The Cheap List

Aburiya Kinnosuke
213 E. 45th St., nr. Third Ave.;212-867-5454
There are two ways to dine in this spiffy new Japanese restaurant: in private, like an international tycoon furtively conducting business behind the curtains of a sequestered nook, or in public, at the congenial counter by the robata grill, where poker-faced cooks painstakingly monitor the progress of the skewers and planks they prop amid the embers. As at Kinnosuke’s sister restaurant, Yakitori Totto, there’s plenty of grilled chicken parts, and even more variations on a freshly-made-tofu theme—soothing yuba and greens in a subtle broth, and a black-sesame-tofu special chilled and presented like pot de crème. But here, diners have the option of grilling their own food on small contraptions conveyed to their tables, and the affordable small-plates menu is more extensive. Delicious chicken meatballs figure prominently in both restaurants; here, they’re more like tiny meat loaves, cooked and served on weathered wooden peels.

Adrienne’s Pizzabar
54 Stone Street, nr. Hanover Sq.;212-248-3838
Any New Yorker serious about his or her pizza knows Nick’s—the tender-crusted, sprightly sauced, milky-cheesed chainlet that started in Forest Hills and expanded to Long Island and Yorkville. Adrienne’s (named for partner Harry Poulakakos’s late wife) is essentially the fourth branch of Nick’s, a slicker, sleeker outpost that appeared this spring like a beacon in the culinary wilderness that is the financial district. Here, besides charming the neighborhood with old-school favorites like manicotti and an ethereal eggplant parm, Nick Angelis is undertaking a couple things he’d never dared before: individual slices (a notorious no-no for certain old-school pie guys) and square pizza, otherwise known as Sicilian or, in a thinner-crusted, cheese-below-sauce variation, grandma pie. He acquits himself well on both accounts, while maintaining the top-notch quality of the round marvels that made his name.

638 Bergen St., at Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn;718-399-6855
Depending on how you look at it, Beast is either a not-strictly-Spanish tapas bar, an American bistro with a dark, pubby vibe, or a casual place to grab a burger and a beer over a spirited game of Tapper at the bar. This multifunctionalism—and some prime corner outdoor seating—comes in handy on the slowly burgeoning restaurant row. Few bars serve food as thoughtfully considered as arugula salad with feta and fennel pickled with mustard seed and fenugreek, or juicy skirt steak cooked rare, its slices gently draped over flavorful fritters made of corn and red pepper. Breaded and fried bits of manchego make an addictive snack to nibble along with a glass of sherry or quartino of wine, and the burger is a righteous hunk of salt-crusted meat. Informed, helpful service is a big plus.

24 Minetta Lane., nr. Sixth Ave.;212-473-5121
New York has seen its fair share of Italian wine bars, but Bellavitae, discreetly tucked away down a nondescript Greenwich Village alley, manages to make its own distinct mark. It’s not so much the décor (prototypically rustic), or the menu (Italian small plates, standard-issue). It’s not even the increasingly prevalent Chez Panissean practice of sourcing nearly every ingredient on the menu. Rather, it’s the fact that most of said top-notch ingredients, from the Sicilian olives to the Abruzzese garganelli, are imported by a company that happens to be owned by one of Bellavitae’s partners, a canny businessman who saw a great cross-promotional opportunity. Shelves of product function as both décor and merchandise: If you fall in love with the orange-infused olive oil that dressed your salad, you can buy a bottle to take home.

Bin 71
237 Columbus Ave., nr. 71st St.;212-362-5446
With a few Morningside Heights exceptions, the wine-and-panini-bar craze that’s overtaken New York has steered clear of the Upper West Side. Handsome, snug Bin 71 fills the void with an appealing small-plates menu that extends beyond pressed sandwiches and cured meats to pink-snapper sashimi, polenta baked with Vermont’s pungent Bayley Hazen blue, and a papa-bear-size bowl of cold, delicately chunky beet soup. Predictably packed at night, the spot’s a bit neglected and extremely inviting during the day, when it caters to solo lunchers watching tennis on the flat-screen and sipping generous pours by the capacious Ravenscroft glass.

