|Delia’s Lounge | 9224 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Flourishing in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge, Delia’s is a little like Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero: cocky, but likeably earnest. Nine-dollar specialty martinis scream “big city,” while Brooklyn accents, such as valet parking and a larger-than-life Mona Lisa over the bar, remind you that you’re in Bay Ridge. Godiva chocolate liqueur, Stoli Vanil and heavy cream flow freely, but don’t worry about looking effete. In these parts, even the young Travoltas grooving on Eminem sip key lime martinis and share plates of chocolate-covered strawberries.
|Peggy O’Neill’s | 8123 Fifth Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Pink Houses, Bad Medicine, the Unforgettable Fire…It sounds like the makings of an ’80s jukebox, but these are just a few of the cover bands that perform most Saturday nights. Despite wind machines and echo effects, the bar is unlikely to draw a crowd beyond the usual Bay Ridge singles, but you get the feeling that’s fine with them. The music tributes aren’t only for the pros–during Monday-night karaoke, anyone can belt out bygone Top 40 tunes. The rest of the week, this Irish pub feels more like a typical sports bar: TVs are blared, beer is swilled, and darts and pool are de rigeur.
|Sunny’s Bar | 253 Conover St, Brooklyn, NY
Lore-choked McSorley’s and the White Horse Tavern may get the attention, but an evening at Sonny’s feels like history in the making. On weekends, this unassuming wharf-side tavern buzzes with intrepid curiosity seekers, a mix of middle-aged and new-generation bohemians (the latter distinguished by their cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon), and the odd salty dog (canines, not sailors). Despite the nautical feel, you’re more likely to hear bossa nova or bluegrass than sea chanteys. This is the East River, after all
|Rising Cafe | 188 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
On some nights men nearly outnumber the gals at this easygoing lesbian bar. Folk and bluegrass lovers show up for the live music, while neighborhood families fill up on ribs and fried chicken. The Southern cooking is complemented by down-home touches such as 1940s farmhouse furniture and a big metal tub filled with Red Stripe and Brooklyn Lager. Lest you forget this a women’s meeting place, Tilt-a-Girl mixers are held on Tuesdays.
37 W 17th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-366-0888). Subway: F, V to 14th St; L to Sixth Ave; N, Q, R, W, 4, 5, 6 to 14th St-Union Sq. Mon-Fri noon-2:30pm, 6-11pm; Sat, Sun 6-11pm. Average main course: $23. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Originally part of a Tokyo-based chain, Basta Pasta draws a predominantly Asian clientele to the pink-linened dining room, facing an open kitchen. Seared foie gras perched atop a brilliant saffron risotto cake mimics a luxe piece of sushi (it’s too small but dazzling). Mussels, clams, shrimp and squid are bathed in tomato sauce and piled over spaghetti; lobster salad with snap peas and a lemon aioli is charmingly springlike, and a nice preface to heftier entrées like grilled sea bass or braised short ribs. Service is gracious and personable, and thank-yous from the staff abound.
200 Park Ave at Vanderbilt Ave. and W. 45th St (212-818-1333). Subway: Average main course: $25. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
At this sprawling brasserie, looks matter. Rotisserie chickens spin in a giant hearth; the curved, glass-enclosed kitchen demands attention; and streamlined light fixtures create a clubby feel. Chef Franck Deletrain’s menu is heavy on surf and turf for the expense account crowd. Nods to Morocco include a just-sweet-enough chicken b’steeya with a hint of orange-flower water and garnished with spiced candied almonds. Raw-bar choices are popular, as are meaty crab cakes and the butter topped filet mignon. Many of the showy desserts are crowned with arabesques of spun sugar. A more casual meal is available at the moodier adjoining Beer Bar.
201 W. 83d St between Broadway and Amsterdam Aves (212- 496-6031). Subway: . Average main course: $9. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Carbophobes, beware: You’re in serious sweet-tooth territory. Upper West Siders and tourists mob this café, especially on weekends. Brunch is served until 4pm daily, and light sandwiches and salads are always available. But the real draw is the sugary siren song of display cases packed with cookies, brownies, cakes, pies and more. Art Nouveau posters, exposed-brick walls and French windows attempt European flair, though many of the desserts are unabashedly American, from apple brown Betty to chocolate-covered Oreo cheesecake. It’s no surprise that scenes from the syrupy Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks comedy You’ve Got Mail were filmed here.
203 First Ave between 12th and 13th Sts (212-673-3957). Subway: L to First Ave. Average main dish: $13. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Although less trendy than the newer Bao and Boi, Cyclo is hardly a pho-slurper’s hole-in-the-wall. Soothing pale hues and unobtrusive New Agey music allow quiet conversation, and the food is mellow too: Papaya salad is more peppery than spicy, its piquancy balanced by salty dried beef strips. Fresh DIY summer rolls require a deft hand (to manipulate the sugarcane-skewered grilled shrimp with the accompanying pile of vegetables, herbs and fragile rice-paper wrappers), but the results are worth the effort. Chilean sea bass, cooked in a clay pot with creamy bean curd, eggplant and lemongrass, is hearty without being heavy.
|Docks Oyster Bar
633 Third Ave at 40th St (212-986-8080). Subway:. Average main dish: $23. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
The cacophonous, multilevel space almost feels like a glorified chain restaurant (it is, sort of—there’s an uptown location). But Docks is a notch above places that serve bottomless baskets of popcorn shrimp. This is a candlelit, white-tablecloth affair (with a buzzing bar scene). Oysters are from Maine and British Columbia. Fried scallops and fish are surprisingly light (the accompanying shoestring fries, however, can be overdone). The creamy, tart key lime pie is ideal for cleansing a breaded and battered palate.
