118A Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, 625-8008

Of the four northern Chinese dumpling stalls in Chinatown, this is my favorite, offering pork-and-chive pot stickers, boiled-beef sandwiches on wedges of homemade sesame bread, vegetable-filled hot and sour soup, and the legendary chive box—ask for “chives and egg pancake”—a half-moon pie filled with scallions, vermicelli, scrambled egg, and, sometimes, baby shrimp. The box is prepared on the spot and cooked to order. Also look for the jar of summer kimchi at the carryout window. Best of all: Most selections are $1, and there are bags of frozen dumplings to take home. ¢


65 Bayard Street, Chinatown, 566-4884

It’s easy to get excited about a restaurant named Yeah. The Shanghai cooking stretches our ideas about that cuisine with dishes like northern Chinese chicken, a room-temperature bird shredded, mounded on the plate, drizzled with sweet dark sauce, then hidden under a dome of pieced-together skin, sort of Ed Gein-ish. Skip the juicy buns, but savor the Shanghai wonton soup—delicate, pork-filled envelopes that tickle the tongue with little bits of pickled cabbage. Vegetarians can have a field day with dishes like “preserved veg. w. soy bean & tofu sheets” and the mysterious-sounding thousand pieces cake. $



325 Spring Street, Soho, 414-1344

Occupying the same premises as the original White Columns Gallery, Theo permits you to sit on the exact spot where Sonic Youth played their break-out “Noise Festival” show. When we visited recently (there’s been a change of chef since then), the food was playful and semi-revolutionary, including a gazpacho that seemed like a healthy reinvention of Orbit soda, with tiny BBs of vegetable suspended in a pallid tomato water that was barely sweet. Also intriguing was a macaroni ravioli that, while not containing actual macaroni, tasted like mac and cheese. Entrées were sturdier and not quite so wild. Our fave was a fish stew that toed the line between bouillabaisse and cioppino. $$$


175 Avenue B, 253-2221

Despite being the fourth in a series of Emilia-Romagnan restaurants south of 14th Street, Paolina manages to stake out new culinary territory. At this new and whimsically decorated restaurant on a prime East Village corner, you can get the usual piadinas and tagliatelle al ragu, but there’s also fagotti—blistered fried pies loaded with ham, cheese, and mushrooms; and maialino al latte—a substantial pork filet browned in oil, then braised in milk. Best of all is the breaded chicken cutlet named after Italy’s favorite superhighway: cotolette autostrada. Sit outside on the comfy deck chairs and watch the world go by. $


359 East 12th Street, East Village, 614-0155

Noodles are the foodstuff of choice for many budget-conscious diners during this economically challenged era, and this new closet applies techniques of haute cuisine to inexpensive starches. Thus are sauces and aromatic oils squeezed from plastic bottles to perfume the plates and provide extra sensory diversion. We liked the mushroom-stuffed spring rolls; substantial salad of baby greens, sweet grapefruit, and yellow beets hosed with a salty citrus dressing; and the soupy soba noodles dotted with raw tuna and pickled ginger. The “tower of shrimp wontons,” however, was a big disappointment: no dumplings, but a stack of faux Doritos with a niggling schmear of chopped shrimp salad. $

14TH TO 42ND


246 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, 206-6766

Frustrated in your attempt to get into Red Cat after that Chelsea gallery opening? Right across the street, Bottino is nearly as good. Go for the octopus salad, in which the rubbery fellow is upstaged by his tasty olive-oil dressing, and skip the boring salad of underdressed baby greens. Pastas make the best main courses, especially the giant green ravioli stuffed with cheese and herbs and bathed in sage butter, but also consider the baby chicken, splayed and crusty and served on a bed of sautéed peppers. And while the weather lasts, luxuriate in one of the city’s leafiest restaurant gardens. $$


724A Seventh Avenue, 974-0524

Rooted in the hardscrabble soil of South Philadelphia, the cheese steak’s terroir has proved impossible to duplicate here—though resourceful folks keep trying. Latest attempt is Philly’s, a window on Times Square that, around lunchtime, hosts a circle of supplicants who stand gamely waiting on the sidewalk. Though foregoing the bubbling can of Cheez Whiz, this carryout does provide a choice of cheeses, with provolone holding down the high end and American the low. The sirloin’s cut a little thick, and fried onions are oddly de-emphasized. Still, at $5.50, it’s a formidable tuck-in. ¢


