Best Of :: Food & Drink
It'd be easy not to expect much from Punjabi Deli & Grocery, a basement-level establishment. Rows of CDs featuring Indian pop singers line one wall while packaged candies and gum decorate the other, with no more than three feet to stand in between. And then you're required to step up to the counter, where orders are taken for pre-made dishes on display in a case that are scooped into Styrofoam bowls or plates and then microwaved and served with a dollop of yogurt and hot sauce. But taste before you judge, because if you shrug this place off for the presentation, you'll miss out on the chickpeas that burst with flavor and the samosa chaat that crunches with every bite. Rice and two vegetable options, like chana masala, saag, or dal, will run you $3.50. A larger portion with another vegetable is $5. Be sure to top your dish off with the many available spreads, including pickles and chutney. Portions are generous, prices are low, and the hosts are friendly—so raise your expectations.
While Bierkraft is best known for its more than 1,000 bottled, canned, and draft beer selections, it's also stocked with artisanal cheeses, chocolates, and house-made spreads like chutney, sauerkraut, and olive tapenade. Pick up a few and then head to the sandwich counter, where the staff will generously pile cured meats and vegetables onto enormous baguettes. The finishing touch for your picnic lunch? House-made ice cream sandwiches, though you might want to eat that first. Wash everything down with a growler of ale.
Most of New York City's Georgians reside in Brooklyn, so it follows that most of this city's Georgian restaurants are in that borough as well. But when Oda House opened in the East Village, it offered a taste of the Eurasian country's dumplings, khatchapuri (cheese breads), and other rich dishes to Manhattan. Knowledgeable servers will walk you through the menu if you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, calling out favorites and explaining why certain dishes are important representations of this type of food. We're partial to the adjaruli khatchapuri, a football-shaped loaf of bread hollowed out and then filled with a mix of tart feta and sweet mozzarella, which bubbles and browns as it bakes. The kitchen cracks an egg over the mixture just before serving it, and vigorous stirring slowly scrambles it into the molten cheese. Bring a group—this restaurant is set up for feasting.
Very much representative of Bushwick's ongoing gentrification, Fritzl's Lunch Box manages to offer highbrow versions of lowbrow food at more affordable prices, an ethos that translates to a burger that both celebrates and elevates the classic through its bold mixture of beef cheek and fatty chuck, and a sweet relish of pickles and onions. The patty gets a blanket of nicely sharp cheddar and a fine textural contrast from the toasted sesame seed bun, but it's the charred miso aioli that catapults Fritzl's to the top. Unctuous isn't a word that should be used lightly, but it's hard to find a better descriptor of such a refined burger condiment.
The weather-worn royal blue awning clinging to San Antonio Bakery II, a humble little bakery overlooking Astoria Boulevard, flaps in the wind over I-278 like a faint beacon signaling visitors from all over the city. Fans make regular trips, but not just for the Chilean pastries, homemade breads, and the shiny dessert counter. Most come for Il Completo, a juicy beef frank tucked into a steaming homemade roll and topped with guacamole, a zigzag of mayo, diced tomatoes, and garlic-rich pebre sauce. The creation is presented on its own little red pedestal; wash this puppy down with a can of Pap (Chilean soda) in the comfort of the modest dining room while regulars fix their gaze upward on the televised soccer games.
The Shopsin family has a 40-year legacy of providing a compelling dining experience steeped in eccentricity and eclecticism, and Shopsins is famous for its massive menu. The current list is fairly trim at over 500 menu items, which range from brunch staples like French toast and burgers to the Shopsins' take on huevos rancheros, "Blisters on My Sisters." In addition to the substantial waits that prospective diners often encounter, there is a strict rule against parties of more than four, and as one regular says, "Pretending to be a party of three that happened to have come in with a party of two is a very bad idea." If you and up to three of your friends are up to the challenge, though, make your selection simple by closing your eyes and pointing. You can't miss.