It’s been a very good year for the budget gourmet, what with the profusion of easy-on-the-wallet small plates, value-packed prix fixes, and cut-rate kitchens opened by top-notch chefs. In fact, there are so many great, inexpensive meals to be had at the moment, picking our favorite new ones was no easy task, but it was a delicious one—from succulent short-rib skewers in Alphabet City to duck-confit quesadillas in Park Slope; from vegetarian South Indian in Curry Hill to Brazilian beefsteak in Long Island City. In addition, we’ve ranked New York’s best iconic cheap eats, and we can already hear the dissenting opinions pouring in. But life is short—why waste time arguing when you could be eating?
409 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
When you market yourself as a bistrot à vins, you might consider postponing your opening till the liquor license arrives. Bacchus didn’t, and it’s a testament to the quality of the cooking and the congeniality of the owners and staff that it’s already become such a beloved, albeit temporarily BYOB, Boerum Hill fixture. A rustic, cozy dining room, a tranquil garden, and a menu that deftly combines the classics (coq au vin, $10; steak-frites, $18) with the more contemporary (baked salmon with tomato jam and artichokes, $12) make the dry spell more than tolerable.
111 Avenue C
Don’t let the gangly young models and their scruffy escorts deter you. Even these diet-dazed divas can’t resist what emerges from chef Michael Huynh’s Vietnamese kitchen: Exceedingly fresh, Hulk-size summer rolls ($7). Plump chicken wings that come with a Scotch-bonnet dipping sauce that elicits a warning from the waiter ($7). And grilled short ribs skewered onto lemongrass stalks ($11)—a highbrow steak-on-a-stick that may make you wonder whether Jean-Georges has a moonlighting gig. Fusiony entrées creep past the $20 barrier, but the noodle and “traditional style” portions of the menu fall well beneath the mark (try the sputtering ironpot chicken, $14). And save room for sublime desserts like black-sticky-rice pudding, just like the models do.
671 Union Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Two-dollar tamales and superior café con leche are reason enough to patronize this seven-seat sliver of a Park Slope café, but happily for local fans of the cheap, delicious Mexican snacks called antojitos, the dexterous kitchen doesn’t stop there. Zesty avocado salad ($4.25) is enlivened with lime juice and cilantro. Pressed sandwiches ($5.75 to $6.50) are stuffed with savory fillings like chicken mole and roast-pork guajillo. Corn masa is put to every conceivable use—most of them involving sour cream, Oaxacan cheese, black beans, and tangy tomatillo salsa. Thirst-quenchers like lime lemonade and tamarind water are made in-house, as is cinnamon-spiced Mexican hot chocolate, served in rough earthenware mugs.
575 Hudson Street
You don’t need to be an Anglophile to love this cozy West Village café, with its rustic wood tables and plenty of room between them, but it helps. The kitchen lays claim to “cross-channel cooking,” a sort of Pan-European fusion, but what it really does is celebrate the best of—don’t laugh—British food. Rib-sticking fare like Guinness-braised beef brisket ($14), a lavishly rich, potato-and-cheese-crusted cottage pie ($10), and superior fish and chips ($14) go down easy with a pint of beer ferried in from the myriad taps of the adjacent Irish pub.
129 East 27th Street
By now, kosher-vegetarian-Indian is almost a cliché, but longtime restaurateur Pradeep Shinde claims to have coined the concept years ago at a Curry Hill kitchen around the corner from his current colorful digs. Back then, a rabbi’s certification and a meatless menu rendered the premises safe for Orthodox Jews, cow-abstaining Hindus, pork-eschewing Muslims, and vegetarians alike. “I had Farrakhan and Jewish people next to each other. I had Kevin Nealon,” says Shinde. After a Florida sabbatical, he and partner Neil Constance returned to take on the increasingly heated competition. The kitchen packs maximum flavor and superb value into its $5.95 unlimited lunch buffet (bread, two rices, four curries, multiple pickles and chutneys, and dessert), and turns out a respectable roster of uthappam, dosai, and iddly—a word that must have worked its way into an SNL sketch or two.
