This might be the year of the $500 omakase dinner and deep-pocketed gourmands filing into the Time Warner Center, but it’s also—perhaps less headline-grabbingly so—the year of the $2.50 Chicago-style hot dog, the $6 Philly cheesesteak (a burgeoning category), and Astoria’s first $7 tarte flambée. Omnivorous New Yorkers can, and do, have it both ways, from the five-hour, nine-course tasting menu at Per Se to the bowl o’ red from a standing position at Daisy May’s BBQ USA chili cart.Of course, certain populist chefs and restaurateurs have been moving in a downwardly mobile direction for years. But 2004 promises the highest lows: Mario Batali scooping gelato from a cart in Washington Square Park, Daniel-trained Adam Perry Lang bringing his fleet of barbecue carts up to nine, and Tom Colicchio of Craft and Gramercy Tavern opening two new branches of his gourmet sandwich shop, ’wichcraft. A degree under Daniel Boulud isn’t required to make the world’s best French fry, but judging by Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson’s addictively crispy handiwork at Schiller’s, the frites tuition can’t hurt. Of our favorite new low- to mid-range restaurants—all of them here opened within the past year—even those that aren’t cheap in the strictest five-fried-Chinatown-dumplings-for-a-dollar sense of the word bring great values, from $3 tandoori chicken to $18 sea-urchin-sauced wild salmon en papillote. In the most democratic of dining cities, even elite chefs love nothing better than a good deal, as we confirmed when we sent four of them out to spend the cost of their tasting menu or prix fixe on cheap food for a day. They all came back happy and full—and under budget, as can any smart-spending New Yorker these days. Name your price.
64 West 10th Street, 212-505-7777
Alta is the anti-tapas bar. Yes, its menu consists entirely of small plates, priced from $3 to $14, and yes, many of them—pungent boquerones with quail eggs and Worcestershire mayo, say, or grilled sourdough adorned with creamy Valdeon, salty serrano, and roasted pineapple—taste and sound Spanish enough. But chef Harrison Mosher’s elegant, offbeat presentations come off more haute tasting menu than run-of-the-mill Madrid. Neighbors drop by the long, welcoming bar for extemporaneous goat-cheese fritters and lavender honey, or a glass of wine from a carefully curated old-world list. The rustic double-height dining room feels like a South American hacienda, and there’s an intimate upstairs alcove that you reach by walking through the kitchen.
391 Second Avenue, near 22nd St.; 212-725-7770
The cut-rate spinoff of Alphabet City’s Bao 111 specializes in the homestyle noodles, salads, and stir-fries of chef-partner Michael Huynh’s Saigon youth. Steamy bowls of crab noodle soup and succulent stews are pure Southeast Asian comfort food, and zesty dressings enliven grilledshrimp and seared steak. For the most part, Huynh stifles the urge to fuse East and West—and the splendid dessert exceptions, like pandan-leaf panna cotta, are welcome. He designed the place, too, using artfully agedmirrors and floor tiles for an effect that’s part French bistro, part Irish pub. Lively crowds pile into wooden booths and slurp soup and cocktails at the bar.
775 Washington Street, 212-924-9700
California-cuisine avatar Jonathan Waxman slips easily into casual-Italian mode at his most recent home, on the breezy ground floor of Industria Superstudio. Retractable garage-door walls and a concrete floor give theWest Village corner space a spare, industrial feel. Warming it all up are kitchen-towel napkins, a big communal table, and the wood-burning brick oven that yields whole roasted fish and Waxman’s signature crisp-skinned, herb-flecked chicken. In the best Italian (and Californian) tradition, the menu changes seasonally, focusing on simple, satisfying vegetable contorni and impeccably fresh salads. Barbuto’s affogato is a beautiful, high-octane thing: a scoop of Il Laboratorio del Gelato vanilla doused with espresso.
Bleu Drawes Cafe
97 Commnercial Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-349-8501
In deference to his Greenpoint neighbors, Steve Brooks makes a toothsome kielbasa omelette for brunch. But the rest of the time, the chef-owner of this nineteen-seat café adapts family recipes for a lightened-up, modernized version of Jamaican home cooking. Codfish cakes are impeccably fresh and crisp; moist jerk chicken is deftly seasoned, if not incendiary. Every main course (or “real food,” as the menu puts it) comes with fluffy rice and peas, plantains, and greens. Tenuous as this might make the prospect of dessert, try to do justice to the place’s namesake, a dense steamed sweet-potato pudding served on a banana leaf and drizzled with coconut milk.
