Ask the Critic: The Best of Alphabet City

Ask the Critic

You have restaurant questions? We have answers. Where to take a dinner date? Restaurants good for parents or picky eaters? Food etiquette? Food and restaurant writer Carey Jones answers your questions. Email [email protected] to submit.


[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

This week on Ask the Critic: Getting to know Alphabet City.

Avenue B and Beyond

Dear Ask the Critic, My girlfriend just moved to Alphabet City (Avenue C). I know the East Village pretty well but haven't spent much time on the eastern edges of it because it's such a trek from the subway. I've heard that there are a lot of good bars and restaurants in the area but am not familiar with any of them. What are the must-visits?

Isn't Manhattan geography funny? We're happy to transfer subways or sit on a slow local train, but get more than a few long blocks off the grid and you're in uncharted territory.

I'm a fan of Alphabet City precisely because it's a bit isolated. Neighborhood spots feel like, well, neighborhood spots—welcoming and often not too crowded and not too pricey either—especially when compared to, say, the West Village. A few weeks ago, I sat at Ninth Street Espresso just east of Avenue C and marveled at how peaceful it felt. The room was well-lit and spacious. No one hovering by the walls, waiting to poach a table. Two friends lingered for an hour as their three-year-olds played with dolls on the floor, and no one looked askance. It was friendly, relaxed, and distinctly un-Manhattan. I mean that in the best of ways.

Khachapuri Adjaruli at Oda House

Khachapuri at Oda House. [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Ninth Street is a great place to start, if your days start with coffee, and there are two locations right in Alphabet City. The unusual sandwiches at Sunny & Annie's Deli would be the envy of many other neighborhoods. Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter is a place to know at all hours, with excellent fried chicken, pimento cheese sandwiches, bread pudding—you name it. While we're talking comfort food, check out cevapi and clotted cream sandwiches at the Serbian Kafana. Or just go for khachapuri, a genius Georgian invention that's something like a bread boat filled with melted cheese and egg, at Oda House on Avenue B; or goulash at the Hungarian Korzo Haus.

Big board at Maiden Lane. [Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Looking for something a little more refined? Consider wine bar Maiden Lane, which has an enticing seafood menu, much of it high-end Spanish canned seafood (don't knock it 'til you've tried it). Back Forty is one of the city's original farm-to-table restaurants, and still very much worth a visit. Edi & The Wolf is your destination for modern Austrian fare, and its sister bar The Third Man a good bet for cocktails. For cutting-edge mixology, Pouring Ribbons is one of the most talked-about bars of the last year or two. But in this neck of the woods, I'm partial to the more laid-back drinking venues: 11th Street Bar with a great selection of affordable beers on tap, or the spacious, games-stocked Mona's, or The Wayland for bar eats and cocktails, or, my favorite, Evelyn. It's spacious enough to bring a group, but intimate enough to make friends; it's got cocktails the caliber of much better-known places, but for dollars less; it's easy to love, easy to drink at, and easy to end up spending a whole night.

I'd always thought Alphabet City a little too off-the-grid for my tastes; but now I'm realizing that once you're there, you never really have to leave.

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