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. $$

14TH TO 42ND


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. ¢


140 West 13th Street, 645-4606

No need to ask why, in this economic downturn, pizza has become so popular with upscale restaurateurs: a cheap ball of dough + a minuscule strew of toppings = a high-priced “individual pie.” Though some of these pizzas can be excellent, so far that’s not the case at Gonzo, where a first visit found us instead digging the appetizers and main courses. Best was a spice-rubbed pork loin, meltingly tender and generously served, and a frito misto made with delicate pieces of squid and shrimp expertly fried. Favorite appetizer was a garlicked puree of white beans, though it didn’t seem too Italian. $$


38 MacDougal Street, 475-7500, 10012

The perfect antidote for the winter blahs is lunch at this Soho old-timer, where a bank of westward-facing windows fill with sunlight and turn the yellowish interior golden (there’s also a skylighted solarium in the rear). Focusing on seafood, the menu dredges up the by now standard menu of southeastern France, including a durable if not brilliant bouillabaisse, a thick-crusted and winningly moist version of the onion and anchovy tart called pissaladière, and a simply cooked Mediterranean daurade. The fish of the day is always worth considering; on this revisit it was a goodly hunk of boneless cod seared to crunchy brownness on both sides and served on a bed of sculpted vegetables. $$$


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. $$


511 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. $



R4384 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! ¢



337 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, 718-832-6848, 11215

The glossy mag that reported this Park Slope newcomer as just another bistro did the restaurant and its potential patrons a disservice. The relentlessly French menu nods toward haute cuisine, offering foie gras, salmon roulade, and, best of all, an amazing bouillabaisse that comes close to the Marseilles original by the novel addition of coconut milk, which stands in for rascasse, a gluey but unobtainable fish. There’s also a great steak frites. The drawbacks include boring and repetitive sides, tables so cramped that servers have to gyrate around the room to reach the customers, and the usual deafening noise level. Still, the food shows great promise. $$$


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. ¢


R1572 Linden Boulevard, Brownsville, 718-342-5959

Located in the shadow of the inconsequential-sounding Linden Shop, a subway repair facility that sprawls across 50 acres, Joe’s is a lunch counter that delivers hot dogs in pairs (“double dog”—$3.50) on a length of baguette. Garnish it with sweet pickle relish, sliced sour pickles, hot cherry peppers, or pickled green tomatoes from the wonderful condiment island, and pretend you’re eating a Chicago red hot. The menu also offers a decent cheese steak and a superb Italian hot-sausage hero. The garishly striped premises are half the fun. ¢


R14 Duryea Place, Flatbush, 718-693-7927

Who could help diving into the doorway of a place with a name like that? Lucky for me this Rasta joint, decorated with a de rigueur picture of Haile Selassie, has good food at spectacularly low prices. Breakfast is available all day, in this case leafy green callaloo stewed with salt cod, spread over a slice of ripe tomato, and topped with rounds of boiled white yam. The curried goat, too, is distinguished, the small pieces tender and nearly devoid of bone. In addition to the usual manly tonics, there’s a nice selection of Jamaican beverages, including the peerless grapefruit soda Ting. ¢


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. $


268-A East 98th Street, Brownsville, 718-342-8380

This friendly and comfortable refuge directly beneath the 3 tracks is evidence of Brownsville’s burgeoning Nigerian community. Though the “sports bar” part is really just wishful thinking, the food is superb—satisfying combos of mash + soup + meat, best eaten with your fingers. On a recent Saturday, the fufus included white yam and the coarser, more flavorful cassava. Either goes well with egusi (melon seed) soup or okra soup. You can also toss in a piece of fish or meat. I’d recommend mutton, which comes in big challenging chunks. The jolly gals who cook are enough reason to go back again and again. ¢


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. ¢


2950 Avenue R, Marine Park, 718-375-6137

When I did the piece on Brooklyn roast beef heroes a year ago, I didn’t expect to find a place better than Clemente’s. But then I hadn’t been to Rocky’s. It, too, is a meat market that makes heroes at the back of the store. I came upon Rocky himself on a Saturday afternoon carving up a fresh roast beef of smallish circumference, and I asked him to fix a hero in his usual manner. The beef—sliced thick, barely rimmed with fat, and tender as all get-out—was piled on a good Italian baguette, then slices of American cheese were layered thereon. Finally, salt and a mist of finely ground black pepper were blown over the sandwich. Spectacular! ¢



37-18 34th Avenue, Astoria, 718-752-9528

The name translates as Sarajevo Fast Food, and this diminutive eatery dispenses delicious grilled-meat platters, savory pastries, and desserts. Cevapi are skinless homemade sausages the size of a shotgun shell made of lamb and beef—oniony, rubbery, and fatty enough to absorb the smoke. The list of grillables also includes lamb chops, trout, salmon, and variety meats like kidneys, liver, and especially delectable sweetbreads, served with freshly baked bread and chopped raw onions. But the surprise hit at our table was a special dessert called bosanska tufahija, a baked apple stuffed with walnut cream. ¢


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. ¢


R112-16 Rockaway Boulevard, Rockaway Beach, 718-318-0701

Goths take note: Over the ancient stone fireplace a stained-glass memorial reads in German, “Think upon our beloved daughter Christine Zimmerman, separated from her parents, 1910.” The dim interior is composed of dark woods painstakingly pieced together to resemble a ship’s hold; a rowboat thrusts into the dining room. While the checkered history of this Rockaway bar remains shrouded, the current fare is a wide-open combination of Jamaican, Italian, and Texas barbecue. My advice: Skip the barbecue and Italian in favor of Caribbean selections such as rotis, jerk chicken, and coconut shrimp. $


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! ¢