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.