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford St., nr. Downing St.;212-647-0408
Although the English rank it among their greatest culinary achievements—according to the Oxford Companion to Food
—we uncouth Americans have yet to fully appreciate the wonder that is toast. Enter this new bakery-cum-general-store, an annex to Blue Ribbon Bakery restaurant and a showcase for its extensive line of artisanal brick-oven-baked loaves. The all-toast menu lists a hodgepodge of intricately conceived toast toppings, from the simple (raw Mexican honey and Vermont butter) to the more substantial (housemade pork rillettes and cornichons). Our favorite—hard-cooked egg with hot peppers and a squiggle of homemade mayo on densely crumbed, golden-toasted Pullman—makes for a deceptively hearty snack that you can nibble at a leisurely pace outside on the wooden bench. All the gourmet provisions, from sardines to cave-aged Gruyère, are for sale, should you be inspired to toast your own at home.

Bouillabaisse 126
126 Union St., nr. Columbia St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn;718-855-4405

173 Third Ave., nr. 16th St.;212-598-1200
Chow Bar’s Gramercy offshoot shares its parent’s Pan-Asian sensibility, but lops just enough off its menu prices to make it feel like a real bargain—even if, as we’re prone to do, you order way more than you intended. That’s inevitable once you taste chef Peter Klein’s zestily dressed salads, greaseless tonkatsu, comforting curried noodles, and especially his ingenious roast-pork sandwich, luscious morsels of caramelized meat stuffed into a grilled “bao” bun and served with hot Chinese mustard. Don’t let the barlike setting and specialty cocktails fool you—there’s seriously tasty food to be had here, and some big flavor wedged into those small plates.

Daniele’s Piadina
64 W. 22nd St., nr. Sixth Ave.;212-989-1307
The trend toward fast-food joints with a cheeky singleness of purpose continues at this mod little shop specializing in sandwiches made with the unleavened romagnolo flatbread called piadina. As sandwich fanatics know, a great sandwich is all about the bread, and Daniele’s is light and tender, the dough rolled out in a Wonkaesque machine like batches of Krispy Kremes throughout the day, then filled with cured Italian meats and cheese and crisped to order on the griddle. The signature stuffing—prosciutto di Parma, tangy stracchino cheese, and peppery arugula—makes a light but satisfying meal that falls somewhere on the hunger-abatement scale between a crêpe and a panino, and tastes markedly different from either.

Fig & Olive
808 Lexington Ave., nr. 62nd St.;212-207-4555
Like a ray of Provençal sunshine on a shabby stretch of Lexington Avenue, this sunken café evokes the Mediterranean with its unwavering devotion to olive oil, a featured ingredient in nearly every dish. Olives swim in it. Vegetables are marinated in it. Fresh, artfully arranged salads are dressed with it. Once you’ve found one you particularly like—the Moulin Baussy paired with the salmon tartine, say, or the Koroneiki that anoints the fig-and-olive salad—you can repair to the on-premise shop and buy a bottle to take home. The market-like ambience, the wicker armchairs, the Provençal rosé all conspire to create a convivial European air that attracts neighborhood suits, hospital staff, and gossiping girlfriends, all mixing much better than oil and water.

Frankies 457 Spuntino
457 Court St., nr. Luquer St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-403-0033
If spuntino means “snack” in Italian, then why is a trip to Frankies 457 Spuntino more like a no-holds-barred Sunday supper at Grandma’s house? True, there are no little old ladies pressuring you to overindulge, but who can resist slow-cooked braciola swimming in red sauce? Ditto the meatballs and sandwiches like an elegant eggplant marinara wedged between a halved square of Sullivan St. Bakery pizza bianca? Deftly dressed salads, bountiful soups, and carefully roasted vegetables add a healthful note to the proceedings. Snack or gorge or whatever you wish to call it at the mahogany bar, or in the tavernesque dining room with its tin ceilings and vintage fixtures. But this time of year, the gravel-strewn courtyard and converted stable out back may exert too strong a pull. The peace and quiet feel otherworldly—except when the elevated F train slides by.

Hong Kong Station
128 Hester St., nr. Bowery;212-966-9382
There’s cheap, there’s dirt cheap, and then there’s Hong Kong Station, the snappy new Chinatown noodlery that invites its picky patrons to create a customized bowl of soup much the way patrons of Sizzler make their own salads. One dollar buys a heaping helping of your choice of springy noodles (e-fu, udon, mai fun, ho fun, or lai fun) and a couple of carefree sloshes of fortifying broth, from mild to very spicy. Steam-table add-ons, from the exotic—curry fish balls, chicken gizzards, and various pig parts—to the familiar—chicken wings, briskety beef, and mushrooms—will run you an additional dollar each. Theoretically, you could order the whole shebang for $27, but three add-ons do nicely.

