104-05 47th Ave., Corona; 718-699-2434
It’s not just the superb chicken-mole enchiladas ($7) that merit a trip, or the hefty, moist tamales, including a fusion Italiano Special with sausage and peppers ($2.50), or the tightly rolled fried-skate tacos ($7) dressed with chopped onion and cilantro. It’s a combination of all of these satisfying snacks, plus the somewhat astounding fact that they’re made from masa, or corn dough, that’s produced on-site from nixtamal, or dried corn soaked in a lime solution and then freshly ground, a process that more and more industrial tortillerias, here and in Mexico, are bypassing. Partner Fernando Ruiz, a moonlighting Manhattan fireman and first-generation Mexican-American, wanted to revive this quasi-lost art, so he and his girlfriend, Shauna Page, imported machinery from Mexico and got to work. Part factory, part taquería, all lovably cobbled together, Nixtamal aims to serve the needs of the neighborhood’s fresh-tortilla-deprived immigrant population and spark the appetite and curiosity of borough-hopping foodies all over town.
240 Ninth Ave., nr. 25th St.; 212-242-4730
After cooking together at Meigas and Tía Pol, husband-and-wife chef-partners Eder Montero and Alex Raij have narrowed their culinary focus to Montero’s native Basque Country, the consonant-crazed source of inspiration for their contemporized pintxos (Basque canapés) and small-to-medium-size plates, all meant to be shared. Although some items will be familiar to frequent tapas barhoppers, don’t go expecting the same-old tortilla española and pan con tomate. There are tidbits here you’ve likely never come across: squid ribbons dressed in a creamy pine-nut-and-onion sauce, say, or a slice of bread topped with sofrito, shards of chorizo, and a runny quail egg. And then there are old standards given a welcome remake, like a classic Russian salad enhanced with terrific oil-packed tuna and homemade mayo, or a lunchtime double burger (the magisterial “el doble”) crowned with Idiazábal cheese and an Iberian-accented special sauce.
Vinegar Hill House
72 Hudson Ave., nr. Water St., Vinegar Hill; 718-522-1018
There is something Little House on the Prairie–ish about this cozy restaurant, with its salvaged décor, its wall-draped Colonial flag, and its cloth trivets. But geographically speaking, it’s more Little House on the Navy Yard, a culinary pioneer in a microneighborhood that’s been slow to gentrify. The concise menu, like the room, is homespun American, emphasizing local and seasonal ingredients, most of which are cooked in the open kitchen’s wood-fired oven. The selection changes often, but you can expect to find such signatures as a variously topped savory tart, a whole fish (rainbow trout recently, with carrots and turnips; $18), and the excellent roast chicken served in a cast-iron pan ($15). Cocktails and coffee, those potable signifiers of the new artisanal movement, are both taken seriously here, as is brunch, recently launched and best savored at a table out back, in a garden planted with fig trees and grape vines by a previous pioneer.
345 Grand St., nr. Marcy Ave., Williamsburg; 718-388-8451
You can’t judge a restaurant by its entrance. This one, you access by the front door of Rose Live Music, through what looks like a fire exit, down a flight of stairs, past the bathrooms—et voilà, a subterranean dining room that’s as charming (candlelit, wood-beamed) as it is unexpected. It has a sort of wine-cellar appeal, which makes sense, since every bottle on the list is available by the glass and quartino as well. The chef works in a culinary idiom that’s part Mediterranean, part Brooklyn: Room-temperature Spanish-mackerel escabèche ($10) is crispy-skinned and spice-rubbed, garnished with Cara Cara oranges and basil, and there’s Mast Brothers Chocolate in the airy mousse ($7). Winter’s creamy cauliflower gratin has made way for summer’s green-tomato version, and pole beans have replaced asparagus as an accompaniment for the whole roasted poussin, a flavorful bird that’s also served with buttery spaetzle as crisp as French fries ($17).
173 Fourth Ave., at Degraw St., Park Slope; 718-398-9898
ZuZu has brought ramen to Park Slope, which alone is cause for celebration among brownstone-dwelling noodle-heads. But on top of that, classically trained chef Akihiro Moroto, late of Lespinasse and Jean Georges, has taken several liberties with tradition, at the risk of infuriating some devotees and titillating others. Consider us thoroughly titillated, especially by the Thai-inspired green-curry-miso ramen ($10), a moderately spicy bowl of soup garnished with fragrant sprigs of Thai basil and stocked with the same springy noodles, runny egg, and blowtorched char shu (long strips of braised pork) that populate the classic smoky house “ZuZu” ramen ($14). Moroto also makes a comforting beef curry, available over rice or noodles, and a version of the increasingly ubiquitous pork buns—his stuffed with sticky, caramelized bits of pork shoulder, thick cucumber slices, and a sweet chile sauce ($8). There’s Japanese beer and sake, the traditional ramen quaffs, and bar seats that look directly into the glass-walled kitchen.