Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hallo Berlin - Return to Taqueria

9. Hallo Berlin Express
744 9th Avenue between 50th and 51st

After receiving numerous accolades from midtownlunch and winning the 2005 Vendy Awards, Hallo Berlin Cart opened a full restaurant on 10th avenue and a smaller express restaurant on 9th avenue. Hallo Berlin serves 10 different kinds of wurst sausages and a number of other Eastern European dishes like schnitzel, goulash, and stuffed cabbage. Wanting to come here for some time, I finally braved the walk uptown and ordered the double soul food combo ($8.00) which consists of chopped up pork bratwurst and a pork/beef frank mixed with fried german potatoes, sauerkraut, onions and mustard. The sausages had a crisp casing with a tasty and salty filling, though certainly not the best sausage I've ever had. The potatoes were crunchy on the ends and the sauerkraut was probably from a can. The food was prepared well and left me satisfied but it wasn't anything special and certainly not worth the hype. On top of all of this was the service that was unbearably slow for a place that has most of its food prepared already and had few people to serve. The one item that did tempt me to come back is that the restaurant also serves various german beers in 17oz steins for $8.00 that look awesome.

Tacqueria y Fonda Part Deux
See original post for location info

Just wanted to add a couple of comments about Taqueria since I returned to try some new items. I admit that I was tempted to order the burrito again but I saw someone else order the tamale and it looked excellent. I went for the beef tongue taco ($3.50) and the chicken tamale ($3.50). The beef tongue came out first. They presented a generous serving of diced grilled tongue with cilantro, tomatoes and onions on top of a corn tortilla (there were 2 there though I'm not sure they meant to give me two). Two were necessary as there was too much food to fit into one tortilla. The tongue was tender and slightly liver-y in flavor, and the corn tortilla was made fresh. I didn't expect the tamale to be spicy but it had quite a kick. The thigh meat chicken in the tamale tasted greasy but the masa (corn dough) was well seasoned and filling.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Amai Tea - The Ginger Man

8. Amai Tea & Bake House
171 3rd Avenue between 16th and 17th

My default cupcake spot is Magnolia. Despite numerous calls for me to try Billy’s Bakery and other spots, I have developed something of a loyalty to the smooth vanilla buttercream frosting and fluffy cake base that Magnolia serves. Amai serves a green tea cupcake, the recommended item on the list for about $3.00 (Magnolia is $2.00). The frosting was more whipped cream than frosting; light, airy and just a touch creamy, it was quite refreshing. In fact, the whole cupcake was refreshing. The cupcake and frosting are both green, the cake is moist, light and almost cooling. My friend thought it was great. For me, it didn’t hit the spot. It was a bit too light for me to consider it a dessert, and I don’t know what a cupcake can be besides something I crave after a meal.

The Ginger Man
11 E 36th Street between 5th and Madison

Finding inexpensive sit-down restaurants in midtown is a pretty daunting task. The Ginger Man is more of a bar than a restaurant, serving a vast collection of brews and cask ales. When I went at around 1pm, the place was almost completely empty, which I’m hoping is just a sign of the times and that less people are making the journey out for a sit-down lunch and simply retiring to office cafeterias and bagged lunches. The menu consists of traditional bar fare, though the intent was to make an Irish bar (save for the ploughman’s lunch and bratwurst at around $14). Not being prepared to spend so much on lunch, I decided to try the turkey and brie sandwich served on a French baguette with a side of potato chips. The sandwich is decent and clearly nothing special. For $9.50 it’s not horribly mis-priced for a sit-down lunch and given the selection of beers that they serve, it’s definitely worth going to if you want to try a new ale ($6-9 with $10 flights of 4 4.5 oz samples). If only they had a happy hour…

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

JoeDoe - Nicky's - Redhead

A Quick Note

I just wanted to note that I ordered a digital camera and desperately want to add photos of everything to the site. Also, I am working on creating a master map that will have locations of all of the restaurants that I write about. Back to the food:

6. JoeDoe
45 E 1st Street between 1st and 2nd Ave

Jew food is comfort food and chopped liver on challah ranks pretty high on my list of Jew food. In sharp contrast with this Jewish staple is bacon. For those that keep kosher, one could suggest that even mentioning these items in the same sentence is somewhat unsettling. What I know is that chopped liver is awesome and bacon is awesome. JoeDoe gave me the chance to try them together.

JoeDoe, a small 15-20 seat restaurant, opened in Fall of 2008 and with competition coming from Prune (which I have yet to go) across the street, was not particularly crowded on the Friday night at 7:30 that I continued on the TONY quest. I had planned on splitting the chicken-liver sandwich with bacon ($11) with a friend at the bar and heading on my way but we were also intrigued by the “Scottish Egg” ($9) which is a hard-boiled egg that is covered with sausage and deep fried, served with mustard. The bartender started us off with some fried chickpeas which are apparently also served at Prune. They were hot, oily, slightly crispy and a welcome snack while we waited for the appetizers. The Scottish Egg was well plated, the sausage and egg were very tasty and the mustard complemented the dish perfectly. The only problem I had with it is that it is still a $9 egg, it’s only one egg and it’s essentially breakfast.

