El Cortez. If you like piña coladas…then 2015 is a great time to be alive. Technically, this isn’t a piña colada but The Commodore (rum, coconut, pineapple, amaretto float) which only serves to remind that El Cortez is a clone-in-spirit of said Williamsburg bar but more tiki and ’80s-leaning (I refuse to let the ’90s claim this breed of suburban junk food Mex) hence the additional presence of the Orange Julio, a nod to everyone’s favorite Creamsicle-esque mall beverage. I don’t even like taco salad (I was so traumatized by a spell in the early ’80s where my mom made weekly taco salads with packet-seasoned ground beef, canned kidney beans, grated cheddar, shredded iceberg, Catalina dressing, and tortilla chips that turned to damp mush when we had to eat leftovers that it somehow made it into my 2011 Elle profile–pretty much my only food blog fame) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the taco salad after learning of its existence. It was totally a crush from afar. But it held up in reality, as well. It’s all about the fried shell, really. Ripping and dipping. If you just eat the beefy bean guts out, you may be saving calories and carbs but you may as well be dead inside. The taco salad, itself, is pure of form, with a base of beans and ground beef, heaving with all of the classic cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and importantly sliced black olives, no overt twists or upgrades–that’s all in the condiments, a line-up of squeeze bottle salsas (the orange one packs serious throat-tickling heat). The finishing touch? A ramekin of dill ranch foam. I am so going back for the chimichanga.
Union Pizza Works. The thing about dining at 5pm is that by 10:30pm, it’s entirely possible to eat another meal. No regrets about sharing an onion and Gorgonzola pizza and a carafe of Chianti out on the cement patio. And if you’ve had enough to drink, you might hear biscuit pronounced with an Italian accent as Bisquick and order the chocolate dessert for the novelty.
Streetbird. Surprisingly little chicken got eaten for being a restaurant supposedly specializing in rotisseried poultry. That’s because the Hot & Messy, an open-faced toasted cornbread sandwich smeared with peanut butter, and smothered with avocado, bacon scant pulled chicken, and runny-yolked egg jumped off the page with its excess. (Plus, I don’t know if I need to go all the way to Harlem for roasted chicken when I’m surrounded by Peruvian and Colombian renditions.) The notti greens, green beans pan-seared in a vaguely Asian manner with chiles and peanuts and a small bowl of wildly acidic pickles provided some counterbalance. The mac and cheese, of course, did not.
Red Lobster. It’s perfectly acceptable to linger over a Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie and a margarita with a tequila sidecar at the Apollo-adjacent Red Lobster, afterward, or probably any time. It’s a big place. The best part is you’ll still get a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with the menus before they realize you’re not ordering a full meal. Don’t feel bad about it.