296 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-7770
Bozu chef-owner Makoto Suzuki has expanded the definition of Japanese tapas (if there is one) to include deep-fried kataifi-crusted shrimp, pumpkin risotto croquettes stuffed with mozzarella, and an unconventional version of sushi. Suzuki’s “bombs” are the shape of things to come—small mounds of rice tinted red from cabbage or pink from codfish roe, and topped either traditionally (salmon, tuna, eel) or not (sun-dried tomato, olive, and caper). These light bites can be eaten at the bar, on epoxy tables ringed with Eames chairs, or on the back deck. Until the liquor license arrives and the fruit-infused shochu starts to flow, you’ll have to wash them down with a six-pack from home.
Bread and Olive
24 West 45th Street, 212-764-1588
A dependable neighborhood falafel joint is a cheapskate’s best friend—especially when that neighborhood is as uniformly overpriced and culinarily underwhelming as midtown. Bread & Olive inherited its narrow, brightly tiled premises and menu from the previous occupant, Bread From Beirut. Quality remains high and flavors exceedingly fresh in meze like lemony hummus, smoky baba ghannouj, and zesty tabbouleh. And there is still bread from Beirut baked on premises—most notably keshik, a puffy flatbread dusted with dried goat cheese, crushed wheat, and sesame seeds and rolled up, upon request, around yogurt as dense as cream cheese; plus the best chicken shawarma in town.
Carve Unique Sandwiches
760-8 Eighth Avenue, at 47th Street; 212-730-4949
A better name for Carve might be Crunch: Owner and French Culinary Institute grad Eban Ross was obviously the type of kid who liked to sneak potato chips onto his peanut-butter-and-bologna sandwiches. In the adult quest for new and unusual textural contrasts, he’s progressed to cramming a latticelike layer of crunchy hash browns on his “steakhouse” roast-beef sandwich with blue-cheese dressing, and combining smooth guacamole and practically a whole side of crisp apple-wood-smoked bacon on his “New Cobb,” a delicious vehicle for moist rotisserie-roasted turkey. Our favorite, though, is the super crispy fried chicken with grilled-corn slaw and barbecue sauce on a crusty Tom Cat baguette—Fourth of July on a bun.
Casa Monobar/ Jamon
52 Irving Place/125 East 17th Street; 212-253-2773
As tiny as Po, as packed as Lupa, and as distinctive as all the restaurants in Mario Batali’s considerable portfolio, this newfangled New York tapas bar gives its collegially cramped clientele dinner and a show.In Casa Mono’s minuscule open kitchen, chef-partner Andy Nusser fries impressively airy pumpkin-and-goat cheese croquetas, seasons spectacular patatas bravas, and grills seasonal vegetables to a caramelized crisp. The tasting-plate format keeps prices low and the wait long, but whetting the appetite with a glass of Albariño and garlicky pan con tomate around the corner at Batali’s Bar Jamón isn’t a bad way to kill time.
888 Eighth Avenue, at 53rd Street; 212-333-5888
928 Second Avenue, near 49th Street; 212-583-1900
By now, we’ve learned to reserve a permanent spot in these pages for Orhan Yegen, the ponytailed chef with the wandering whisk, who, as we’ve said before, is something like the Jennifer Lopez of Turkish restaurants—he loves them, and then, alas, he leaves them. First came Beyoglu (Cris Judd, if you will), then Efendi (Ben Affleck), both of which Yegen is completely over. Yet he’s quickly rebounded and opened two new restaurants, Divane and Sip Sak, both of which have made our list. The theater district’s Divane is the P. Diddy-flashier of the pair. It’s a relatively posh place for a pre- or post-theater feast of absolutely delicious doner kebab propped up with pita croutons and smothered in yogurt and a tangy tomato sauce, perfectly grilled whole sea bass, and a small list of supremely tasty Turkish appetizers. The brand-new Sip Sak, though, turns out to be Yegen’s main squeeze—a homey, Marc Anthony kind of place with red-and-white-checked tablecloths and a garden out back. This is where the chef really lets his ponytail down, offering the full range of meze and steam-table dishes, like moussaka and baked lamb served over a smoky purée of eggplant, all of which he calls “fast-served” Turkish food. May the honeymoon never end.
