I spent some days cooking in Newport, Rhode Island last week, and managed to maneuver a return flight through New York -- getting to spend a Friday evening, Saturday, and Saturday night traipsing through the city with my wife. There were no dining plans nor reservations made, our trip meant to be a simple succession of snacks, most snared from places that just looked good in passing. And I'm passing along some info about the best ones, in case you've got any Big Apple visits in your future.
The first stop was at The Spotted Pig in our old West Village neighborhood. We headed upstairs for a beer and some of April Bloomfield's small plates, but the place was, not surprisingly, packed; it was around midnight on Friday. So we headed to a venue I've always liked, Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant. This isn't one of the aforementioned finds; just about everyone knows about Mamoun's, which has been around since 1971. I go there for sentimental reasons, for the still-exemplary falafel, and to be reassured that it still sells for $2.50.
We were to meet our friend Albert there around 1 am. On the way, we passed a Mexican taco truck parked at Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street. I think the word "Tacos" was painted on the exterior, or else "Mexican Food" or something basic like that. The girl in the truck offered to put some cilantro mayo on the pork carnitas taco, and also some salsa and hot sauce. I said "yes yes yes." Fantastic, and gave us just the boost we needed to make it to Mamoun's.
We arrived there early, giving me time to scarf a falafel down before he arrived as well as allow us to scope the surrounding blocks for other options (Tracy Morgan passed by). We found a great one: THELEwala Indian Cart Food. It's a take-out spot across the street from Mamoun's at 112 MacDougal Street. The specialties include Calcutta Nizami rolls ($4 to $6), like a spicy and delicious Chapli roll filled with minced lamb, red onions, lime and fried egg. We also tried Bhel Pori, a dish of puffed rice, potatoes, chickpeas and red onions, with two bright chutneys drizzled on top ($5.50). It's a closet-size space with a few stools, and it was packed at 2 am with a young Indian crowd. On the way out I noticed a notice from The New York Times, late 2011, naming THELEwala one of the city's ten best snack spots for under $10.
On Saturday we had breakfast at Jacob's Pickles on the Upper West Side, drawn by the rustic brick-and-wood decor and old-timey sign on the window promising "Beer, Biscuits, & Pickles." That's a trio right up my alley, although being the morning we stuck to the biscuits -- as the bread for a sandwich with organic eggs from Alderfer's Poultry Farm, Niman Ranch bacon and aged Vermont cheddar ($11); and as the base for an eggs benedict with naturally cured ham ($14). Surprisingly, the biscuits were somewhat dry -- not even buttered! That said, there are homemade pickles, jerky, jams and some good-lookin' homestyle American comfort food. I'd give it another chance, but not for breakfast.
Next stop: Chinatown. My wife buys medicinal herbs at this place on Grand Street, between Mott and Elizabeth streets. In doing so, she discovered Grand Bo Ky Restaurant right across the street, and was anxious to take me there. We shared a few dishes, but both claimed our own order of curried chicken soup -- one with egg noodle, the other with a wide rice noodle ($5.50). This place is a find, although evidently the local Chinese community knows it quite well; the restaurant gets packed.
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Our last stop, late Saturday night (after stopping in at various bars to check in on the final Heat-Celtic game) was at Ippudo, a Japanese ramen noodle restaurant in the East Village. The noodles are made on premise, and after a couple of ramen bowls I was hooked. The Shiromaru Hakata Classic ($15) brings pork loin chashu, tonkotsu soup noodles, meaty kikurage mushrooms, memma, red pickled ginger and scallions. The Karaka Men ramen is similar, but with cabbage and an intense blend of hot spices ($16) for the karaka kick. The scene was as interesting as the cuisine.
Then it was LaGuardia Airport and home.