The converted garage space that La Urbana has added to its already achingly-hip restaurant is worth a look; large-scale skeleton murals, cocktails and tacos on basic street-eat tables and bar orders make this a quick and casual spot. The short rib gorditas were juicy and well-balanced in texture, while the fish taco was above average. Sopes, tortas and tostadas are also available. Sangria is merely good, but their Mexican Mule with its punchy ginger beer and jalapeño syrup is a real winner. Come here for the great vibe, to watch the football and be in an indoor/outdoor space with dramatic murals.
I was taken to the original iteration of this Anglo-Indian fine dining restaurant in Chelsea about 25 years ago and remember being impressed by their salmon kedgeree amongst other colonial-style mash-ups. Their new location is far more central though less cosy, but the menu has had an overhaul to chime with modern tastes in Indian cuisine. A wide range of mocktails and wines by the glass are on offer, Business Lunch works well for fish (salmon tikka and sea bass) and kebab fans, though lamb chops ($26) don’t work well for your pocket. The scrambled eggs akoori can be ordered for breakfast or lunch, and definitely shouldn’t be missed. The desserts are fantastic: salted caramel kulfi and dark chocolate chikki fondant. Prices are high, clientele classy but the cooking is exquisite.
A small corner gastropub with bench seating serving comfort food, steak and salads, this is the place to come for some craft brews and a small range of cocktails and wine. Service can be a little slow at busy times, but a little cajoling will get them on your side. The Kobe sliders ($15) were a little dry, but fish tacos ($15) and ‘Epic fried chicken’ sandwich ($12) were more successful. The greens really excelled here: for example the firm and well-seasoned Brussels sprouts with dried cranberries and candied walnuts, and the butternut squash salad ($12) which was perfectly served and balanced with toasted almonds and balsamic vinaigrette. There isn’t a large choice of wine or cocktails, but beer drinkers are fairly treated to a well-curated list.
Subway: Delancey St (F), Essex St (J,M,Z)
Just a couple of blocks from the Lincoln Center is this spacious neighborhood restaurant with great service – but slightly inflated prices for the mains. We should have ordered the mucver (zucchini pancakes) but instead opted for the sigara borek ($6.50), uninspiring feta cheese pastries. The karides sote (sauteed shrimp, $17) were smaller than expected and surprisingly bland. Efes beer in two varieties is great value at $5, but all in all this joint seems like a place for small appetites and unadventurous palates.
Subway: 72nd st (B,C, 1,2,3)
The former site of the short-lived Latin-Caribbean family joint Fonda Cubana (awful decor and an uninspiring menu) has been occupied by a Bangla-owned Indian restaurant that has only partially removed the murals, blending the ersatz beach scenes into a cartoon-rendered Taj Mahal vista. But no matter, as the food is exquisite – delicately flavoured yet bold and punchy at the same time. Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower marinated and fried in ginger-garlic corn starch, $5) was a killer appetizer, excellent for clearing a blocked nose. In the mains, Goan fish curry (with a choice of salmon or tilapia, $14) may not have been coconutty enough, but there were no other lapses whatsoever: the Paneer Tikka Masala ($11) was creamy and just the right side of the Brick Lane curry house style, while the Hyderabadi biryani was so fresh the grains of soft rice were practically dancing on the plate. The naan was a delight to tear into warm pieces, and service was extra attentive and friendly. I’m proud to say this is my local neighborhood Indian joint and I will be flying their flag for as long as they keep up these high standards.
Subway: Halsey St. (L)
Mu has been at the forefront of heavy investment in Long Island City, a couple of blocks away from MoMa PS1. There are still only a small handful of eateries in what was called a food desert just three years ago, with Bierocracy and a random cupcake shop just a few yards away. This tiny ramen joint still gets long queues but on the snowy night we went it only took 20 minutes to get seated. There is no takeout or doggie bags – the integrity of the noodles and broth is that important. The U & I, an uni dish with maguro and ikura, is usually sold out early so we were lucky to get it: a small wooden bowl with well-balanced portions of rice and fish to be scooped up ‘like ice-cream’ with a wooden teaspoon. Delightful, but dear at $22.
The ‘gyoza’ – chicken wings stuffed with foie gras – were perfectly fine, rich and raunchy ($14), but the ‘okonomiyaki’ were American-style mini scallion pancakes topped with trout and tobiko, which resembled something a well-heeled millennial might concoct with leftovers for Sunday brunch.
All this tapas-crapshooting left us yearning for good ramen, and the signature oxtail and bone marrow Mu Ramen ($18) did not disappoint. A thick broth that had obviously taken lots of work to get to that consistency, excellent cuts of brisket (only 3 tiny pieces though) and the spongiest, bounciest noodles this side of the East River. The Spicy Miso ramen ($15) is just as good, with its broth silkier and its noodles of the thicker variety.
The atmosphere here is great, with 90s hiphop cranked up and lighting kept at a medium burn – sit at the counter or around a large central table. Service was informative, but having a ‘featured dish’ that still appeared on the menu being recommended by both the server and the head chef made me a tad suspicious; to hear it was clams on a Blizzardy Sunday night of a weekend of travel bans made complete sense. For the first time in NYC we also heard that we could only pay our bill with a maximum of 2 credit cards. Pretentious and fussy, and all this on the LIC side of Queens.
Subway: 21 Street Van Alst (G), Hunters Point Av (7)
This tiny eatery usually has four choices on its menu, two of which are banh mi and two of which are phở. Lemongrass chicken or tofu, or the wonderful smoked brisket of beef. Funky additions for Brooklyn palates include garlic aioli smeared in the baguettes, squirts of sriracha, and jalapeños in the mix. Prices are reasonable, but definitely not as cheap as your regular Viet phở joint – here it’s more like $8 for a tofu sarnie or $12 for a beef soup. There’s one red picnic table that can seat about 8, and service has been uneven but they’re definitely doing a brisk trade in delivery and takeout; I can’t think of a worse way to eat phở than out of a mini plastic bucket, though. So just take a seat and make space for others.
Subway: Myrtle-Wyckoff L/M