Coming to this year’s MoCCA-fest and wondering where to grab a quick lunch to eat in between selling your mini comics? Look no further!
Although considered drab by New York standards, the Rose Hill/Gramercy/Flatiron area surrounding the the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Armory, the setting for MoCCA Fest, still offers a colorful array of authentic, delicious and affordable cuisine from around the world within a radius of only a couple of blocks. (It IS New York City, after all.) Bearing in mind the small budgets of most MoCCA attendees/indie cartoonists, we’re going to highlight places where, for $10 or under, you can still get a decent meal — some of them even prepared by Iron Chef level celebrities. At a few places, if $10 isn’t enough for a meal it is still enough for some rare treat that will make your trip one to remember.
For dinner you will want to grab some friends and a subway or cab and head to one of the great restaurants of the city, but your lunchtime is definitely covered right here.
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• BAOGUETTE: The hit of the two previous MoCCAs at this location and ground zero for the still going craze for Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches. Prices have gone up — $6 for chicken and pork, $7 for beef, catfish and veggie. We hadn’t eaten here for a while and stopped in for a BBQ chicken just yesterday — even better than we remembered! For $9.25 you can get a spicy sandwich on am amazing crusty roll with chicken, pate, cilantro, daikon and siracha sauce and a strong, sweet iced Vietnamese coffee that will keep you rolling for an hour. 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 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. We saw owners celebrity chefs Michael Huynh and Thao Nguyen eating lunch here the other day, and Nguyen greeted us with a “Long time no see!” when we went in after six months, so they get some neighbor points for that. ALSO: CLOSED SUNDAY so make sure to get your bahn mi on on Saturday.
• MIDORI TEA HOUSE 61 Lexington. Taking over the spot once occupied by the much-missed Latin Thing, this is a full service Taiwanese tea house, complete with the tapioca bubbles, and hot and cold elixirs in flavors from lychee to almond. They have ice slushies with tapioca as well. A large, cool beverage will set you back most of a tenner, so consider this a luxury item. I haven’t sampled a wide variety of their wares, but they are thirst quenching and tasty. CLOSED SUNDAY.
• 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 $9 you get TWO chicken roti rolls — basically an Indian burrito — which will feed TWO hungry cartoonists for lunch. Throw in a mango lassi for $2 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 $6. You can get a full sized for under $10 for a hearty appetite. They’ve been threatening to open a full-service salumeri/wine bar since November but it’s still not open! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
• DI DI DUMPLING (24th and Lexington)– this place is new and has been getting mixed reviews, but if you are on the ultra budget trip, for $3.95 you get five dumplings, which could be the difference between life and death. There’s another bubble tea joint in the front which I haven’t tried. I ate here once and had the chicken dumplings and they were edible but unexceptional. Also the staff reacted with alarm and confusion when spoken to. If you are adventurous, you may like this place.
• SHAKE SHACK (in Madison Square Park, 23rd and Madison):
Normally we would not recommend this touristy joint, but this Danny Meyer institution definitely fits the under $10 category. 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!
• EATALY (entrance on Fifth Avenue, inside the old Toy building) — this is the new attraction in the neighborhood and it is definitely a love it or hate it affair. 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, meet, 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. Get yourself an imported limon soda and you’re good to go. They also have great coffee drinks here — including the bicerin, a heady mix of espresso, chocolate and heavy cream that will put the meat on your bones. You can also get gelato, various amazing pastries, or a glass of wine for a cheap thrill. 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, carb lovers take note, the bread is to die for: crusty and tangy. I got a loaf and ate almost half of it all by myself with a little olive oil and woke up in the morning with a bloated carb face — but it was worth it.
• 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. 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 dot the area.
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.
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: 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. They are also friendly and site of a party, so we’d call it MoCCA friendly.
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. If you have more than four make a reservation.
SARAVANAA BHAVAN (corner 26th and Lex) — this is apparently the Red Lobster of Southern India and is always packed with actual South Asian diners. Vegetarian only, the menu consists of a lot of iddli and dosa — big crispy rice crepes stuffed with a variety of fragrant fillings. I ate here once and it was too rich for me — the food is drenched in ghee, clarified butter — but for the adventurous, you may enjoy yourself.
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.
Do you have a favorite eatery in the neighborhood? Share!