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.