Cheap New York: The best affordable restaurants

Dine like a king or queen and on the cheap in New York (yes, it’s possible!) by following our essential guide to delicious, wallet-friendly grub.

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Black Market burger

A truly satisfying meal here need not cost an arm at a leg—or even more than 12 bones. Really. Just head to one of these standout, cheap New York restaurants to keep your appetite (and bank account) happy.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of cheap things to do in NYC

Bark Hot Dogs

Critics' pick

Chefs have taken to revising America’s favorite eats with an artisan’s approach—which is one reason for today’s renaissance of foods like burgers, pizza and fried chicken. At Bark Hot Dogs, chefs Brandon Gillis (Franny’s) and Joshua Sharkey (Caf Gray) cast their gaze at the lowly wiener, more often associated with dirty water than the German-sausage tradition from which it descends. Already, Bark has become a favorite neighborhood spot with apparent universal appeal. Families pack the stools and high communal tables during the day, workmen stop in for hearty lunches, and groups of friends linger in the evening to drink the excellent craft beers on tap. There’s little mystery to why the place has caught on: The headlining menu item—a proprietary pork-and-beef blend made at Hartmann’s Old World Sausage in Rochester, New York—is a resounding success. Take one bite and the taut casing cleanly snaps, revealing a light and creamy filling with just a hint of smoke—everything a hot dog should be. The restaurant offers a long list of toppings, but aside from the simplest, such as a heap of tangy oak-barrel--aged sauerkraut, we found the dog to be best plain (baked beans with pork and raw onion, for instance, obliterated the frank’s flavor). Alternatives to the standard link were less reliable. While a mushroom-topped vegetarian option should sate most non--meat eaters, the all-beef hot dog was a dense and mealy disappointment. Sides like crisp fries and onion rings, and desserts such

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Park Slope

The Commodore

Critics' pick

First came the gastropub, an import from Britain featuring upmarket pub grub in an ale-drinking setting. Now, welcome the gastrodive, which further blurs the lines between restaurant and bar. The Commodore in Williamsburg, with its old arcade games, Schlitz in a can and stereo pumping out the Knight Rider theme song, offers the city’s best cheap-ass bar eats, served in a seedy venue where folks come to get blotto. The short menu—with descriptions as curt as the service you’ll encounter while ordering your food from the bartender—reads like a classic collection of fryolator junk. But the “hot fish” sandwich, for one, is a fresh, flaky, cayenne-rubbed catfish fillet poking out of both sides of a butter-griddled sesame-seed roll. “Pork du jour” turned out to be two soft buns filled with a delicious mix of pinto beans, sweet-spicy barbecued pork and vinegary slaw. Chef Stephen Tanner, formerly of Egg and Pies ’n’ Thighs, heads the kitchen, cooking up fried chicken that trumps even that of his former employers—three fat thighs with extra-crisp, peppery skin and tender brined flesh, served with thimbles of sweet-and-spicy vinegar sauce and biscuits with soft honey butter. Even the thick fries are a superior product—right in the sweet spot between soggy and crisp. While the Commodore, with its fatty foods and blender drinks, would hardly qualify as a destination for dieters—the house libation is a frozen piña colada—Tanner and his crew do a fine job of keeping vegetarians happy. In

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Williamsburg

Gottino

Critics' pick

When yet another overcrowded eatery opens in New York, a diner must ask: “Should I bother jockeying for space?” In the case of Gottino, the answer is, “Absolutely.” Though the latest from co-owners Michael Bull and chef Jody Williams (Morandi) is not a restaurant per se—with its long marble bar, piddling five tables and menu of choice Italian nibbles to go with the all-Italian wine list, this narrow spot is indeed an enoteca. So what makes queueing up worthwhile, especially when the vino is somewhat pricey? (The least expensive glass goes for $9, and there are too few bottles under $40.) Choose a prosecco cocktail instead—we prefered the passion fruit and freshly squeezed blood-orange juices topped off with bubbly—which kicks off the night with a burst of fizzy color. Then attack the menu. Divided into salumi and cheese on one side, and prepared bites on the other, it provides multiple opportunities for memorable bites. Thick-cut cacciatorini (cured pork sausage) luxuriates in a shallow pool of olive oil infused with oregano and garlic, while in another wee dish, eye-poppingly tangy white anchovies keep company with celery, parsley and preserved lemon. On the mellower side was the fabulously saline cod whipped smooth with olive oil, as well as fragrant lady apples stuffed with meaty cotechino sausage—one of few available hot plates. Much of the food appears, almost magically, from behind the busy bar, where servers in civilized costumes of white shirts, ties and aprons whiz a

