Irish-American chef Chris Leahy gamely goes French at this date-ready bistro. Fill one of the small tables in the bar, tucked away from the main dining room in a cozy corner, with nibbles like croquettes ($8) or a croque-monsieur ($12). We particularly like his luxe reinterpretation of wings, for which he subs in duck---a more formidable fowl than chicken. The spicy, confited drumettes ($8) are jacketed in a layer of crispy skin and painted with a spicy orange-ginger glaze.
Drink this: Beer classicists will appreciate the list here, which leans heavily on France and Belgium. But don't overlook the wines. Affordable gems include a refreshing $7 glass of Simonnet Febvre's '09 Saint Bris sauvignon blanc. 118 Greenwich Ave at 13th St (212-242-5966)
Blind Tiger Ale House
While its catalog of rare American and international suds continues to grow, Blind Tiger has recently tightened its elevated pub-grub menu, focusing on the use of cured or fermented ingredients (charcuterie from nearby Faicco's and kimchi from Laughing Lotus Farm in Barnard, Vermont, for example). Our favorite drinking snack is the hot wings ($12), a staple that can go toe-to-toe with any rendition in town. The meaty wings are brined for three hours with whatever pilsner's on tap that day, then slow-roasted until they develop a lightly crispy, caramelized armor that holds in the bird's juices. The house-made hot sauce---featuring a blend of chipotle puree, vinegar and chilies---is lip-singeing stuff, with a burn that starts slow before building up to code-orange levels. Dunk them in a thin buttermilk--blue cheese dressing (also made in-house) to help tame the heat.
Drink this: As part of its ongoing "Beer Style of the Month" series, Blind Tiger showcases IPAs throughout June---ask for something hoppy enough to stand up to the fire. 281 Bleecker St at Jones St (212-462-4682)
This colorful Oaxacan saloon compliments its lineup of rare mescals with a full menu of traditional South-of-the-Border fare. Co-owner Ignacio Carballido's mother---who also cooks at Nolita's Caf el Portal---channels her roots in Mexico with comfort-food staples such as tacos de cazuela ($3 each): house-made tortillas topped with homey stews, including a slightly earthy Oaxacan-style mole Amarillo that coats tender hunks of beef. Adventurous freebies like roasted grasshoppers replace pretzels on the bar, but for something with more universal appeal, try the memelitas ($8). The boatlike corn cakes are made with masa from Tortilleria Nixtamal, then topped with epazote-laced black beans, pork-and-beef chorizo, crema and queso fresco. Spice everything to your liking with excellent salsas, including a cilantro-packed salsa verde and a smoky roja variety made with grilled morita and ancho chilies.
Drink this: The woodsy, slightly fruity Del Maguey San Luis del Rio ($15) is a fine match for the mole amarillo, while agave-based cocktails like the Mayan Riviera ($13)---featuring mescal, guava and agave nectars, and serrano pepper---provide a spicy compliment to the memelitas. 86 Orchard St between Broome and Grand Sts (212-777-2600)
Custom American Wine Bar
Gratis trays of Old Bay--seasoned popcorn set the subversive tone at this friendly wood-paneled bar, where the time-tested pairing of wine and cheese is turned on its head. Instead of funky fromage, you can sip your vino alongside aioli-slathered crab-cake sliders ($5) or a Chicago-style hot dog ($4)---a beef tube-steak in a poppy-seed bun topped with peppers, relish, tomatoes, onions and celery salt. The most curious of these bites (at least in context of New York wine bars) is the Elvis sandwich ($6). Custom's version of the King's calorific snack adds a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk to the combo of peanut butter, banana and bacon, sandwiched between slices of toasted white bread.
Drink this: Nearly every bottle on the patriotic wine list clocks in at under $40, and glasses provide plenty of value. To cleanse the palate between bites of this rich grub, we like Gruet Winery's sparkling chardonnay-pinot noir blend (each $11). 644 Driggs Ave at Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718--387--9463)
Little Town NYC
The menu at Little Town NYC is an ode to the Empire State's hyperregional specialties, and the conceptual shtick yields some tasty, and singular snacks. There's the Rochester "Garbage Plate" (a two-person, $14 platter of tater tots, topped with mac and cheese, meat sauce, jack cheese, fried onions and a burger patty), classic Buffalo wings (10 pieces $10) and a grilled cheese packed with Hudson Valley curds ($8). But our favorite bite here transcends geographic lines: The meatball Parm hoagie ($8) features three tender beef spheres, nestled into a toasted split-top hot-dog roll. A side of homemade potato chips helps sop up the grinder's messy toppings: tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese and gooey mozzarella.
