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.