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West Village

Mile End Deli

Critics' pick

When New Yorkers hear the word deli, a few things come to mind, and most of them involve excess—like that mile-high Carnegie Deli behemoth. When I first visited Schwartz’s, Montreal’s answer to Katz’s Delicatessen, I was surprised to see a modestly portioned sandwich: a reasonable stack of meat on coaster-size rye that I could actually fit into my mouth. A New Yorker might ask: Is this really a deli? And then there’s what they call the meat: “smoked meat.” Sounds awfully generic when you’re used to names like pastrami and corned beef. But Montreal’s deli staple isn’t so different. It’s brisket that’s been dry-rubbed, cured, smoked, steamed and hand-sliced. The result, if done correctly, is flavorsome hot-pink flesh held together tenuously by creamy fat, and saturated with the taste of salt, spice and smoke. Mile End, a two-month-old restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, may be the first restaurant to bring the Montreal deli tradition to New York City. Perhaps more important, it could be the city’s first proper Canadian dining establishment. The eatery is neither a theme park—like T Poutine on the Lower East Side, with its drunk-food motif—nor a gimmick—such as the defunct Inn at Little West 12th, with its nominal Canadian offerings. Mile End showcases some of the country’s most beloved regional specialties—smoked meat, Montreal-style bagels and yes, poutine—with Brooklyn flavor: The coffee is Stumptown, the cream cheese is Ben’s, and the brisket is from Pat LaFrieda. The subwa

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Boerum Hill

Nitecap

Warning: You’ll be annoyed with Nitecap at first. The entrance is hard to find (hint: if you pass Schapiro’s, you’ve gone too far), the grizzly-haired doorman will likely tell you there’s a sizable wait, and you’ll have to wrestle an unwieldy velvet curtain the second you step inside. But the effort is well worth it, if only for the cavalcade of cocktail killers at its helm: Death & Co. honchos David Kaplan and Alexander Day own the joint, with drinks maven Natasha David (Maison Premiere, Mayahuel) behind the stick. Together, the trio has stirred up the kind of devil-may-care after-hours haunt you’ll want to linger at long after closing time. Order this: The inventive, freewheeling menu runs the gamut from crisp session cocktails to hefty late-night slugs. Of the former, find the vibrant, fennel-licked Green Thumb ($13), with frothy egg whites softening the rummy bite of floral cachaça and fruity Caña Brava. The Tartan Swizzle ($13) cloaks a double hit of Scotch smokiness (Laphroaig 10-year single-malt, Famous Grouse) in spring-break garb: pineapple slices, cocktail umbrellas and a balancing splash of passionfruit and peach juices. Good for: Off-duty barkeeps and the people who want to hang with them. Industry folks like NoMad all-star Dominic Venegas and Naren Young (Empellón Cocina) unwind post-shift at the sultry, cavernous lair, slipping in between the suited financiers and black-clad gallerists huddled at the low-slung oxblood booths. The clincher: Kaplan and Day may be

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Lower East Side

Open the Sesame

Restaurants cannot subsist on cuteness alone. They’ve got to back up the charm with substance. Open The Sesame (what a darling name!) is pushing the adorable factor, perhaps to stand out from the multitude of nearby Thai restaurants. There are a few kinks to work out, but the place need not lean too heavily on its preciousness—the kitchen is solid. Chef-owner Petom Kochawattana has decorated the narrow space with original paintings. The menus are embellished with mismatched photos, a stylish touch, though it does make it difficult to read the words. Squint a bit and you’ll find standard Thai fare peppered with some unusual fusion dishes. A citrusy, chili-spiked mixed-seafood ceviche appetizer was refreshing, though a more even balance among the shrimp, scallops and squid would have been ideal. Better still was a bracingly spicy beef salad (pictured), with strips of grilled sirloin tossed with torn pieces of romaine in a chili-lime dressing. A heaping entrée of broad noodles stir-fried with bits of chicken, scrambled egg, string beans, red pepper and carrots was the best rice pasta we’ve ever had. Too bad the dessert menu is practically nonexistent, and the place doesn’t have a liquor license (yet). But despite all the delicious entrées, the biggest draw may be the sandwiches—lemongrass chicken, garlic pork chop, grilled portobello—made on loaves of Italian bread, each for less than $4.95. A meal for under $5 on the Lower East Side? Now that’s cute.—TONY

