54 Canal Street, 212-226-8868

This gleeful new spot represents a retooling of the Japanese beef shabu shabu tradition by Chinese restaurateurs. Cook servings of seafood, chicken, pork, beef, or a vegetarian assortment by swooshing morsels in a pot of broth at your own individual radiant cooking station. Invite lots of friends and have a foolproof party, as guests figure out what to do with the various ingredients. The inexpensive all-in price features a mind-bending assortment of accessory cookables, including napa cabbage, bean thread vermicelli, raw egg, watercress, fish balls, tofu, taro root, etc., and a cavalcade of condiments. ¢


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. ¢



30 East 13th Street, 212-366-9299

Forgoing the flotilla of free small dishes called pan chan, which you might not have been too fond of anyway, DoSirak offers what it calls “simple good Korean food,” and I can’t argue with that assessment. The soups are a particularly good deal (under $10), running from the unspicy but rib-sticking beef short rib to the searingly spicy pork and kimchee. The crock-seared rice salads known by the musical name bib bim bop are often thrust into the wood-burning oven at the rear of the restaurant, a vestige of pizza parlors past. $


509 East 6th Street, 212-777-5920

The menu aims very high and achieves its goal at this expensive East Villager. We were knocked out by a wild- mushroom soup laced with truffle oil flaunting a heap of crunchy dried mushrooms in the middle, a lobster bruschetta incongruously employing little toast points like an English tea snack, and off-the-bone beef short ribs in a rich brown sauce with steamed leeks and pomegranate seeds. The lack of tablecloths, the gleaming polyurethane on wooden surfaces, and the dim candle illumination reinforce the feeling that you’re cargo in a ship’s hold. $$$


192 Bleecker Street, 212-475-2355

While most downtown Tuscan trattorias make a halfhearted stab at authentic decor, this self-proclaimed osteria, by means of painted tiles and rustic wood furnishings, succeeded in convincing me I was steps away from Florence’s duomo. The mixed-cold-cut affettati platter is a good start to your meal, as is a bowl of ribollita, the splendid bean-and-bread soup. Proceed to the perfect crespelles, semolina crepes wrapped around spinach and ricotta, done to a bubbly brown. Although the lamb stew was a little boring, the salmi in coniglio, a quarter rabbit smeared with an herbal sweet-and-sour sauce called agrodolce, was as exciting as any I’ve tasted recently. $$$


124 Fourth Avenue, 212-475-4977

Great idea! Each day a dozen oblong, thin-crust pizzas are laid out on the counter like Turkish carpets. Make your choices and—snip, snip, snip—the portions are scissored, weighed by the pound, and arranged on a tray. On a recent afternoon, I picked the six best-looking pies, rating them on a 10-point scale. The results: minced broccoli and cheese (5); cold salad with feta and green olives on tomato-sauced crust (6); potatoes, ricotta, walnuts, and rosemary (8); prosciutto and arugula (7); five cheeses (8); oddball pie with potato, green chiles, prosciutto, and ricotta, inset with multiple sunny-side-up eggs (7). ¢


37 Spring Street, 212-274-0008

Add this to your list of strange snackeries: a futuristic space that specializes in rice pudding, with a merchandising style that befits an ice cream parlor. Twenty-one flavors are available, from the tastes-almost-normal cinnamon sling to the actively oddball “surrender to mango with lime.” Most flavors tend to be overstated and garishly colored, and servings are expensive ($4.50 for eight ounces), though so rich you could easily share one with a friend. Just try to agree on a flavor! Best part: the reusable lidded plastic bowl and pudding scoop that come with each serving. It’s like a Tupperware party! ¢


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? $$$


303 Lexington Avenue, 212-481-1999

Though Rare puts on hipster airs, it’s really just a dining room in a revamped traveling-salesman hotel. The specialty is burgers, ranging from the standard flame-grilled “classic” with multiple topping choices to theme burgers like the surprisingly delicious “the Mexican,” topped with great guacamole and spicy bean paste. Others feature a seed-crusted salmon fillet that can be topped with a fried egg, and a lentil vegetarian patty that didn’t do anything for me. Appetizers are skippable; instead concentrate on sides and the double-size desserts. $



17 East 48th Street, 212-355-3345

This venerable establishment was where many New Yorkers learned to love top-drawer sushi, and the excellence of the raw fish still puts it among the top five in town. The traditional pecking order of sushi chefs is preserved, and even the bargain set assortments prepared by underchefs are sterling in quality and style. Best on a revisit was the “dream box”—an assortment of tiny bowls presented in a wooden matrix, each featuring a dollop of sushi rice topped with delectable morsels: yellowtail, river eel, salmon roe, homemade omelet, and cubed belly tuna, flavored with a medley of rinds, leaves, and sauces. $$


1143 First Avenue, 212-371-0238

Replacing Sushihatsu, this newcomer bids to become one of the top sushi bars in town. The raw fish is excellent, both traditional choices and “new style” sushi of the type promulgated by Nobu and its imitators. From the former category we enjoyed perfect toro sashimi, tender belly tuna shot through with fat like blocks of pink marble; from the latter, horse mackerel sushi topped with a mound of seared garlic salt, a perfect complement to the fish’s strong flavor. Cooked entrées like salmon teriyaki and pork katsu were a disappointment, competently rendered but with no special flair. Best part: open till 3 a.m. $$



