Food

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BELOW CANAL


(new) NIKONIKO

80 Wall Street, 212-232-0152

This handsomely decorated Japanese fast-food outlet describes itself as “sushi & bowl.” The sushi part features the most obvious combinations, which are as good as prefab sushi can get. While soups like beef with noodles suffer from a boring stock, the over-rice dishes are much tastier. Six bucks gets you katsudon, a fried pork cutlet mired in a scallion-laced omelet; bibimbap don, an adaptation of a mix-it-yourself Korean favorite; or, best deal of all, una don, a giant sauce-smeared eel fillet, at about one-third what you’d pay for it in an East Village Japanese joint. Open till 8 p.m. ¢

CANAL TO 14TH


BLUE 9 BURGER

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. ¢


GOBO V

401 Avenue of the Americas, 212-255-3242

Almost vegan Gobo—which possesses a familial connection to the Zen Palate chain—is one of Manhattan’s odder new restaurants. The menu goes for the global, moving effortlessly from South America to China, with many stops in between. I really dug the papaya ceviche and the Peruvian root-vegetable stew, especially since the agreeable orange broth also contained pozole. Too many dishes, however, achieve their results via application of grease and sugar, and the prices seem awfully high. At less than $10, lunch specials are a great deal, and the green-tea-colored dining room, open kitchen, and multiculti staff make dining a pleasure. $$



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


KLOE V

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? $$$































¢ Cheap eat

($10 meal available)

$ $10-$20
$$ $20-$35
$$$ $35+
Price guide per person
V Vegetarian friendly
L Open late (past midnight)

For hundreds of more restaurants check out the eats page.

UPPER EAST SIDE


MARICHU

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. $$$

ABOVE 110TH


(new) LA CASA DE LOS TACOS

2277 First Avenue, 212-860-6858

House of Tacos has handily aced out the competition to become East Harlem’s premier Mexican café, attracting families as well as tables of working men. The weekend specials of pozole and the tripe stew called panza are fab, the former served in a bright red, chile-laced version heaped with hominy and cubes of pork, furnished with an array of add-ins like radishes, onions, and chopped green chiles, in addition to a trio of fried corn tortillas for crumbling into the soup. The usual range of antojitos is also available, but check the steam table for non-menu moles and other southern Mexican fare. ¢


MEXICO DOS V

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. ¢

BROOKLYN


BISSALEH VL

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. $


MICHAEL’S

2929 Avenue R, Marine Park, 718-998-7851

In stark contrast to other ancient Italians in the vicinity, Michael’s consciously turns its back on all things Neapolitan and Sicilian, making it easy to go through an entire meal without marinara. The premises display a certain elegance, from the pebbly facade to the dim interior hung with medieval lamps that whisper “romance.” Starters are few and mainly seafood, but your pocketbook recommends you go directly to the meat and poultry entrées, which are so voluminously sided that no other courses are necessary. Veal chop primavera re-creates a Milanese specialty—pounded thin, breaded, and heaped with salad, while another favorite is gnocchi in vodka sauce. $$$


TANOREEN V

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. ¢


TRATTORIA MULINO V

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. $

QUEENS


A TOUCH OF HUNGARY

121-17 14th Road, College Point, 718-762-3435

Though the top entrée price of $15.95 might seem a little steep for the peasant food of Eastern Europe served in a modest storefront so far north in Queens it feels like Minnesota, the portions are enough for Paul Bunyan. The nicely browned schnitzels of chicken, pork, and veal are toothsome, but nearly impossible to distinguish. Go instead for the pork Holstein: tender medallions dipped in butter and topped with two fried eggs, and side it with spaetzle (“nokedli”). On Tuesday night, a $15 buffet also includes salads, desserts, and a free bottle of “bull’s blood” wine if there are four in your party. $


(new) EL RINCON VENEZOLANO

70-04 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside, 718-446-1073

So what if Venezuelan food is on the bland side? The fare at this new café—one of only two Venezuelans in town, as far as I can tell—is exceedingly well prepared and fresh-tasting. The most memorable dishes after several visits include arepitas (fried miniature masa cakes served with a sour cream dipping sauce), tamales (each an entire meal wrapped in a banana leaf and loaded with beef, green olives, mild chiles, and raisins), and asado negro (pot roast slicked with garlic and salt). Late evenings, the bar heats up with an affable crowd. ¢


JAHN’S V

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. ¢


LEE PARK SA

158-15 Northern Boulevard, Murray Hill, 718-321-9730

The specialty of this small and rustic Korean barbecue in Murray Hill, Queens, is Kobe-style beef, cubed and grilled over a gas flame in the middle of the table. You won’t miss the charcoal: The tidbits come out supremely smoky and beefy-tasting anyway, and are best eaten without the rigmarole of wrapping them in lettuce. While the short rib seemed a little below par, the piping-hot and spicy-hot stew of mushrooms, baby octopus tentacles, and two kinds of pork tripe known as nakji kpchang jungol is also transcendently good. $$

ELSEWHERE


UNCLE SAL’S RIBS AND BIBS

1770 East Tremont Street, Bronx, 718-892-8181

This closet-sized establishment crams more types of food into its well-organized premises than Aunt Sally could imagine. A couple of tables under the curious mountain landscape (this part of the Bronx is especially flat, unlike territories to the west) provide functional comfort as you chow down on the borough’s best baby-back ribs. Moistened with a kicky red sauce and falling apart the minute you touch them, they made me think a smoker was concealed somewhere on the premises. Also available: tacos, bacon-and-cheese fajitas (huh?), hamburgers, milk shakes, fish dinners, good fries, even Latin selections like salt-cod stew and steak with onions. ¢