105 Hudson Street, 212-334-4445

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, 212-233-8988

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. ¢



92 Third Avenue, 212-979-0053

Zen-like in its simplicity, this bare-bones burger joint looks like a franchise waiting to happen. The menu is so small, it can be listed on a business card: hamburger, cheeseburger, Blue 9 burger, fries, soft drinks, and three kinds of shakes. The burger bedevils Ronald and his pals by being made with fresh meat and cooked to order, and not covered with glop. Shakes are of the thick variety that’s hard to find in these parts, and, like the burger and fries (you won’t find any dry-aged or designer beef here), aspire to be merely good and not great. Though my first impression was “So what?” I found myself returning a week later for another taste. ¢


108 East 4th Street, 212-260-3105

The formula, invented south of 14th Street, is already familiar: pastas less than $10; meat and fish main courses slightly more; wines, cured meats, cheeses, and a collection of memorable appetizers. While newly opened Cicciolino doesn’t dick with the formula, it executes it better than many other places. On the pasta side, there’s a tasty spaghetti bolognese; among the seconds we dug the snapper fillet strewn with capers and the vegetarian’s delight of grilled veggies and polenta smothered in red sauce. The décor partakes of the usual whimsy—a line of Pez dispensers up near the ceiling (bring your binoculars) and light fixtures made of stacked plastic wastebaskets. $


172 Crosby Street, 212-677-8444

Founded by a Jersey ex-cop, 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. ¢


1 Fifth Avenue, 212-995-9559

Otto brings Roman-style pizza to New York for the first time: Thinner than Neapolitan, the crust verges on the cracker-like. The signature pizza is lardo—the first time here or in Italy that cured strips of lard have decorated a pizza, as far as I can tell. It’s delicious, and so were the other pies tried on a first visit, including one strewn with tiny Manila clams still in their shells (the juices spill onto the pizza as they cook), and another topped with house-pickled anchovies, potatoes, and ricotta. There are more conventional pies, too, and Lupa-like antipasti: cured meats, salads, and surprising vegetable preparations. $$

(new) VOYAGE

117 Perry Street, 212-255-9191

Planted in a storefront that was once a famous gay bar, later an off-price Caribbean café, Voyage is an upscale bistro with a unique menu, inspired by American Southern, New Orleans, Latin, and Afro-Caribbean cooking. The oxtail croquettes are especially good, crunchy on the outside, spilling rich meat once you bite into them, while the spoonbread, textured like a souffle, comes smothered in an agreeable crawfish sauce. The comfortable dining room is upholstered in tobacco-brown fabric and lined with photos of Cuban men; the more boisterous barroom has its own special menu, where you can taste the signature appetizers without blowing a wad. $$$

14TH TO 42ND


243 West 14th Street, 212-255-KLOE

Named after chef Erica Miller’s grandmother’s perfume, 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, 212-481-8088

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, 212-570-5666

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. $$


342 East 46th Street, 212-370-1866

You have to go upscale for the city’s best Basque food, alas. Catering to patrons from the U.N., Marichu is an informal space decorated with pleasant but undistinguished color photos of Spain. The food, however, leaves a powerful impression, especially chiparones—baby squid coated with a thick black sauce made from ink, and a special soup that features potatoes and spicy chorizo in a paprika-red broth. Skip the lackluster paella, aimed at those who don’t know Basque from basket. Available during both lunch and dinner, the tapas menu is as good as any in town, and the eight-selection Spanish cheese plate performs equally well as appetizer or dessert. $$$



502 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-874-4559

One came wrapped in juniper ash, another had been cured with saffron, while a third was dropped into a sterile pit and aged 100 days. “And I aged it for another month,” noted the proprietor, who turned out to be a cheese fanatic. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try one of the amazing all-Italian cheese plates, which come sided with little smears of homemade compotes and flavored honeys. Wood-oven pizzas, pastas, nut-crusted chicken cutlets, fried fish, cured meats, and salads complete the menu at this Upper West Side newcomer, where you can eat very well for $25. $$



1726 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-234-3334

Hamilton Heights, where Alexander Hamilton once strolled around his ranch, is a new hot spot for southern Mexican cooking, and Mexico Dos is home to some of the best-prepared moles in town. The green is compounded of fresh tomatillos, green chiles, and cilantro, spiced with epazote and hoja santo—unforgettable whether poured over pork ribs or mixed with tortilla chips in a splendid chilaquiles. Red, too, has its advocates, who love the complexity of flavor that arises from a combo of sesame seeds, raisins, almonds, and several kinds of chiles. Decent Tex-Mex is also available at this highly recommended spot. ¢



1922 Coney Island Avenue, Midwood, 718-998-8811

This late-night kosher dairy café is decorated in an oddball rustic style, and features a pan-Israeli menu, including pizza, hummus with mushrooms, feta cheese salad, and Yemeni specialties. Among the latter is malawach, a tasty Frisbee of oily puff pastry topped with a variety of goodies—in a biblical mood, we picked the version featuring honey, dates, and sesame seeds. Bissaleh means “a little something” in Yiddish, but also designates a serpentine pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, mushrooms, or potatoes and sided with a tea-boiled egg. $


