This popular neighbourhood eatery has a huge selection of soups, rice and noodle dishes. Overjoyed that they had my beloved Bo Kho (spicy beef brisket soup) on the menu inspired my full confidence in the kitchen; we ordered crispy noodles with seafood ($12 for a huge serving) and curried squid on rice ($7.50). Both were fresh and firm, with enough marine protein and Asian carbs to keep you going for a full day. Wine, Tsing Tao, Heineken and Beer 33 are served, as well as salted lemon soda and Vietnamese ice coffee, all for between $3.50 and $4.50. Service is quick and friendly, and food can arrive ridiculously fast. Be prepared to wait a while for a table in the evening.
Subway: 86 St.
The tiny upstairs restaurant above the even smaller bar area is cosy and warm, aglow with red light and decorated with a large ceiling-mounted tarantula. Indeed, Mayahuel is the fertility goddess of agave alcohol and libations should certainly be poured in this sacred space.
The food is merely good, and not too dear at all: most starters are under a tenner while mains are $14-$18, with a creamy saffron paella to share at $28. The Elote (corn-on-the-cob covered with crema agria, cotija cheese and chile de arbol) was great to share and the quinoa and avocado salad looks like a winner for the summer. Flautas, tacos and ceviches are all available, and the Tres Leches for dessert was a firm, muscular piece of coconutty milk-soaked cake. But it’s all about the drinks here: the cocktails list is succinct and impressive, with all the emphasis on agave. It won Best New Cocktail Bar in the World at Tales of the Cocktail in 2010, and we can see why: the Dijahbone (Sotol, duck fat infused Grand Marnier, carrot juice, lime and cumin) was rich and smoky, while I Love Lamp (tequila, rum, banana, pineapple, lime and bitters) was a heady hit of a tropical beach. Cerveza cocktails are tempting too; the Fade to Black (mezcal, rum, ramazzotti, whole egg, xocolatl mole bitters topped with Negra Modelo) was one that everyone wanted to try. They’re all $14 so you’ll need to watch your bill as it’s all too easy to run up a large one. Service is slow but friendly, and bookings are not taken so you’ll have to turn up early.
Subway: 1/2/3 Av, Astor Place
New Year’s Day brunch at 4pm? Not many restaurants in Manhattan would be happy to cater for a group of six, hungover and hungry, but Yuca was there to indulge our cravings. Officious service brought us feasts from the Kitchen of Earthly Delights: Crab Cakes Benedictos were fabulous, Yuca Benedictos remained sturdy and tasty under the pressure, and the grilled skirt steak special was what I actually wished I’d chosen – a quality churrasco cut with chimichurri. All specials come with tea/coffee as well as a choice of Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, frozen Margherita, mimosa or sangria; BMs were peppery perfection. For $17 it’s decent value, and all come with excellent rice and beans or home fries.
The space is bustling and energetic, beautifully lit and even though the servers can be curt, they are quick to respond to special requests. We’ll be here more than just the first day of the year.
Subway: 1st/2nd Ave
It’s fantastically small and busy, and it’s not that cheap, but the ramen is exceptional. Excellent spicy miso ramen with pork was our favourite, but the basic ramens are also decent, allowing subtler flavours to come through. Noodle quality is superlative, but the magic is all in that broth and the slurp you give it.
Subway: 1st Ave/2nd Ave
One of the best-known food trucks in NYC opens a Noho/East Village restaurant and Delusionaryculinary makes it there in the first month – what a coup!
Regulars of the mobile version say that this is just as good, if not better: with a choice of tofu, beef or chicken in rice or salad bowls or in burritos, and an array of different pickled veg, kimchis, sauces and seasonings, you can really customize your dish. They could offer more than cans of soft drinks in their beverage choices, but these are early days and things will no doubt change on that front. However, nothing costs more than $9, and service is warm and welcoming, with energy and action thrown in with the music and mayhem.
Subway: Astor Place
This is a great brunch spot if you can bag an outdoor table on a sunny day; Ivan Garcia’s range of tacos and antojitos is impressive, causing mouth-watering reactions just from some of the descriptions. We had Tacos De Cachete De Res (roasted beef cheek, caramelized onion and cilantro) and Tacos De Pescado Al Pastor (grilled mahi mahi fish marinated in guajillo salsa, grilled pineapple, onion and cilantro). Service is patchy, and we reckon that the general swagger and arrogance of the spot is due to its secure place amongst the neighborhood’s best. Portions are on the slightly smaller size, but the flavours are so bold and ingredients so fresh that it’s easy to forget how much you can spend here.
Subway: Metropolitan Av, Lorimer St
A plain old bar with no frills or thrills apart from outdoor seating (with No Smoking signs that, thankfully, are stubbornly ignored by all) and a happy hour that doesn’t shave much off the price of a beer at all. This place can get very quiet, and slow weekdays are not the times to be here. When it is in full flow though, it really is a lively neighbourhood bar with few pretensions.