La Esquina
203 Lafayette St., at Kenmare St.;646-613-7100
The neon sign reads corner, a nod to the deli that preceded it, but that’s just a colorful ruse. If La Esquina is as much stage set as restaurant, that’s because it’s owned by Serge Becker, the designer and nightlife entrepreneur behind such hipster loci as Bowery Bar, MK, and Area. The counter-service taqueria on Kenmare dispenses tacos and tortas (made, unfortunately, on baguettes instead of proper Mexican teleras), and a more extensive menu is served at the adjacent café around the corner, a double-height room with recessed shelves full of books and old record albums. A cool tomatillo-avocado soup was refreshing and mildly spiced, and the char-grilled string beans called ejotes do wonders for an oft-overlooked, overboiled vegetable. Authentic as East Harlem? Maybe not, but the chicken tacos are tasty and the prices surprisingly gentle for a neighborhood straddling the Soho-Nolita border.

28 Greenwich Ave., nr. W. 10th St.;212-675-2688
Frothy, refreshing, sweet, and salty yogurt drinks are only part of the Indian-inspired equation at this cheerful takeout shop. There’s also a daily changing blackboard menu of bean stews and salads; intricately spiced chicken, lamb, and vegetables, served with fluffy basmati rice; and a roster of tender, chewy paratha, griddle-cooked flatbread variously stuffed with goat, daikon, or cauliflower. Owner Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez is also a pastry chef, which explains the occasional and gratifying appearance of delectable sweets like chocolate-jasmine pudding and carrot halvah cake.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
163 First Ave., nr. 10th St.;212-475-7899
It’s a tight squeeze in this blond-wooded nook of a noodle bar. The loyal clientele, many mesmerized local chefs among them, belly in to sample a menu that’s less interpretive Japanese than New York eclectic, with an emphasis on Greenmarket produce and a fresh approach to Pan-Asian innovations like soft-shell-crab steamed buns and kimchi Brussels sprouts. The menu changes often, but you’ll always find the sumptuously porky house ramen. And watching all the action in the open kitchen is great, mouthwatering theater.

31-18E Broadway, Astoria;718-777-2829
It’s hard to imagine a cuisine that can’t be found in Astoria, one of New York’s most heterogeneous neighborhoods. Almost the same can be said of Mundo, a playful café with one Turkish owner, one Argentine owner, and a kitchen that dabbles in both cuisines. Yogurt-drenched manti (Turkish dumplings) and crispy beef empanadas make sense, but a barley-rusk-and-black-eyed-pea salad? A Cypriot friend of the house gets credit for that crunchy chopped-vegetable medley embellished with creamy feta and herbs. Soft-cooked artichoke bottoms are strewn with dill and served with ring-molded fava-bean purée. Wedges of oil-brushed, spice-dusted house bread are perfect for scooping up smoky grilled eggplant mashed with roasted pepper, tomatoes, and, most notably, garlic—which, judging from its prevalence on Mundo’s menu, seems to be the universal culinary language. For now, cash only and BYO.

Nicky’s VietnameseSandwiches
150 E. 2nd St., nr. Ave. A;212-388-1088
Before Nicky’s landed in Alphabet City last summer, you had to hoof it to Chinatown or Sunset Park to satisfy a yen for banh mi, Vietnam’s great contribution to the sandwich canon. Now, in simple quarters furnished with three small tables, Nicky’s indoctrinates East Villagers into the rich and pungent ways of a toasted French baguette carefully layered with pâté, ham, ground pork, and a crunchy garnish of carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapeño. There’s nothing diluted about the basic banh mi, which tastes as good as the one we remember from An Dông, Nicky’s Sunset Park precursor, but Nicky’s offers alternatives made with dark-meat chicken, pork chops, even portobellos.

Park Blue
158 W. 58th St., nr. Seventh Ave.;212-247-2727
Like Bar Demi, Half Wine Bar Lounge, and Landmarc before it, this sleek new lounge heralds the user-friendliness of the half bottle, with a collection ranging from a $21 Chardonnay to a $185 Bordeaux. That alone would make it an enticing destination for the experimental oenophile, but factor in friendly, nonaggressive service, a calm, grown-up atmosphere, and a small-plate menu ($4 to $15) to match the small-bottle premise, and you’ve got an oasis in the surrounding desert of oppressively fancy restaurants and tourist traps. You’d expect a slick place like this to serve oysters on the half-shell and tuna tartare, and it does. But the kitchen also turns out a juicy cheeseburger, taller than it is wide, and after 11 P.M. (it serves till 3:30 in the morning), breakfasty fare like fried-oyster omelettes and lobster eggs Benedict.

