Dave Chang’s noodlehouse Momofuku is an NYC institution, so when he opened this fried chicken sandwich eaterie almost next door to his East Village restaurant, he really brought in the crowds. In the same month that Shake Shack unleashed their own bird-in-a-bun, Fuku – with only three items on the menu, standing room only, and initial limited opening hours – caused a stir. There’s no bathroom here, so when you pay $8 for a chicken-thigh crisply fried and placed in a bun far too small for it, that’s all you get – the food. Oh, but WHAT a sandwich; I could’ve done without the pickles, but the off-menu daikon-radish slaw is what I’ll ask for in the future. The taste of the chicken is spicy, like mild scotch bonnet, but without any lingering heat, and completely devoid of artificial chilli flavours (so I added some Korean hot sauce, of course). And that’s what’s really bringing the punters in, to the extent that the queuing time can be up to 45 minutes, though the buzz has definitely died down by now. The drinks list is actually much longer than the food choices – Tecate beer, Micheladas, whiskey & ginger, G&T, Margaritas etc. There’s also a water tap with some plastic cups. The other items on the menu are steak fries (which are supposed to be very disappointing) and a farro salad with orange dressing, which I’d love to try next time.
Subway: 1st Ave
Parathas are layered, pan-fried flatbreads, and the sign on the counter says that one of these unleavened discs of dough is equivalent to two tacos in size and substance; with the fusion fillings here though, you’ll want to eat more than just your own. The combinations of imaginative ingredients is magical, with proportions matched well to paratha thickness. The pecado rojo lamb shoulder with eggplant salsa and tzatziki ($9) was exceptional, and the honey-roasted butternut squash with salsa verde and kale ($7) was also perfect for the less carnivorous. We’ll be trying the pork belly with red cabbage next time. Margheritas are served for $7 with friendly service. Only about ten seats in here, so come in small groups or be prepared to take away.
Subway: Delancey St / Essex St
Arun, proprietor of this small middle-eastern and Indian snacks’n’sandwiches cafe, makes this budget-dining experience memorable. His kathi rolls (paneer or chicken) are made with the tastiest tikka-cooked ingredients and the falafels are almost perfect. Bhelpoori and chaat, prepared in both the Mumbai and Delhi-styles with different proportions of tamarind sauce and chutneys, are served cold and suited to bringing the temperature down on a warm day like a refreshing gazpacho. Mango lassis take the edge off the spicy combos.
Subway: Steinway St./Broadway
This cafeteria-style eaterie on the ground (1st) floor of the museum offers fresh salads and soups as well as heartier fare such as steaks and grilled meats; the house-ground buffalo & duck burger was prime quality Americana, and the side of fries was replaced by – request – with a wild rice’n’lentil mix ($16.50). It all stood up well, but the Indian taco was a little underwhelming, and the pork cut with chocolate dressing was overpriced. Bottled wines are just a tad under $20, but the atmosphere just isn’t right for drinking, unless you’ve been walking all day or taking care of kids, in which case you’ll need this boozy pit-stop.
Metro: Federal Center
This must be the best street food stall in the city; never have I felt such exhilaration accompanying each bite of their spicy, complex creations. The beef brisket cholas (BBQ sandwiches, $10, or $5 for a smaller cholita) rubbed with rocoto and cracked black pepper were wonderfully rich and juicy, and the cliza salteña – oyster mushrooms and quinoa in the Bolivian pasty pie (just don’t say empanada) – was served with a wickedly sticky salsa. Papitas (fries, $7) come in cones, and the Parmesan-garlic ‘super frites’ we got with a cilantro dipping sauce were relatively cooling after the wild peppery excess of the sandwiches. Staff are friendly and hard-working, and don’t forget to pick up a ‘Fuck Empanadas’ badge to wear with pride.
It’s a ‘street kitchen’ with ‘soul food’ apparently, and very influenced by Gujarati and ‘dhaba’ cafe food. Even though service can be a little uneven, the food is reliably good, though portions tend to be on the smaller side. Bombay bhel puri, chicken lollipops and Hakka chilli paneer were all excellent, and all around the £5 mark. There are cocktails and coolers (mocktails), wines, beers, chais and hot chocolates, and even a ‘lychee teapot martini’ infusion with vodka – these drinks will keep us coming back. Perfect for snacks and a few drinks, but the decor – ersatz Hindi street signs and advertising slogans – doesn’t impress.
Tube: Marble Arch
In the small arcade of shops between the Oxford St/Tottenham Court Rd junction and the start of Shaftesbury Avenue is the start of a mini Koreatown: a half dozen restaurants that offer a range of traditional barbecue, bibimbap and bulgogi as well as soups and snacks, all at low prices. My first foray involved a spicy beef soup (£5) at Seoul Bakery, a lively little greasy spoon with very friendly service. Water is immediately put on tables, and food served very hot indeed.
Tube: Tottenham Court Rd