Best Of :: Food & Drink
New York's great dive bars are a dying breed, but we still have places like Big Bar, an old watering hole that's smaller than your studio apartment and outfitted with just a few booths and a handful of stools. The drinks are good and stiff, the lighting (a dim red) makes you look cool and feel comfortable, and the conversation is always excellent — each bartender's interests vary widely, so that you might find yourself talking about just about anything. Music is eclectic; the speakers play Godard, Tom Waits, and De la Soul. And you'll find the obligatory dive-bar regulars, who post up when the place opens at 5 p.m. each day, and don't leave until last call.
A good diner serves you delicious food from breakfast to dinner, and a great diner specializes in more than one type of cuisine. And in the heart of the East Village sits the greatest diner of them all: Stage Restaurant. Open from 6:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., this sliver of an establishment scratch-makes classics like eggs and omelets, chicken salad, and meatloaf, plus Ukrainian and Eastern European offerings, like blintzes with homemade ricotta filling, stuffed cabbage, and soups to keep you warm on a cold winter day. With friendly and prompt service that would give any Michelin-rated establishment a lesson in hospitality, it's an excellent place to perch with the paper, though it does most of its business in carry-out. A word of warning: Stage is cash-only, and it doesn't have a bathroom — so take care of business before you stop in.
Much has been made of late of the rapid gentrification of Crown Heights, and all one needs is a quick stroll through the neighborhood to see why — especially if you happen upon the area's first Starbucks. Whether you're of the belief that this is good, bad, or questionable, one thing can't be argued: Many of the 'hood's new restaurants are top-notch. See Lincoln Station, for example, where you can fulfill your egg-on-a-roll needs with a breakfast sandwich that goes far beyond the old-fashioned bodega variety. Here, you'll find a perfectly fried over-easy egg resting between warm ciabatta, crisp bacon from a rotating cast of farms, and a touch of tart salsa for an unexpectedly added bit of flavor and moisture. The drippy yolk and sauce combine to push this sandwich into five-napkin territory, but we think you'll find it's well worth the mess.
Buvette is the French neighborhood café you thought you would have to pack up your things and head for the Seine to find, except that it's located in the heart of the West Village, which makes it much easier to afford. Chef Jody Williams envisioned this as a place her neighbors would hang out in all day, and that starts with breakfast. Stop in for light and airy steamed eggs scrambled with the wand of an espresso machine, little croissants with dollops of butter and jam, Belgian waffles with berries, or croques. Williams is exacting in her coffee drink specifications — don't even think about asking for a cappuccino with skim milk — and the latte art is on point, too.
When you put your name on the brunch wait list at Queens Comfort, the host might ask you to name a supervillain, divulge your favorite '80s show, or reveal what your mama says to wake you up. It's a ploy to keep the hungover sidewalk hordes entertained — and it works. Beyond the front doors, guests time-warp to the Saturday mornings of their childhood, with Weird Science or WWF projected on the big screen amid walls and shelves decked with toys and plastic figurines. The food here has gradually elevated to far more than just comforting fare: Benedicts are stacked with bacon and avocado, candied bacon, or Brie and fig jam; buttermilk biscuits are slathered with maple cheddar sausage gravy. Try the Mexican waffles! Just be sure to BYOB if you need a little hair of the dog.
Open for just shy of a decade, Pacificana and its grand banquet hall — a sea of white, brown, red, and gold on the second floor of a nondescript office building — sets the standard for Cantonese grandeur in Sunset Park's Chinatown. Waitstaff loll around the dining room, pushing carts brimming with delicate rice rolls, steamer baskets holding dumplings, and glutinous rice wrapped with lotus leaves. It seems like business as usual until you scan the nearly 250-item menu for dish after dish of regional Chinese specialties, like crisp suckling pig and fried Dungeness crabs. Bonus: As at many of the hangar-sized dim sum palaces, brace for the possibility of crashing a wedding or two.