We posted this last year, and it was one of our most popular features ever. Here’s an updated look at the food, drink and amenities surrounding the the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington, site of this year’s MoCCA Festival.
This being New York City in April, there will be plenty of cheap, more-than-edible food nearby — we can say with some certainty that there is more good food within a two block radius of the armory than there is in entire towns in other states. Right across the street from the Armory is a little urban-style “food court” beloved of students at nearby Baruch College. You need only cross the street for student-priced fare that happens to be gourmet.
BAOGUETTE: The hit of last year’s MoCCA, and the first in a now city-wide chain of restaurants kicking off the banh mi trend; expect some lines. $5 gets you a Vietnamese sandwich composed of chicken, pate, cilantro, daikon and hot sauce on an amazing crusty roll. Can’t be beaten for a delicious bargain. They also offer pork and beef sandwiches AND hot and cold Vietnamese coffee. VIETNAMESE COFFEE IS STRONG. Be forewarned, these sandwiches are stinky and do leave you with the kind of burp halo that you would expect from a sandwich that includes radish. Also, the spicy really is spicy. WE MEAN IT. Baoguette also sells pretty good pre-packaged green papaya salads and summer rolls which are refreshing and full of veggies, but they’ll sell out pretty quick.
LATIN THING: Excellent Latin American food, big on stews, rice and beans, burritos and platters. Everything we’ve ever eaten there is delish — (sometimes it’s a little salty, be forewarned.) For those who require a helping of rice and beans to get them from day into a night at a con, this is the place. Try the Ecuadorian chicken, also cilantro infused. (Yes, we LOVE cilantro.) Sandwiches, burritos, and salads are all on the menu.
SUBWAY: Well, you know all about that, but we eat here almost every day and service is fast and efficient. Make yourself a Subway Arnold Palmer of tea and lemonade.
There’s a sandwich/coffee place across the street called EnFin, but we’ve don’t recommend it. The food and coffee are bland. The people who run it are nice, though. They do make salads and pressed sandwiches. There is also a Popeye’s across the street from the Armory, but you’ve got to be kidding. Also, there is a pizza place on the corner which we similarly don’t recommend but if you must, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
A bit further afield:
ROOMALI (On 27th between Lex and 3rd):
If it’s roti you’re after, it’s roti you’ll find here, a kind of Indian burrito composed of heavily spiced veggies, egg and the meat of your choice, chicken tikka, or lamb. Once again, very cheap — $5 for one, $10 for two. It’s around the corner on 27th Street, worth the very brief walk if you’re in the mood for cheap, fast Indian. Also, room to sit down.
LAMAZOU: If you are after a sandwich you will long remember, walk another block to 3rd Ave. and 27th. Lamazou is one of the city’s finest cheese shops and their sandwiches are ALL amazing. (See above.) 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 $6. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
But what if you want a sit down meal? Here again, the Flatiron/Kip’s Bay will not disappoint. Just a few quickies that are super close by:
BAMIYAN (3rd Avenue and 26th): If you long for the olden days at Faryab at SPX, this Afghani place should bring back memories. The food isn’t quite as refined as Faryab, but it is still fragrant and pungent. We like the chicken with apples and pomegranate, the mantu (Afghan ravioli in a spicy mint/yogurt sauce), and the pumpkin turnovers.
DHABA (Lexington between 27th and 28th):
The Armory is smack in the middle of Curry Hill so you won’t have any trouble finding good Indian food. We like this one best — the menu includes authentic Indian dishes as well as “British” curries. We like the chaat — various mixtures of Indian salads with chickpeas, mint, rice krispies, tamarind, potato, and coriander. $6 gets you a VERY generous portion. Warning: when they say hot, they mean hot. We had a run-in with some spicy cauliflower that left memories for a lifetime. This place is good for groups, but it does get crowded.
On the same block: Bhatti, Cinnamon and two other Indian grills that JUST OPENED. As opposed to the anonymous pre-fab Indian you get on 6th street, Curry Hill is starting to be more of a place for gourmet chains, some of them imported from India.
EAST (3rd Ave and 27th):
Excellent sushi served on a conveyor belt. Everything here is very fresh and authentic. However, the place is small and if you go for dinner you will probably have to wait. NOT good for groups…unless you are going for the karaoke bar upstairs.
COFFEE: Wondering how you’re gonna stay awake after last night’s parties? 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. They sell a lot of sandwiches and salads, but they are all pretty tasteless, and soaked in olive oil, esp. the salads. 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. BTW, have you noticed how shitty DD’s coffee is these days?
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.
DELICACIES: KALUSTYAN’S (123 Lexington between 28th and 29th): If you like to cook, this is a MUST SEE. Although it bills itself s 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 apircots, 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 sell’s reasonable Indian food. It isn’t dirt cheap but prices are reasonable.
AVOID: CURRY IN A HURRY. yes you CAN eat it, but with better alternatives, why do it? Also, their health inspection notices are always horrible.
BARS: We still miss Puck Fair more than the Puck Buillding. It was so easy to roll out the front door of the old MoCCA and meet someone for a drink or a bite. At the new venue, there is no one definitive bar for a swift one. 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 a bargain) 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 decent enough 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. Warning: DO NOT EAT THE FOOD. It’s really dire. We mean it. They even know how to ruin nachos.
UNKNOWN BAR WHERE ROCKY SULLIVAN’S USED TO BE (129 Lex, next to Kalustyan’s): Just what it says. A brand new Irish bar that we don’t remember the name of and have yet to go to. Could be awesome….or shit. Who’s with us?
IF YOU MUST:
SHAKE SHACK (in Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison):
This place is famous in all the guide books and yes, they do make a very good burger at a reasonable price. (We don’t eat burgers, but once a year we make an exception at Shake Shack.) Unfortunately you will probably end up standing in line for at least half an hour for a burger or Chicago-style hot dog because tourists line up all day. 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 it is an institution and the park is beautiful. Alternative: Head over to New York Burger, get it to go, and “go” to the park!
BONUS TIP: Whatever you do, don’t accidentally wander towards Park Avenue…you’ll soon be in the land of the $15 martinis and Danny Meyer.
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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.