The chopped-liver sandwich, however, made me even more determined to complete the list. If all of the items are going to be this good, I’m in for a spectacular ride. For $11 I was quite impressed with the amount of food that they serve. It’s definitely enough to have as a small meal in itself. The challah is lightly toasted, the chicken liver is creamy and not as livery-tasting as its beef counterpart and the bacon adds saltiness and texture to each bite. As if this wasn’t enough, the sandwich is served with a side of baked apple chutney. I couldn’t decide whether I enjoyed the sandwich more with some of the sauce on it and finished the sandwich while alternating bites with and without it.

Though the rest of the menu looks fairly pricey, I will definitely return for the sandwich and to try some of there desserts.

Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches
150 E 2nd Street between A and B

I had read about this place on a number of cheap eats websites and had wanted to try it for quite some time. Nicky’s is a small space that sells Vietnamese sandwiches, all served on baguettes with pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and mayo. All of the sandwiches are $5.00-5.50 including sardine, chicken and pork chop sandwiches with their specialty being the classic Vietnamese which comes with pate, Vietnamese ham and roasted ground pork and can be ordered regular or spicy. Feeling particular brave I chose the spicy and sat down at one of 2 tables. As my friend noted, one sandwich is not enough to fill you up but two is too many. Ideally I would come here and split 3 sandwiches with someone else. The classic was well worth the wait with the pate and vegetables providing most of the flavor and the ham and ground pork adding consistency. The baguette was fresh and the ratio of veggies to meat was just about right. The only problem that I had was that I thought I could take down the spicy sandwich which was slightly out of my heat tolerance. Nicky’s sandwiches are a steal at $5.

7. the Redhead
349 E 13th St. between 1st and 2nd Ave

Redhead is a small bar/restaurant that serves Southern-inspired cuisine until 1am. I had never heard of this place until it was mentioned on the TONY list. The place feels more like a bar with tables than a restaurant, but based on the reviews I’ve read about the service and quality of food from the full menu, I am ready to try the full experience (reservations are taken for parties of 5+ and only before 6:30pm and after 9pm; if it’s anything like when I went at 11pm, reservations are necessary as all of the tables were full and the bar was hopping). Items of note on the full menu include a homemade pretzel and Kreuz sausage which is flown in from Texas, and fried chicken. I was only there to get some of their bacon peanut brittle to go, which they sell in self-sealing jars for $7.50. It’s peanut-y, it’s sweet, spicy, salty and altogether befitting of the praise that it has received from food critics. There are small clumps of bacon that stick to many of the individual peanuts, combining the crunchiness of the nut with the softer texture of the bacon. I’m usually hesitant to spend $7.50 on a snack, but this is well worth it. The jar, while small in appearance, is probably enough for 3-4 tastings. For those not in the area, Redhead sells jars in 3-packs on their website for $20.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tacqueria y La Fonda

Tacqueria y Fonda

968 Amsterdam Avenue

Tucked away in an unassuming space is Tacqueria, a restaurant serving large portions of inexpensive Mexican cuisine. The menu doesn’t have anything above $12, and the value is accentuated even further given that the restaurant participates in gift certificates (purchase a $25 gift certificate for $2-3 with a minimum purchase of $35 which in this restaurant isn’t so easy for a party of 2).

The kitchen starts off tables with home-made chips and 3 kinds of salsa. Beers are all $4 and include Sol, Dos Equis, and Corona. We started off with some guacamole ($6) for the table in an attempt to reach the $35 threshold, which was fair but easily forgettable and not something I would be quick to order again. I ordered the Giant Burrito ($9) which is filled with beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, guacamole, tomatoes, sour cream and a choice of meat or vegetable. Following the waiter’s suggestion, I had mine with pork and grilled pineapple. I tend to think that I have a large appetite and yet I was narrowly defeated by the size of the burrito which I estimate to be about 1.5x the size of a Chipotle burrito and significantly tastier. While a substantial portion is rice and beans, the pork and pineapple were grilled perfectly and the mozzarella cheese forms chewy strings that contrast nicely.

At this point, we had spent $29 including 3 beers, the giant burrito and a vegetarian quesadilla. Scrambling to spend the extra $6, we were disappointed to discover that the only dessert option is flan. After ordering a chicken salad to go, which I subsequently ate the next day for lunch, our bill came to around $41, leaving the cost of the meal at $28 ($50 with tip - $25 gift certificate + $3 for the gift certificate). The chicken salad consisted of a nice portion of grilled thigh meat, avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce that left me satisfied but was certainly not up to standard with the rest of the meal.

While the atmosphere is non-existent and the location is fairly inconvenient for anyone living below 96th street, Tacqueria’s portions, inexpensive menu and quality make it a strong contender for one of the top cheap eats in NYC.

