Not an izakaya as the Gothamist wrongly labelled it, but a modern fusion okonomiyaki restaurant specializing in the truckers’ favourite belly-filler: noodle pancakes. It’s so new (one week old when we were there on a Saturday night) that it’s overwhelmed with Bushwick gourmands and servers are struggling to keep up; so let’s concentrate on the food. Delusionaryculinary fell hard for these cheap creations when he lived in Shiga-ken for a year in 2001, so brought a keen critical eye to proceedings. We sat at the bar and chatted to the grillmaster, Lawrence, who led us through some of the different combos available, and they all sounded mouth-watering. The Classic ($9) topped with pork belly, otafuku sauce and kewpie mayo was great but we still chose to add some octopus to that. Mexican Osaka ($12), with chorizo, avocado, cilantro, chipotle and crema, another with pulled pork and BBQ sauce and a third topped with crispy ramen noodles, means that there’s more choices for the fusion-hungry. Besides the pancakes, the kitchen does a good range of mini-biting a and snacks, mixing up Wasabi Guacamole ($7) with gyoza chips, a Daikon Vichyssoise ($5) that subs in radish for chilled potato, and also Takoyaki ($7), the beloved street food balls stuffed with octopus. Cheese nori and shrimp tempura were tasty beer snacks. Decor is kitsch Japanese posters, skateboards and tchotchkes, and the bathrooms are plastered with nihongo magazines and newspapers. A few lesser-known beers are on the menu such as Okinawa’s Orion, while Ozeki One Cup ($7) sake and Sapporo on draft are also available. Make the trip to Bushwick: it’s all happening here now.
Subway: Morgan Ave (L)
With several locations in Manhattan alone, Bareburger is really making its mark, and we can see why: a wide array of burgers, sides and drinks in a most agreeable atmosphere make this a great spot to throw some cash at different meats and starches. The Fire Quacker is tremendous, a duck breast with pepper jack cheese and spinach in a brioche roll, while El Matador (bison, guac, queso fresco & jalapeños) is a heartier affair. The platter of rings & sweet fries is accompanied by a trio of excellent sauces: smoke sauce, habanero mayo and curry ginger ketchup. There are great salad choices and even a kids menu too. Bareburger has hit upon a recipe for success, and I hope it thrives in the mid-high range of burger bars.
We came here for the Pollo alla Diavola and ended up discovering much more. This Roman trattoria, with its ‘Italian soul food’ (the Tonnarelli a Cacio e Pepe – pasta with Pecorini and black pepper – is a big hit here) and its menu of highlights and big-hitters has made it one of the best, more upscale, hotel restaurants in the city. We tried the Fritto Misto of soft-shell crab, sweetbread, octopus & mussel aioli ($22), a Mediterranean treat, fried in just the right oil with light seasoning which was great to share for two, not so much for three. The Angello lamb saddle ($32) was predictably heavy, and maybe the wrong choice for a spring-to-summer transition evening. Many dishes are eggy, but not smothered with thick tomato ragus like many rural recipes instruct; restauranteur Danny Meyer has got Nick Anderer in the kitchen, who definitely knows his way around the Italian ingredients. The peppery Diablo chicken half-breast can’t be missed, nor can a walk around the restaurant and bar area a few times. Service is sprightly and unpretentious, while the decor manages to be hip, swanky and cosy all at once.
Subway: 23rd St
This is one of the small handful of classic hotel restaurants that I’ve been to in Manhattan, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint; reliably high-quality American fare here with few frills, but with no shortcuts either. The Crab Cake ($16 for one – just ONE!) is a thing of beauty, rich and fluffy, and the lamb burger ($21) is intensely textured and satisfyingly meaty and proportioned. Cocktails are small twists on classics, but on the whole veer on the side of traditional East Coast favourites. Always bustling, and very hands-off with its service.
Subway: Bryant Park
Exotic toppings and vegan choices, along with late-night opening hours on weekends and a decent range of soft drinks (even two different types of root beer) make Vinnie’s a neighborhood winner for the rushed diner on a budget. The avocado & black bean slice was the only dull choice we tried; ground beef with ranch sauce was meat-feasty, and the mac’n’cheese slice was better than average. These gourmet options are $4.50 each but their fantastic simple cheese slices are $2.75. Try the beef patty too – it’s not as greasy as others I’ve tried, and packs a spicy punch. Sure, the servers could do with smiling more, but this is reliably good fast food.
Subway: Bedford ave.
At last, I finally get to eat my favorite streetside dish from my Saigon days (2006-9): Bo Kho. A Vietnamese take on the classic French stew, Beef Bourguignon, but replacing the red wine component (as a bottle of wine in the colonies of Indochine would never have been thrown into food) with substitute spices to replicate that flavour, is usually served with a crusty baguette. Star anise is the crucial spice here to achieve that rich French vin base. I ordered mine with rice vermicelli and it didn’t disappoint at all. Fat pieces of brisket and carrot sat in a curry soup, and I drank it down to the last drop, and all this for less than $8. Asian bottled beers – Singha, Tsing Tao & 33 – are all $3.50, service is friendly, and the overdose on wood paneling keeps it kitsch and cosy. There’s so much to try on the menu, and we look forward to many repeat visits.
Subway: Grand St. (B,D), Bowery (J,Z)
Owned by the infamous Chang Han, a legendary lothario and bad boy (‘shady, not creepy‘) known for jello-wrestling with young ladies in his last joint (St Mark’s Market), Amancay’s Diner is Bushwick’s first and only 24-hour restaurant. It’s a colorful, spacious building with a reasonably-priced menu and the world’s only spin-the-bottle table. Our surprisingly succulent vegan burger was $14, Dill Bloody Marys ($9) and deliciously textured salmon scrambled eggs ($11) filled us up and service was friendly and attentive; throw in some live music and eclectic decor (naked Barbies, stencil art) and this is one of Bushwick’s best.
Subway: Jefferson (L)