Best cheap romantic restaurants
After reinventing itself, this French bistro in Williamsburg now serves even more affordable classics, like cassoulet and bouillabaisse, than it did when it first opened. In the back, a nineteenth-century–style wine lounge with antique furniture and a functioning fireplace opens onto a small garden space.
- 533 Grand St, (between Lorimer St and Union Ave)
New York’s first true Madrileño tapas bar offers its Spanish nibbles in cramped quarters, with only a few barstools and ledges for plates; the idea is to graze, drink and chat before heading elsewhere for dinner. An adventurous party of two, up for such challenging dishes as a miniature wasabi-kissed sea urchin “panino,” could quite easily eat every single thing off of the short menu without feeling too gluttonous. Don’t miss the silky salt-cod nuggets in thick beignet batter, the beautifully plump garlic shrimp and the fine selection of Spanish wines by the glass.
- 401 W 24th St, (at Ninth Ave)
There’s a raffish, multiculti charm to the whirring overhead fans, live music and chili-pepper garlands at this low-lit spot. The tapas are consistently tasty, with a zingy tuna ceviche leading the way. Tuck into chayote salad with lime dressing, chicken roasted in a banana leaf, Brazilian pork stew or grilled seafood on greens. The cocktails—like an exotic kiwi roska—are fruity and well-mixed, and perhaps the best reason to come. The Latino libations are listed on a bright-yellow wall near the bar, but you’ll get caught in a mosh pit of mojito drinkers before you can squeeze your way to it.
- 145 Ave C, (at 9th St), 10009-53
- Critics choice
Warm woods and soft lighting evoke a turn-of-the-century general store at this midtown eatery and gourmet emporium. The restaurant, tucked behind the retail shop, suffers from sluggish service, but all is forgiven when tangy Mediterranean spreads—vinegary artichoke dip, hot-pink beet skordalia—hit the table. Resist the urge to make a meal of Kashkaval’s impressive roster of charcuterie; entrées, like heaping plates of savory elephant beans piled over orzo and deep pots of fondue, are not to be missed.
- 856 Ninth Ave, (between 55th and 56th Sts)
- Critics choice
Looking at the modern glass-and-steel building that houses Mesa Coyoacan, chef Ivan Garcia’s culinary paean to Mexico City, you’d never guess that a warm and intimate restaurant resides within. Filament bulbs, vintage wallpaper, traditional ornaments and a staircase lined with votive candles give the space a homey Southwestern feel. It’s the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy Garcia’s excellent and affordable multiregional fare, a worthy addition to the neighborhood and New York’s Mexican dining scene in general. An addictive appetizer of esquites melded the earthy-sweet flavor of corn kernels with a creamy, chili-spiked mayonnaise and salty bits of crumbled cotija cheese. Tangy, tomato-based seafood stew, meanwhile, provided a warming base for tender head-on shrimp, mussels and other toothsome fish. Building on the experience he gained cooking at Mercadito, Garcia also serves superb tacos: The carnitas came stuffed with juicy braised Berkshire pork, and the calamari tacos’ abundant white rings, while a touch overcooked, were perked up with a lively avocado sauce and blast of lime. One of the meal’s surprise highlights was the chiles en nogada entre, a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with pork, pears, apples and peaches and smothered in walnut sauce that seamlessly blended vegetal, meaty, fruity and nutty flavors. Don’t skip drinks or dessert: The selection of inventive margaritas (we loved the pineapple version with chili-infused tequila) and crisp churros with chocolate and salted-caramel dipping sauces are alone worth a visit. Clearly, appearances can be deceiving.—TONY See more Restaurant reviews
- 372 Graham Ave, (between Conselyea St and Skillman Ave)
This beloved cheap-eats haven serves some of the city’s best Middle Eastern food in all three of its Manhattan locations. The original West Village dining room packs in a neighborhood crowd nightly—it’s not unlikely to see a line outside, since reservations are not taken. But it’s worth the wait. Freshly baked pitas, still puffed up with hot air when served, are perfect for scooping up the smoky baba ghanoush. Sample the ouzi—rice, chicken, vegetables and raisins cooked in delicate phyllo—and rejoice in evading Village tourists.
