Coming to this year’s MoCCA-fest and feeling peckish? Veterans know that although not known as a culinary mecca, the area around the Lexington Armory still has some pretty decent, cheap grub, some of it prepared under the auspices of renowned chefs. This is our third year presenting an eating guide. We’ve updated last year’s listings with a few new spots.
As usual, foodie heaven is only a cab or subway ride at any of the city’s famed eateries but here’s where to grab a quick, cheap lunch or a special treat.
[Last year we made a special Google map — no time for that this year but it’s all a few blocks away and the streets are numbered!]
• BAOGUETTE: The famed Vietnamese sandwich shop is still open and going strong right across the street from MoCCA—you’ll see pretty much everyone from MoCCA on line for one at some point during the weekend. Prices have gone up a little bit, but it’s all still affordable. Bahn mi — spicy Vietnamese sandwiches prepared with meat, daikon, cilantro, special sauces and constructed on delightful crusty bread—will leave you very satisfied. Add in a Vietnamese coffee and it’s all systems gogogo. WARNING: these sandwiches are stinky and do leave you with the kind of burp halo that you would expect from a sandwich that includes radish. Baoguette is sometimes closed on Sundays–its kind of hit or miss, but to be sure, grab you sandwich on Saturday.
• NEW! MYSTERY COFFEE HOUSE 61 Lexington. Right next door to Baoguette, that isn’t the name of this place, but to be honest, I don’t know what it’s called. It takes a lot of effort for a cheap coffee house around the corner from a college (Baruch) to be deserted most of the time but this place manages it. I’ve stopped in for coffee a couple of times and always had a weird experience—I ordered an iced coffee and the guy mixed it for five minutes like it was a bubble tea. You may have a better time, but everytime I’ve been the coffee has been no stronger than a bad deli—not a good record. They also serve bubble teas and other exotic drinks, but as I say…there is never anyone in here and it’s around the corner from a college. Draw your own conclusions.
• ENFIN — CLOSED! Their food was mediocre so no surprise. A yogurt place is coming, they say.
• ROOMALI (On 27th between Lex and 3rd):
Curry Hill, as it is often called, is filled with great Indian cuisine, but this is the best fast food in the area. An incredible bargain. For a mere $11 you get TWO chicken roti rolls — basically an Indian burrito — which will feed TWO hungry cartoonists for lunch. Throw in a mango lassi and you are well under $10 per person. The roti here are fresh grilled and filled with a well-spiced mix of chicken, egg white and veggies. There are also vegetarian options.
• LAMAZOU (3rd Avenue and 27th St.): A neighborhood gem, and home of some of the best sandwiches in the city. Lamazou is one of the city’s finest cheese shops and their sandwiches are ALL amazing. The egg salad is made with Roquefort for extra kick, and all the cheeses are aged to a loamy goodness. The cold cuts are all top notch as well — Prosciutto di Parma and Serrano ham. We know people who go to Lamazou every day and just go down the list of sandwiches — every one is a journey into flavor. Also, a bargain — a half but still filling sandwich is under $7. You can get a full sized for under $10 for a hearty appetite. They opened a bistro down the street but it’s expen$ive. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
• DI DI DUMPLING (24th and Lexington)– I’ve eaten here a few times since it opened and I didn’t get sick. It wasn’t that great but if you want to try a noodle dish this is the place.
• NEW!KALBQ — 36 Lexington (below 24th) — an outpost of the latest Korean-Mexican taco craze (pictured above), I’ve eaten here twice, not enough to really get an impression on consistency, but if you haven’t tried the kimchi taco experience, this is a place to try. Sorry not to have a more definitive review!
• NEW! WAHOO’S FISH TACOS 333 Park Ave. South (between 24th and 25th) — new to the nabe, New York finally has an outpost of the west coast staple. I don’t know how these go over in Cali—they are more tropical than Mexican—but this is the closest you are going to get to a decent fish taco any where near. Why New York can’t make a good fish taco is beyond me…I guess it has to do with the produce not being as fresh. Anyway, we’ve had take-out from here but it’s more of a sit down place. You pick your meat and your toppings and whether it’s tacos, a burrito or a bowl. Prices are reasonable, but KalBQ is cheaper. Once again, we haven’t been here enough to give an authoritative opinion, but it has a full bar, and a Corona makes almost anything taste better.
• NEW! HAANDI 113 Lexington (between 27th and 28th) — want to eat where the cabbies eat? This is the place. It’s packed at all hours as cabbies change shifts, pray and eat. No points for ambiance, but lots for authenticity. Also if you’re on a tight budget between $6-8 gets you a huge plate of several stews and some naan and rice. The food here is not gourmet, but it might be called Pakistani comfort food. In my opinion much better than Curry in a Hurry up the road a bit. This place is definitely an adventure, but new New York.
• SHAKE SHACK (in Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison):
Endless lines, but it’s an institution. This place is so big time that they give you a buzzer like you would get at TJ McEatalot to know when your order is ready. We can’t really recommend it for a weekend, (we go on a weekday or rainy day when the lines aren’t so long) but they do have delicious food and the park is beautiful. Alternative: Head over to New York Burger, get it to go, and “go” to the park!
