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. ¢


96 Chambers Street, 608-9900

Proving that great food never goes out of style, Sophie’s has reinvented the Cuban lunch counter on Chambers Street, filling a hot cabinet in the window with snacking standards like empanadas, yuca croquettes, and papas rellenas—scarlet mashed-potato ocarinas stuffed with ground beef and olives. The Cuban sandwich made further inside at a special counter is top-notch, oozing cheese and mayo, and loaded with great pernil and thin-sliced dill pickles. Best surprise, however, is a made-to-order camarones al ajillo, featuring a dozen barely cooked shrimp in a tangy, annatto-laced sauce. ¢



19 First Avenue, 420-4900

This diminutive offspring of Frank’s on Second Avenue, is driven by a wood-burning oven that supposedly includes stone from Mount Vesuvius (who cares?) and reaches temperatures of nearly 900 degrees. The pizzas, offered in 11 combos with a few specials, are superb—thin-crusted, of irregular shape, and boasting top-quality ingredients. The polpettine, littered with tiny meatballs and flavored with sage, is a particular favorite. Alternatives include a modest selection of roasted poultry, fish, and vegetables. Skip the pastas, which get mushy in the oven. $


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. $

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. $$


35 West 20th Street, 463-7890

While most upscale Greek restaurants in Manhattan pick the easy route to riches, concentrating on expensive but simply grilled whole fish, Periyali serves a Panhellenic menu, painting a fairer picture of Attic cuisine. At a recent lunch, we enjoyed a brick-red rabbit stew bombarded with baby onion bulbs, the meat copious and tender, and a chorus line of tender sautéed shrimp kicking in olive oil and lemon. The dining rooms in the rear are preferred, rustic within but offering a vertiginous cityscape through the skylights. $$


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


Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 50 Central Park South, 521-6125

Ritz-Carlton dining rooms all over the country provide expensive and slightly creative French fare in sedate surroundings, and this new restaurant is no exception. The $68 prix fixe offers three courses of solid high-quality ingredients, and, to its credit, there is no additional charge for foie gras (served dusted with sea salt in a whip of basil and pea shoots), roast lobster (an entire shelled specimen with baby fennel in a sea of pink foam), and dry-aged sirloin steak. The drawbacks—too much foam, and a fiendishly expensive wine list, with virtually no bottles under $50. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this place. $$$


1240 Sixth Avenue, 332-1515

Formulated to give Le Bernadin a run for its money (it fails), Citarella is an elegant, haute-cuisine seafood restaurant related to an Upper West Side fishmonger, angling for the expense-account crowd in the Rockefeller Center area. Most of the dishes sampled were exemplary, including a perfect sushi appetizer and a starter called simply “tomato” that featured a virtuoso four-part improvisation on the tomato’s possibilities at the height of summer ripeness. Main courses are mainly fish fillets sautéed to crustiness resting on Gotham Grill-style assemblages in a variety of sauces. Branzino—yeah! Mackerel—boo! The allegedly Japanese-style sauce tasted more like sweet pickle relish. $$$


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! ¢



422 Seventh Avenue, Park Slope, 718-369-7776

Lowballing the recent Austrian dining phenomenon, Steinhof offers a $12 Wiener schnitzel that’s turning heads all over Park Slope. The beer selection, too, is admirable, and there are plenty of munchies to go along with it, including a smoked-trout-and-potato salad, a Teutonic cheese-and-charcuterie platter, and a range of budget sandwiches, of which the meatloaf was a surprise favorite. If you’re feeling flush, indulge in the Central European wine selection, but by all means avoid the $5 goulash special on Mondays, when the kitchen is otherwise closed. $


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. ¢


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. $$


442 Graham Avenue, Williamsburg, 718-349-1627

The guazzetto alone would be enough to make me return to this new Williamsburg Italian: mussels, clams, and scallops in a light tomato sauce laced with garlic, white wine, olive oil, and parsley. Croutons brushed with garlic and olive oil ring the bowl and gradually absorb the extra broth. Every detail of this Neapolitan favorite is perfect. We also enjoyed the featherweight potato gnocchi clumped with mozzarella. The soaring skylighted dining room, which appears to be a converted auto body shop, is oddly exhilarating. Only the wine list falls short. $$


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. ¢

R643 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. ¢


932 Utica Avenue, Rugby, East Flatbush, no phone

Ever seen tripe in a Jamaican joint before? I hadn’t, until I stumbled over the sidewalk chalkboard menu. The pillows of well-tenderized cow stomach recline in a tasty stew flavored with allspice, the brown terrain varied by humongous white beans. Pick white rice or rice ‘n’ peas to accompany. Though bony, Tummy’s goat curry is similarly lip-smacking and abundant. Other entrées on a Saturday evening included curry chicken, brown stew chicken, and escabeche fish, with fish cakes, fried dumplings, and the long doughnut dubbed “festival” offered as snacks. ¢



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. ¢


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. ¢


71-03 Grand Avenue, Queens, 718-429-0101

This combo Indian-Indonesian restaurant might be called the “Miracle of Maspeth” for its unusual menu, odd location, and semi-elegant dining room. Find plenty of South Asian dishes unavailable elsewhere, like chicken sabjee (boneless poultry in a mellow yellow sauce loaded with green vegetables), and Malai curry (lamb chunks bathed in rich coconut sauce). The Indonesian dishes are pallid by comparison, but desirable in the context of a broad-ranging meal with many diners—so bring your friends. Breads are a strong point, though the addition of sugar to several proved somewhat unnerving. $