177 South 4th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Zak Pelaccio buys local and cooks global, a practice that sets him apart from the hipsterville competition. Organic salad greens come from the North Fork, kielbasa from Greenpoint. The sometime special of smoked fish is courtesy of a Hasidic neighbor. But Chickenbone has a lot more to offer than a p.c. philosophy: It’s got a hopping bar scene, a classic cocktail list, a sleek cabin-in-the-woods design, and low prices ($3 to $9.50). Not to mention ambitious daily specials like broiled eel over rice ($14) and roasted partridge ($16). Sandwiches are a particular strength, and come stuffed with everything from pork confit to bittersweet chocolate.
45-17 28th Avenue
There’s much more to Romanian food than steak, this friendly restaurant aims to prove. There’s polenta, for instance, and lots of it: mounded into a papa-bear portion and blanketed with sour cream and grated feta ($6); stuffed with sour cream and feta and served with sausages and a fried egg ($10); and as the sauce-sopping garnish for hearty dishes like spicy stuffed cabbage ($7) and juicy deep-fried Cornish hen ($11.50). Nearly as sweet as the Romanian rosé we sampled were the papanasi, perhaps the world’s most imposing doughnuts—doused, for good measure, with sour cream and apricot preserves.
165 Allen Street
This funky downtown quasi-diner divides its menu into “small dishes” ($7) and “big dishes” ($14.50 or $17.50)—a welcome gimmick, since the latter come with any two sides, making it easy (and thrifty) to skip the former. The kitchen dips into the comfort-food canon for revved-up versions of meat loaf, fried catfish, and pork chops, but the menu turns out to be as eclectic as the crowd—part Lower East Side hipsters, part middle-aged curiosity seekers from points north, all harmoniously tucking into crisp codfish tacos and house-smoked trout with shaved fennel. Unexpected grace notes abound, like a pickle-plate amuse bouche, candied pignolis on the chocolate pudding, and exceptional spiced sangria and vanilla-bean lemonade.
221 West 38th Street
This garment-district cafeteria makes the best and biggest boreks in town—titanic slabs of flaky phyllo pie hefted from the oven throughout the day. The spinach-and-cheese version is sublime, but the ground-beef is even better ($4 each). The kitchen also turns out great servings of stuffed cabbage and beef goulash (both $7.50) as well as cevapi ($8), tasty Bosnian beef sausages served with feta, sliced onion, and a peppery condiment so alarmingly bright red that in the absence of a flare, you could use it as a roadside distress signal.
1030 Second Avenue, near 54th Street
Like a Jack-in-the-box, the irrepressible Orhan Yegen keeps popping up in our pages—this time last year, we were lauding his marvelous meze and juicy doner kebab at Beyoglu. They’re just as delicious at the spiffy Turtle Bay storefront where Yegen materialized last winter, a (somewhat) changed man. Though still a despotic stickler for freshness and flavor, he’s rescinded some of his quirkier rules: Uptown, he’d bristle at requests for crusty pide bread; here, it comes with every order. And he’s expanded his single-entrée menu to include daily specials like succulent lamb-stuffed eggplant, luscious moussaka, and piquant stuffed cabbage drizzled with yogurt ($9.50).
Fast & Delicious
48-19 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City
Restaurants with adjectives for names rarely live up to them: One often discovers, for example, that while Pepe’s Fresh and Tasty Taco does stuff a soft corn tortilla with various savory fillings, the end result is neither fresh nor tasty, and, furthermore, the owner’s name is Josh. Fast & Delicious, though, delivers on both counts. The specialty of this spotless Brazilian takeout canteen is a top sirloin churrasco ($14.95) deftly carved from the spit and finished on the charcoal grill. It’s six or seven good-sized slabs of beef, remarkably flavorful and tender enough to cut with a plastic fork (though you get the deluxe steakhouse model if you dine in). Sautéed collard greens and black beans and rice make fine accompaniments. And good rotisserie chicken ($7.50)—”marinated in Corona beer,” boasts the cook—not to mention Saturday’s feijoada ($12.95) are likewise swift and satisfying.
62 Stone Street
Saturated with fast-food outlets and plagued by lackluster saloons, the financial district has always been a budget-dining desert. This elegant café, an offshoot of Bayard’s and Harry’s on Hanover Square, is an oasis—not only for its mouthwatering patisserie but for its lunchtime panini, North Fork salad greens, and satisfying soups. We’re partial to the chicken and goat cheese on Tom Cat Bakery ciabatta ($6.50) but are easily swayed by the equally compelling San Danielle prosciutto-mozzarella-pesto or the house-cured tuna ($7 each). Bonus points: genteel service, real china, and outdoor seating on a lovely cobblestone street.
