118A Eldridge Street, 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. ¢


349 Greenwich Street, 343-0700

A nip here, a tuck there, and presto! The bar at Pico has been turned into an off-price café, demonstrating the same Portuguese influences without actually being Portuguese. The centerpiece of the limited menu is a wonderful suckling-pig sandwich, planks of skin alternating with meat and spinach inside a North African-style bread with a touch of sweetness (jam?). The spiced fries alongside are fab. There’s also a burger, oysters, a couple of salads, and a standout gazpacho—the best of the year, as far as I’m concerned—speckled with croutons and chunks of ripe summer tomato, laved with mint oil. $$


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. ¢



172 Crosby Street, 677-8444

Founded by a Jersey ex-cop, the Connection rapidly became a favorite of Voice staffers when it opened last year. This takeout encampment features sandwiches and little else, dispensed under garden umbrellas and beside a snatch of suburban wooden fence as the sandwich makers gyrate in the narrow depths, trading jokes and pleasantries with their lined-up clientele. No big surprises, other than a choice of excellent breads, fine cold cuts leaning toward the Italian, and mild innovations of the sort you might not even notice, like ricotta on a meatball hero, fresh basil leaves in unexpected places, and generous add-ons at no extra charge. ¢


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. $


215 Avenue A, 780-9204

This oasis of fresh Mexican tortillas, chiles, cheeses, and canned goods makes it easy to throw dinner together. Enchiladas, for example, can be assembled in about 10 minutes from raw materials available here. About a year ago, Zaragoza turned into a taquería, with three taco stuffings available per day, of which the most frequent are stewed chicken, roast pork, and steak tendrils. Tacos come topped with an assortment of greenery and your choice of hot red sauce or chill guacamole. Man, are they good! Sometimes potato-stuffed flautas are also available, luxuriantly dressed with cilantro, crema, and dried cheese. ¢

14TH TO 42ND


246 Tenth Avenue, 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. $$


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. $


245 Park Avenue South, 475-9377

Dotted with paintings of tropical fruit, the pleasantly garish interior suggests South America—but Sushi Samba is mainly a sushi bar with a wildly experimental approach. While the conventional sushi and sashimi is adequate, the ceviches really shine: one a massive salad of cooked octopus with a ginger-and-mustard dressing, another an assemblage of thick slabs of raw yellowtail moistened with garlic-soy oil—although neither is really “cooked” in acid. Call them sashimi salads. Another pleasant surprise is a Bahian-style fish chowder loaded with lobster and sporting a flavorful slick of dende oil on the surface. $$

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. ¢


R511 West 22nd Street, 691-2258

Architecturally, Wild Lily is consistent with the Chelsea galleries that surround it, paradoxically achieving coziness with a brick-clad industrial space flaunting a burbling ornamental pool. In addition to dozens of annotated teas, food offerings run from gallery-hopping snacks to full meals. Trying to encompass all the tea traditions, the menu juxtaposes English scones and Chinese noodles. The cream-of-asparagus soup is delicately flavored; the salad of beets, goat cheese, and mushrooms on baby spinach vastly satisfying in its sweet citrus dressing; but proceed with caution when it comes to the sub-par dumplings. $


1431 Third Avenue, 570-5666

Dispensing with entrées almost entirely, this walk-up Turk attempts to reproduce a type of restaurant common in Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighborhood that features appetizers exclusively. Assembling a meal in this rollicking warren has a pleasure all its own. Begin with crunchy pastry flutes filled with feta called boreks. Then proceed to uskumru lakerda—a bowl of barely pickled mackerel that might remind you of sashimi. Next, down a formidable Greek salad (Greek salad?) boasting stuffed grape leaves and artichokes around its circumference. Finally, dive into a bowl of hummus, subtly flavored with cumin and dribbled with olive oil. $$


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. $



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! ¢



Knapp Street and Harkness Avenue, Sheepshead Bay, 718-934-6300

This reasonable facsimile of a Maine lobster pound is located in a white saltbox house right on Shellbank Creek, with a lighthouse and lobster skiffs out back. Unfortunately, the illusion is marred somewhat by the garish franchise restaurant next door. No matter—the whole steamed lobsters are excellent, served with drawn butter and decent fries. For duffers, there’s a lobster roll for which you should request extra packets of mayo, and freshly shucked oysters and clams that can match Grand Central’s Oyster Bar for freshness, if not for breadth of selection. $


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. $$


129 Gates Avenue, Clinton Hill, 718-622-9202

This bistro takes plenty of chances, from its obscure Clinton Hill location in an ex-pharmacy to its nine-part menu, solidly grounded in vernacular Italian cooking while featuring a handful of inventions. We dug: octopus soppressata, house-cured olives, saltless Tuscan bread, eggplant ravioli, chestnut-noodle “lasagnette,” chicken roasted under a brick, and, especially, steak tagliata. We didn’t dig: avocado-cranberry salad, seafood guazzetto, and irregular pasta fragments called chive magliata. The wine list, glued to a pair of wine bottles—a neat trick—is reasonably priced, and you can get a great bottle for around $25. $$


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. $


136 Smith Street, 718-797-3313

Among all the pricey bistros blossoming in Cobble and Carroll, a few humble eateries linger. Tabouleh is a Jordanian café that excels at bulging pita sandwiches and hearty main courses like kebabs and roast chicken that are plopped on rice garnished with toasted almonds. Try kafta mechewi, a flavorful amalgam of beef and lamb laced with onions and peppers. There’s also a killer foul moddamas, a slurry of fava beans laked with tahini and olive oil, served with a tangy green relish. Every day there’s an off-menu special-Monday it’s mansef, a tart stew of lamb shoulder cooked in yogurt and clarified butter. ¢



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. ¢


76-18 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, 718-205-7357

The name identifies the specialty—perfectly roasted suckling pig, carefully allocated in portions encompassing bronze skin, lean meat, rich meat, and modest globs of fat. It’s likely to be the best pork you’ve ever tasted. The humongous $10 platter also includes heaps of hominy, two llapingachos (cheese-laced potato patties), salad, and pickled purple onions, so you’d better fast for 24 hours beforehand. Corn tamales called humitas are also excellent, but some of the other Ecuadorian specialties—tripe in peanut sauce, goat stew, and ceviche—can’t compete with the pork. $


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. ¢



75 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, 718-273-6404

In addition to tacos and tortas in 20 permutations, this former pizza parlor whips up big round sandwiches called cemitas. Hailing from central Mexico, they’re made with pan de pulque, a sweet egg bread dotted with sesame seeds and leavened with cactus beer. The sandwich can be made with chicken or pork, but I prefer milanesa, a pounded, crumbed, and deep-fried beefsteak wadded on the bread and topped with white cheese, avocado, cilantro, onions, and semi-dried red chiles that have the texture and sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes. ¢

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