26-18 23rd Ave., Astoria;718-626-9162
There is something inherently homey about Philoxenia, that rare Astorian Greek restaurant that manages to operate without the tourist-luring benefit of a fluorescent fish display or twirling gyro. Instead, the unassuming restaurant relies on its warm ambience and the considerable talents of its cooks, whose food looks and tastes like something your Greek grandma would serve: warm foil-wrapped feta baked with tomato and olives, assertively seasoned meatballs, pressed nearly flat and lapped with tomato sauce; thick Greek yogurt, a gift from the kitchen, strewn with walnuts and drizzled with honey to ensure your visit ends on a sweet note.

The Queen’s Hideaway
222 Franklin Ave., nr. Green St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn;718-383-2355
Do not expect royal treatment at the Queen’s Hideaway. Bring a bottle of wine, and your waitress will unceremoniously hand you a corkscrew. Ask for a doggie bag, and you’ll have to pack it. It’s cash-only and BYO. The kitchen—a tiny nook in the back of a bare-bones room—can be sluggish. Astoundingly, none of that matters in the least. The Hideaway feels like a labor of love, like a friend’s dinner party, like real home cooking, like what you pray to find on back roads in small towns on a cross-country trip but end up stumbling over in a remote corner of Brooklyn. It’s a one-woman operation (nearly—someone else bakes the pies) where the chef-owner writes a new menu daily, uses great purveyors and Greenmarket produce, and smokes her own buffalo flank steak out back. There is no pretense, but there are fresh strawberry preserves along with hot, buttery popovers at brunch. Which would you prefer?

41 W. 46th St., nr. Sixth Ave.;212-719-3474
Indian lunch buffets pop up in midtown almost as fast as Subways, and they’re often just as bland and soulless. Rangolé, though, earns its $7.95 all-you-can-eat tab with a nice spread that especially shines with its vegetables—small green gourds in a slightly sour, complexly spiced sauce, or fluffy lentil-flour dumplings bathed in yogurt. As satisfying (and filling) as the buffet is—not to mention the hot nan that makes frequent trips around the dining room—it’s tempting to order crispy dosas and sweet-and-sour Bombay chaats off the menu, too. The place is lively and popular, if a bit bedraggled—the seat cushions, in particular, have seen better days (and more than a few recklessly sloppy eaters).

81 Lexington Ave., at 26th St.;212-679-0204
If you can’t tell your poriyal from your pachadi or your koottu from your special kuzhambu, you’re not alone. Our waiter was at a loss, too, but that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the subtly spiced variations-on-a-dal theme of the south-Indian thali at Saravanaas, the new Curry Hill branch of an international vegetarian chain. Thalis, round metal trays ringed by an assortment of small metal bowls, are the ultimate combination plate, and a great way to experience the spartan restaurant’s satisfying vegetarian fare. Dosas are another: seasoned crêpes made from fermented rice and lentil flours, filled with mashed spiced potatoes and onions, or raisins and nuts. The starch theme extends to golden lentil griddle cakes that put our sad flapjacks to shame. They’re served with the unrefined lump sugar, called jaggery, instead of maple syrup, and a helping of delectable mung-bean-and-vegetable stew.

513 E. 6th St., nr. Ave. A;212-228-2775
Like any good classically trained chef with a couple Spanish stages under his belt, Jordy Lavanderos has taken the highly malleable notion of tapas and run with it. His—inspired by stints at El Bulli and Arzak—are complex combinations of flavors and textures, all served in small portions at equally small tabs. But the ideas behind them are impressively big: tempura zucchini flowers oozing with sharp, tangy cheese and garnished with the sweet-salty counterpoint of chorizo-date chutney and serrano-ham “nibs.” Ostrich with purple potatoes and a pomegranate reduction. Cucumber slivered into “spaghetti” and set atop a refreshing salad of pickled fruits. Most of this experimentation pays off, and is greatly enhanced by enthusiastic service and a moody room that seems built for culinarily adventurous first dates. Check to see whether the liquor license has arrived; if not, bring your own.