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Lower East Side

Parm

Critics' pick

Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone started small with their first project together, a sandwich shop that opened in 2009, serving hoagies by day and tasting menus by night. But Torrisi Italian Specialties, that low-key debut, blew up in a flash, its inventive riffs on Italian-American classics catapulting the young chefs onto the national stage. Soon there were glossy magazine profiles, restaurant awards and long lines out the door. It wasn’t long before they outgrew their very small space. When your first restaurant goes platinum, all eyes are trained on your next project. Torrisi and Carbone unspooled theirs in two parts, turning their original venue into a serious restaurant (all tasting menus, all the time) and moving its casual half into the vacant spot next door. Parm, that new cozy annex, is the Italian-American deli the daytime Torrisi strived to be, with more sandwiches and sides, new starters and mains, and a full-service bar with house wines and cocktails. The decor pays kitschy homage to the old-school venues that inspired this cooking, with wallpaper from the 1950s, neon, Formica and red swivel barstools. But while the menu reads as well-worn as the space, the food is new and exciting, prepared by grease-spattered cooks in white paper caps who happen to have high-end restaurant résumés. (Torrisi and Carbone worked together at Café Boulud.) As at Torrisi, the co-owner chefs offer dramatic improvements on the food they grew up on, without sacrificing the integrity of th

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Nolita

Peacefood Cafe

Critics' pick

One can’t overstate the excitement a vegetarian feels when a new meat-free option opens in this foie gras--loving city—especially when it turns out to be as good as Peacefood Cafe. Just a couple of months ago, the affable Eric Yu opened this vegan gem, with soothing sage-colored walls, soft amber lighting and a buzzing, cheerily staffed counter at which to order. It’s a welcome addition to the only slightly veggie-compliant Upper West Side, offering a small but diverse selection of wholesome caf dishes, from soups and salads to sandwiches and pastries—and none contain a single animal product. (A small selection of dinner entres will join the menu by the end of October.) Disappointments—standard fare at most vegetarian spots—could not be found here. An earthy salad combined red quinoa, white beans, corn, red peppers, avocado and lime-mustard vinaigrette in an invigoratingly fresh starter. It provided a light counterpoint to the fried seitan medallion panino, a creation that teams a—sorry—meaty wheat-gluten cutlet with cashew-based “goat cheese,” peppery arugula and chopped tomatoes on a hunk of yeasty homemade focaccia. The tempeh avocado sandwich followed suit with yet another satisfying juxtaposition—the baked marinated tempeh, avocado, wisps of pickled radish, shredded carrots and cilantro on dense spelt-rye toast were zingy, cool and creamy all at once. Smoothies and fresh-juice blends—like the pineapple-beet-lime concoction—are thoughtfully crafted, as are the desserts. T

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Upper West Side

Porchetta

Critics' pick

Single-subject restaurants (S’mac, Obik) present a particular challenge to reviewers: How to weigh a place that hyperspecializes in one type of food? Such is the dilemma at Porchetta, which focuses narrowly on central Italy’s classic boneless roasted pork. Aside from limited counter seating, the bright, subway-tiled space is mostly intended for takeout business, rendering service something of a nonissue. And the lilliputian menu, which includes the namesake dish two ways—as a sandwich or on a platter with two sides—and little else, makes it clear that the only real reason to eat at Porchetta is, well, the porchetta. Fortunately for them, they’ve hit a home run. The cubed meat is equally enjoyable stuffed into a small spongy loaf (perfect for absorbing the juices) or served loose: It’s amazingly moist and tender, having been slowly basted with rendered pork fat during its five-hour cooking, fragrantly seasoned with fennel pollen, herbs and spices, and flecked with brittle shards of skin. The other menu items seem incidental; some work, others don’t. A summery mozzarella sandwich, layered with sun-dried tomatoes, capers and herbs, made for a flavorful vegetarian option, and roasted potatoes—the best of the sides—had a crisp surface that gave way to a fluffy interior. But cannellini beans were undercooked, sauteed greens were watery, and while bitter chicory was well matched with an assertive garlic-anchovy dressing, the too-large leaves were unwieldy and difficult to eat, espec