790 Eighth Avenue, 489-2233

Many of today’s most ambitious restaurants are opening in luxury hotels, and, located on the ground floor of the Days Inn, Pigalle follows the trend. I was prepared to dislike this facsimile of a Parisian brasserie (or, perhaps, imitation of Pastis), until I tasted the food. The salt cod brandade was superb: Though more like cod mashed potatoes, the largish cylinder was anchored in mushroom cream. The thick gazpacho served with a skewer of fresh-tasting shrimp and the cassoulet cooked with duck confit, pork sausage, and smoked bacon were also tastier than expected. Drawback: The recipes have been defunkified from their Gallic counterparts, but, as compensation, the servings are humongous. Open 24 hours. $

42ND TO 59TH


136 West 46th Street, 354-5013

The persistence of this ancient and superb Cuban lunch counter—a stone’s throw from Times Square—is a testament to the excellence of the food and the fierce loyalty of its regulars. Made right in the front window, the Cuban sandwich is as streamlined as the ’50s finned Caddies that ply the streets of Havana, and Margon gets all the basics right, from the pungent red and black beans to the crisply fried tostones. The menu rotates by weekday, and my favorite entrées include the chocolate brown oxtails, mellow fricasseed chicken, and fried kingfish. And don’t miss the best octopus salad in town. ¢



1613 Second Avenue, 396-9787

Penetrate deep into the interior and discover a perfect imitation of a restaurant in Marrakech hidden deep within the souk, with low-slung settees and fabric-strewn sofas. Ferried on ornate metal trays, the food duplicates the pungency and style of Moroccan cooking better than that of any other place in town. Notable appetizers include moist and violently red merguez, and zaalouk—an eggplant puree closer to Sicilian caponata than Middle Eastern baba ghanoush. And even though the b’stilla is available in the authentic pigeon formulation (farm raised says the menu), I’d rather have any of the intense tajines. $$


1048 Fifth Avenue, 288-0665

Ensconced inside the diverting Neue Galerie, Café Sabarsky is a Viennese café and konditerei, an offspring of the West Village’s Wallsé that outshines its parent. The short dishes make for perfect museum-hopping snacks, including a charcuterie platter (the most challenging feature: double-smoked raw bacon), a generous salad of jumbo asparagus in a slightly sweet lemon-dill sauce, and savory smoked-trout crepes with horseradish crème fraîche. The hungrier can move on to sandwiches, to entrées like boiled-beef tafelspitz, or to pastries, of which plum crumble sided with a cloud of whipped cream was a favorite on a recent visit. $



4456 Broadway, 567-9325

Roll down the steep escarpment from the Cloisters, and you’ll find yourself at El Mundo. A neon sign in the window burns, “Fritura de Toda Clase,” and they’re not kidding. Chicharrón de cerdo are stunning pork-roast arcs, each piece artfully layered with paprika-dusted crispy skin, not-quite-rendered fat, and meat of concentrated flavor and intriguing density. The French would call it confit. This Dominican lunch counter also makes good chicken, either fried or rotisseried, but the more adventuresome will order sancocho, a rich chicken stew thickened with pumpkin and sporting all sorts of vegetables. ¢


2529 Eighth Avenue, Harlem, 491-3969

While most West African restaurants offer only three or four set meals at a time, this convivial Harlem establishment mounts a daily menu that features a dozen or so Guinean and Senegalese specialties. There’s always one leaf-based sauce (“sauce de feuilles,” the national dish of Guinea), made with either spinach or sweet-potato leaf, and often there’s a fricassee of chicken in palm sauce, and a peanut-laced stew of smoked fish that has the intriguing texture of driftwood. Less challenging Senegalese staples like grilled lamb chops (“diby”) and steak with onions are also available. Open 24 hours! ¢