116 Smith St., nr. Pacific St., Boerum Hill, Brooklyn;718-488-6269
By remaking the old Pier 116 fish shack into a new-fashioned Japanese restaurant, chef-owner Adam Shepard might have just hit upon the culinary concept Smith Street lacked most: inventive Asian. The dishes emerging from his bustling open kitchen are creatively presented (a banana-leaf-tied stack of spicy-sauced chicken wings, for instance) and packed with deeply harmonious flavors. Roasted maitake hand rolls are seasoned with garlic confit; charred long beans are blanketed in sesame miso and crushed tofu. Although Shepard lards his house ramen Momofuku-style with rich Berkshire pork and smoked bacon, the menu more often veers to light and fresh flavors, like the refreshing medley of peas, beans, citrus, and olives that accompanies the silky konbu-cured black cod. In a place where sake cocktails abound, wine often gets short shrift, but the two bottles Shepard has selected—a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Aragonese Garnacha—do his impressive food justice.

144 W. 19th St., nr. Seventh Ave.;212-924-3335
A generous hand with the Wetnaps at this chicken-centric Japanese fast-food shack is the tipoff. Delicious deep-fried wings—the specialty of the house—are not the type of snack you eat in your fancy dude suit. They’re expertly seasoned with soy, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and will make you think twice the next time the craving for Buffalo wings strikes. An eight-piece order makes a fine, greasy prelude to the meatier items on the menu: remarkably juicy strips of chicken breaded with panko then skewered and deep-fried, or an equally juicy deep-fried breast tucked into a soft, squishy bun with a scoop of slaw. If you have the appetite, tuck into all three at the cramped dining counter, your dozen or so Wetnaps at the ready.

Tía Pol
205 Tenth Ave., nr. 22nd St.;212-675-8805
Skinny as a toothpick and often as packed as a tin of sardines, this year-old tapas bar has already become as much a part of the West Chelsea landscape as Empire Diner across the street. You’ll find all the Iberian staples here—a smooth, refreshing gazpacho, potato-salad-stuffed piquillo peppers sprinkled with oil-marinated tuna, zestily spiced patatas bravas—but pay close attention to the blackboard specials, which change daily and veer boldly into the realm of inventive international cooking. Impressive presentations, reliance on seasonal ingredients, and confident seasoning make the place as much a destination for serious dining as for an impromptu pit stop on a cava-fueled night on the town.

Turquoise Grill
1270 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 123rd St.; 212-865-4745
Falafel might be its own major food group, at least among college students, which is why it was so smart to locate Turquoise Grill in Morningside Heights. So was hiring Israeli chef Michal Zilka, whose Middle Eastern–inspired food makes the casual spot (takeout counter up front, rough-hewn dining room in back) a destination for postgrads too. Zilka’s fava-and-chickpea falafel are herb-green and crisp-shelled, and a fine accompaniment to meze like crunchy cabbage-fennel salad and hummus as exquisite as you’d expect from a Hummus Place veteran. Zilka trained as a pastry chef, too, and her halvah parfait with pomegranate sauce is an essential post-falafel finale.

75 Ninth Ave., at 16th St.;646-638-1173
If anyone’s up for the challenge of running a restaurant inside a boutique inside a market, it’s Annie Wayte. She’s already made the basement of midtown’s Nicole Farhi boutique a destination for ladies who lunch and shop, and now that Farhi has branched out with a cut-rate Chelsea Market outpost, so has Wayte. At 202, the English chef reprises her seasonal style, with its eclectic integration of Indian and Mediterranean flavors. Her vibrant garnishes almost steal the show—piquant tomato chutney slathered on the snapper sandwich, sweet-and-sour grape chutney that accompanies mildly spiced chicken curry, fresh fruit preserves served with tender muffins and flaky scones at tea. Bubble and squeak and baked beans are amusing reminders of Wayte’s nationality—as is the meaty, mushroomy full English breakfast at brunch.

Upi Jaya
76-04 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst;718-458-1807
The Indonesian expats who congregate at this family-run establishment gravitate to the “nasi rames” section of the menu, where the rice-dominated combination plates are clustered. That might be the more filling, economical route, but we’d rather share a slew of vibrantly spiced dishes, starting with the peanut-sauced salad called gado-gado topped with crisp, free-form melinjo-nut crackers. The beef in the national dish of rendang padang is chewy and a tad tough, but ultimately redeemed by its addictively incendiary sauce. In comparison, toothsome ayam rendang—chicken on the bone lavishly rubbed with lemongrass-and-ginger-infused spice paste—seems tame. We’ve yet to determine whether es teler is drink or dessert, but with its crushed ice and tropical fruits, it works both ways. Thick, rich es pokat, though, a lethal blend of avocado and condensed milk, is a meal unto itself.