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The TONY List


Time Out New York wrote up a list of the “Top 100 best things we ate and drank this year.” I noticed that I had been to a handful of them, wanted to try others and hadn’t heard of many of them. After reading an article about someone who tried to go to all 100 of the places mentioned in the 2007 list, I decided to go on my own quest to take down the list. Restaurants that are part of the list will be entered with a number before the name of the restaurant. The following 5 items represent the locations that I had previously been to before the beginning of the quest:

1. Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery

328 E 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue

When people think about pizza, they think about NY and Chicago. When people think about NY pizza, they think about Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s. I’ve been to Lombardi’s. I’ve been to Grimaldi’s. I’ve been to Otto, John’s and Patsy’s and I would not hesitate for a minute to say that Artichoke is the best slice of pizza in NYC (Note: I have not tried Di Fara’s which I hear serves an incredibly good slice). Artichoke serves 4 kinds of slices: (1) Margherita ($3.50) – a traditional round pizza slice made with homemade tomato sauce, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella and sliced at around 1.5x the usual size of a slice; (2) Sicilian ($3.50)– square slice with slightly burned ends that is crispy, garlicky, and represents the contender for best slice despite its size relative to the round slice; (3) Artichoke ($4.00) – a round slice topped with a creamy spinach artichoke that is rich, filling and made with clumps of cheese; (4) Crab slice ($4.00) which I have yet to try but have heard good things about.

Usually there is a line at Artichoke (20 minutes+) so whenever I pass at an off-peak time I feel slightly obliged to order a slice simply because there is no line. The place does serve beer but there are no tables and only enough room for 2-3 people to stand by the counter. They are open late and serve as a staple option for those on their way back from the bar.

2. Momofuku Noodle Bar

171 First Avenue between 10th and 11th

The restaurant deserves its own review on its own merits but for the sake of the list I will try to describe the crispy pigs’ tails appetizer ($14) that is suggested. This item was not on the menu and served as a special that night but given that it is on the TONY list, I imagine that it is served often. If it has pork it in, I’m interested. If it has something unusual, I’m interested. Pig’s tails? Sold. The restaurant serves a healthy appetizer portion (about 8 or so). The tails are fried and glazed with a sweet/sour sauce and are gummy in texture, very similar to oxtail. For $14 I expected a bit more and with so many other strong options at the restaurant I don’t think I would order it again.

3. McSorley’s Old Ale House

15 E 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue

It doesn’t seem right to write up a review about McSorley’s at is such a NY institution, but for those that have not yet experienced its majesty, McSorley’s is the oldest bar in New York and serves only McSorley’s dark ale and McSorley’s light ale (Two ½ pints for $4.50). The dark ale is caramel flavored and creamy while the light is more of a pale ale. The line can get quite long and the bar very crowded so go early.

4. Indus Express

48 W 48th Street between 5th and 6th Ave

Chaat is an Indian snack food made up of potatoes, yogurt, spices, chick peas, and chilis that is normally topped with samosa pieces (samosa chaat) or fried crispy strings (papri chaat) and is served warm or cold. After searching for an Indian restaurant that served it as an appetizer, midtownlunch directed me to Taj Delhi Chat that serves generous portions for $5-6 and is spicy and filling. Indus Express serves as competition though the portions are a little smaller at Indus and the samosa chaat ($5) has more flavor at Taj. For those not willing to make the trek from their offices in the low 50’s to 38th street to go to Taj, Indus Express is definitely recommended for inexpensive chaat. Additionally, Indus sells Indian sweets such as Burfi, has a buffet and a fairly nice dining area for a small fast food Indian restaurant.

5. Porchetta

110 E 7th Street between 1st and A

Porchetta has been named one of the top new places for 2008. Numerous critics and restaurant chefs have been vocal about their adoration for the porchetta (pork) sandwiches that this fast food stand sells. For me, the sandwich did not live up to the hype. Maybe I had too high expectations. Maybe it was an off night. Maybe it wasn’t enough of a sample size (Full disclosure: I sampled some of my friend’s sandwich). Don’t get me wrong, it was a good sandwich. I just have a hard time spending $9 on a sandwich when there are a number of other great spots in the area where $9 buys more food of equal or better quality (Nicky’s Vietnamese for example). I am certainly interested in returning for the platter which comes with roasted potatoes with burnt ends.

Just a quick comment should anyone want to try it for themselves. The place is quite small, with room for only about 5 people on stools so should the line be long you may be shivering in the cold for quite a bit. I would suggest taking the sandwich to nearby Tomkins Square Park to enjoy without the crowd.


Reviewing and cataloging the 10,000+ restaurants in NYC is a task that is surprisingly well undertaken by a number of the myriad food websites such as menupages, nymetro, yelp and midtownlunch, all of which I strongly recommend to those seeking a new restaurant to try.

Having spent the last few years sampling offerings from Michelin rated restaurants to street meat, I wanted to begin the chronicling of my own adventures in cuisine. Keeping in mind that food is predominantly a matter of personal taste, I hope that by journaling my experiences I can develop a catalog of reviews that others can use to make more informed dining decisions.