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. $


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. $$$


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. ¢



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. $



2737 Broadway, 663-7010

Afraid of being branded a steak house, this new upper-Broadway establishment, already inspiring hordes of adherents, dabbles in all sorts of modern affectations in a lengthy menu, like blue-corn calamari and a foie gras hideously laked in something that tastes like Chinese duck sauce. The steaks, however, are exemplary, including a not-cheap New York strip with a good deal of flavorful age on it, and a budget skirt with a good meaty taste and a tenderness probably owing to a marinade. Unlike at a steak house, though, steaks come with a single generous side, of which my fave is garlic mashed potatoes. $$



4384 Broadway, 928-7872

The most ambitious of the city’s Salvadoran restaurants sports a deep dining room decorated with kitschy rugs, including one of a bare-breasted woman washing clothes in a river, and a menu that stretches to include Mexican and Dominican dishes. The national passion of yuca con chicharrón is perfectly executed: fried pork nuggets with manioc french fries. Homemade pupusas are available in both corn and the less common rice, stuffed with combos of cheese, beans, pork, and loroco flowers. Only a crab soup, whose thin broth lacks flavor, proves a disappointment. ¢


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! ¢



209 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, 718-302-6405

Amid many Thai triumphs, Williamsburg has had bad luck with its Indian restaurants, with previous attempts being expensive, overdesigned, and bland. For a year this storefront tempted passersby with its awning, and a few weeks ago it finally opened. The food is a solid B: tasty and reasonably priced. Favorites on a first visit included a righteously hot shrimp vindaloo (lamb vindaloo was less interesting), whole fish of the day (pink snapper sautéed with onions and peppers), beef korma in a creamy and nutty gravy, and a puffy poori sided with chickpeas. Be prepared for slow service. $


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. ¢


2017 Emmons Avenue, Sheepshead Bay, 718-615-0010

Sheepshead Bay’s last remaining clam bar is, luckily, a paragon of its type: a fluorescently lit sea of Formica, where you can get them raw, fried, steamed, baked, chowdered, and sauced over pasta. The freshly shucked littlenecks are preferred over the cherrystones for their sweetness, and the New England chowder over the Manhattan for its briny depth of flavor. The fried clams are some of the best in town, accompanied by a powerful oregano-laced red sauce (pick hot or medium) that puts other dips to shame. Still, my favorite dish at this convivial working-class haven from the modern pretensions of the Bay is pasta with lobster sauce. $


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. ¢



39th Avenue and Prince Street, Flushing, 718-762-8787

The Flushing Mall is rather boring; not so, the subterranean food court, where 11 counters regale you with a broad range of noodles, soups, and dumplings in a Cantonese, Sichuan, Taiwanese, and Southeast Asian vein. Most unusual is Beggar Dish, which offers julienne strips of duck and pig variety meats like intestine and ear. Others are more accessible to a wider audience, including Imperial Duck, serving glazed pork chops over rice in addition to its namesake dish, and Taiwanese Food, which excels at deep-frying string beans. There’s even a sushi bar and a hot-pot concession featuring personal cooking units embedded in each table. ¢

(new) MY THAI

83-47 Dongan Avenue, Elmhurst, 718-476-6743

The larb is the best I’ve ever tasted: Served warm, this ground-pork salad is sharply seasoned with lime, mint, green onions, and a touch of fish sauce, and served on a bed of onions and greenery. Other salads and stir fries display the same potent and well-balanced spicing, including pad prik moo grob, a toss of crispy pork fragments with lots of herbs and green chiles. When you ask for spicy, you can be sure your food will arrive scaldingly hot. My Thai is the successor to Kway Tiow, another excellent Siamese restaurant on the same spot. ¢


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. $

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