dinner for three or four normal-size adults, though they might try to pawn off the accompanying salchipapas, a plate of French fries topped with sliced hot dogs, on an unsuspecting toddler. Start things off with a Pisco Sour and don’t miss the creamy green hot sauce.
229 First Ave., nr. 14th St.; 212-228-9000
Two weeks after its April opening, this Filipino storefront morphed from an unassuming steam-table setup into a just slightly more assuming full-service restaurant with a crackerjack kitchen. The menu reads like a culinary primer to one of the world’s great melting-pot cuisines, a crazy quilt of Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, Malay, and Indian influences, and with most main dishes hovering around the $8 mark, you can afford to do a little globe-trotting. Go for the adobo (on-the-bone pork and chicken stewed in vinegar and soy sauce), the giant stuffed-eggplant frittata of sorts called relyenong talong, and anything topped with the super-crispy skinned lechon, like the Bicol Express—a yin-yangy simmer of incendiary chiles and creamy coconut milk. For dessert, do what the chalkboard sign propped up outside the restaurant says and order the halo-halo, the cooling crushed-ice-fruit-and-bean concoction that’s like an Orange Julius on acid.
Province Chinese Canteen
305 Church St., at Walker St.; 212-925-1205
Province isn’t your typical sandwich shop. For starters, it swaps the ubiquitous ciabatta and Pullman loaves for the steamed Chinese buns called mantou, a soft, sesame-flecked cushion for such Asian-fusion fillings as tender braised short rib and kimchee, chile-spiced mackerel, and braised pork shoulder with hoisin sauce and pickled cucumbers. There is a burger, made from Angus beef, but the designated condiment, rather than ketchup or mustard, is spicy sambal sauce. And even though you do get (shrimp) chips on the side, the wise move would be to splurge on a serving of sesame noodles, topped with chicken, roast pork, or wrinkled little nuggets of chile-sauced fried tofu.
141 First Ave., nr. 9th St.; 212-529-2740
One of the biggest events this year among Japanese expats, noodle slurpers, and culinary screwballs of every persuasion was the opening last month of this ramen bar, a first U.S. branch of a Japanese mini-chain. And for good reason: The shio (or salt-based) broth is a revelation—smooth with a mellow roundness, subtly flavored with various things like dried scallops and dried anchovies. The noodles range in thickness from spaghettini-size to linguine-size, and, served hot in broth or cold (tsukemen style) on a separate plate for dipping, are firm and springy and pretty much irresistible. A non-ramen must-have dish is the oyako-don, crumbly pieces of minced chicken like the kind you’d find in a Thai larb, topped with a soft-cooked egg and served over rice. The best place to eat is at the low counter opposite the kitchen where three ramen wranglers, their heads wrapped in what appear to be gym towels, buzz about like members of a radical modern-dance troupe.
111 E. 29th St., nr. Park Ave. S.; 212-685-5585
Born of the owner’s love of Belgian beers, Resto is a gastropub in form, a pork fiend’s ultimate fantasy in spirit, and a casual, comfortable neighborhood restaurant in sum. While it is possible to partake of such salubrious fare as fluffy egg-white frittatas at brunch or wild striped bass with artichoke barigoule at dinner, the tendency is toward the magnificently meaty: Think double-cooked pork with Belgian-endive vinaigrette, or deviled eggs on rafts of fried pork jowls, or fatty lamb ribs seasoned with yogurt and pickled tomato. But think especially of the sumptuous burger, fortified with fatback and deposited on a soft, squishy bun with mayo, pickles, and melted cheese.
Ronnybrook Milk Bar
75 Ninth Ave., nr. 16th St.; 212-741-6455
It’s no surprise that the milkshakes and the yogurt smoothies at this Chelsea Market outpost of the Columbia County dairy farm are so good. But now that the place has counter seating and a bona fide kitchen, they’re joined by a contemporary take on a coffee-shop menu that incorporates the farm’s products with some of the region’s best artisanal ingredients. Hudson Valley farm eggs are cooked with asparagus, herbs, and Ronnybrook farmer’s cheese; local peaches combine with toasted pistachios and Sprout Creek Ouray cheese in a watercress salad. Best of all might be expertly constructed sandwiches like the one with roasted D’Artagnan chicken, Grafton Cheddar, avocado, and bacon on a Sullivan St. Bakery flauto, anointed with spicy aïoli and accompanied by an herb-smattered toss of mixed greens.