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East Village

Purple Yam

Critics' pick

Despite the ubiquity of sushi spots and Chinese joints, some Asian cuisines are still under the radar in New York. Top chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten have long embraced Thai flavors, and Vietnamese is enjoying a citywide renaissance thanks to Michael “Bao” Huynh, but the cooking of the Philippine archipelago has never made major inroads beyond immigrant enclaves. This despite the best efforts of Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, who for 15 years brought their native cooking to a gentrified corner of Manhattan. The couple ran Cendrillon in Soho until last spring, when it became an early victim of the recession. The restaurant distinguished itself with its mix of Filipino classics and modern fusion. Purple Yam, its Brooklyn redux, is more traditional than its precursor. A few regional detours and multinational mash-ups endure—including a bland minipizza topped with mozzarella and a sort of wild-boar bolognese, and a pork slider on a mealy purple-yam roll—but it’s the by-the-books Flipino dishes that truly shine. That pizza and slider were the only real clunkers of a recent family-style feast. By 8pm during that visit, there was a standing-room-only bottleneck that both the guests and amiable waitstaff took in stride. Dorotan and Besa have settled into a neighborhood that’s clearly grateful to have them. Purple Yam, which is in the heart of Ditmas Park’s new restaurant row—the Farm on Adderley and Picket Fence are on the same street—is a sleek slice of Soho transplanted to a part

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Ditmas Park

Roberta's

Critics' pick

Buzzing with urban-farming fund-raisers, local brewers pouring their ales and food-world luminaries fresh off Heritage Radio interviews, this sprawling hangout has become the unofficial meeting place for Brooklyn's sustainable-food movement. Opened in 2008 by Chris Parachini, Brandon Hoy and Carlo Mirarchi, Roberta's features its own rooftop garden, a food-focused Internet-radio station and a kitchen that turns out excellent, locally sourced dishes, such as delicate bibb lettuce with red-cherry vinaigrette or linguine carbonara made with lamb pancetta. It also doesn't hurt that the pizzas—like the Cheesus Christ, topped with mozzarella, Taleggio, Parmesan, black pepper and cream—are among the borough's best.

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Bushwick

Stand4 (CLOSED)

Critics' pick

Stand, from restaurateur-turned-burger-burgher Jonathan Morr (Republic, Bond St.) evokes the retro charm of a burger stand, but with grander aspirations. It’s a real restaurant, complete with 15-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, waiter service and burgers served reverentially on giant white plates. The patties are hefty, the bread delicious (poppy seed buns and brioche are baked daily), the cooking nuanced (broiled to requested doneness, with a cookout-worthy char). Stand also offers its burgers as part of a three-lettuce salad, inside a vegetable soup—seemingly any way except under a processed cheese single. As for sides, the thick fries taste like diner standard-issue, but the bright-orange sweet-potato mash, gooey with melted Parmesan, serves as a sophisticated substitute. Most seductive is Stand’s abundance of soda fountain drinks. The homemade pops—you'll crave the astringent rosemary concoction—ply adult taste buds with fresh ingredients and minimal sweetness. The thick, bordering-on-coarse shakes are made from exotic flavors of Il Laboratorio del Gelato ice cream, and floats are as generous as they are eclectic: Large scoops of banana ice cream crammed into a glass of dandelion-and-burdock soda has the fruity, wintergreen flavor of a piece of Dubble Bubble gum. This is thinking person’s comfort food. Stand also offers alcoholic shakes and 20 regional brews.