Drink this: Embrace the New York theme and pair your grub with a "bucket o' brews" ($25--$30) Each of the six selections (with names like "Brooklyn" and "Ithaca") offers a flight of five quaffs sourced from the same region. 118A E 15th St between Irving Pl and Union Sq East (212-677-6300)
At Danny Meyer's Roman-style trattoria, the kitchen's scraps find a second life in elegant tapas-style bar snacks, available only at a new happy hour that runs Monday to Friday 5--7pm. Chef Nick Anderer (Gramercy Tavern) tops pizza Bianca from lunch service with eggplant and dollops of ricotta, recalling the square slices found on Roman streets. Crackling puffs of pork skin come with a Calabrese-laced vinegar dipping sauce, while leftover cuts of Black Angus beef are formed into loosely packed meatballs, fried to order so that they bleed juices. But perhaps most ingenious is the patatine cacio e pepe---fried slivers of earthy potato peelings showered with pecorino and black pepper, like a mash-up of all-American potato skins and the classic Italian pasta that gives the snack its name. At $2 to $3 apiece, these rustic bites are easy to mix and match without fear of running up a huge tab.
Drink this: Snag Italian brews for $5 each during happy hour, including the easygoing Forst Premium Lager. Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Ave at 21st St (212-777-2410)
Craft beer and rock & roll anchor this laid-back local, where a tiny cooking station at the far end of the bar produces grub fit for roadies: familiar, cheap and served until 4am on weekends. While Tater-Tots and Cubans with house-roasted pork hit the spot, the secret weapon of the bunch is the sloppy-joe sliders ($6)---served three to an order on a piece of butcher's paper. The usual mix of ground beef, tomato paste and garlic is cooked down with Cajun spices and cumin-heavy curry powder, an innovation from the bar's Bangladeshi cook, Allaudin Ahmed. It's piled onto huge, pillowy buns, each with a melting mound of cheddar cheese. When you're roaming the LES at a questionable hour, you'll be glad to have this late-night option at the ready.
Drink this: While the beer list changes frequently, the Pretty Things Field Mouse's Farewell has become a regular, and for good reason: The farmhouse-style saison deploys four types of malt (rye, wheat, barley and oats) to produce a smooth body accented by bursts of citrus, honey and bitter hops. 66 Rivington St at Allen St (212-228-4667)
The West Village isn't short on low-key places to bend an elbow, but we favor this homey neighborhood tavern. Wide, cushy stools surround the reclaimed oak bar, and there's plenty of room to spread out over affordable snacks from Picholine alum Brian Murphy. Addictive fried chickpeas topped with a hardboiled egg ($4) and a basket of locally sourced crispy fluke and clam bellies ($10) are simple and satisfying. And the hearty poutine---offered as an $8 side dish---is a meal unto itself: crispy fries, oozing cheese curd and hunks of peppery slow-cooked short rib doused with gravy made from the beef's reduced braising liquid.
Drink this: Although Monument Lane showcases a tidy selection of wines by the glass and decent cocktails, this kind of fare calls for beer. The toasted barley flavors of the Wells Bombardier ($8) stand up nicely to the intense poutine. 103 Greenwich Ave at 12th St (212-255-0155)
This cozy South Williamsburg bar shares its name with writer Charles Bukowski's first novel. And while the legendary lush might not have cared much about buzz-defusing grub, Post Office offers some irresistible options for the rest of us. Deviled eggs ($5) and a grilled cheese ($7) are some of the comfort-food benchmarks on chef Sam Glinn's compact menu. But the decadent chicken liver and bacon sandwich ($8) is the star here. Glinn sautes livers and blends them into a smooth puree. The resulting mousse tops a toasted baguette garnished with crisp bacon, pickled carrots, sriracha-infused mayo and frise dressed in a green-apple mignonette.
Drink this: The focus here is on small-batch American whiskeys, and even the most studious sippers should be able to find something new to try. A healthy pour of Rock Hill Farms bourbon ($12) has notes of raisin and smoke. 188 Havemeyer St between South 3rd and 4th Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-963-2574)
Earl's Beer and Cheese
Momofuku Ssm Bar alum Cory Cova looks to cheese as his muse at this diminutive craft-beer hangout. Local curds make their way into just about everything on the madcap menu, including Asian-tinged grilled-cheese riffs like an English-muffin--bound combo of creamy mozzarella, miso mayo, crunchy potato chips and dill pickles ($6). Sriracha-spiked beer cheese ($6) comes with thick slices of toast that drinkers smear with whole cloves of raw garlic, before applying the addictive spread. And then there's the Earl's Eggo, an off-the-wall creation worthy of an uptown pilgrimage (and the $17 price tag). Cova tops the childhood staple with a stack of aged Cabot cheddar, coffee-cured bacon and grilled foie gras, then drizzles the whole thing in reduced maple butter and apple butter. The result: a high-low comfort food that you never knew you craved.
Drink this: Four taps pour a rotating selection of craft brews, but penny-pinchers can throw back three-buck cans of Schaefer and Genny Light. 1259 Park Ave between 97th and 98th Sts (212-289-1581)