As befits an ingredient so texturally challenging and confounding in taste, tripe is generally regarded with particular revulsion from its dissenters. Those for whom the idea of eating stomach can't be stomached rarely consider trying the chewy stuff. It's an initiation offal, like kidneys or eyeballs—something to eat for bragging rights; the exact opposite of creamy, easy-to-love foie gras. But once you get past the idea of it, tripe becomes quite delicious. Almost always braised, its fortifying qualities also make it perfect late-night food for the winter months.
At the statelier Manhattan Fatty 'Cue in the West Village, the cut is sliced into half-inch ribbons and tossed in a thick smoked red curry buzzing with a saline jolt from anchovies. In a nod to Italy, the dish is topped with shreds of Thai basil, served with olive-oil slicked grilled bread and given the name Trippa Malaysiana ($15). It's a successful merging of styles. The spicy smoked tomato braise renders the tripe tender as can be, the toasted bread retains a beautiful chew while soaking up any remaining sauce, and the use of anchovies places the plate firmly into the funked-out Fatty Crew oeuvre. Briny and bright from the fish and fresh lime, with hits of herbal punch from the basil, such strong elements are still grounded in the offal's earthiness.
A few blocks south at The Dutch, Sam Sifton's restaurant of the year puts out cast iron skillets of Barrio Tripe ($14), an ode to the classic south-of-the-border New Year's Day dish menudo. We're still in the first week of the 2012, so there's plenty of time to take advantage of the dish's purported luck-inducing properties. Like chef Andrew Carmellini's "Asian White Boy Ribs", this is white boy Mexican food, but the flavors are deep and the textures varied, the tripe cut thin and swimming in its own beer-spiked juices dotted with plump hominy. Mix in the accompanying dice of avocado, radishes and chopped onion, add a squeeze of the provided chili powder-coated lime and grab some Fritos for crunch. It's a prime example of the restaurant's strength at elevating and stretching familiar flavors.
Dipping below Canal Street puts you face to face with Cercle Rouge and its filling, straightforward Tripes à la mode de Caen ($22). Also served in cast iron cookware, the rich chunks of stomach are cut into hearty one-inch cubes, giving them considerably more chew. Some of the pieces become charred during cooking, adding a much-needed crispness, and although white wine is listed as an ingredient, its acidity is somewhat subdued. Carrots melt into the flavorful broth, while globes of red creamer potatoes provide additional heft. Any leftover braising liquid quickly falls prey to oblong slices of crusty French bread.
Across cultures and around town, tripe always makes for an adventurous order.