35-66 73rd Street, Jackson Heights; 718-205-2218
Perhaps in emulation of nearby Jackson Diner-one of the multiculti neighborhood’s biggest success stories-this vegetarian restaurant has picked a name that conjures short-order cooks flipping dosas like pancakes. Rather, the chefs stay behind the muted beige-on-beige scenes, customizing the signature oversize crêpes made from fermented rice or lentil flour. Plain filled with masala potatoes. Butter filled with spinach. Pondicherry for fire-eaters. Or our favorite, lacy rava dosa with chili paneer, a spiced soft cheese that melts on contact with the hot crêpe.
75-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights; 718-505-9090
Seeing two hairnetted señoras of a certain age hard at work in the open kitchen of Fiesta Mexicana bodes well for the hearty, homestyle meal to come. So do the delicious green and red salsas that arrive in Styrofoam cups with the chips. The menu bypasses burritos for more sophisticated stuff, like shrimp enchipotlados and Yucatecan cochinita pibil, but the enchiladas de mole poblano prove impossible to resist once the waiter proffers a sample taste of the complex, genre-defining sauce. A pair of roses on each table, fabric-upholstered booths, and the lack of a liquor license enhance the family-friendly charms of this Jackson Heights sleeper.
295 Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-230-0221
To the fussy diners who make a production over Franny’s unsliced pizza pies, we say: Get over it. Use a fork and knife if you must. Better yet, tear a piece off with your hands, you big sissies. Just don’t let manners stand between you and what might be New York’s best pizza since the coal-oven era. Chef Andrew Feinberg burns wood, but the fuel is less important than the technique, which results in a miraculously textured crust, light and tender and full of moky flavor. Toppings excel, too rom house-cured salami and organic-beef meatballs to parsley pesto. And t’s a rare pizzeria that can serve up an ethereal panna otta with sweet ocal strawberries.
149 West 4th Street, 212-228-4267
The young owners of Galanga apprenticed at Wondee Siam, a Hell’s Kitchen hole-in-the-wall with a cult following. The training paid off, especially in Thai standards like refreshing and remarkably fragrant crispy duck salad; larb gai, minced chicken redolent of mint and lime and dotted with toasted ground sticky rice; and the Chiang Mai curry noodles, a soothing chili-spiked broth loaded with pungent pickled cabbage and strewn with crispy fried shallots. And the stylish space, with its grass-guttered concrete bar and bright-red back wall, proves that in some departments the student can surpass the master.
950 Columbus Avenue, near 107th Street; 212-222-2378
Shocked and dismayed by what passes for gumbo here in the restaurant capital of the world, New Orleans native Dexter Stewart did what any civic-minded culinary ambassador would do: He sent for the family recipe and opened a place of his own. Everything about his storefront shop is minuscule, from the twelve seat dining room to the brief menu. Everything, that is, except the portions and the flavors. If you can’t choose between the gumbo, the jambalaya, and the red beans and rice, order a sampler of all three, neatly served in ceramic soup bowls. The muffaletta sandwich is as close as you can get to the real thing without having one FedExed from Central Grocery.
246 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-789-2778
You can’t toss a baguette without hitting a French restaurant in Fort Greene. But Ici, with its fashionable emphasis on seasonality, its farm contacts, and its deft execution of the classics, succeeds where most only suffice. The unfailingly charming (and Manhattan-restaurant-seasoned) mom-and-pop proprietors patrol the whitewashed dining room and peaceful garden, bearing unfussy plates of locally grown greens, uncommonly tasty upstate chicken, and tender skate adrift in a sea of brown butter. The all-French wine list ventures beyond Burgundy and Bordeaux, yielding better values farther afield—not unlike the concept of the Brooklyn bistro itself.
