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My New York is better than yours, part 2: Eats

/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

New York’s temples of haute cuisine get so much attention, it’s possible to forget that the real pride and joy for locals—who tend to eat out more than other Americans, on average—is the vast array of modestly priced restaurants serving food from all around the globe. We love to eat at Gramercy Tavern and Chanterelle from time to time, but here are some places where you’ll find us any night of the week.

Although Chanterelle may be out of the question without a special occasion to justify the price tag, its owners have thoughtfully created Le Zinc, a casual, affordable French bistro. A meal of hanger steak, potato gratin, and tarte tatin for dessert may not be Atkins-friendly, but it’s fairly wallet-friendly and delicious.

Hanger steak, as much as we like it, isn’t a true New York cut like porterhouse or a New York strip. Peter Luger serves the slabs by which all others are judged, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying The Steakhouse at Fairway—Fairway is a grocery store—where $40 gets you a strip steak plus an appetizer and two sides.

We may be a red-meat town, but we also have a long-standing love affair with the sea. Get your fill of oysters and grilled fish or try a heavenly lobster roll at Mary’s Fish Camp, one of the most popular seafood joints in the five boroughs. As a result of that popularity, waits can be long. But in a city that rarely agrees on anything, everyone loves Mary’s.

There is no agreement on pizza—fierce battles take place when the question arises of who makes the best. So let’s sidestep the entire issue by saying Joe’s Pizza does not make the best slice in town. You should go to Joe’s anyway, because it may be the most quintessential slice. That means a decently crisp, thin crust, a bright tomato sauce, and plenty of mozzarella (but not too much), served in surroundings that won’t encourage you to linger. Anyway, it’s very New York to grab a slice and eat it on the run.

You’re also not likely to linger at Celeste, an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. It’s too noisy and crowded. You’ll be glad you joined the throngs, though, waiting for a table (lines are generally short) for marvelous pastas, pizzas, and secondi at extremely reasonable prices. Don’t miss the fried artichokes or the cheeses that the owner, uh, personally transports back from Italy.

One of the more unlikely hybrids in recent years has been the gastropub in England. Gastronomy and pub grub were once considered mutually exclusive, but not anymore. The first such restaurant to make a splash here is the Spotted Pig. You may find shepherd’s pie on the menu and you’ll definitely find hand-drawn cask ale, but April Bloomfield also cooks more sophisticated dishes, such as delectable gnudi—sheep’s milk ricotta rolled in semolina flour and sautéed.

Moving eastward, culinarily speaking, Moustache (with both an East Village and a West Village location) serves terrific Middle Eastern fare: falafel, hummus, and what they call “pitzas”—baked pitas with a choice of toppings such as lamb or olive oil, sesame seeds, and herbs.

And so to the Far East. Grand Sichuan cooks up exceptional Chinese food without making you go to Chinatown (there are several locations, though the one at Ninth Ave. and 50th St. is best). Not only are familiar offerings ideally turned out—once you’ve had their cold noodles with sesame sauce, it’s hard to order the dish elsewhere—but they specialize in dishes you don’t come across everywhere else. Choose at least one item from the section of the menu called Mao’s Home Cooking.

You wouldn’t happen upon Mooncake Foods  unless you were walking near the Holland Tunnel for some unaccountable reason. And while it looks like a diner, you won’t be eating anything like diner food. Instead, you’ll be treated to simple but vibrant Asian cooking, with Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai predominating. Just about everything costs less than $10.

A few other food-related tips. If you’re passionate about food and want to visit some of the city’s ethnic neighborhoods, take a guided tour with NoshWalks. They explore the Indian community and food of Jackson Heights, Queens; the Russian enclave in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn; and the Irish section of the Bronx, among others. Most tours are $18.

For noshing on your own, seek out Chelsea Market, a food concourse in the old Nabisco factory building. Highlights include Amy’s Bread, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, and The Green Table, a small, charming restaurant run by a catering company.

Finally, I drop by City Bakery anytime I can. For breakfast, try the superb croissants and rich, smooth coffee. Even if the buffet style doesn’t make for a cheap lunch—you’re charged by the weight of your plate—you’d be hard-pressed to locate fresher food. Many of the ingredients are from the local greenmarket, which may explain how City Bakery turns vegetables exciting, and there are lovely salads, sandwiches, and a few hot items. Top things off with one of the signature tarts and you just may concede that my New York could, in fact, be better than yours.

  • Gramercy Tavern 42 E. 20th St., 212/477-0777, dinner $72
  • Chanterelle 2 Harrison St., 212/966-6960, dinner $95
  • Le Zinc 139 Duane St., 212/513-0001, hanger steak $23
  • Peter Luger Steak House 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718/387-7400, steak for two $74
  • The Steakhouse at Fairway 2127 Broadway, 2nd fl., 212/595-1888, appetizer, strip steak, two sides $40
  • Mary’s Fish Camp 64 Charles St., 646/486-2185, lobster roll $22
  • Joe’s Pizza 233 Bleeker St., 212/366-1182; slice $2.25
  • Celeste 502 Amsterdam Ave., 212/874-4559, ravioli $9.50
  • The Spotted Pig 314 W. 11th St., 212/620-0393, gnudi $11
  • Moustache 90 Bedford St., 212/229-2220; 265 E. 10th St., 212/228-2022; lamb pitza $8
  • Grand Sichuan 745 Ninth Ave., 212/582-2288, cold sesame noodles $3.50
  • Mooncake Foods 28 Watts St., 212/219-8888
  • NoshWalks 212/222-2243,
  • Amy’s Bread 75 Ninth Ave., 212/462-4338, turkey sandwich $6
  • Ronnybrook Farm Dairy 75 Ninth Ave., 212/741-6455
  • The Green Table 75 Ninth Ave., 212/741-6623, sandwich of the day $10
  • City Bakery 3 W. 18th St., 212/366-1414, tart $5