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. ¢


96 Wyckoff Avenue, Bushwick, 718-821-8816

Dominating the busiest corner in Bushwick’s tony Wyckoff Heights, House Tacos occupies a streamlined diner that hovers over the L train station. Blue-plate specials like chicken mole poblano and bistec a la Mexicana are superb, served with perfect yellow rice and savory black beans, and there’s a juicy cheeseburger made from fresh meat that’s a couple of notches above the diner standard. Antojitos like tacos, huaraches, and, especially, quesadillas, are also recommended, the latter stuffed with chicken and decorated with mole verde and queso fresco and bearing no resemblance to bar food. ¢


7704 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, 718-748-5600

When asked for a brunch recommendation, I often suggest Tanoreen. The Middle Eastern menu offers traditional Levantine breakfasts like vegetable fritters, hummus with meat, and foul madamas—tender fava beans dressed with olive oil, lemon, and garlic. Also brunch-worthy are two dozen hot and cold mezes, including a pungent olive spread flavored with capers, the dried Armenian sausage sojuk, and sambousek—little braided turnovers filled with potatoes and peas and served with a homemade cilantro pesto sauce. Sandwiches, grilled meats, and desserts broaden the culinary terrain. And don’t miss the Arabic coffee, ceremoniously served in a shiny brass pot. ¢


133 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, 718-398-9001

A real contrast with the pretentious and expensive Tuscan-style restaurants of upscale Brooklyn, Trattoria Mulino highlights Neapolitan cooking of the sort that dominated the borough for a century, delivered in generous servings and atrociously misspelled on the menu. Manicotti is a pair of pasta cylinders bulging with spinach and fresh ricotta, topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella; grilled shrimp refreshingly simple and lolling on a bed of arugula; while—my favorite on a first meal—Sicilian calamari is a generous heap of well-braised squid served over linguine, reminding me of a similar dish at Babbo. The decor is deliciously unhip. $


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. $



25-60 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718-204-6040

You might as well be in Morocco in this well-lit lounge furnished with couches and handsome inlaid tables, with an area at the front window for ostentatious hookah-smoking, in a manner that’s become de rigueur on this stretch of Steinway. The exemplary food is also emphatically North African in its subtle use of sweet spices and typical selection of tajines, couscouses, and kebabs. Best dish on a first visit was chicken bastilla, a round pie of flaky warka pastry interleaved with chicken and almonds and sweetened with a crisscross of cinnamon and powdered sugar topside. $


187-13 Linden Boulevard, St. Albans, 718-978-2003

Hidden in the basement of this West African store—a jumble of chew sticks, wonderful small roasted peanuts in salvaged colonial booze bottles, stockfish pitched into cardboard boxes, and other toothsome treats—is a Nigerian restaurant, where a friendly hostess with cowrie shells woven into her hair serves mashes like pounded yam and amala (sun-dried cassava) with goat in a pepper-laced sauce. This is one of the few places in town where you can wash your dinner down with palm wine, which doesn’t contain alcohol, but is refreshing nonetheless. $


117-03 Hillside Avenue, Richmond Hill, 718-847-2800

This 80-year-old ice cream parlor stands across the street from the shuttered Triangle Hofbrau, once the largest German restaurant in town and favorite spot of Babe Ruth and Mae West. The interior of Jahn’s made me feel like I was back in Green Bay, Wisconsin: dark polished woods, dim tulip lamps, red-upholstered booths, and plenty of carved wood up near the ceiling. The butterscotch sundae is a thing of beauty—salty, buttery, and served in a giant goblet topped with clouds of whipped cream, and there are a couple dozen more sundaes, shakes, and egg creams to choose from. The food is strictly diner-style, useful only as a prelude to the ice cream. ¢



31 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, 718-448-8073

Staten Island finally has its own upscale hot dog parlor. Like those in Manhattan and Brooklyn it has an innovation to offer, a “frite dog” that features a natural-skin frank piled high with french fries. Any sandwich with the fries inside is fine with me—certain New Orleans po’boys come to mind—and this version is tasty, even though the fries are not the twice-fried Belgian variety the name might lead you to expect. The real find here is the hamburger, a juicy and fresh-tasting quarter-pounder served on a seeded bun with all the usual fixings. The franks are pretty damn good, too. ¢


324 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, 718-876-5560

Like its neighbor New Asha Café, this Sri Lankan hash house is located across the street from the picturesque Albanian mosque. Surprisingly, there are a number of unique dishes, including roast bread, a mind-bogglingly big slice of white bread that’s been toasted like zwieback, making you want to see the loaf it came from, and a dish of shredded beets that does a good imitation of steak tartare. Commonplaces like the cylindrical mutton roll coated with toasted coconut, and a goat curry, here executed with a delicate dice of boneless goat, are rendered with special flair. ¢