98 Rivington Street, 212-614-0473
This Lower East Side offshoot of New York’s panini pioneer ‘ino takes it to a mercifully bigger space—all rustic wood tables, walls lined with wine bottles, and service so chipper you’d think there’s nowhere else your well-trained waiter would rather be at two in the morning. The jovial atmosphere is infectious, and the kitchen knows what New Yorkers like to nibble, including fried olives, mini-meatballs flecked with orange zest, and—next to ‘ino’s—the city’s best panini and tramezzini.
1575 Lexington Avenue, at 101st Street; 212-423-0255
From humble beginnings at Itzocan Café in the East Village, chef Anselmo Bello has progressed to an only marginally bigger, markedly more ambitious bistro in East Harlem, where he cooks the Franco-Mexican fusion that won him a following. South-of-the-border ingredients insinuate themselves into bistro fare in creative ways: A tequila-and-serrano-pepper broth animates steamed mussels. Rajas poblanas garnish duck pâté. Pork chops are seasoned with Negra Modelo beer. Happily, Itzocan’s low prices and gracious service traveled equally well.
Jewel Bako Makimono
101 Second Avenue, 212-253-7848
Cheapness is relative—never more so, perhaps, than when talking about sushi. It’s true that if so inclined, a couple could drop a C-note on an omakase dinner at this Jewel Bako spinoff. Formerly Blue Goose Cafe, it’s now dedicated to playing to its owners’ strengths, at a decided and welcome discount. Maki rolls in the $6 to $12 range make it easy to resist that temptation, as do a $4 bowl of white-miso soup, graced with a feather-light quenelle of wild striped bass; a $14 trio of delectable tartares, scooped up with lotus-root chips; and a blushing pink king salmon en papillote with briny sea-urchin sauce (a $9 appetizer or an $18 entrée). Daily specials like medium fatty tuna are a splurge within reason ($7), especially figuring in the cosseting service, elegant tableware, and fabulously fresh fish.
647 East 11th Street, 212-777-1582
The polar opposite of the St. Marks Place rumpus rooms that define the downtown izakaya experience, Kasadela is downright civilized, yet equally cheap. It’s a peaceful place for leisurely snacking, in-depth sake sampling, and audible conversation. But once the Japanese tapas hit the table, talk might turn exclusively to the food before you: Crisp, salty sheets of roasted nori that dissolve in your mouth like cotton candy. Steamed “black” (actually dark-green) edamame that’s ten times better than the regular variety. Creamy squares of wasabi-dotted goma tofu that taste halfway between hummus and halvah. And, as a sometime special, some of the city’s best chicken wings, marinated in garlic, ginger, and two kinds of soy.
25 St. Marks Place, 212-254-6363
Just our luck. With the kitchen fresh out of turkey testicles and bull penises, both $5.50 specials, we were left to choose from the list of 100 or so other small plates, none of which costs more than $7 at this raucous izakaya. We gnawed on grilled corn on the cob drizzled with the house sweet sauce, wallowed in a gooey okonomiyaki (cabbage-and-egg pancake), and almost sparked a flame jousting chopsticks over an unctuous miso-marinated grilled mackerel. Codgers and Bloomberg beware: This place is as loud as a Times Square pinball arcade. Speakers that the owners must have scored cheap from the MTA don’t help.
279 Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-399-2000
The name sounds like an off-brand pest-control product. Some menu items are often unavailable—others perpetually AWOL—and the friendly service sure can dawdle. But when it gets around to it, this Haitian restaurant serves a righteous lambi (conch stew). Ours contained a boatload of the feisty mollusks vigorously beaten into tender submission and simmered in an herby, tomato-based broth. Griot (crisp cubes of marinated, fried pork) and tassot (the goat version) are equally impressive, and come with a tiny cup of the delicious and fiery homemade hot-pepper condiment called piklis. Chew on a stalk of sugarcane for dessert. “It helps your digestion,” says the waitress.
132 West Houston Street, 212-475-1515
Bernard Liberatore, the he-man ex-rugby hunk who helms the kitchen of this lively new bistro named for France’s national team, is secure enough in his masculinity to plate his orange-scented duck breast with a custardy prune quiche. Breakfast and lunch menus embrace what bistro-bred New Yorkers have come to expect, with omelettes du jour and croques monsieur, but dinner abounds with flourishes in the form of a treacherously rich porcini-asparagus risotto ccompanying crisp-skinned herb-basted roast hicken; a bed of mint tabbouleh bolstering fried calamari; and creamy vocado rounding out the salty flavor of tuna illettes. Liberatore gets bonus points for creativity—and showing his sensitive side.