First Hungarian Literary Society
323 East 79th Street
The good news is that the owners of A Touch of Hungary, the terrific College Point source for home-style Hungarian cooking in portion sizes fit for a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, have moved closer to home—our home, that is—taking up residence at the First Hungarian Literary Society on East 79th Street. The bad news is that the portions—to suit the less ambitious appetites of the elderly club members, most of whom have never participated in a frankfurter-eating contest—have shrunk a little. Never fear: A single $16 four-course meal, typically including an appetizer like pickled herring, cold sour-cherry soup, a toothsome goulash or sliced pork with sour cream and bacon, and dessert, still has the potential to completely destroy your 30-days-to-killer-abs regimen. The club dining/card-playing room is open to the public, but you need to call a day in advance to reserve a table.
438 East 9th Street
Tex-Mex you’ve heard of, but French-Mex? That’s the best way to describe the offbeat fusion perpetrated at this unexpectedly gourmet hole-in-the wall. The Puebla-born chefs (who happen to be brothers) picked up a few tricks working at French bistros around town, which accounts for the asparagus “a la plancha” with mango and Oaxaca cheese in passion-fruit vinaigrette ($6), the inspired combination of huitlacoche and truffle oil in the signature soufflé cakes ($6), and specials like roast leg of lamb stuffed with feta and spinach in merlot-pasilla jus ($14.50). For dessert? Blue-corn crêpes, of course.
Ivo & Lulu
558 Broome Street
Marc Solomon and Blue Grant have a habit of opening tiny, intimate restaurants off the beaten track, first launching A on upper Columbus, then this kindred-spirited spinoff on Soho’s farthest fringes. But their fans seek them out as much for the dinner-party-caliber hospitality as for the exceedingly affordable, mostly organic French-Caribbean fare, like wild-mushroom cassoulet with coconut cream and curried tofu, and free-range-rabbit-and-ginger sausage with carrot-miso sauce. The menu’s got a mere eight items, and the $6–$10 price range can’t be inflated by bar tabs—it’s BYOB.
39-28 61st Street, Woodside
Off-the-menu orders stymie some kitchens, but not this ultra-accommodating, multitalented Thai one. We asked for deep-fried-catfish salad, and the chef complied, topping shredded lettuce with gossamer-crisp fish, julienned papaya, roasted cashews, and a sweet-and-sour dressing we wanted to lap up. Instead, we turned our attention to the exquisitely curried chu chee salmon ($12) and pad kee mao ($6), seductively soft broad noodles permeated with chili and basil. It’s not only the food and gracious service that have earned this yearling a loyal Thai clientele—the karaoke machine packs ’em in, too.
36 East 22nd Street
461 Columbus Avenue, at 82nd Street
Some people—not us—call it Dining for Dummies. But Charlie Palmer is smart enough to realize that a foolproof, hassle-free evening out is just what a lot of people want right now: No lengthy list of specials to ponder. Just point to what you want on the tiny menu of five appetizers, five entrées, and five desserts, then grunt and rub your belly. The two wine suggestions—one white, one red—lined up next to each entrée make ordering simple enough for a small child, should he or she be carrying the proper I.D., and the staff takes care of everything else except cutting up your steak into tiny chokeproof pieces and calculating the tip. Sure, on most nights, three out of five entrées on the $25 prix fixe menu are going to be chicken, salmon, and hanger steak, but they’re done with enough élan—are those purple Peruvian potatoes with my fillet?—to make you glad you didn’t attempt it at home for more than you’ll pay here.
113 Ludlow Street
New York–Born King Phojanakong’s “Asian tapas” menu seamlessly fuses the cooking of his Filipino mother and his Thai father with a bunch of tricks he learned under the tutelage of David Bouley and Daniel Boulud, among others. Mom and Pop’s influence shows in wonderful dishes like chicken adobo, Chinese sausage with Thai chili sauce, and simple garlic-fried rice. The novel Japanese-Austrian fusion of pan-fried pork tonkatsu sliced into delicate strips and layered over a watercress salad, on the other hand, owes its rich (and decidedly un-Japaneselike) butteriness to the chef’s schnitzel days at Danube. This is beautifully presented, exceptionally fresh, highly imaginative food at bargain-basement prices (from $2.50 to $10). A great sake list and the cool second-floor hideaway location make it a real find.