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Greenwich Village

Achilles Heel

With its timeworn wood floors and fish-yard–view windows, Andrew Tarlow’s Greenpoint grogshop is loosely based on a dockhand dive. But instead of off-hours longshoremen, an art-house crowd streams in, armed with 35mm analog cameras and hand-painted skateboards. The faux-weathered joint is a cool-kid Cheers descendant, a neighborhood tavern where even the staff sticks around for drinks after throwing in the towel for the day. DRINK THIS: Off the classic-leaning list (six house cocktails in all), the Latter Dagger ($10) jump-starts a dark and stormy with spiced velvet falernum and Angostura bitters; meanwhile, the bourbon-based Third Arm ($12) tempers anise-heavy pastis with fruity mûre (blackberry liqueur) and orange bitters. GOOD FOR: The buzz of a Brooklyn bar without the fuss. Chummy regulars slap backs over crisp glasses of muscadet ($12), while Cameroonian singer Francis Bebey chirps over the din. The saloon draws a thrumming crowd, but the remote location—on a dim stretch hugging the waterfront—lends it a sense of in-the-know intimacy. THE CLINCHER: The bar-food program is simple but stellar. Provisions include dishes like toothsome ropes of peppery beef jerky ($5), gamey house-made liverwurst ($9) and hearty rye accompanied by tangy raw goat cheese ($9). Grub is usually the weak spot, the vulnerable heel of a bar—but here, it’s an Achillean strength.—Christina Izzo

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Greenpoint

Alameda

Greenpoint, land of rapidly rising rents and Girls sightseeing tours, is in the midst of a cool-kid renaissance. Tucked into Brooklyn’s northern tip and accessible only by the erratic G train, the once-scrappy underdog to dominating Williamsburg is now a dining destination in its own right, attracting not only Lena Dunham fan-girls but also cachet-boosting restaurateurs like the Brooklyn Star’s Nick Padilla and Waine Longwell. The duo’s smart, striking bistro, Alameda, resets the standard for the neighborhood, once home to only beer-pouring local joints and Polish dance halls. DRINK THIS: Padilla’s New American menu has some notable items—like melt-in-your-mouth raw fluke marinated in zippy apple vinegar and chive oil ($9)—but Longwell’s beverage program is the real draw. The handsome, horseshoe-shaped bar commands the room, and from it come quaffs that cheekily riff on classics. The gin-and-Lillet Phil Collins ($11) is rounded out with bittersweet aperol, bubbly prosecco and lemon juice for a take on the Tom Collins, while the rum-based Daq to the Future ($10) infuses Velvet Falernum (a Barbadian sugarcane liqueur) with chilies from nearby Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, mixed with grapefruit and lime juices for a spicy-cool sip. GOOD FOR: An upmarket stand-in for your everyday hang. Alameda is the Jennifer Lawrence of bars—stunning yet instantly approachable, with a serious eye on the craft (namely, cocktails) but a daffy sense of humor (namely, those drink names). It’s a place

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Greenpoint

Cascabel Taqueria

In the eternal food-cred war waged between New York and Cali, the West Coast holds but a single trump card: ubiquitous, excellent tacos. The simple combination of tortilla, meat and fresh fixings has somehow slipped past our most industrious chefs, who’ve busied themselves with revisions of other humble foods (fried chicken, burgers, etc.). So we were delighted when we heard of chef Todd Mitgang’s new taqueria on the Upper East Side. The sunny lime-green walls are adorned with sketches of lucha libre wrestlers; a chalkboard lists the many beers available on tap and by the bottle; and the hip servers, when not utterly overwhelmed, make the counter-service setup feel friendly. But while Cascabel has its share of triumphs, it isn’t the dropkick we needed to knock those Left Coasters against the ropes. Among the starters, you can’t go wrong with a cilantro-heavy guacamole. But a gordita was too fancy for its own good: cloying, honey-slicked pork belly and bland and watery raw cucumber sandwiched between crumbly masa cakes. As for the overstuffed tacos—Cascabel’s strongest draw—we enjoyed the moist carnitas topped with vibrant pickled red onions, and a satisfying tongue version offering braised offal with garlic oil, serrano peppers and onions. Less satisfying was the fried yellowtail variety, the fish lost among its salty and misguided accompaniments (hearts of palm, green olive). And while an entre of hanger steak was beautifully cooked, it was overseasoned with cumin. For desse

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Upper East Side

Gus and Gabriel (CLOSED)