Les Enfants Terribles
37 Canal Street, 212-777-7518)
You don’t have to be able to pronounce korhogofefemougou to appreciate succulent steak marinated in Ivory Coast spices—just one of the twists chef Abdhul Traore puts on bargain-bistro classics at this Lower East Side lair with a French-colonial feel. Duet of duck pairs a meaty breast with shredded confit. Muqueca, the Brazilian seafood-coconut-milk stew, is loaded with plump shrimp and served with a steaming bowl of white rice. Tropical-tasting cocktails are well balanced and perfectly refreshing, and an unobtrusive D.J. plays captivating world music at neighbor-friendly decibels.
Loreley Restaurant & Biergarten
7 Rivington Street, 212-253-7077
For sticking to the ribs, nothing beats German food. And for pure liquid refreshment, little beats German beer. The twain meet at this rough, rustic beer hall off the Bowery, where the unvarnished pine tables are communal and little more than beer-company umbrellas are planted in the “garden.” But the food is the real deal—heaping plates of chicken paprikasch with squiggles of sauce-sopping spaetzle, savory bratwurst from Schaller & Weber charred from the grill and sided with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and coarse mustard, and thin-sliced Gouda on dense German rye. You could do wurst.
Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-1441
Café by day, raw bar and small-plates restaurant by night, this quirky Williamsburg canteen is the latest venture from the owners of Diner, the American bistro next door. And even though it is ideally situated to absorb Diner’s overflow and ply them with retro cocktails and briny oysters, the dimly lit, wood-paneled space has been forging a cozy Mediterranean-accented identity of its own. Locals congregate at communal tables over good olives, delicatetortilla española, and daily specials like wild-leek-and-goat-cheese tart or a sardine sandwich on pizza bianca. If you come across an ingredient you reallylove, up front is a quasi-organic gourmet general store, stocked by a retail savant.
Mina Foods and Restaurant
48-11 43rd Avenue, Sunnyside; 718-205-6671
We’re willing to forgo both style and service when food tastes as uncommonly delicious as it did on our visits to Mina, an unprepossessing room on a genericQueens block where cognoscenti venture for fresh, flavorful Indian fare that’s clearly made from scratch. We say clearly, because nothing else accounts for the sometimes interminable waits andoddly staggered pace. Still, given theall-too-often gloppy, indeterminately seasoned alternative, it’s a small price to pay for tangy, aromatic samosa chat; moist, mustard-marinated whole fish; and a flavorful chicken tikka masala that will ruin you for all others. Yellow dalfry (a sort of spiced lentil porridge) and baigan achar (oozing eggplant with Indian pickle) are two of the most voluptuous vegetarian dishes around.
Miss Williamsburg Porta Via
228 East 10th Street, 212-228-5355
Joining the ranks of improvisatory electric kitchens, this homespun, simply designed satellite of Brooklyn’s popular diner showcases the sort of Italian-mama baked pastas and braised meat and fish that can be cooked without gas. Not that the average diner would ever notice the cook’s constraints. Muchmore conspicuous are the wonderful aromas emanating from the open kitchen: mingled scents of bread baking, cheese melting, and chocolate soufflé doing whatever it does to achieve such a lush consistency. Chef Massimiliano Bartoliis justly famous for his devastatingly rich lasagne, which comes with meat or without, but we’re even fonder of his comparatively delicate anelli, ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed crêpes cut into bite-size pieces and stacked in apool of tangy tomato sauce.
31 Second Avenue, 212-460-9171
Just when we thought Paul Prudhomme had blackened redfish into extinction, along comes a slew of New Orleans-inspired restaurants. Natchez, though, with its soft glow, flimsy red banquettes, old tile floor, and tin ceiling, feels like it’s been around forever, or at least since the last great wave of Nawlins-stylecooking came and went. Chef Shawn Knight’s short menu is both Cajun homey and Creole fancy. It’s hard to resist a first-rate oyster po’ boy—crunchy fried oysters tucked into a toasted roll slicked with piquant remoulade—or atoothsome andouille-and-duck gumbo thickened with dark roux. If you succeed, there are more elaborate dishes like an unctuous short-rib raviolo to contend with.