La Maison Du Couscous
484 77th Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Devoid of the usual “atmospherics,” this terrific Moroccan restaurant focuses on the food—succulent tagines and fluffy couscous—instead of exotic décor and shimmying entertainment. Even so, it would take an especially hyperkinetic belly shaker to distract us from juicy kafta sandwiches adorned with garlicky peppers ($5), a flaky, aromatic chicken b’steeya ($8.50), or a fragrant lamb tagine ($8.95), its meat as soft as the plump raisins and prunes it’s cooked with. Local expats congregate here for strong coffee and honey-steeped pastries, and if we lived anywhere nearby, so would we.
La Pollada de Laura
102-03 Northern Boulevard, Corona
This Peruvian hole-in-the-wall ups the ante on the rotisserie-chicken competition with a beyond-the-bird menu featuring fresh seafood. Seviche is the specialty of the house: octopus, mussels, crab, shrimp, and conch in various outsize kitchen-sink combinations all get the “cooked”-in-lemon-juice treatment. One of the best is expertly sliced fillet of corvina smothered with red onions and served with a stack of fried calamari ($11). Almost as tasty are the sweetly marinated rotisserie-chicken combos ($4.45 to $22) and fried seafood ($9 to $15).
95 Avenue A
The rustic, open-fronted East Village spinoff of Le Zie does the Chelsea original one better as far as bargain dining is concerned: The Venetian-style tapas called cicchetti, already a steal at $15.95 for a massive two-person appetizer assortment, are also served individually at the bar, freeing the fickle diner to pick and choose among delectable morsels like sardines in saor, airy cod mousse, spiced chickpeas, and marinated octopus with celery. Fans of Le Zie’s spaghetti and meatballs and truffle-larded macaroni and cheese will be pleased to discover them here as well.
140 West Houston Street
A fountain gurgles in the back room, the banquettes are sexily backlit, and a hip clientele convenes in the lounge to sip exotic neon cocktails. Despite all that, the kitchen is serious, the menu exciting, and the chef imported straight from Shanghai. Lozoo rebels against aesthetic and culinary stereotypes alike: The look is more Soho than Chinatown, and the kitchen bravely eschews soup dumplings for less familiar aspects of refined Shanghai cuisine. Deep-fried escargot are sheathed in crispy tofu skin ($8); lettuce leaves make crunchy wrappers for delicate minced bass, pine nuts, and pomelo ($8); and spears of garlicky eggplant and molded sticky rice are almost indistinguishable until the first surprising bite ($15).
1262 Amsterdam Avenue, near 123rd Street
Before there was Max SoHa—the uptown branch of the cheap Italian chainlet—there was nothing to eat on that particular Morningside Heights block. The hit trattoria blazed a trail for Kitchenette Uptown, a new pizzeria, and now Max’s own rustic spinoff, a homey café meant for all-day snacking, Italian-style. That means crusty crostini slathered with artichoke or chicken-liver pâtés ($3), salads festooned with figs and bresaola ($6), mortadella panini with asiago and avocado ($7), and two dozen antipasti, from smoked trout to speck ($4 apiece). The owner’s messianic allegiance to southern Italian wines makes for an offbeat, affordable list.
96 Second Avenue
This “clam shack built by a beatnik,” in co-owner Jimmy Bradley’s words, has a lot more going for it than littlenecks, however delectable ($7 a half-dozen). A New Englandy front room, a cozier rear, and an adorable garden fill nightly with East Villagers stuck in the city but hungering for the shore. Chef Mike Price dishes it up in the quasi-retro form of blue-crab-and-baby-spinach dip ($12), fried oysters ($10), and spaghetti with shrimp, scallops, and calamari ($15). Every bottle of wine is priced a miraculous $15 over cost, and dessert (chef’s choice) is on the house.
Mexican Sandwich Company
322 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Technically a misnomer, the name of this high-concept cantina refers not to the traditional Mexican torta but rather to creative, multicultural takes on double-decker quesadillas. We’re partial to wild plum and brie with double-smoked bacon, caramelized red onion, and lavender-chili honey ($8), and barbecued duck confit with Cheddar, spicy mango salsa, and blood-orange-chili purée ($9). But that’s just us. If you prefer, you can keep it simple by customizing your own with add-on delicacies like pickled jalapeños, chorizo, and chipotle shrimp.