In devising the menu for Gus and Gabriel, Michael Psilakis may have been inspired by This Is Why You’re Fat, a popular blog chronicling the extremes of American gluttony. The uptown pub offers pleasures so guilty, you may be inclined to slip in surreptitiously wearing a trench coat and hat. The chef, best known for bringing Greek cuisine into the 21st century, filters the fast-food canon through a diabolical lens. The restaurant, which took over the space vacated by Kefi, doesn’t look like much. The decor, featuring Tiffany-style lamps and a chintzy suit of armor, screams college-town dive (as do the waiters in backward baseball caps). But the place fills a void in New York, offering fatty foods rarely encountered outside the Midwest. Much of it is delicious, and nearly all of it is obscene. Psilakis, who seems to be having an awfully good time, piles on fried stuff and cheese wherever he can. And just about everything—from the pickles and slaw to the relish and dogs—is made in-house from scratch. His Mexi Mac-and-Cheese embodies the restaurant’s more-is-more spirit, heaping the toppings for nachos (sour cream, guacamole, pulled pork and tomatillo salsa) onto a generous bowl of cheddar-sauced macaroni. The resulting gooey, cheesy, meaty mess—pure stoner genius—is as disturbing as it is delicious. “Tater tots,” a perilously filling predinner “beer snack,” are more like mini croquettes, filled with cheese and pork, and paired with spicy barbecue sauce and white cheddar fondue.

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Upper West Side

Lao Dong Bei

Adventurous diners with a hankering for Chinese food have plenty to choose from in Manhattan. There are Szechuan firebrands and Cantonese warhorses, plus plucky newcomers hailing from obscure localities like Henan and Xi’an, all turning out destination-worthy eats smack dab in the center of everything. But for certain regional fare, you still have to hop on the 7 and take a long ride deep into Queens. Out in Flushing, a stronghold of expats from Dongbei (once Manchuria) has formed, and a slowly expanding cluster of restaurants, including Fu Run and M&T, reflect their hometown food. The newest of the bunch is Lao Dong Bei, a tranquil spot half a mile removed from the fever pitch of Flushing’s Chinatown. Here, chef An Hong Li and his wife, Zhu Wen Xia, offer a six-table paean to the Northeastern China region, which is wedged between North Korea, Inner Mongolia and Siberia. Its unforgiving climate breeds food that’s tailor-made for winter, like the soothing spicy beef in casserole, a bubbling clay pot of supple meat slices, baby bok choy and glass noodles, all bobbing in a slow-burning chili broth. But alas, the words bubbling and broth aren’t quite the sweet nothings that they were in January. We need food befitting the surging summer heat, and Lao Dong Bei obliges, if you know where to look. Start with the so-called green-bean jelly sheet—springy mung-bean-starch noodles tangled with cool cucumber, cilantro and chili flakes. You’ll want to drink the bright, rice-vinegary sauce

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Flushing

Mission Cantina

Like Michael Jordan in his prime, It chef Danny Bowien—who rocketed to culinary superstardom for his revelatory Szechuan at Mission Chinese Food—up and switched disciplines. While Bowien’s got more talent for Mexican than MJ had for baseball, at Mission Cantina, he’s far from the top of his game. He still plays to packed crowds of bohos and bankers, tinting them pink with neon lights, just like he did at that fun-loving weird disco of a restaurant, Mission Chinese. (The NYC location shuttered last November due to mice scuttling in from an adjacent construction project.) The haute-casual Latin dishes seldom mesmerize in the way we know Bowien can, and it’s not on account of any shortage of ambition: Most restaurants outsource their masa or tortillas, but this joint puts forth the herculean effort to stone grind and nixtamalize (braise in pickling lime) dried heirloom corn kernels into masa. It pays huge dividends in the form of intensely corny, delicately puffed tortillas. But the tacos themselves are hit or miss—that format is perhaps too confining to reflect Bowien's outsize creative endeavors. One boasts tender, deeply charred nuggets of pork cheek ($6.50), while another suffers from mealy, too-firm chunks of pumpkin ($6). Livery beef tongue ($6.50) is roused by pickled tomatoes, but a sleepy combo of braised octopus and grilled turkey wing ($6.50) is all texture, no flavor. The genre-bending stunners we’ve come to expect from Bowien exist beyond the taco template. Crisp ch