11 Bleecker Street, 212-529-5133
The East Village is full of rough-hewn trattorias. This isn’t one of them. Withits sleek, uncluttered design and high ceilings, it’s as much of an anomaly as its sister restaurant was when it opened near the culinarily challenged South Street Seaport. The menu fetishizes organic ingredients, which the chef combines in simple, exceedingly satisfying preparations: baked spinach with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano; thin, chewy focaccia under a rich stracchino cheese melt; homemade taglierini with avocado and tomato. The wine list reflects the sustainable-agriculture theme, with plenty of organic or biodynamic bottles.
64 Third Avenue, 212-614-2333
The Manhattan branch is still going through a mere one case of Cheez Whiz a day-much catching up to do to the original Brooklyn branch’s seven daily cases. That is, if the plodding line at the counter ever picks up. What’staking so long? Tasty cooked-to-order grilled-chicken sandwiches and decent burgers on excellent kaiser rolls made by an old-school Brooklyn bakery (seven to ten minutes, please). The signature roast-beef sandwiches dunked ingravy are even better, not to mention quicker. We like the unironic seventies prefab fast-food look, the fresh-squeezed orangeade, the baked sweet potatoes, and the apple pie, too.
97 Lexington Avenue, entrance on 27th Street; 212-679-8900)
In the wake of the horrendous wrap-sandwich craze of the nineties comes the infinitely better Indian way of rolling savory morsels into a round of bread. The Kati Roll Company in the Village spearheaded the movement a couple years ago, but Roomali, a smartly designed counter-service shop in Curry Hill, is a serious new contender. Spicy grilled chicken folded with onion, peppers, cilantro, and a sprinkle of chat masala into a made-to-order griddle-fried roti, one side coated with whipped egg, is superb. Order two at a time, and save a buck.
24-25 Steinway Street, Astoria; 718-721-9010
Sabry’s is Egyptian, like most of its neighbors on Astoria’s Cairo corridor, but it feels more like a seafood shack on the coast of Maine—or maybe City Island. Of course, you’re not going to get super-puffy pita right out of the oven at Johnny’s Reef, never mind the all-important dish of dill-flecked tahini to dipit in. The fish is fresh and the portions generous-all grilled, fried, or baked entrées come with an herb-dappled iceberg-lettuce salad and rice pilaf or fries,which will invariably find their way into that addictive tahini, too. Sabry’s tajines aretomato-based, oven-baked stews of calamari or shrimp, and are recommended, as is his whole striped bass seasoned with lemon and cumin, thespice-rack secret to Sabry’s success.
152 Smith Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn; 718-643-6622
Taking its inspiration from a Barcelona tapas bar, Sample specializes in conservas, otherwise known as preserved food. These are not apocalyptic rations to store in your go-bag, but rather a very selectively amassed trove of gourmet goods culled from around the world. There are gigantes from Greece, giant white beans that bear no resemblance to Libby’s limas; lush slices of Turkish fried eggplant; sweet Italian onions. Brined cockles and cod-stuffed piquillos hint of the great wide canned world beyond tuna. Cured meats and cheese are more familiar but no less appealing, and the international list of wines and sakes is full of perfect matches.
Schiller’s Liquor Bar
131 Rivington Street, 212-260-4555
Even more impressive than Keith McNally’s finger-snapping knack for creating fun, atmospheric places that grow old gracefully is his co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson’s ability to turn out such consistently satisfying, affordable grub. A deeply flavorful steak frites, an iron skillet of sizzling garlic shrimp, and an estimable penne arrabiata are better than they have any right to be, considering the hipster-haunted scene. The sticky toffee pudding passes muster with finicky Englishmen, and where else can you get a Welsh rarebit this good—or for that matter, a Welsh rarebit, period? If you can park yourself there on a late afternoon, you and whomever you’re playing hooky with will practically have the whole white-tiled, sun-filled place to yourselves.