Vintage New York WineBar
60 Wooster St., nr. Broome St.; 212-226-9463
Now that the city’s only New York–dedicated wine shop has opened a restaurant next door, its clientele no longer need hunch over the shop’s popular tasting bar, comparing Schneider Cab Francs to Bedell Merlots. Now they can do it in the relative comfort of the café, where the small-plates menu, like the wine list, is devoted to New York products, and neatly folds over so that each dish is matched up with a suggested paired wine. The warm house-smoked salmon went nicely with the Lieb Pinot Blanc, and a floral Palmer Gewürztraminer made perfect spice-complementing sense with the Thai dipping sauce that accompanies moist Long Island–duck meatballs. But the biggest surprise was the Rivendell Cab, an unexpectedly perfect match for the gooey richness of the “chocolate fantasy,” an oversize take on the molten, flourless, soufflé-like staple of dessert lists everywhere.

Waldy’s Wood Fired Pizza & Penne
800 Sixth Ave., nr. 27th St.;212-213-5042
Just when we thought local pizzaiuoli had done everything in their power to piss off the Vera Pizza Napoletana—that irksome Italian trade group whose goal in life is to determine what can and cannot be called a pizza—along comes this pie joint from Beacon’s Waldy Malouf. With a veteran chef’s confident hand, he tops his oval pizzas with ingredients a lesser pieman and the VPN wouldn’t dream of: luscious braised lamb with roasted lemon and oregano. Arugula, garlic, and sunny-side-up eggs. Or clams, bread crumbs, and ricotta. There are salads and shamelessly rich baked pasta dishes to round out the menu, and some decent wine, not to mention an herb planter and scissors for do-it-yourself snipping and seasoning. And while some pizzerias are known as much for their cannoli or spumoni as for their pizza, Waldy’s might follow suit with its Valrhona-chocolate eclipse, an irresistible little concoction that tastes like a rehabilitated Hostess Ho Ho.

Waverly at IFC Center
327 Sixth Ave., nr. W. 3rd St.;212-924-8866
Manhattan’s newest art-movie house doesn’t seem to be playing up its on-site restaurant, named for the theater that preceded it. The room is dark (the better to read the subtitles of whatever foreign flick’s playing on a suspended screen, perhaps) and the entrance inconspicuous, to say the least. But all the action’s happening in the kitchen, where husband-and-wife chef consultants Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming collaborated on an all-day menu that gives pub food a classy makeover. Salads are stocked with fresh seasonal ingredients like an asparagus, pea greens, and sugar-snap pea combo showered with ricotta salata and lemon vinaigrette. Hefty sandwiches incorporate first-rate meats like hand-carved turkey and Niman Ranch pork. And Fleming’s fruit crisp and Guinness-soaked gingerbread guarantee a happy ending.

785 Ninth Ave., nr. 52nd St.; 646-289-3010
One recent night, we counted three birthday parties unfolding at Xing, the slick Chinese restaurant that’s upping Ninth Avenue’s elegance quotient one soup-spoon amuse-bouche at a time. No surprise: The celebratory mood is partly fueled by fruity cocktails and partly by a menu that, in the spirit of the much pricier 66 and Yumcha, takes pork dumplings and Peking duck out of their traditional context, repackaging them for jaded urban sensibilities. Braised-pork-belly salad deposits tasty nuggets of this year’s “It” meat over a light and refreshing citrus-scented cole slaw. Slices of chewy hanger steak steep in a Sichuan chili sauce that cries out for some of the spicier reds on a concise but savvy wine list. Half bottles of Louis Sipp Riesling are a welcome touch in any Chinese restaurant—and so is brown rice fluffy and flavorful enough to eat plain.

Zozo’s Juice & Grille
172 Orchard St., at Stanton St.; 212-228-0009
Gisele—whom we’ve considered a culinary kindred spirit ever since we saw her gulp down a Westville turkey burger like a lumberjack coming off a hunger strike—would love Zozo’s. It’s fast food, Brazilian style, inspired by the breezy beach huts of Rio, which, for all we know, may be the secret diet of tawny Brazilian supermodels. Simple but superior grilled chicken and steak sandwiches are the specialty of the house. Try the incendiary “spicy Brazilian cube steak” served on a soft Cuban-style roll, or even better, the blackened chicken breast with a nice smear of cajun mayo. Throw in some deep-fried green beans that come in a Chinese-takeout carton, and wash it all down with an avocado shake. Then end the meal, the way we imagine Gisele would, with the mini-doughnuts spackled with homemade ice cream.

The Cheap List