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. $$

(new) SO GO

11 Mott Street, 566-9888

Manhattan’s first Taiwanese restaurant is a novelty among the Cantonese, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Malaysian, and Fuzhou restaurants of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Everyone will love specialties such as a Taiwanese hamburger nestled in bao dough instead of a conventional bun; pan-fried pomfret; and chicken cooked in a casserole with ginger, basil, and wine, also known as three-cup chicken. More challenging are sautés of duck-blood cake with chives, several dishes featuring pig intestines, and anything incorporating “stinky bean curd.” As added incentive to check this place out, So Go’s menu has an extensive section devoted to Sichuan food twisted for Taiwanese tastes, including the commendable shredded beef with green hot pepper. ¢



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. $


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


113 Lexington Avenue, 685-5200

Follow the swarm of cabs to this new Pakistani restaurant, where vegetables are forsaken in favor of one of the meatiest and highly flavored cuisines on the planet. Ignore the illuminated menu, and carefully scan the steam table and the glass shelf above it before ordering. Nearly always in evidence is chicken karahi, a mellow yellow stew thickened with tomato sauce, and paya, a screwy gluey braise of cow feet that’s often enjoyed at breakfast. One day a flock of succulent tandoori quail landed on the counter, to be succeeded by the damper masala quail on the steam table the next day. ¢


36 East 22nd Street, 228-4399

When the lights at Alva flickered out, Kitchen 22 quickly jumped into the breach, a concept restaurant offering only a $25 prix fixe menu—appetizer, entrée, and dessert, five choices in each category—and the eager customers flooded in. While a little rough around the edges, the food is satisfying and well prepared. Our favorites included beef carpaccio littered with finely chopped pickled vegetables, like the aftermath of a tornado on a small town, and a pair of Spanish mackerel fillets perfectly sautéed. The plainish desserts were the biggest disappointment, especially a white chocolate pudding that tasted like it was poured from a can. $$



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. $



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! ¢



3914 Church Avenue, Flatbush, 718-282-7900

Attractively decorated with Caribbean Primitive paintings and a dizzying wall of mirrors, this wonderful Haitian eatery specializes in fried things like griot—nuggets of pork marinated in citrus and shallots, boiled in the marinade, then fried in lard. The result is a very rich dish the French would call pork confit. Queen of the non-fried side of the menu is lambi, the national dish of conch swatches stewed in a thick tomato-and-pepper sauce. Between these two extremes are Haitian standards like goat tasso, poisson frit, and maïs, a thick corn porridge. $


1060 Fulton, Prospect Heights, 718-623-5499

Though the name makes it sound like a National Lampoon movie, H of J is one of the most formidable Jamaican carryouts in Brooklyn, with a more complete menu of roots cuisine, including thick sweet cornmeal pudding, meat and fish cook-ups, and ackee and saltcod. The fish soup is especially fantastic, with a roster of ingredients that runs to christophene, taro, potato, and carrot in a fish fumet worthy of bouillabaisse. Beckoning you in the right direction is a plume of barbecue smoke, which drifts up Classon, crosses over Fulton, and heads toward Clinton Hill, betokening jerk chicken well coated with spices. ¢


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. $


7616 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, 718-491-0622

Already stuffed from eating several consecutive meals, I was determined to pass this place by, with just a notebook scribble to remind me to return. But one look in the window revealed a billowing steam table with a leg of lamb sticking out, appearing to have been just yanked from the oven. Our avuncular host turned out to be generous as well, piling a Styrofoam container high with garlic-strewn slices of tender, freshly sliced meat, ringing them with lemon potatoes roasted in meat juices. Various other viands also presented themselves, including miniature barbecued lamb ribs and herb-slagged roast chicken, as a pair of pork shish kebabs sizzled seductively on the grill. ¢



71-04 Grand Avenue, Maspeth, 718-639-8638

This newcomer to Maspeth’s restaurant row is nominally an Argentine joint, with a bounteous parrillada combo for two ($29.95), including a rare sirloin, blood sausage, sweet Italian sausage, pork chop, short ribs, quarter-chicken, and marinated skirt steak (selection varies). While similar establishments typically offer a menu that’s half Italian pastas in emphatically South American versions, El Encuentro takes these pastas back to their Italian roots. Examples include a memorably rich spaghetti carbonara and homemade gnocchi in a meaty ragu. Finally, there’s a surprise selection of Peruvian fare, much of it on the chalkboard specials menu. $$


42-20 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718-545-9455

The best Balkan bureks in town come from this unassuming Astoria pizza parlor. These rotund flaky pies—fabricated from phyllo dough and well-oiled—come stuffed with a choice of ground meat, cheese, or spinach and cheese. The spinach is preferred, with cheese a close second. Order a mug of the homemade yogurt to go with it, to be poured over the top or used as a dip for pieces torn from the massive pie ($12), which easily feeds four. Other non-Italian offerings include a sorrel-laced veal goulash, and grilled cevapi, skinless mixed-meat sausages fragrant with onion. ¢


133-43 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing, 718-939-7788

The name says it all at this Sichuan restaurant geared to Taiwanese tastes. Located down a dark stairwell in a seedy strip mall, S&T refutes the baseness of its surroundings with perky and chile-hot food in massive quantities. Start with pulled chicken served with a brick-red dipping sauce, or pick sliced tongue in chile oil topped with shards of ginger. For a main course, tea-smoked duck is a triumph, or pick its lesser-known cousin tea-smoked pork. Our favorite dish, however, was Sichuan beef, a meat julienne stir-fried with flavorful Chinese celery and hot peppers to the consistency of dried jerky. $


H.I.M. V

2130 White Plains Road, Bronx, 718-239-7146

The initials stand for His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, and this strictly vegan lunch counter is decorated with multiple likenesses. Pay $6.50 and get generous servings of five flavorful dishes. My choices: a boil-up of lavender taro root and purple onions tasting of bay leaf; a stir-fry of sweet plantain and orange bell peppers; a swirl of tofu, celery, and onions that looked just like scrambled eggs; African-tasting chopped kale; and sliced boiled beets. Look Ma, no meat, no dairy, no wheat! ¢