Chopsticks? Broccoli in the curry? These are red flags to purists—but it would be a mistake to write off sleek little Galanga. Ambient drum ’n’ bass and menu oddities like lychee fried rice, merely veil the real deal. Tell your server that you want spice, and there’ll be no pandering. The seafood salad of mussels, shrimp and squid is dressed with just the right amount of sugar and lime, a perfect foil for the slow, creeping heat. Curries, too, are appropriately rich with coconut milk and properly topped with the shredded wild-lime leaves that are all too often omitted in Thai restaurants.
|Good World Bar and Grill
3 Orchard St between Canal and Division Sts (212-925-9975). Subway: F to East Broadway; B, D to Grand St. Mon-Fri 4pm-4am; Sat, Sun 11am-4am. Average main course: $16. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
The occasional shuttle bus to Ikea might be as close as most New Yorkers come to sampling Swedish food. But there’s more to the northern European cuisine than cafeteria-style meatballs and lingonberries. Good World’s no-man’s-land location on the cusp of Chinatown and the Lower East Side doesn’t deter anyone from seeking out the stylishly scruffy alpine lair. Mismatched school chairs and moose head above the bar lend appropriate quirk to the former barbershop. The grill aspect is more apparent during lower key hours. A DJ-driven, clubby scene sets in weekend nights and can make for claustrophobic dining, at best. Many would be inclined to supplement the creative beer and aquavit selection with tapas-style offerings like mustard sauced gravlax, lime and chili marinated salmon cubes and herring served four ways. However, ambitious mains are also worth more than a bite or two. Hearty, braised, cinnamon and cardamom spiced lamb shanks with rich porcinis, parmesan potatoes and rosemary spiked jus are satisfying. Morels, chanterelles and truffles make woodsy appearances in many dishes, and beets and capers gives the requisite burger added zing. Desserts aren’t afterthoughts, a parfait constructed of Kahlua flavored ice cream studded with bits of Dajm (a Swedish candy similar to Skor) and candied lime out-cools faux Nordic Häagen-Dazs, any day.
6405 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 64th and 65th streets
Pupusas are quintessentially Salvadoran, and this whimsically decorated Woodside restaurant serves wonderful examples. Take in pictures of the namesake volcano and clay-tiled indoor roof inhabited by fake iguanas and an armadillo while trying the stuffed, grilled corn cakes. Choose from chicharron, cheese, frijoles or revuelta, a mix of all three. Curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw (sometimes available with papaya), thin, lightly spiced tomato sauce and a bottle of Suprema beer are necessary accompaniments. This isn’t light fare; easily sharable meat-based entrees are served with rice, beans, cheese, sweet plantains and corn tortillas. Simple and satisfying res con salpicon, beef soup, is a weekend favorite.
|La Bonne Soupe
48 W 55th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-586-7650). Subway:. Average main dish: $13. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
This midtown bistro is full of French country charm (red-and-white-checked tablecloths, exposed beams, waitstaff with accents). The clientele is perhaps less authentic: shoppers, out-of-towners and solo-dining old-timers. Cheese fondue, quiche, crêpes and omelettes are satisfying, but the raison d’être is, of course, the namesake bonne soupe. Whether you’re in the mood for classic cheese-topped French onion or smooth and creamy tomato andalouse, you can get your bowlful à la carte, or as a prix fixe meal with bread, salad, an unmemorable dessert and even a glass of house wine for just $13.95.
281 Lafayette St between Prince and Houston Sts (212-226-4944) Subway:. Average main dish: $16. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
The staircase opens into a cavernous subterranean brasserie that almost resembles a Cold War–era movie set. Everything is just so: a cement ceiling, riveted metal, stainless-steel toilet seats. Stylish couples and the Soho working class sit in curved red banquettes and leather armchairs, sipping from colorful martinis. The bloomin’ onion on the menu may give you pause, but your fears will be laid to rest by snacky Soviet fare like spinach and cheese piroshki and blini with a choice of fish. Smoked sturgeon scattered with dill and accompanied by a dollop of crème fraîche is a toothsome choice. Caviar is, of course, found in various guises, including an unorthodox application atop smoked-salmon pizza. Sturdier eaters can choose chicken Kiev or beef goulash. The bracingly bourgeois molten chocolate cake is hard to say nyet to.
145 W. 53d St between Sixth and Seventh Aves (212-581-4242). Subway:. Average main dish: $24. AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Deep-black risotto, colored by squid cooked in its own ink, is a typical Venetian dish, and it’s frequently a special here. But the lively, playful space—designed by architect Adam Tihany—is your first clue that Remi isn’t too bound by tradition. Chef Francesco Antonucci’s cichetti (Italian tapas), presented in whimsical angular plates, include fried stuffed olives and marinated octopus. His tuna-filled ravioli is a classic, and gnocchi with baby goat is spiked with olives and artichoke hearts. Semifreddo and gelato grace the dessert menu, but why be predictable? Choose the chocolate-banana tart.