39-07 Prince Street, Flushing; 718-886-6331
Good restaurants don’t die. They just move to this Flushing side street, where the relocated Sentosa, a topnotch Malaysian kitchen late of Manhattan’s Chinatown, has materialized two doors down from the transplanted Spicy & Tasty (see below). Like its Sichuan neighbor, Sentosa has spruced up its décor but preserved the brash, taste-bud-grabbing flavors characteristic of its native cuisine. Malaysian is the ultimate fusion food, with a penchant for the pungent shrimp paste called belacan and a tendency to bury treasures, like shrimp and squid stuffed inside tofu. Roti canai, the fried pancake you dip into chicken curry, and beef rendang simmered in a chili-powered coconut-milk curry are our go-to litmus-test dishes for Malaysian restaurants; Sentosa’s are smashing. So is its ice kanang ABC, a Southeast Asian kitchen sink of a shaved-ice concoction, full of red beans, corn kernels, palm seeds, and jelly.
35-01 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria; 718-204-5553
With its concentration of seafood tavernas and souvlaki stands, Astoria is known more for its taramosalata than its duck terrine—a fact that inspired three French expats to plant their culinary flag on virgin bistro territory. But 718 is no by-the-book bistro. Its bright orange and yellow scheme feels tropical, and so does the eclectic menu: Grilled calamari gets an avocado garnish and lime aïoli; tomato sauce and mango enliven Ecuadoran shrimp seviche; and that terrine is served with pineapple. Astoria stays up late, and 718 keeps similar hours, with a bar menu of global tapas and what might be northern Queens’ only authentictarte flambée.
Madison Square Park, southeast corner; 212-889-6600
Everyone has a favorite Danny Meyer restaurant; ours is Shake Shack. A weekly visit could cause you to rethink the necessity of having to get out of town during the summer. The park is that lush, the all-American snack-bar grub that good. Yes, the line at lunchtime is as bad as your local Duane Reade. But go late in the afternoon, when the crowds have thinned, sit at one of the regulation-green Parks Department tables, and have one of everything on the menu—perfect, smallish L.A.-style burgers that have no equal in New York; dressed to the nines Chicago-style dogs with authentic Day-Glo-green relish; a purple cow made with Grape Crush from the bottle; and frozen custard that tastes like a dream. You can even gulp beer or have a good half-bottle of wine inside a designated quaffing zone, no brown bag required.
Spicy & Tasty
39-07 Prince Street, Flushing; 718-359-1601
It was a happy day in Flushing—or at least in midtown, where we heard the news—when the defunct Spicy & Tasty reopened a block away from its original location. Don’t be deceived by the new, spiffier premises:Drabness doesn’t always equal authenticity. Sichuan specialties like dan-dan noodles and wontons in red chili sauce still resonate with delectable heat; fragrant smoked tea duck and rich double-cooked pork are as imbued with conversation-stopping flavor as ever. Up front, the designated cold-appetizers chef dishes up regional delicacies like chili-slicked sliced conch and shredded potato from the wackiest-looking salad bar you’ve ever seen.
The Spotted Pig
314 West 11th Street, 212-620-0393
A gastropub, a worldly English pal explains, is just like a regular pub-except that it’s a place where “you needn’t get as tight as a monkey before you summon up the courage to order something to eat.” With April Bloomfield cooking at the Spotted Pig, you needn’t even raise a glass.Bloomfield’s cuisine is seasonal, and British only in the way that it is at London’s Italian-obsessed River Cafe, where she (and Jamie Oliver) used to work. Dishes like gnudi cloaked in butter and sage and buffalo mozzarella with spinach and olives bump up against chicken-liver parfait to slather on potato bread. Pub grub-but just barely.
Wogie’s Bar and Grill
39 Greenwich Avenue; 212-229-2171
Even though the kitchen at Wogie’s once served us a Philly cheesesteak without the cheese, we’re glad we gave them the benefit of the doubt. We’ve returned to chomp down authentic cheesesteaks, every one of them fairly oozing with Cheez Whiz. (If for some misguided reason you prefer American or provolone, they have those, too.) The cheesesteak has what aficionados call a good drip, the dream team of melted cheese mingled with beef-and-onion-tinged grease running off a soft roll like a leaky faucet.One of the two Philly expat brothers who run the joint used to manage bars for Rande Gerber, and as penance for all those $15 cocktails he once peddled, he now serves $3 drafts in a spartan room that looks like a frat bar built by monks.