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Lower East Side

Pies ’n’ Thighs

Critics' pick

Deprivation is the mother of New York restaurant hype. Pies ’n’ Thighs, the city’s most eagerly awaited Southern-fried grease trap, has kept Williamsburg in Pavlovian limbo since the start of 2008, when its first incarnation—a drunk-food closet at the back of a bar—was shut down to prep for a more spacious and permanent home. Last month, after endless delays, it finally debuted in a former bodega near the Williamsburg Bridge. The new version, run by the three chefs behind the original—Carolyn Bane, Erika Geldzahler and Sarah Buck, who met working at Diner—is a full-fledged restaurant with prompt, personable waiters and beer and wine service. Still, the place retains the DIY, seat-of-the-pants spirit of the dive that it sprang from, with food specials scrawled on sheets of paper, chairs and tables that might have been salvaged from a public school, and overhead lights so bright, dining there feels like sitting in detention. The food, not the venue, is clearly the draw. While the down-and-dirty Southern fare—honest, cheap and often delicious—is certainly in line with Brooklyn’s all-American moment, it’s an audacious departure from the borough’s judiciously sourced, seasonally orthodox, self-righteously ethical ethos. Yes, the chickens are antibiotic- and hormone-free, but you won’t find the name of the farm where they came from on the menu. The catfish, meanwhile, is a generic farmed product. The hot sauce is Frank’s Original RedHot—$3 a bottle at C-Town—the grits Quaker Instan

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Williamsburg

Pork Slope

Critics' pick

Good dive bars, attracting regulars from all walks of life, are as integral to the fabric of the city as rent control, bodega flowers and angry cabbies. Many serve food, but that’s rarely the draw. Occasionally, though, the boozing takes a backseat to the kitchen. The Corner Bistro’s burgers long ago put that West Village hole-in-the-wall on the map. And some people swear by the hot wings at Wogie’s nearby. Those places, and many others just like them, have one thing in common: No one cooking inside would ever claim they’re a “chef.” So why would a guy with Morimoto and Buddakan on his résumé try to enter that lowbrow arena? This summer, former Top Chef contender Dale Talde launched his own dive bar, Pork Slope, not far from his hot Pan-Asian eatery, Talde. The new project, opened with his partners in the first restaurant, was designed as a trashy homage to Patrick Swayze’s schlocky classic Road House, complete with a pool table, a PBR sign and taxidermied boars’ heads. The menu, a survey of bar-food classics, includes crisp, golden Tater-Tots and better than-average wispy, sweet onion strings, along with ribs, chili, fried chicken and wings. There’s also a too-faithful replica of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, right down to the gray patty, plain squishy bun and ratio of squirts of ketchup to mustard (Talde has admitted a fondness for the Golden Arches original). It’s all hot, fresh and terrible for you—and none of it tastes like it was cooked by a pedigreed chef. Fans of the T

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Park Slope

The Queens Kickshaw

Serious java draws caffeine fiends to this airy café, which also specializes in grilled-cheese sandwiches. While the pedigreed beans—from Tarrytown, New York’s Coffee Labs Roasters—are brewed with Hario V60 drip cones and a La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, there’s no coffee-snob tude here. Of the fancy grilled-cheese choices, the simplest riffs are best: One morning offering features soft egg folded with ricotta, a Gruyère crisp and maple hot sauce between two thick, buttery slices of brioche. But the simple pleasure of bread and melted cheese is obscured by baroque ingredients in some of the more creative options, such as a Gruyère on rye—the nutty cheese is overwhelmed by pickled and caramelized onions, plus piquant whole-grain mustard. Stick to the basics and you'll do fine.

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Astoria

Smashburger

Burger obsessives have a fresh joint to put on their to-do list: This cultish Denver-based chain delivers its signature smashed specimens at its first New York City location, in Fort Greene. Here, fresh, all-Angus beef patties are flattened and seared on the grill—a technique prized by patty aficionados for producing a crunchy crust—and then stuffed into butter-toasted buns. Pair your smashed sammie with toppings like applewood-smoked bacon, fried eggs or thin crispy onions, and sides including fries spruced up with olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Unique to this location is a specialty Brooklyn Burger, which is crowned with grilled pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickles, onion and yellow mustard, and sandwiched in a toasted pretzel.