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. ¢



3148 Fulton Street, Bushwick, 718-277-5023

Palace is a bit of an exaggeration, but this comfy Guyanese manages to be lots more than a roti shop. Island-style Chinese food occupies a major portion of the menu, principally fried rice and lo mein, and Alice’s also functions as a snack shop, selling bags of crunchy pholourie, fried plantain chips, patties, and channa—fried or boiled chick peas. The goat roti is the best in town, deploying a subtle goat curry and a minimum of potatoes. The weekend special chicken cook-up is similarly delectable, coated with a dark tangy sauce and miniature black-eyed peas. ¢


40-15 Fifth Avenue, Sunset Park, 718-972-3756

This new Ecuadorian is illuminated entirely with neon; the fierce, life-size shark at the end of the room is penned in by a red lasso of it. Though Andean favorites like roast pork and peanut-sauced tripe are available, the heart of the menu is seafood and ceviches. The version of the faddish marinated fish salad offered here is more like a tart cold soup, the tasty broth laced with purple onions and topped with crunchy corn nuts to remind you of the pre-Columbian origins of this dish. Don’t miss the imported black clams, which tint the broth a lovely shade of slate gray. $


530 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, 718-388-6607

Though the name suggests a Portuguese place, Fada is a French bistro specializing in the vegetable-intensive provender of Provence. The dining room affects a raffish air, and the menu runs from shareable combination plates called assiettes to refreshing salads, such as a salade frisée that features smoked duck breast in addition to lardoons, to main courses voluminous enough to stand alone as your evening meal. Recommended entrées: steak frites featuring a thin sirloin sided with mounds of glistening fries, and an aioli garni of cod and homemade mayonnaise accompanied by legions of steamed vegetables and a handful of snails. Open for breakfast. $$

(new) PYSNE’S

249 Empire Boulevard, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, 718-282-2000

If you ever wondered what Grenada looks like, Pysne’s is your place. This handsome new restaurant is lined with color photos of the tiny nation, and regulars use them as a point of reference while trading stories of island life. The pan-Caribbean menu includes brown stew chicken, goat curry, a couple of fried fish, oxtails in a deep brown sauce, and BBQ chicken; sometimes there are also uniquely Grenadan specialties like oil down, cow heel souse, tanya log, and an especially delicious and African-leaning callaloo—fresh taro leaves stewed with hot pepper sauce. The macaroni pie (mac and cheese) is also commendable. ¢


505 51st Street, Sunset Park, 718-633-4816

Reaching for novelty and big-city sophistication, Ricos purveys tacos árabes and taquitos, in addition to the usual roster of tacos, tortas, tostadas, and soups. The former rolls a quantity of spicy chopped beefsteak into a flour tortilla, making an unfried flauta, an open-ended mini-burrito, or a Middle Eastern pita sandwich, depending on your interpretation of this wonderful invention. The latter is a fetish of Mexico City: a taco made with a pair of comical miniature tortillas, offered with the usual ingredients, presented open-faced. Garnish it at the magnificent salsa table. ¢


1709 86th Street, Bensonhurst, 718-331-7100

You might not expect an innovative Italian restaurant to be yoked to a Bensonhurst pizza joint, but there it is, part of a culinary empire that also includes an adjacent bagel shop, home of the big wheel bagel and the flagel. Delicious inventions at the restaurant include a perfect Greek-leaning grilled octopus salad heaped with garlic and a wonderful take on linguine with white clam sauce that features—in addition to a mother lode of chopped fresh clams—a touch of cream and a ring of plump shrimp around the periphery. $



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. $


40-59 College Point Boulevard, Flushing, 718-321-1681

The most extensive northern Chinese restaurant in town is on the fringes of Flushing’s Chinatown, at the gateway to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s valley of ashes. The heart of the menu is a list of 59 dumplings, mainly two-ingredient combinations of pork, beef, and fish with a vegetable. Recommended: pickled mustard with pork, egg with dill, and a Muslim-inspired lamb with orange squash. Other menus tout rich casseroles featuring pheasant, ostrich, and venison, as well as short vegetable dishes like cucumber with garlic and an oddball eggplant with basil pesto—was the recipe copped from an Italian joint? ¢


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. $$


31-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-204-8968

Cynics contend there’s no great Greek food left in Astoria. Today we encountered evidence to the contrary. After eyeballing the iced display of fish, we made our way into the spare skylit interior and noshed on a very garlicky skordalia and an abundant beet salad while waiting for our sea bass to cook. It arrived 20 minutes later, grilled over charcoal and singed on the edges, flooded with olive oil and herbs, every bite sweet, salty, and smoky. It was altogether the best grilled fish I’ve had in ages, visits to the ultra-pricey Estiatorio Milos in midtown included. $$



2535 Third Avenue, Bronx, No Phone Number

So close to the Third Avenue Bridge it might as well be in Manhattan, this Guinean truck stop offers only a couple of dishes per day. Both are superb. For lunch, a typical selection may include a bowl of sauce de feuilles, a thick green puree of yuca leaves dotted with bits of chicken and beef; and Senegalese mafe in a tomato-y version that goes very easy on the peanuts. Each is accompanied by a giant plate of perfect white rice. For dinner, a lighter repast of fried fish may be trundled out. Ask for “pima,” and get some of the world’s hottest hot sauce. ¢