87 Utica Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant, 718-493-5907

After touring the Weeksville Houses, a miraculously preserved African American village founded after the abolition of slavery in New York in 1827, we dropped in at Carolina Creek for refreshment. This fish-and-chips shop specializes in fried whiting, by filet or whole fish, matched with some of the best french fries in Brooklyn, made from fresh potatoes with little bits of skin adhering. As an additional fillip, the pork ribs are also excellent, mantled with a thick sauce that’s not too sweet. The extensive menu is delivered with real Southern hospitality at this mainly carryout establishment—where you can also dine in at the lone table. ¢


511 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill, 718-398-1459

Serving the dining needs of Pratt students for the last decade, Castro’s conveys cheap Mexican meals of a rib-sticking sort. The tacos are oversize and dividable, made with two soft corn tortillas, and the vegetarian cheese enchiladas are not only stuffed with cured cheese, but have planks of fresh cheese on top as a bonus. Skip the appetizers, because all platos come with guacamole, salad (bring your own dressing), and a pile of warm tortillas. For some real heat, select puntas de res en chile chipotle—strips of beef in a brown sauce spiked with incendiary smoked chiles. ¢


2812 Ocean Avenue, Coney Island, 718-648-3200

Into the dry gulch of Brooklyn Indian food falls this obscurely located institution. If they offer, skip the free Russian-leaning appetizer salads, which are uniformly awful, and dive into a menu that includes excellent chicken methi and the tangy stewed mustard greens called sarson ka saag. Instead of white rice, order any of the carefully cooked biryanis, especially gosht dum, filled with tender lamb chunks and flavored with acerbic citrus pickle. The bread list is one of the best in the city, including a couple of surprises: Afghan Kabuli naan, chock-full of fruit and nuts, and “village naan,” topped with garlic, onions, and hot chiles. $


300 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, 718-384-5800

Williamsburg’s best bistro offers French-Caribbean cuisine with some exciting and unmodified Haitian elements thrown in. Succulent pork “ribletts”—delicious by themselves—come sided with a blistering Scotch bonnet sauce called ti-malice, and spice-massaged pork loin is regaled with a dark gravy spiked with Guinness. Compulsory at every bistro, steak frites has here been enlivened with an au poivre coating, and there’s also a whole grilled fish of the day for those who like their food more straightforward. Sit in the relaxing front room, or better yet, pick the rear room for its dramatic views of the BQE. $$


484 77th Street, Bay Ridge, 718-921-2400

This gem replaces the late lamented Casablanca as the city’s premier working-class Moroccan restaurant. As the brown ceramic cone is doffed, the inexpensive tajines explode with flavor, and the choices are breathtaking, too: lamb with peas and artichokes, chicken with raisins and caramelized onions, and the vegetable-heavy tajine tafrawatt, featuring chicken or lamb matched with a bounty of summer squashes, pumpkins, eggplant, carrots, and potatoes. Don’t miss the North African pastries displayed on the glass counter; wash them down with a pot of sugary mint tea. $


1551 Fulton Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, 718-221-0235

An evening’s stroll down Bed-Stuy’s Fulton Street reveals a culinary scene in decay, as franchise restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Popeye’s muscle out the family-run eateries that used to characterize this noble street. In defiance of the trend, newly opened Ma’s offers a traditional menu of soul food staples. The fried chicken is particularly good—fresh and moist, with a modest coating of flour, letting the skin do the crispness work. The mac and cheese and corn muffins are also particularly fine, though the tepid and undercooked ribs are a disappointment. Neighborhood kids flock to the ice cream counter. ¢


643 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, 718-609-1841

There are now at least 10 Siamese cafés in Williamsburg and its northern suburb of Greenpoint, and in the latter locale we find Moon Shadow. Prepared for disappointment, I was impressed with the sharpness of the flavors and the freshness of the fixin’s, even at off-peak hours. The luncheon special ($5.75, served until 4 p.m.) is a delightful tuck-in, featuring a spring roll and peanut-dressed salad in addition to a choice of main dishes. Otherwise, rice-sided entrées like Massaman curry and red snapper filet with tamarind sauce run $7 to $12. $


