Photo of Kalustyan’s via
Five years of MoCCA at the Lexington Armory! We’ve seen a lot of pizza come and go. Although the area surrounding the Armory is both drab and expensive, because of its proximity to the Baruch College campus, there are several cheap and tasty eats nearby. Due to the whirlwind churn of real estate over the last 12 months, some of the new spots in the neighborhood are totally unknown to us—and some old favorites, like Baoguette (now a Subway), are just a memory. (Also gone, the Chinese bakery and all the other cheep eats next to SVA on 23rd. This is really a sad sad time for the 99%.) But one thing is certain — if you like Indian food, you have come to the right place.
Also, read on for the best cauliflower and best brussels sprouts you are EVER likely to eat.
I’ve marked NEW listings below.
• 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. Last time we checked it was $12 for 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. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
• Luu’s Baguette (134 26th, just off Lexington) Vietnamese food in New York is pretty indifferent north of Chinatown, and I would have to say this is the only authentic pho you’ll find north of Chinatown. It isn’t as good as Baoguette but you can get passable banh mi, pho noodle soup, and a variety of hot and cold drinks including the rocket fuel known as Vietnamese coffee, hot or iced. Ingredients include ripe, so tread lightly. Luu’s isn’t geat but is if very cheap — all the entrees are under $10 — and if you are just in the mood for Vietnamese it will get the job done.
• SHAKE SHACK (in Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison):
The lines are sure to be horrific, but people still love this place. When it started, the idea of eating a good burger outside in a park seemed like a complete novelty luxury for outside starved New Yorkers, but now it’s an institution. I don’t eat burgers, but when I do…etc etc. Many more gourmet burger spots have opened nearby, but again, as a non-beef eater I can’t recommend any of them more than another. If you must get Shake Shack, enjoy.
• NUM PANG — As much as I loved my Baoguette, this Cambodian-styled sandwich shop has more varied offerings, including salad version of all the sandwiches. The coconut tiger shrimp sandwich was full of both tiger shrimp and coconut—can’t say that happens often enough. I’ve had to avoid this place to avoid pigging out on the bread but everything I’ve had was off the hook.
NEW • Ilili Box food cart in Madison Square Park (24th and Broadway) — I’m hoping this will be open for the season now. Ilili is a spendy but tasty Lebanese restaurant a few blocks away that should be better known, but you can get reasonably priced portions of their specialities here, including a sumac chicken sandwich and the BEST BRUSSELS SPROUTS I EVER HAD. They come braised with grapes, fig jam, vinegar, walnuts and mint yogurt—be forewarned it’s very sweet but you won’t be able to stop eating it. I also like their two lemonades, one red with blood orange and basil, one green with mint and cucumber. Think of this as gourmet falafel cart food.
NEW • GREAT SICHUAN (363 Third Avenue) — There are a lot of “grand” and “great” Sichuan restaurants in Manhattan but this is one of the better ones, with Michelin Guide rankings for several years. Service can be…adventurous. The soup dumplings are excellent and you’re better off with Sichuan specialties than “american Chinese” food like General Tso. Honestly, if you want Chinese go to Chinatown.
• DHABA – 108 Lexington (Between 27th and 28th). GREAT FOR VEGETARIANS. 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 $6-8 each. If you’re into the current craze for cauliflower, the aloo gobi here is the best I’ve ever had — grilled and chewy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside. Be prepared for a looong wait if you go for dinner however. RECOMMENDED
NEW • Chote Nawab (115 Lexington at 28th) — owned by the same restaranteur as Dhaba (and nearby Korum) this offers more northeast Indian styled meat-based dishes — the giant lamb burger is a particular treat, as the Voice’s Robert Sietsema noted. The menu is an eclectic mix of treats from all over India, offering unusual flavorings. RECOMMENDED
NEW • Unnamed chaat place on the corner of 27th and Lex — (99 Lexington) This brand new place stands were my beloved Curry Leaf once sat, but it’s a more modern take on Indian food with street foods—chaats—from all over India. I have yet to check it out but maybe MoCCA will be the time!
