17 years after opening, Balthazar hasn't changed much—not its food, scene, or crowds. So where should you go when a visit is stymied by a long wait? Take a look around you—there's plenty of good food close by.
'Nolita' on Serious Eats
While Danielle Chang, the founder of Lucky Rice, eats in Chinatown all the time—it's blocks away from her home in Nolita—she's often on the go searching for the best Asian food. Here are her favorites in and around Nolita.
Despaña clearly cares about great ingredients. When they come on plain salads, even in small quantities, it makes all the difference.
Two simple butter cookies, lightly dusted with powdered sugar, and a thin spread of sweet raspberry jam in between. That's it—no fancy tricks, no secret weapons. Late afternoon on a cool foggy day, it's all I need.
Little Rascal is completely unpretentious and extremely welcoming, and the care put into its food goes above and beyond for a place that likely makes most of its profits off of its booze.
When it comes to breakfast there's savory and sweet, and usually ne'er the two shall meet. Not so with Ceci-Cela's Spinach Pie ($3).
For a change-up from Mile End's smoked meat, consider this salami and mustard sandwich on a kaiser roll.
This Japanese chain does good rice flour crepes in sweet and savory variations.
The Spanish menu created by Mexican chef-consultant Ignacio Carballido (Cafe El Portal and Casa Mezcal) at Peix Bar de Mariscos is simple to the extreme—most dishes are nothing more than pristine seafood, a bit of olive oil, and some good technique—but compelling. It's easy to respect a chef who has the sense to let the ingredients do most of the work for him, letting their own creativity ride in the passenger seat.
When I asked you about burritos in New York last week, this was the one I had in mind. Nolita's Cafe El Portal makes a good burrito. Actually it makes one of the better burritos I've had in New York—which is not the same as great—but it comes with a price, $10.50 if you go with the pork filling. Is it ever okay to pay double digits for a burrito?
While this slender Brazilian cafe in Nolita probably won't make it into our regular lunch rotation, its crisp pork and cheese Calabreza sandwich ($11) makes for a decent, if Nolita-pricey lunch.
This new gelato shop is spinning ice cream that compares to the city's best.
I've got to admit it: I did not like Uncle Boons the first time I went. At least, I thought I didn't. The staff was friendly as could be, the space was fun, I even made friends with some folks at the bar, but the food just seemed... off to me.
Things started fine with a Lon Jai ($10), a Thai version of a michelada that looks like a glass of sriracha with a peppered rim. The cold Singha beer bubbles up through the hot sauce and then—what's that?—coriander wafts up to your nose along with something more mysterious and musky. "It's salted pickled lime juice," the bartender tells me, as he puts a plate of their chopped lamb salad in front of me. Laab Neuh Gae ($14) comes on strong out of the gate, with an unmistakable lamb-y aroma and richness that makes you wonder, is lamb really the best choice for laab? It tasted heavy, fatty, not refreshing, until... wait a minute... Okay, suddenly I got it. Those slices of cucumber and pickled onion aren't just garnishes—their bracing sourness allows you to focus on the flavor of the lamb, not the fat. The dish, surprisingly, worked.
Like everyone at Serious Eats, I dig Taïm's falafel. But it's their salads that I really love: bright orange carrots with cumin, earthy crimson beets, sultry eggplant mush—these are things I would like to eat more of, all the time please. Enter the Hummus Sandwich ($6).
Don't wait to head down to Parm for their Thanksgiving hero, as it will only be available until the end of the week. At $14, it's definitely expensive for a sandwich that you won't want to share with anyone, but it's everything Thanksgiving should be.
The dark, intimate space at La Esquina is a place to ease up and forget the anxieties of the week—and it's vegetarian-friendly, too.
How do you get a room full of Serious Eaters to do a unanimous happy dance around a sandwich? Layer on thick slabs of salty, crumbly white cheese, add some black beans, and top it all with a very generous helping of avocado.
Some sandwiches boast one ingredient so great that other less-than-perfect participants can be overlooked. Such is the case with the Egg and Merguez ($14) sandwich from Café Gitane.
I tend to explore restaurants that I've never been to in this column, or places I've only visited once or twice. It's not usually a forum for me to rave about my favorite after-work bar, partly because my favorite after-work bar doesn't usually serve great food. Not so with Toby's Public House.
At long last, the Nolita branch of Taïm officially opens today. The space is five times larger than the original one on Waverly Place in the West Village, and makes the same amazing falafel we love.