28 Watts Street
Two couples joined by marriage—plus a restless mother-in-law who can’t stay out of the kitchen—give this comfy Pan-Asian canteen a conspicuous family feel. With its retro-diner décor, off-the-beaten-track address, and $4–$8 price range, it’s a Soho anomaly where everything is made with care and served with a welcoming smile. It’s also a wellspring of savory sandwiches, salads, and snacks like springy wontons stuffed with snow-pea greens, sweetly spiced chicken wings, and delicate, exceedingly fresh jícama-stuffed spring rolls.
Nick’s Restaurant and Pizzeria
1814 Second Avenue, at 94th Street
No way could we stroll into this new Manhattan branch of the excellent Queens pizzeria and summon up the superhuman willpower necessary to resist one of Nick Angelis’s perfect pies—light and fragrant, expertly charred, and mottled with creamy mozzarella that seems like it was pulled fifteen minutes ago. But now Nick has larded the menu with family-style portions of toothsome orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe ($16), superfresh grilled fish, and an eggplant parmigiana ($11) that could make somebody’s mamma the star of her own reality show. Normally, the stuff in pizzerias that isn’t pizza should be ordered only under duress or during a crisis—like when the pizza oven blows up—but here it’s nearly as good as the pie, and better than most of what passes for Italian on the Upper East Side.
158 Ninth Avenue, near 19th Street
The sleek successor to Nam in Tribeca shares its precursor’s understatedly stylish aesthetic, not to mention most of its menu. It’s possible to find cheaper Vietnamese food, but none sparked with such consistently fresh, clean flavors and served in such casually chic environs. We seldom pass up the lemongrass-crusted tofu ($4), but the diced monkfish and peanuts on a rice cracker ($8) and the five-spiced baby back ribs ($8) are both eminently worthwhile. The skill of the kitchen is most apparent in the selection of rolls, noticeably lighter and more delicate than most of the rice-paper-wrapped competition.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
1 Fifth Avenue
Pizza, antipasti, and wine is the perfect low-budget formula for these penny-pinching times, and the very sharp Mario Batali knows just how to tweak it, keeping things fresh with seasonal variations, a lively, informal ambience, and a smart staff. We love the quiet refuge of a mortadella-panini bar breakfast, the house-cured meats ($8 a plate) and exquisitely garnished cheeses ($9 for three), and the daily fritti ($8) that so delectably bookmark the week (calzones on Monday, fried chickpeas on Sunday). Seasonal ingredients infiltrate the roster in subtle ways: asparagus bumping Swiss chard on the goat-cheese pizza ($13), a spring-pea sformato displacing the acorn-squash custard ($4). The heartbreaking disappearance of the gianduja hot chocolate—yanked prematurely, we thought—was ameliorated by a stunning fresh-mint gelato. But only just.
Parish & Co.
202 Ninth Avenue, near 22nd Street
A superb if undersung disciple of the small-plate school, this smart, globally inspired kitchen makes it easy to eat well and inexpensively, provided you dodge the odd pricey pitfall or two. Almost everything comes in tasting and sharing portions; stick to the former, tack on some warm ricotta crostini ($5) and grilled flowering chives ($5), and you’ve got yourself a feast. The tahini-dressed cabbage salad ($6), sesame-seeded soba noodles ($7), and luscious double-cut lamb rack ($14 for a chop you won’t want to share) merit unqualified praise, and the fluke seviche gets its unique brand of tart heat from grapefruit and horseradish ($10). The menu’s all over the map, but the farmstead cheeses are all American and first-rate, especially Cypress Grove’s award-winning Midnight Moon.
124 Fourth Avenue
What a radical concept: a bright and shiny slice joint that could pass a surprise white-glove inspection by Colin Cowie. And lest you think that cleanliness is not next to pizza godliness, the 21 variously adorned pies are terrific, thin and crisp, made with good-quality ingredients, custom-snipped by a friendly scissors-wielding crew, then weighed and rung up, depending upon topping, from $6 to $12 per pound.