Southeast corner of 46th Street and Fifth Avenue, Sunset Park, no phone

Just south of the park called Sunset Park is a hopping new Mexican neighborhood, and at the corner mentioned above, two opposing sheds selling snacks have recently appeared. Bright red Rico’s is emblazoned with the come-on “Tamales Oaxaqueños,” offering a changing selection. Foremost is the chicken mole tamale, wrapped in a corn husk and rife with poultry and thick inky sauce, while chicken with rajas—roasted green-chile strips—is another triumph. Wash them down with arroz con leche, a sort of liquid rice pudding, or champurrado, a chocolate-flavored corn beverage. ¢


206 Knickerbocker Avenue, Bushwick, no phone

Bushwick hosts quite a few micro taco spots—places that make it seem like you’re sitting in the cook’s home kitchen. At Asunción, a baby crawls on the floor, and apart from the deep red walls and a shrine to the Virgin up near the ceiling, there’s no attention paid to decor. Known to the locals simply as “mole,” the chile-and-chocolate sauce is fabulous: slightly coarse-textured and a little oily, so that a bright umbra forms around the edges, and thin enough to moisten a plate of soft corn tortillas and a big serving of rice—after you’ve eaten the tender poached chicken. Weekends only. ¢



143-05 45th Avenue, Flushing, 718-463-8621

Sri Lankan food debuts in Queens with this new luncheonette, serving the brooding, spice-laced “black curries” (pick lamb); mellow, coconut-laced fish curries (pick kingfish); and breads like appams (weekends only) and outsize rotis that make Ceylonese cooking delightfully unique. The dosai are particularly good, and, outflanking its Staten Island brethren, Bownies also serves additional vegetarian South Indian specialties like curd rice—a glorious tart sludge flavored with black mustard seed and curry leaf. Also don’t miss puttu, a loaf of crumbled brown rice snowed with dried coconut. ¢


39-08 63rd Street, Woodside, 718-899-3267

This bar is run by a family from the Ecuadorean seaside province of Manabí, and their origin is reflected in the care taken with seafood. The ceviche puts pretentious Manhattan ceviche parlors to shame—huge bowls of citrus-saturated seafood that feel more like summer soups than solid entrées. Best are the plain fish and octopus versions, although the homeland favorite of concha negra (“black clam”) is also interesting. Typical Ecuadorean platters are also available, such as bandera, a comestible rendition of the flag featuring yellow and white rice, shrimp ceviche, red lamb stew, and yellowish tripe in peanut sauce. $


105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills, 718-520-8514

One of the chief summer pleasures of Queens lies in discovering and investigating antiquarian ice cream parlors. Founded in 1909, Eddie’s seems untouched by modernity. The hardwood stools at the long counter were not designed to accommodate the adult butt—kids won’t mind. In several flavors, the Cokes are concocted from syrup and soda, the 22 flavors of ice cream are made on the premises, and the soda jerk is well versed in the arcana of freezes, floats, sundaes, and malts. Very highly recommended. ¢


184-22 Horace Harding Expressway, Fresh Meadows, 718-353-3804

The Horace Harding Expressway, which shadows the L.I.E. through most of eastern Queens, hosts some of the borough’s most interesting white-tablecloth restaurants. The ethnic origin of the oddly named Quality Food Palace is undiscernible until you step inside and smell the delicious curry spices. The broad-ranging menu goes from well-seasoned biryanis to succulent whole-fish tandoori to meaty incendiary lamb vindaloo to a bread roster that would be the envy of East 6th Street. Go for the buttery multilayered lacha paratha. $



791 East Tremont Avenue, Bronx, 718-299-4218

Pig’s the word at this splendid Puerto Rican lechonera, where pig parts are mounded seductively in the window and nearly everything goes for $6 per pound. Each order of the succulent roast pork contains the same proportion of light, dark, fat, and burnished brown skin, thanks to the machete-wielding counter guys. Don’t miss the potent garlic sauce. Other outstanding offerings include the spicy blood sausage called morcilla, and mofongo, manufactured on the spot from mashed plantains and pork scraps. Odd man out is the vinegary octopus salad, one of the best in the Bronx. ¢

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