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Fort Greene

Smith’s Bar & Restaurant

These days a New York restaurant needs more than decent food, modest prices and an attractive setting to stand out from the herd. Which explains why venues offering a little something special—a hot scene, a great bargain, true auteur cuisine—are thriving in spite of the recession, while middle-of-the-road spots like Smith's seem to be just getting by. The once-bustling joint venture of restaurateurs Danny Abrams (Mermaid Inn) and Cindy Smith (Raoul's) was the flavor of the month when it first opened in the fall of 2007. Despite hiring a new chef with an impressive rsum earlier this year, the West Village restaurant now seems to be getting increasingly lost in the shuffle. Young chef Doug Psaltis (of Country and Mix) has unveiled a new menu heavy on comfort-food crowd-pleasers—pork belly, ribs, mac and cheese, apple pie—that's not quite distinctive enough to build back the buzz this restaurant needs. While his most groundbreaking addition, a $35 (all-in) family-style chicken dinner for two, is one of the great deals in a city awash in recession meal steals, it's available only the first two nights of the week. Which must be the reason the restaurant was mobbed one recent Tuesday but only half full the following Friday. The chicken, a whole succulent bird fragrant with herbs, comes with a very generous bright garden salad, sides of cheesy polenta and roasted spring veggies, and a copious bowl of light and airy chocolate mousse topped with candied peanuts. While that bountiful s

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Midtown West

Tabare

Sometimes, ambience is enough. Tabare, a new Uruguayan restaurant in Williamsburg, doesn’t offer the most inspiring introduction to its country’s meatcentric cuisine, but the familial service and cozy environs are still plenty appealing. The restaurant—like an oceanfront cabana transplanted to Brooklyn—is a chic hodgepodge of beachy touches (uneven wood walls, a tropical garden wedged into a rear alcove) and rustic flea-market finds (antique photos, old bottles). The young expats behind this endearing retreat are as attentive and thoughtful as dinner-party hosts, one evening decanting a BYO bottle of wine into a pitcher (their liquor license is pending) and rushing out bug spray to ward off a sudden swarm of midsummer mosquitoes. The food has a rough-hewn, home-cooking quality that matches the restaurant’s ultracasual vibe. Thick-sliced chorizo, simply roasted in the cast-iron cazuela it’s served in, arrives nicely stippled with fat. Caseless morcilla looks like an amorphous blob—the blood pudding in a dense heap atop a crisp crouton—but has great, earthy flavor. Uruguay, like its neighbor Argentina, has a large population of immigrant Italians, and their lingering influence is evident in a chicken cutlet special, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and ham—a rather dull and amateurish hybrid of cordon bleu and chicken Parmesan. A better bet for a real taste of Uruguay is the monster chivito completo—the country’s national sandwich and a delicious, salty mess with its seared

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Williamsburg

TriBeCafe

Even though the presence of izakaya, robataya, and ramen and soba houses has exploded in Gotham over the past few years, restaurants dedicated to yoshoku—a uniquely Japanese interpretation of Western cuisine—have yet to become part of New Yorkers’ dining vocabulary. While a few examples of yoshoku are already on menus in NYC (tonkatsu and curry rice, for example), the owners of TriBeCafe, who also run the Japanese-Italian restaurant Greenwich Grill, have opened an entire restaurant devoted to the genre. The small, laid-back eatery, decorated with iron light fixtures and tatami wallpaper, is an ideal place to delve into the roster of dishes, many of them simultaneously strange and familiar (low prices encourage experimentation). Gambas, which bring to mind the popular tapas dish of shrimp with olive oil and garlic, featured plump crustaceans, potatoes and brussels sprouts in an intense sauce thickened with melted anchovies. A heaping $7 plate of banbanji salad (a Japanese retooling of Chinese sesame chicken) was loaded with juicy slices of steamed poultry in a spicy sesame dressing. Strands of warm spaghetti, meanwhile, were coated in tiny balls of mentaiko (spicy cod roe), a tasty and inexpensive alternative to Italian bottarga. And the robust, fried-egg--topped “Hamburg” steak (a bunless pork-and-beef mix, more Salisbury steak than burger) arrived on a sizzling platter with corn kernels, creamy mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce; cut into the stack and the yolk mingles with

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Tribeca
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