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Gray's Papaya

New Yorkers have seen a lot of changes recently, some welcome and others not so much. Yet the only thing that's more jarring than a convoy of National Guard troops rolling down Cross Bay Boulevard is a little red-and-white sign hanging in the window of Gray's Papaya announcing that it has started selling pizza. For decades now, New Yorkers have only known its hot dogs, but maybe a little bit of change is OK. Serving two loaded-up frankfurters and a Styrofoam cup of cool, fruity goodness for just under $5, the Recession Special at Gray's has been a godsend for the staggering, late-night denizens of Gotham since the late '80s. Open 24/7, this understated culinary beacon has withstood the test of time, holding its place in the furious torrent of Sixth Avenue. Honor it accordingly. 402 Sixth Avenue, 212-260-3532; 2090 Broadway, 212-799-0243

Azul

When one thinks of Argentina, it's easy to conjure up images of rolling mountains specked with beret-sporting gauchos, melodramatic tangos executed in smoke-filled dance halls, and Che Guevara riding out of Buenos Aires on the back of a busted motorcycle. But the first thing that comes to my mind are long, outdoor fire-pitted grills laden with carne asada as far as the eye can see. Since 2001, Azul has provided the rugged sophistication that residents of the Lower East Side require from a casual dining establishment. Although the crusty empanadas and spicy chorizo are deliciously ever-present, these well-known players pale in comparison to the veal sweetbreads with criolla sauce ($11), a dish I have been hard-pressed to find as well executed anywhere else in the city. I recommend going with friends and sharing the Mixed Grill ($68)—a creation consisting of lamb chops, short ribs, skirt steak, chicken, and Spanish blood sausage stacked high on an iron skillet. Wash it down with a bold Argentine red and wait for your night to unfold before you. 152 Stanton Street, 646-602-2004, azulnyc.com

Sabor a Mexico Taqueria

When someone moves to a new city, there are certain essentials he or she needs to satisfy in order to gain traction in the freshly adopted society. Shelter, employment, and companionship are the most obvious ones, but high on that list should be finding an affordable Mexican delivery joint that actually cares about the quality of the product sent to your front door at 1 a.m. This East Village spot might be small, but don't be fooled: The Guerrero-style taqueria has plenty to offer, including chimichangas, tortas, and fajitas for every palate and mood. But the secret to Sabor a Mexico Taqueria is in the chips and salsa that arrive with every meal. It's always a good sign when the brown paper bag containing said chips slowly forms grease stains. Don't be alarmed—that's merely the loving signature of the person who made them. Combine those with any one of its excellent (and affordable) tamales, and you've just fed yourself for under $5.

160 First Avenue, 212-533-4002

Boka

I must admit I'm a latecomer to Korean cuisine. I'm not proud of it, and it can only be chalked up to cowardice, laziness, or both. (Full disclosure: I was also the last guy to figure out emoticons on his smartphone.) That said, you should know that this cave on Saint Marks has amazing soy-garlic fried chicken and $28 soju-soaked watermelons. Boka's decor is basic modern, flanked by two brick walls that make one think of a bomb shelter. But that chill dissipates quickly once you've dipped into a piping-hot dolsot bibimbap with a side of kimchi. They're pretty good about getting you seated right away, so don't worry about reservations. This is also a great meet-up spot if you're on your way to Webster Hall.

9 Saint Marks Place, 212-228-2887

bokanyc.com

5 Napkin Burger

Although experts disagree on the details, something wonderful occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. A person cooked a patty of ground beef, placed some tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles between two slices of bread, and took a bite. Thousands of years of ignorance and superstition perished in that one bite—at least, that's what I like to believe. From that moment on, mankind plotted a different trajectory. In the 100 years that followed, we invented air travel, nuclear fusion, knee-high skirts, and space travel, and adopted the five-day workweek. Now, 5 Napkin Burger didn't invent the hamburger, but it sure knows how to make it memorable. And with four of its six locations in New York City, you stand a pretty good chance of getting a table on New Year's Eve. The signature burger ($14.95) comes topped with Gruyère, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli, and feel free to add a side of fried pickles and cornmeal-crusted onion rings. If you're a pescetarian—as I claim to be around people I don't plan on meeting again—never fear: The sushi is excellent.

150 East 14th Street, 212-228-5500; 35-01 36th Avenue, Queens, 718-433-2727;

630 Ninth Avenue, 212-757-2277; 2315 Broadway, 212-333-4488 5napkinburger.com

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