915 Third Avenue, at 55th Street
After a meticulous yearlong restoration, the old gin mill is back in business. Some things, we suspect, aren’t what they used to be: When asked about the chili one afternoon, the perky young waitress responded, “I wouldn’t really know. I’m a vegan.” Well, no one ever came here for the food, but that’s no longer the kitchen’s fault. Shared ownership with Docks accounts for the chipper shucker at the new raw bar and the unfailingly fresh fish and chips ($15.80). Oysters, with their Old New York connotation, don’t seem out of place in a joint like this, but sprightly salads, like the one with spinach, beets, and feta ($6.80), do. And sides like sautéed broccoli rabe ($4.15) suffused with garlic cloves just might lure regulars away from the house half-and-half (creamed spinach and mashed potatoes,$4.75). There’s a fancy new dining room upstairs, but the classic New York experience is still found downstairs with a Boddingtons and a $9.30 bacon cheeseburger.
72-19 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
A funny thing happened when we visited this anomalously slick Thai joint in Jackson Heights, a distant (but recognizably related) cousin of Manhattan’s Spice chainlet. When the solicitous waiter asked how we wanted our food, we said “spicy,” with the usual resigned skepticism, and we got spicy: tear-duct-activatingly, nose-clearingly, cheek-flushingly spicy. But tingly lips didn’t stop us from plowing through pungent pork larb ($6), fiery green-curry fried rice ($6), and deliciously crisp, fatty duck in basil sauce ($12). Hurts so good, indeed.
122 Union Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Screw Mickey D’s. we ought to sue the pants off Alan Harding before we burst another seam. At his kitschy new burger joint, he’s created a kind of fantasy-junk-food camp for middle-aged Augustus Gloops. Just look at the evidence: the Schnäckie, Harding’s take on the slider. Cute name. Only 1.5 ounces of freshly ground beef on a house-baked minibun. Seems harmless enough, right? Wrong. You’ll want twelve, minimum. Need more proof? How about spicy fries, big fat onion rings, eight kinds of hot dogs and kielbasa, and a homemade Orange Julius for chrissakes, and nothing over eight bucks? And Schnäck’s Asian-inspired idea of diet food? Crazy-sounding specials like knockwurst and bacon in a Japanese coconut-curry sauce with rice. C’mon. If that’s not a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen, we don’t know what is.
135-32 40th Road, Flushing
The gap in our Sichuan-craving appetite left by the recent closing of Spicy & Tasty has been handily filled by this equally fiery six-month-old Sichuan kitchen, where the $16.95 “family dinner” buys three choices from a 59-item menu—plenty for two to share, with leftovers. Pick and choose from the familiar (an estimable kung pao chicken) and the obscure (kidney with sesame oil), and splurge on the à la carte double-cooked pork ($9.95). And the setting, with its glossy Marimekko-ish tabletops, comfortable booths, and mezzanine bar stocked with California wines, is a natty notch above the profuse competition.
The Soul Spot
302 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Bare-bones and fluorescent-lit, this place looks like a hundred other storefront steam-table soul-food joints. But something extraordinary must be going on back in the kitchen. Supersavory chicken and dumplings ($7.50) tread a delicious murky brown gravy. Moist meat loaf ($7.95) is slicked with an eerie but tasty candy-apple-red glaze. Nicely seasoned collards actually show signs of life—a refreshing departure from the norm—while sweet, juicy yams pack a cinnamon-sugar punch. And habit-forming coconut cake is worth remaining fully clothed at the beach this summer. No wonder that even late at night, there’s a steady stream of customers filing in to ponder their two generous sides.
Soy Luck Club
115 Greenwich Avenue
If you can’t see yourself saying “chai tea soy latte,” this isn’t the place for you. Which is too bad, because the sunny, stylish café isn’t only a refuge for the health-minded subset of the laptop-toting, coffee-drinking subculture—it’s a source of delicious (but not exclusively) soy-based food and drink. If that’s a foreign concept to you, consider pressed bagels with banana, honey, and soynut butter ($4.50), avocado-and-tofu-salad sandwiches ($6.75), and vegan pumpkin-praline tarts you’ll want to order for Thanksgiving dinner ($4.75). Turkey, tuna, and curried-chicken salad insinuate their way into the menu, so carnivores won’t feel left out.
