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
Eddie Hoang, hiphop enthusiast and writer of the memoir Fresh Off the Boat, source of the popular sitcom, came up with this Taiwanese steamed bun eatery to make his name a few years ago. It’s still doing brisk business, and the food is reliably tasty, though portions are small. The Chairman Bao® ($4.05), filled with braised all natural Berkshire pork belly served with ‘Haus Relish’, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, and cilantro is a winner, but the Fried Fish Bao with Tartar Sauce, lemon cabbage slaw and fried garlic is also worth a look. Service is friendly, beats are pumping, and the tables and walls are tagged, stickered and radiating East Village grime. Surprisingly, the premises has no license to serve beer, which would be the perfect accompaniment, but might encourage hanging around a tiny spot that just can’t cater to casual drinkers. Imported Asian sodas, Stumptown coffee and taro fries are available. I’ll definitely be trying the Birdhaus (24-hr brined chicken) and Coffin Bao next time, even though the food is about 30% more expensive than it should be.
Subway: 3 Ave (L)
Friendly neighborhood Italian eateries are getting thin on the ground in parts of Manhattan, but this one looks like it’s here to stay for many more years. Portions are generous and pizza bases are hearty, toppings even more so, though extra toppings on the biggest of the three sizes ($12, $15 and $18) are dear at $4 each. The eggplant parm was a real winner, baked to firm perfection. The Chicken Piccata ($18) with its rich lemon sauce and capers was intensely delicious.
A couple of decent bottles of Pinot Noir were had and service was attentive. However this place has to come with a warning: it is one of the noisiest spaces delusionaryculinary has ever eaten in, with loud raucous groups of twentysomethings barking and braying all around. Not exactly the place for a quiet Friday night then.
Subway: 1st Ave. (L)
To all intents and purposes, this cosy little bamboo-lined room is in Bushwick, though the address is technically Maspeth. They don’t take tele-reservations and they’re wildly popular, so prepare to wait for a table on the outside bench, unless you come in an hour earlier and show your face to give your deets for availability. It sounds like a right ol’ effort – and it certainly is. And it’s also daylight robbery: daily specials are around the $23 mark, and that’s to eat simple fare at shared tables…in Queens!
This late-night pizzeria mini-chain has a great reputation for its three branches (Williamsburg, Bowery and Park Ave) and there may well be plans for expansion. Giulio Adriani’s flash-fried and oven-finished pizza fritte satisfies the munchies of most late diners. The pizza is certainly top-notch here, but the service can be lax and even quite uppity. But fear not, stoners: delivery is always available too, though you’d be missing the upscale decor and the warmth of the perfectly low-glow lighting.
Subway: Lorimer St (L), Metropolitan Av (G)