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.