Maialino. Gramercy Park hotel. 2 Lexington Ave. NYC

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.

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Subway: 23rd St

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Parker & Quinn. Refinery Hotel. 64 W 39th St. NYC.

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.

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Subway: Bryant Park

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Vinnie’s Pizzeria. 148 Bedford Ave. Brooklyn. NYC

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.

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Subway: Bedford ave.

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Phở Grand. 277 Grand St. Lower East Side. NYC

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.

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Subway: Grand St. (B,D), Bowery (J,Z)

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Amancay’s Diner. 2 Knickerbocker Ave. Brooklyn. NYC

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.

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Subway: Jefferson (L)

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Nancy Whiskey Pub. 1 Lispenard St. TriBeCa. NYC.

Shuffleboard and a quick snack brought us here, and the crabcake
basket with fries was perfectly serviceable. This place has a lot of regulars and a resilient history as the dive bar that stayed open after 9/11 and high rents. The choice of cheap draft beers is pretty dire though, and for a ‘whiskey pub’ there’s a very small choice of bourbon, rye and scotch – no more than ten bottles in total, in fact. The owner is a real character though, seemingly intox’d all day long, and there is a down-at-heel pop-in-n-out vibe here, with a sweet little smoking patio in the front; perfect for a quick drink before walking the few steps into the subway. Also popular with off-duty cops and harmless freaks.

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Subway: Canal St. (A,C,E,1)

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Faro. 436 Jefferson St. Brooklyn. NYC

We came here for the freshly-made pasta and bread, meats that are sourced sustainably and certified Animal Welfare Approved, and a bit of good wine and atmosphere. Faro didn’t disappoint at all, with a large space devoted to making diners the stars, in calming wood surroundings and fantastic lighting; this could’ve easily beaten Manhattan at its own game. The husband-wife team that opened this a few weeks ago were also behind a couple of big names like Le Bernardin and Northeast Kingdom, and they really have hit upon something here: it was packed at 10pm on a Wednesday night when we went. The squid ink chitarra was the only average item on our table, fresh and tangy but lacking a variety of textures, while the wood-fired scallops were perfect, served on a bed of peas and emmer.
The gnocchi sardi (braised goat, artichoke and ricotta) was excellent. Parker House rolls with honey butter ($5) was probably the finest in-house bread I’ve ever tasted in my life, and I wish I had ordered my own portion: sharing was regretful. Both pasta dishes set us back $17 while the scallops were $20; pricey – especially for the area – but with this much attention to detail, it’s worth every cent, if you’ve got it.
I’ll be ordering a cocktail next time, as the bottle of Albariño we had was not even close to the memorable white wine we cherished from our Madrid days. And others have sung the praises of the bar’s mixes, so it’ll surely be whiskey sours next time.

$$$
Subway: Jefferson St

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