Cheap Chow Now


ROMANCE It depends on your idea of romance. If it’s a candlelit dinner in an old-fashioned Italian hideaway, with red-checked tablecloths and lusty, red-sauced pastas, try Joe’s (#40) or Gino’s (#5) or Andy’s Colonial (#13). If it’s an intimate French bistro offering steak frites and buttery snails, pick Flea Market (#72). If you merely want a dose of aphrodisiacs in record time, go straight to Mary’s Fish Camp (64 Charles St, 646-486-2185) or Pearl Oyster Bar (18 Cornelia Street, 212-691-8211) and bolt a dozen raw oysters at the counter, or head out to Café Shish-Kebab (414 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-368-0966) for a dainty skewer of lamb testicles. Goths should make for Fortunata’s (#92), where they can gaze upon a cemetery as they eat, while gay couples will feel especially welcome at Da Andrea (#19). If meat, meat, and more meat makes you horny, check out Uncle George’s (#73), or if, conversely, it’s strictly vegetarian fare, try Vatan (409 Third Ave, 212-689-5666), offering all-you-can-eat Indian from the westernmost state of Gujarat.

VEGETARIAN Piles of gleaming, well-cooked vegetables dominate the bill of fare at Mama’s (#30) and Gino’s Focacceria (#5), though neither is strictly vegetarian. If you want a place where meat products have never darkened the door, where the chances of contracting mad cow disease are nil, fly to Dosa Hutt (#14), B & H (#32), or Viva Herbal (#84). Great vegetarian pizzas and pastas are also endemic at Café el Mercato (#38) and Bella Napoli (#98), while Turkish restaurants like Anatolian Gyro (#71) and Sahara (2337 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, 718-376-8594) offer menus where the salads and vegetable dips matched with great bread are the most interesting part. The wonderful bakery Hemsin (39-11 Queens Boulevard, Queens, 718-482-7998) features many delicate pastries that expand the Turkish vegetarian repertoire, like sigara boureka, filo flutes oozing herbed feta cheese. Likewise, the un-meat half of the menu at Minar (#17) more than holds its own against the meat curries.

BREAKFAST Porridge, liver, ackee, and boiled plantains form the heart of a Jamaican breakfast, and you can enjoy them at Toyamadel (#24). At top-ranked ‘ino (#2), the entire menu is available starting at 9 a.m., including the sinfully indulgent truffled egg toast, or grab a more conventional breakfast at diners like Tibbett (#86), Lexington Candy Shop (#79), and Tom’s (#87), which serves up a particularly memorable challah french toast. Finally, if you’ve been longing to make the scene at Pastis (9 Ninth Ave, 212-929-4844), note that this wildly popular bôite is often half-empty at breakfast. For a Harlem repast of waffles and fried chicken, plop yourself down at the lunch counter at Pan Pan (#6).

LATE The kitchen at Grace (#66) hums until 4 a.m., and a seat in this elegant cocktail lounge on a quiet Tribeca street is one of the most comfortable in town. African restaurants like Sokobolie (#39) and African Village (724 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, 718-722-4770) and In God We Trust (441 East 153rd St, Bronx, 718-401-3595) are often open all night, though gird yourself for a full-course meal, since the menus contain no appetizers or munchies. Another late-night standby is provided by the Pakistani cafés where cabbies and livery drivers hang late into the night, like Pakistan Tea House (#41) and Swad (1107 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, 718-421-2727). Some Dominicans like to eat late, too, and hence El Malecon (#20) is open 24 hours. So are many Korean restaurants such as Olympic Garden (79-06 Broadway, Queens, 718-335-4646), wedged into a sleek diner and bargain-priced for Korean food.

GROUPS There always seems to be room at venerable warhorse Katz’s Deli (205 East Houston St, 212-254-2246), even if it’s around the corner of the L-shaped room. Similarly large and often half-empty is Pho Viet Huong (73 Mulberry St, 212-233-8988), an excellent Vietnamese restaurant where the 250-item menu goes way beyond the beef-and-noodle soups called pho. Pizza parlors are also good bets, especially when they’re as huge as Denino’s (#33) and John’s (260 West 44th St, 212-391-7560), and so are Chinese and Malaysian restaurants, like Win Sing (#55) and Sentosa (#61), where big crowds can share dishes, and the kitchens seem unfazed by orders of any size. Finally, there are those places, like Motherland Cuisine (#57) and Sam’s (#94), where fate has handed the eatery a space much bigger than necessary.