Katsudon — the perfect autumn lunch
Constituting a sort of new Times Square for New Yorkers instead of tourists, Union Square is alive with places to eat, many offering such amenities as outdoor seating, full bars, late hours, and even bargain pricing. Some joints are small, others can accommodate scores of diners at once. Here are the 10 best things we’ve eaten around Union Square recently.
For the purposes of this ranking, the restaurant must be located either right on the square, or no more than one block away in any direction. Food trucks qualify, but no guarantee is made that they’ll actually be there when you want to eat some specific something.
10. Katsudon at Ennju (above) — Dear Ennju! Our longtime fast-food mainstay near the Greenmarket offers a range of competently prepared Japanese eats at bargain-basement prices in a food-court atmosphere. The katsudon is made to order out of excellent pork cutlets, which are fried and then mired atop rice in eggs cooked up with scallions. Takuwan (the yellow daikon pickle) graces the top.20 East 17th Street, 646-336-7004
9. Vegetarian Platter at Rainbow Falafel — This closet of a place turns out Middle Eastern food that’s fast and delicious. The vegetarian platter, jammed into a single overflowing carryout container, includes falafel (4 big balls!), grape leaves, baba ganoush, tabouli, raw onions, and pickled peppers on a bed of tomatoey salad drenched with tahini and hot sauce. Share this platter with a chum. 26 East 17th Street, 212-691-8641
8. Carnitas Tlaycoyo at Patty’s Taco Truck — A surfboard of hand-patted masa dough is heaped with crema, greenery, cheese, cilantro, avocado, and a salsa of your choice (pick the green) over a bed of flavorful pork tidbits. Climb aboard this baby and ride it across the square! Parked near 15th Street and Union Square West most days
Yes, Patty’s looks like Flash Gordon’s spaceship.
7. Goodburger Classic at Goodburger — This was Peter Meehan’s favorite burger in a piece he did for the Times a few years back, and the item remains a thing of burgal beauty: the patty modestly sized, cooked to order, and meaty tasting; the toppings profuse and of unassailable quality. No, it’s not Shake Shack, but it’s damn good. The thick chocolate milkshake is worth getting, too. 870 Broadway, 212-529-9100
6. Chicken Milanesa at Union Square Café — Never have you had a chicken cutlet so delicately crumbed or perfectly fried. And the salad on top sings, with salty low notes provided by pecorino, is a delight in itself. 30 East 16th Street, 212-243-4020
5. Grilled Pork Chops at Republic — No, it’s not a noodle dish like the ones Union Square old-timer Republic is famous for. Rather, the pork chops, sliced razor thin, flame grilled, and coated with a thin sweet sauce are better than the same dish in some of the city’s best Vietnamese cafés — here presented with all the trimmings. 37 Union Square West, 212-627-7172
Step inside, ladies.
4. Peruvian Burger at Morocho — To say this thing is a gutbomb is an understatement, and you’re going to have to wear scuba gear to eat it, such is the messiness of this bizarre invention, which features a runny fried egg, fried plantains, and several gloppy sauces. Parked near 15th Street and Union Square West most days
3. Carne Asado Taco With Guacamole at Dos Toros — This California-style beauty knocks you over the head with the smoky taste of the meat. With the optional guacamole, it swings for the fences (without it, the taco is vastly diminished, so be prepared to pay the extra fee). 137 Fourth Avenue, 212-677-7300
2. Shrimp Baiano at Coffee Shop — First opened on Union Square in 1990, Coffee Shop was the first of the ironically named places (soon to be followed by Cafeteria, Eatery, Diner, Delicatessen, etc.), and also started the trend of moving into a place and leaving the previous décor nearly intact. Oh, and then there were those waiters, who, one was convinced, doubled as fashion models. But the stealth specialty has always been authentic Brazilian fare, and this delicious shrimp stew from Bahia — which also includes shredded kale, an orange wedge, fried plantains, and plenty of white rice — handily proves it. 29 Union Square West, 212-243-7969
You can sit outside, even in cold weather.
1. Sushi at 15 East — Yes this place is fiendishly expensive, but the quality of the sushi ranks it in the top five sushi parlors in town, and the weekday lunch special allows the masses to sample the output in small quantities. 15 East 15th Street, 212-647-0015
The sun-dappled exterior of 15 East
Follow me on Twitter if you dare — @robertsietsema