- 90 Bedford St, (between Barrow and Grove Sts), 10009
- Critics choice
Part of the problem with eating well—healthfully, deliciously and environmentally correctly—is that it’s expensive. Enter Northern Spy Food Co., a restaurant that serves locally sourced meals at reasonable prices (no dish costs more than $15). Chef Nathan Foot’s frequently changing menu is based almost entirely on what’s in season (Northern Spy is an apple indigenous to the Northeast). Rounding out the farm-to-table experience is a general store filled with locavore staples—grass-fed milk, McClure’s pickles, salted caramels. Though the urban-rustic conceit is reaching critical mass—the clapboard walls and beat-up school chairs are by-the-books at this point—value sets Northern Spy apart. The food isn’t fancy, but it satisfies. A “chicken and egg” sandwich memorably combines pan-crisped dark meat, zingy chimichurri, arugula and a poached egg on Sullivan Street bread. A runny egg also graced a hearty salad of escarole, country ham and roasted turnips in a mustard vinaigrette. Toothsome pastured pork loin shared the plate with rich pork jus and a “green saut” of leeks, green cabbage and brussels-sprout leaves. Less successful was the Montauk squid, an ill-defined mass of bland calamari, navy beans, carrots, more cabbage and tough-to-detect pasilla peppers. Red quinoa, meanwhile, found a bitter mate in radishes in an unpalatable side. As for drinks and dessert, we felt obligated to try a glass of dry, tart Northern Spy hard cider—offered along with other wines and local beers—plus a so-so wedge of Northern Spy apple pie, packed with slices of dry, al dente fruit. We preferred the bread pudding—eggy bites topped with whiskey-laced whipped cream. If this is eating well, we’ll take seconds.—TONY See more Restaurant reviews
- 511 E 12th St, (between Aves A and B)
- Critics choice
Since 2003, chef King Phojanakong has maintained a cult following for his Thai-Filipino restaurant, Kuma Inn, a casual, cozy eatery on the Lower East Side. His vivid, gratifying dishes stood out amid the city’s less inspired Pan-Asian options, and helped kick off a small-plates trend that won’t go away. In August, Phojanakong debuted his second project, the narrow, brick-walled Umi Nom, located in a former Laundromat in Bedford-Stuyvesant—a neighborhood wanting more for a decent grocery than a buzzy eatery. Nonetheless, the restaurant (run with chef-partner Soulayphet Schwader) is as much an achievement as its Manhattan predecessor. The enticing Southeast Asian menu is full of beer-friendly foods (it’s BYO for now) that are unique to Umi Nom—only Kuma’s glazed Chinese sausage made the cross-river trek. The deep-fried chicken drumettes justify a visit on their own, with their crisp skin and bracing condiments of fish sauce, lime juice and vibrant Anaheim peppers. Those same scorchers graced the best dish we tried: wok-roasted Manila clams submerged in a funky, fermented black-bean sauce enriched with butter. Phojanakong’s deft hand with seafood was also evident in his succulent head-on prawns in an excellent broth of Thai chilies, garlic, onion and fish sauce. (It tasted just as good poured over a side of fluffy garlic rice.) The few dishes that pander to duller palates were also the weakest. Asian fish-and-chips presented bland tilapia in a dry panko crust with a clumpy tobiko-wasabi aioli. Desserts were also dull, including a moist enough (if uninspired) chili-spiked molten chocolate cake. But these are quibbles; in a city chockablock with forgettable Asian restaurants, Umi Nom’s memorable food makes it a gem in an unlikely ’hood.—TONY See more Restaurant reviews
- 433 DeKalb Ave, (between Classon Ave and Taaffe Pl)
- Critics choice
Chef and co-owner Jean Adamson, who worked at LES success story Freemans, offers more fatty comfort foods on her weekly changing menu at Vinegar Hill House. Her tender butternut-squash tart with robust farmstead blue cheese was made memorable by golden, flaky pastry; wispy ribbons of pappardelle were coated with a sweet rabbit-and-bacon ragù. The cozy, tavernlike restaurant, located in the forgotten namesake Brooklyn neighborhood, may not be worthy of destination status. It’s Freemans light, and we’re okay with that.
- 72 Hudson Ave, (between Front and Water Sts)