Shopsin’s General Store
Essex Street Market, 120 Essex St., nr. Delancey St.; no phone
Plump, grouchy, and with his gray bouffant bursting out from beneath his Mets cap, looking a bit like a dyspeptic Shelley Winters, the inimitable Kenny Shopsin is back in business. “Fuck!” he says one afternoon as the orders roll in. “I was getting used to not working—give me the ticket, asshole.” Masochistic fans are thrilled to rediscover Kenny’s “pork slyders” and pumpkin “slutty cakes” in their new home at the Essex Street Market, and we can personally vouch for the aggressive maltiness of his chocolate malted, the garlic assault of his Rooster sandwich (chicken salad, spicy Cheddar, avocado on garlic bread), and the mad genius of his deep-fried pickles. Although the new space adjacent to the Saxelby Cheesemongers kiosk is about as big as a janitor’s closet and the menu has yet to be restored to its 1,000-or-so-item glory, there’s still room for an arsenal of ingredients arranged on towering shelves. And should Kenny ever run out of mango for his mango chicken lime, or blue cheese for his Svetlana kielbasa breakfast plate, he has the entire market at his disposal.
79 Berry St., at N. 9th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-218-7063
When Los Angeleno Vinh Nguyen couldn’t find a local Vietnamese restaurant that pleased him, he did what all food-obsessed transplants do—he opened his own. The spare North Williamsburg corner spot that used to house Oznot’s Dish has been reconfigured with a (still BYO) bar built for giants, sliding-back chairs straight out of shop class, and a small menu of Vietnamese classics reinterpreted through Nguyen’s personal taste and inspired by local ingredients, like the Polish kielbasa that’s sandwiched inside of his tasty lunchtime bánh mì. Of all the “Viet tapas,” the street toasts, slicked with taro and mung-bean spread, are the best, and in a neighborhood-sensitive touch, most entrées are offered in vegetarian versions. The delicate summer rolls may be the most authentic thing on the menu, which is no surprise; one day we saw Nguyen’s mom rolling them up herself.
345 E. 12th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-358-7912
In the grand tradition of Peanut Butter & Co., Rice to Riches, and Pommes Frites, S’MAC turns one high-fat, high-calorie food into a plausible business plan (and merchandise bonanza). In this case, skillet-broiled elbow mac comes in a dozen varieties, three sizes, and with or without toasted bread crumbs on top. And though there will always be a market for novelties like Buffalo chicken mac and ginger wasabi mac, we confess to a preference for the Cheddar-enriched all-American version, as gooey and cheesy as anything that didn’t come out of a box.
960 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 107th St.; 212-280-4575
The décor may come off a bit theme-parky, with its Bangkok street signs and street-market photo murals, but the kitchen seems to prize authenticity over artifice. The menu is voluminous and modeled after a broadsheet, and the first-time diner would do well to heed the hyperefficient server’s advice. That’s how we happily ended up with dishes he claimed couldn’t be found at cookie-cutter pad Thai parlors: the daikon cake, for starters, sautéed with soy sauce, bean sprouts, and egg, and the tart minced salmon, flavored with chili, mint, lemongrass, and galanga, and served at room temperature with lettuce leaves for wrapping. Don’t get us wrong—this still isn’t the unabashedly sour, tart, electrifyingly spicy stuff Thai-food fiends’ dreams are made of. For that, you’ll need to trek out to Queens. But for upper Manhattan, it’s a great option, made even greater by the breezy open-air façade.
127 E. 28th St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-685-7301
Pradeep Shinde has a dream, and it is to introduce the New York version of the tiffin wallah, an Indian delivery boy who totes stacks of compartmentalized silver lunch boxes to desk-bound office workers. Until that day arrives—not to mention the proper equipment—he’s serving intricately spiced, Indian vegetarian fare in-house. The menu at his spiffy new establishment is virtually identical to the one at Chennai Garden, its sister restaurant around the corner, with foot-long dosas, regional thalis or combination-plate dinners, and a variety of Gujarati and Punjabi curries that rotate themselves in and out of the $6 lunch buffet.
351 Fifth Ave., nr. Fifth St., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-832-2941
You would expect to find pedigreed hot dogs made from grass-fed cattle in a place like San Francisco, where the sustainable-agriculture movement is practically organized religion. In Nathan Handwerker’s backyard, it’s a little less likely. But as it happens, Park Slope’s bright, cheerful Willie’s Dawgs is the sole local purveyor of Let’s Be Frank, the brand started by Chez Panisse’s own “meat forager.” It’s top dog on a menu of alterna-franks like the skinless “Pedigree,” the poultry dog, the tofu dog, and the carrot dog, a whole root marinated in hot-dog spices. The best of the bunch is the homegrown “Mutt,” a Karl Ehmer all-beef number that comes swaddled in a house-baked challah bun. Excellent onion rings, too.
Yun Nan Flavour Snack Shop
775A 49th St., nr. Eighth Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn; 718-633-3090
The friendly husband-and-wife owners hail from Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province bordering Myanmar and Vietnam, and they specialize in nicely chewy, silky white rice noodles served in bountiful bowls of soup adorned with cilantro and hot sauce and slurped at the low counter that runs around the periphery of the tiny room. Broths are dark and murky, populated by your choice of stewed beef or pork, and might contain the odd snout or two. Heat waves call for off-the-menu cold noodles, doused with sweet-and-spicy sauces and way more sugar than you might expect. There are plump pork dumplings, too, elegantly crimped and immersed in a hot-and-sour broth.