105 Hudson Street, 334-4445

Trudging by on a snowy evening, we were surprised to see this popular spot—a slightly less formal version of Nobu—half-empty, so we went right in. The menu offers the innovative fare of its more expensive sister, including black cod varnished with sweet miso paste; “sashimi new style” (yellowtail strips bathed in oil and topped with precisely trimmed chives); and a generous bowl of rock-shrimp tempura that might be mistaken for Cajun popcorn. It obviously takes some experience to figure out which dishes are good value, and which are laughably small for the money. All those mentioned above fit into the former category. $$$


73 Mulberry Street, 233-8988

Skip the legendary seven-course beef dinner that prefaces the menu at this restaurant decorated like a Southeast Asian village, and cherry-pick the constituent dishes that excel, including a warm salad of tender beef strips in a citrus dressing (goi bo), a delectable beef congee made with broken rice, and nuggets of beef charcoal-charred inside grape leaves (bo la lop). The menu is bewildering in its length, encompassing lots of dishes pitched toward Chinese tastes, as well as nicely prepared Vietnamese standards. Wafer-thin grilled pork chops are especially good, and so is duck with peanut sauce. ¢


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. $$



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. $$


357 West Street, 646-230-9466

Tightly wedged between auto body shops, this streamlined chrome diner has somehow survived, though it’s gone through several strange incarnations in the last few years. Currently, it’s an upscale diner open from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. seven days a week, serving a menu of sandwiches, salads, and all-day breakfasts. For a diner, the breads are of spectacular quality—the hanger steak sandwich, for example, comes on a brioche, while the standard “eggs any style” feature cranberry-pecan toast. Worth special mention are the homemade potato chips, often fried to order, and the dense doughnuts crusted with granular sugar. $


38 MacDougal Street, 475-7500

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 most 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. $$


243 West 14th Street, 255-KLOE

Named after chef Erica Miller’s grandmother, this Chelsea newcomer offers eclectic fare that judiciously incorporates elements from Asian, Middle Eastern, French, Mexican, and American Southwestern cooking. Recommended dishes include a geometric tower of beets and goat cheese, plump duck breast crusted with the Mediterranean spice mixture called zatar, and, especially, crisp sweetbreads rolled in macadamia nuts. Eligible for the most-daring-dish-of-the-year award: a medley of roasted winter vegetables served with a crock of a tasty Provençale brandade, made with tofu instead of salt cod. When was the last time you saw a tony and ambitious restaurant serve a consciously vegan entrée? $$$


168 Lexington Avenue, 481-8088

If you’re one of those raw-fish enthusiasts who like to know a good sushi bar in every corner of town, add Koko to your list. This new restaurant specializes in sushi, while also offering a modest list of perennial Japanese favorites like katsudon, teriyaki, and a particularly good tempura. Though toro was unavailable the evening we visited, the regular tuna sashimi was sleek and fresh, and we chased it with sushi. “Water eel,” wonderfully funky mackerel, and a yellowtail-and-scallion roll were both exemplary, though not of Yasuda Sushi quality. Koko is a dependable purveyor, joining two other sushi parlors on the same block. If one more arrives, we can call it Sushi Row. $



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. $



549 West 145th Street, 234-2357

Successor to a doomed establishment that operated a decade ago on 125th Street, and next-door neighbor to the pricier Copeland’s Restaurant, this steam-table joint offers excellent soul food, with plenty of comfortable seating in spite of the name. Go for any of the chicken concoctions, including a rib-sticking and livid-yellow chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, smothered chicken, and, on a recent afternoon, a special of Dutch chicken. (“It’s coated in Dutch spices,” the counter-guy explained.) Best sides: tomato-sauced okra, finely minced coleslaw with plenty of sweet white dressing, and a particularly cheesy mac and cheese. $


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. ¢



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

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. $$$


1572 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. ¢


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. ¢


14 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. ¢


352 Roebling Street, Williamsburg, 718-384-6612

The brisket sandwich with gravy really rocks at this old-time Williamsburg kosher deli, which remains picturesquely unrenovated since the ’60s. Go for the large size, and side it with the usually excellent (unless they’ve been reheated a couple of times) fries. The chicken cutlets that beckon from the window are also fab, and I can’t remember tasting better Hungarian goulash, the potatoes and tender hunks of beef bathed in a mild, paprika-tinged sauce. Thursday the action really heats up with specials like chopped chicken liver and gefilte fish. ¢


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. ¢


176 Atlantic Avenue, Cobble Hill, 718-834-9533

On a night of high winds and pelting rains, our inundated ride wouldn’t start and an expedition to a far-flung corner of Brooklyn had to be scuttled. Drenched, we dropped by Yemen Café and received a warm welcome, and dined sumptuously on a cumin-laced lamb bouillon, a salad of fresh greens bathed in spicy red dressing, a cauldron of bubbling salta topped with the foaming fenugreek jelly called hilbeh and sided with enormous flatbreads, and, finally, a festive communal platter of roasted halal lamb on a platter of fragrant white rice. We disappeared into the stormy evening happy and well stuffed. $



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. ¢


71-04 35th Avenue, Jackson Heights, 718-779-7715

The city’s only real barbecue moved from Long Island City to Jackson Heights three years ago, and has since been prey to rumors that it’s going downhill. I revisited recently, and discovered that the cue maintains the same high standards. The pork ribs were luscious, sloughing tender, smoke-pink meat, and the two kinds of sausage, pepper-dotted hot links and Polish sausage (founder Robert Pearson’s innovation), were irresistible in their greasy saltiness. The brisket they’re currently using is a little too lean, and hence not quite so tender. That’s the way the patrons like it, according to the current proprietor. $


248-08 Union Turnpike, Bellerose, 718-831-0200

The far-eastern town of Bellerose boasts several grandiose Indian restaurants, and newcomer Raj Mahal welcomes guests with an ornate cloisonné door, a samovar the size of a small car, and a stadium-size dining room. In addition to standard Mughal fare, tandooris, and biryanis, the menu offers a handful of regional specialties, including a Kerala goat fry of flavorful meat with a piquant masala, and a wonderful bhindi masala featuring lemony baby okra. As we downed our excellent chicken tandoori, a wide-screen television presented colorfully turbaned Sikhs confronting Brit colonialists on the cricket pitch. Not the way I remembered it. $


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. $



758 Lydig Avenue, Pelham Parkway, Bronx718-822-8955

The simplicity of this tiny coffee shop is refreshing, with a menu limited to three kinds of bureks (cheese, spinach, and ground meat), homemade yogurt to dip them in, and the standard permutations of espresso. The contraption the bureks fly out of looks like a miniature pizza oven, and these round filo pies appear with clockwork regularity. Though they outwardly resemble the Bosnian bureks of Astoria, the Albanian examples are less greasy; the spinach version lacks cheese, but is more powerfully flavored with dill, while the cheese is extra cheesy and even tastes good stone-cold. Whole pie: $12. ¢

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! ¢

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