295 Berry St., nr. S. 2nd St.; Williamsburg 718-388-5988
The interior of this Williamsburg taquería resembles a bunker given a funky low-budget face-lift, and its diner-style setting and service can be charitably described as no-frills. But the Mexican street food, served in tapas-style portions, is vibrantly seasoned and generally satisfying, especially anything stuffed into a corn-masa casing. This includes the gorditas, the quesadillas, and the tacos, which come one to an order on a single corn tortilla, stuffed with savory morsels of things like chipotle-stewed chicken, poblanos and cream, or mildly spicy shrimp. The house is inordinately proud of its esquites, a kind of corn-off-the-cob snack served with mayo and lime in a Dixie cup, but the real signature, to our mind, is the torta ahogado, a “drowned sandwich” of carnitas and beans on a sourdough loaf, completely drenched in chile-spiked tomato sauce. You’ll need silverware or a bib—or both.
1209 Cortelyou Rd., nr. Westminster Rd., Ditmas Park 718-284-4444
It is diminishing to call Mimi’s a hummus joint, even though that’s what it calls itself. That’s because the tiny, charming spot is capable of so much more (not to take anything away from the hummus, which happens to be nutty and rich, creamy and delicious, in all five variations; $8 and $9). Our best advice: Heed the specials. Especially if they happen to be a ground-lamb pie baked in a skillet and strewn with parsley and pine nuts, served with a tangy tomato salad; or a tart and lemony Iraqi beet soup showcasing plump farina dumplings filled with beef. Mimi herself has become a neighborhood fixture, especially among the toddler set, who seem drawn as much to the chef’s sunny disposition as to the jar of homemade peanut-butter cookies she keeps on the counter.
Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar
207 Second Ave., at 13th St.; 212-254-3500
The sweets and savories on offer at the newest addition to Momofuku Inc. seem to have emerged from the fevered imagination of a confectionery madman—or in this case, madwoman. Pastry chef Christina Tosi has a curious mind and an unapologetic palate, and has brought New York compost cookies and crack pie (both of which are in the process of being trademarked). She also stocks her pastry case with dense, crispy-soft cookies; elaborately constructed layer cakes; and envelope-pushing breads (subtly spiced banana-green-curry loaf; moist and savory summer-squash-and-grana-crusted cornbread). There is soft-serve ice cream, often in thematic flavors, and science-lab toppings like Ritz cracker crunch. But the standing-room-only space, which morphs at night into Ssäm Bar’s holding pen, also happens to be a good spot for breakfast and lunch, with a Gruyère-and-bacon riff on a knish she calls a Volcano, and a deep-fried soft-poached-egg sandwich on a homemade English muffin caressed with black-pepper butter.
9824 Fourth Ave., Bay Ridge; 718-759-0009
Gino Cammarata claims to have brought pasta con le sarde to New York, back when he was working at Siracusa in the East Village, and who are we to argue? Recently, the Sicilian chef had been spending his time crafting superb gelati and selling them wholesale to restaurants out of a Bensonhurst tanning salon. We’re happy to see him back in his element, especially this handsome corner spot with its carved wood bar and gelato stand tucked discreetly into the back. As a prelude to dessert, you might want to sample some of Cammarata’s small plates (piattini), like the fried zucchini marinated in vinegar, or a bitter chicory salad with anchovy dressing. You can’t go wrong with any primi, but we’re partial to that legendary bucatini con le sarde, the strands perfectly al dente and the sardine sauce distinguished by not only pignoli and raisins but tiny cauliflower florets. “I was getting $25 for this in 1985,” says Cammarata, who’s dropped his price to a modest $14. The gelato, at $6, is worth the splurge.
110 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-777-2151
You don’t go to Peter Luger and order the chicken. And, by the same logic, you don’t go to Porchetta and order anything but porchetta. Or so you’d think. One of the surprises about this East Village nook, you see, is how well a vegetarian could eat here—should he get past the wafting aroma of pork loins wrapped in pork bellies roasting in the Electrolux oven. Not that we recommend skipping the main attraction or becoming a vegetarian, but the greens are always nice and garlicky, the beans cooked about as well as beans can be cooked. The mutz in the mozzarella sandwich is from Di Palo, so you know it’s good. And there’s always an excellent seasonal special or two: roasted Brussels sprouts with honey and lemon in the fall, for example, and recently, the best white-almond gazpacho we’ve ever had—rich and cooling, and about as thick as hummus.