The superlative “upside-down” Sicilian slice at Majestic.
Picture this: You’ve been demonstrating all day, either for or against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. (Really, it’s just a community center — get over it right-wing fanatics!) You develop a ferocious hunger and a burning thirst, yet you look around and all you see are implacable government buildings, metal barricades, lines of sneering cops, and the deep, deep hole of the former World Trade Center, which none of the real estate scoundrels or government bigwigs can manage to fill — they love the nine-year-old disaster way too much, and made their reputations on it.
The Taj Tribeca — expensive but good.
Yet, in this incredibly annoying neighborhood, there are a few places tucked away where the food is good, the atmosphere relaxing, and nobody cares whether you’re carrying a picket sign or not. Please join us for a late lunch.
10. Taj Tribeca — If you’re an Indian buffet kind of person, this is your place. Offering more in the way of comfort than the other restos on this list, Taj Tribeca is a restaurant you might consider taking your parents to. The buffet is well-stocked, including lamb as well as chicken, but once you depart from it, prices zoom. That said, it’s probably the most ambitious Punjabi restaurant in town. Go for the minty cornish hen hariyali, pungent lamb vindaloo, or near-incendiary chicken chettinad. 18 Murray Street, 212-608-5555
9. The Bigger Place (formerly The Little Place) — Foodies are evenly divided about whether this place is awful, or the best Mexican restaurant in town. We find ourselves somewhere in between. The menu is mainly Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex, featuring fajitas, lavishly topped nachos, burritos with jokey names, and some really great guacamole. The prices are a little steep for a greasy spoon, but you can drink beer while you eat. 61 Warren Street, 212-528-3175
8. Sophie’s Cuban — Sophie surprised us a few years back by proving that mainstream Cuban cooking — which had all but disappeared from the streets of NYC — still had a fanatical following. The roast pork known as pernil is beyond reproach, the paprika-rubbed rotisserie chicken good anytime for a quick bite, and the Cuban sandwich the sturdier forerunner of today’s delicate panini. 96 Chambers Street, 212-608-9900
7. Alan’s Falafel & More — The cart — located a block north of Ground Zero — has an unfortunate patriotic theme, but the range of foodstuffs is awesome: Running from donuts to Philly cheesesteaks to composed salads and fruit beverages to Middle Eastern standards. Served with pickled vegetables and pitas for dipping, the baba ghanoush is particularly dope, and cheap. Corner of West Broadway and Barclay Street
6. Pret A Manger — Ignore the French name: This English sandwich chain has been trying to gain a foothold in New York for years and largely failing. Too bad, because the sandwiches are great (and inexpensive), the soups fulfilling, and the dining room rather glitzy for a fast-food establishment. Our current fave: Niman Ranch smoked ham with sliced boiled egg on whole wheat, slathered with both mustard and mayo. 179 Broadway, 646-558-8745
The sandwiches are precisely made, come carefully wrapped in plastic, and are cheaper than those in a neighborhood deli at Pret A Manger.
This old-timer is always good for a hearty meal — and it’s open 24 hours.
5. Pakistan Tea House — While this old-timer may have slipped slightly over the last few years amid too much hoopla, the food remains solid, the breads freshly made before your eyes (pick garlic naan), and the price is right. Chicken mahkni, also known as butter chicken, is the highest attainment of the good and consistent kitchen. Open 24 hours, in a nabe where places often close early. 176 Church Street, 212-240-9800
4. Bento Nouveau — Skip the sushi at this tiny slip of a Japanese restaurant in favor of the noodles — restricted to the puffy, anemic wheat noodles known as udon. For a spicy kick, pick the one loaded with fiery kimchee. For vegetarians, the curried vegetable udon can’t be beat. One only wonders: Why didn’t this place feature ramen, so currently popular, instead? 173 Broadway, 212-437-8744
3. Mangez Avec Moi — This pretentious pan-Asian restaurant, whose name roughly translates as “Eat With Me,” has spun off an amazing Vietnamese sandwich carryout next door. The sandwiches are slightly more expensive than you may be used to, but they’re freighted with an opulent catalog of ingredients that can run to fusion things like “chicken sate.” Order No. 1, the “traditional.” 71-73 West Broadway, 212-385-0251
2. Majestic Pizza & Calzone — We’d put the upside-down Sicilian slice — with tomatoes on top, and the cheese underneath, to forestall sogginess — up against any similar slice in town, and the megatons of garlic on top will whip your ass, whether you favor the community center or not. Garlic knots also A-plus at this very old-fashioned pizza parlor, whose mirrored interior must date to the ’50s. 8 Cortlandt Street, 212-349-4046
1. Bengal Curry and Kebab — The fragrance of garlic and ginger wafts out the door of this bare-bones Bangladeshi establishment. Redolent of cilantro, the goat curry is amazing, and so is the tandoori fish, which gleams bright red above the steam table. Neither do the vegetarian selections lag — were it more effetely outfitted, this might be considered one of the best South Asian restaurants in town. 65 West Broadway, 212-571-1122
The cilantro-laced goat curry at Bengal Curry and Kebab is nothing short of wonderful.