Taste Good II
53 Bayard Street
The last time we visited Taste Good, the Malaysian restaurant in Elmhurst, we left disappointed, thinking that perhaps they should change the name to something less ambitious, like Taste Okay. Maybe it was an off night for the kitchen or our taste buds, because with the opening of a new Chinatown branch, that name seems charmingly inadequate. If the owners knew how rare it is to find food this vibrantly full-flavored—as exemplified in dishes like tender beef rendang (get it with springy noodles and a side of greens, $4.95), a sizzling platter of ethereally light and fluffy house-made tofu with its delectable ground-pork-and-vegetable gravy ($7.99), and roti telur, a delicate egg-filled Indian pancake to dip in lip-smacking curry ($3.25)—they’d come up with a boastful new name, raise the prices, and open a Park Avenue South location.
That Little Cafe
147 East Houston Street
The fare at this eclectic Lower East Side café ventures way beyond Illy espresso and Ceci-Cela pastries into South American and Middle Eastern territory. The co-chefs are from Israel and Brazil, and so are their recipes for egg-and-vegetable-stuffed bourekas ($6.25) and “Romeo & Juliet” guava-and-cheese panini ($3.50). A front for a catering company, the fifteen-seat café drums up future gigs with enticements like warm panzanella salad with pancetta and poached eggs ($7.95) and prosciutto sandwiches with mascarpone-fig spread ($7.25).
36 Bar and Barbecue
5 West 36th Street
After dining at this modern, industrial-chic Korean barbecue house, you’ll emerge smelling as pungently smoky as your dinner. Considering the caliber of black-Angus beef and topnotch seafood that you grill on copper screens over built-in table charcoal pits ($17–$19), that’s not necessarily a bad thing (unless you’re dating a vegetarian). A contemporary, accessible alternative to the sometimes insular traditional Korean restaurants that populate this neighborhood, 36 is aggressively helpful: Servers mind your bulgogi, lest the sweetly savory marinated beef start to burn, and demonstrate proper sauce-slathering and lettuce-leaf-wrapping technique. Other attractions: nouvelle appetizers like eel tortilla pizza ($9) and a soju bar upstairs.
360 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn
The difficulty of getting to this cozy, off-the-beaten-track bistro is offset by the ease of ordering: The $20 three-course prix fixe changes daily and includes a choice of three appetizers, two entrées, and two desserts. Co-owner Arnaud Erhart patrols the artisan-crafted, vaguely ship-shaped room, recommending mostly organic or biodynamic wines (his particular passion) and scolding scofflaw cell-phone users who violate the house civility code, which also requires reservations and payment in cash for the time being. Irascible interlopers might balk, but the prospect of roasted scallops with leek fondue, a tender paprika-tinged hanger steak, and lighter à la carte bites like oysters and delectable charcuterie will keep you on your best behavior.
210 West 10th Street
With the soul of a diner cook and the marketing acumen of a gourmet M.B.A., Jay Strauss has carved out a nice niche for himself—an open-air, whitewashed niche that seats eighteen people elbow-to-elbow. Big salads, appealing sandwiches, and several gratifying variations on the burger and frank theme (turkey, vegan, chili-smothered, Hebrew National) satisfy appetites both virtuous and decadent, with enough ingenuity (and a $14 price ceiling) to turn neighbors into regulars. “Westville Market” blackboard specials like tender grilled asparagus and minted feta-and-tomato salad make it easy to eat your vegetables. Which you’ll want to do before succumbing to the berry galette, layer cake, or chocolate-chip meringues displayed fetchingly (and strategically) on the counter.
49 East 19th Street
From Craft to Craftbar to ’Wichcraft: If Tom Colicchio continues his downward price spiral, he’ll soon be operating a souvlaki cart. We won’t complain if it’s anywhere near as enticing as this stylishly minimalist sandwich shop, with its gleaming lablike kitchen and tantalizing melted-cheese aroma. Breakfast is available all day, or at least breakfast sandwiches are— frittata on ciabatta ($5), for instance, or fried egg and bacon with Gorgonzola ($6). And even though we love the refreshing, fastidiously assembled Sicilian tuna with shaved fennel and lemon ($8), and the tangy grilled Gruyère with caramelized onions on rye ($5.50), not to mention panini-pressed pork loin, coppa, and fontina on crusty country bread ($9), we try to leave room for deftly seasoned soups and side salads. Buttery blueberry scones, irresistible lemon bars and ganache-filled cream’wiches ($1.50 to $2.50), and comfortable mezzanine seating set this sandwich shrine apart from the proliferating panini pack.