• More Indian food: most of the places in the Curry Hill strip between 27th and 28th on Lexington have improved greatly in recent years, and many have fans. Some people swear by the vegetarian Saravana Bhavan, but it’s not a fave of mine.
• KALBQ — 36 Lexington (below 24th) — I cannot claim that these Korean-Mexican tacos are great, but if you’ve never had one, here they are. Still no definitive review on this one.
• WAHOO’S FISH TACOS 333 Park Ave. South (between 24th and 25th) You cannot get a great fish taco in New York City, and even this eastern outpost of the Cali/Texas staple can’t do it. However, they have a lot of vegetarian options, salads and the like. I’d call the food here just okay, but the salads are fresh, which cannot always be said for local stuff.
• EATALY (entrance on Fifth Avenue, inside the old Toy building) — Not new, but still fun to go to. I still like their sandwiches, their amazing iced cappuccino, and the focaccia. For an afternoon iced or hot cappucino this is a fun place to go with real Italian ambiance. Or for $10 you can get a pound of grilled brussels spouts at the hot food bar. For me Eataly is about two things: the home made bread and the great coffee drinks. If you want to spend $12 for a glass of wine, it will be lively and quaffable. The pizza here is also excellent. Face it, it’s a Battali/Bastianich joint so everything is going to be just fine. WARNING: Eataly tends to be mad crowded on weekends so get there early for a morning cappuccino and pastry and then avoid.
• But what about the pizza? Despite being the authentic New York City food, I cannot claim that any of the local spots are worth more than a hail mary pass. Vezzo (Lex and 31st) is legit good but it’s a sit down place. Forcella on park aslso has fans but is is NOT CHEAP. If you are looking for a slice, you are on your own, alas.
I NEED COFFEE
• They finally opened a Starbucks for the Baruch college crowd, just below KalBQ on Lex between 24th and 25th. Neighborhood twist: there is some kind of halfway house on the corner and weird bum-type people hang out in front muttering to themselves. Also, Eataly, and Gregory’s, on Park between 25th and 26th, which has my beloved cold-press iced coffee. FIKA ESPRESSO BAR has opened a closer outpost, at 303 Park Avenue South, just above 23rd. For authentic Swedish style espresso and coffee.
NEW Mystery Bubble Tea place: (corner of 25th and Lex, right across from the Armory) — haven’t been here yet so let’s try it together! It replaced a froyo joint so it is already a winner in my book.
AVOID the mystery coffee across the street from the Armory. It is always deserted, and the one time I ordered an iced coffee there they didn’t know how to make one. It takes some effort to be an empty coffee house around the corner from a college, but they did it!
FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO COOK:
EATALY, see above — imported Italian ingredients, pestos, fresh veggies including exotic garlics, truffles by the ounce: spendy but intriguing.
KALUSTYAN’S (123 Lexington between 28th and 29th): I rate this as a MUST SEE. Tis is probably the coolest thing in the whole neighborhood. 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! BONUS: it’s next door to the building where Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as president following the assassination of President McKinley!
Sadly, Murray Hill/Flatiron bars are mostly ghastly sports bars beloved of an obnoxious jerk/jock/douchebag 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. The only place I drink regularly is the RODEO BAR (3rd and 27th). Seriously, the bars of Murray Hill are legendarily horrific. The Mad Hatter is also a lot of fun and they are MoCCA friendly —they are showing the NCAA on Saturday, but will be free on Sunday night for our traditional hang out.
NEW • WHITMAN AND BLOOM (384 Third Avenue) — if you want to experience authentic Manhattanite cuisine and ambiance—that is, overpriced and douchey—this is one of the few places where the stink of entitlement actually turns into the hospitality that normal people aspire too. Happy hour runs until 6 on Saturday and ALL DAY Sunday with $5 beers, $6 wines and $7 artisanal cocktails. Yep that’s what passes for cheap in Manhattan. The decor here is truly breathtaking though, as what was once an Ernest Shackleton-themed pick-up bar (!) has been turned into a lofty yet warm Victorian library. It’s possible that living in Murray Hill has raised my threshhold for expensive and “farm to table” however, so your mileage may vary.
Do you have a favorite eatery in the neighborhood? Have you found pizza? Share in the comments!