• UPDATED EATALY (entrance on Fifth Avenue, inside the old Toy building) — Going strong after a year, this is now a New York staple tourist spot. Created by famed chefs Mario Battali and Lydia Bastianich and restauranteur Joe Bastianich this is a temple to all things Italian, with 13 different food stations and a market selling vegetables, pasta, meat, seafood and all kinds of imported Italian foods, from a jar of chocolate to 10 different kinds of pesto. This place IS NOT CHEAP — that jar of chocolate will set you back $13 — but there are lots of things you can get for under $10. At the paninoteca there are various hot and cold sandwiches to go, including authentic sopressata and mozzarella, mortadella, fontina and so on. They recently started selling arroncini rice balls, as well. For me, these sandwiches would be improved by some lettuce and tomato, but this is apparently not the Italian way. However, they are all under $10 (but Lamazou’s are better.) For an even thriftier meal, go to the focaccia stand in the bakery — various bread slices involving meat, or sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes are a sort of “deep dish pizza” for under $4 a pop. The real reason to go to Eataly is for a drink — the coffee bar also serves wines and grappa. Among the coffee drinks some swear by the bicerin, a heady mix of espresso, chocolate and heavy cream that will send you to the gym right after it sends you to heaven. But my favorite, which gets the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED tag is the iced cappuccino, which is not iced at all. When you order one they will ask you if you know how it is served. Just say yes. Instead of a shot of espresso and foamed milk poured over ice, they take the coffee and milk and whip it up for about five minutes, resulting in a kind of cool (not cold) espresso flavored whipped cream. I like to add a shot of amaretto syrup. TO DIE FOR—sip as slowly as you can, which won’t be very slow. Is it authentic? Who cares. Definitely addictive. WARNING: Eataly tends to be mad crowded on weekends so get there early for a morning cappucino and pastry and then avoid. Still, despite the glitz and crowds, this is a pretty amazing place that is well worth seeing. Also, the bread is incredible: you will eat a whole loaf all by yourself and wake up with a puffy carb face, if you’re not careful.
• COFFEE: Wondering how you’re gonna stay awake after last night’s parties? See above for Eataly, which has a full menu of coffee drinks. Also, try Gregory’s, on Park between 25th and 26th. They have all the necessities and IT’S NOT A STARBUCKS. Plus, FREE WIFI if you’re in a jam. There’s also a Chock Full o’ Nuts and a 7-11 on 23rd Street around the corner if that’s how you roll. Plus the requisite and ubiquitous Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts dot the area. As mentioned, the mystery coffee place across the street has not stood up to testing yet.
Also: FIKA ESPRESSO BAR— 407 Park Avenue South (Between 28th and 29th) — if Swedish coffee is your thing, this is the place, especially the espresso, which has the nutty, caramel flavor of real espresso. The regular coffee here is pricey but STRONG. We haven’t had any of the pastries but they look pretty good. Not cheap.
EATALY, see above
KALUSTYAN’S (123 Lexington between 28th and 29th): If you like to cook, this is a MUST SEE. Although it bills itself as an Asian spice store, they have gourmet delicacies and staples from around the world, including some Brit treats: Future Mr. Beat buys his brown sauce, Branson pickles and disgusting Marmite here. The spice selection is dizzying, with every kind of sauce or spice blend or special ingredient from Asia — fish sauce, tom yum paste, ras el harout, dried apricots, black garlic, preserved lemons, rose water, 117 kinds of honey…your mind will boggle and your foodie imagination will run wild. Plus there is a little deli upstairs that sells reasonable Indian food. Also if you are looking for something sweet, grab a chunk of honey pistachio baklava — just don’t touch your comics stock afterwards! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
• DHABA – 108 Lexington (Between 27th and 28th). The best Indian food in Curry Hill in The Beat‘s opinion. They offer authentic Punjabi food as well as English-style indian dishes like vindaloo. Our favorite: the chaats, street snacks made from various combinations of chutneys, puffed rice, potatoes patties, mint and tamarind. YUM. And only $5-7 each. Be prepared for a looong wait if you go for dinner however. Call ahead!
BARS: Sadly, Murray Hill/Flatiron bars are mostly ghastly sports bars beloved of an obnoxious jerk/jock crowd. You will find the many Irish bars of the neighborhood get the job done (although none are cheap) but avoid anything that looks vaguely trendy. You will regret it and pay the price with your immortal soul. Here are a few mainstays that welcome Our Kind:
RODEO BAR (3rd and 27th): This is our local, so no sass about picking it. Decent Tex-Mex grub, free peanuts and happy hour. Don’t try to make change after drinking one of their frozen margaritas.
MAD HATTER (360 3rd Avenue, at 26th): A friendly bar around the corner that doesn’t get too crowded with douchebags. Has a pool table and garden patio, so if the weather’s nice, a decent place to sit and drink a beer outside. They are MoCCA friendly here after last year’s barn burner of a party. Join us for Beat Happy Hour on Sunday after the show!
Do you have a favorite eatery in the neighborhood? Share!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.