Saturday, April 15, 2006

Upper East Side

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Arriba Arriba [1463 Third Ave. (bet. 82nd and 83rd Sts.) 212-249-1423]
Good food at pretty good prices. They also have good margaritas here. I tried the fajitas and was impressed, although a little more guacamole wouldn't have hurt (it never could). I would also recommend the create your own platter. You can get a lot of food for not that much money.

Asia Grill [1239 Second Ave. (at 65th St.) 212-753-9818]
Vietnamese food is the focus here, but there is also solid sushi on offer. Delivery is extremely fast, and I like the lunch specials because they are cheap and tasty. Ga Xao Cai (basically chicken with mixed vegetables) is one of my favorites.

Atlantic Grill [1341 Third Ave. (bet. 76th and 77th Sts.) 212-988-9200]
Consistently high-quality food at consistently high prices. Some of the better and fresher fish in the city is available here and they offer both traditional and sushi-style fish. In addition, it is a nice place to go for Thanksgiving dinner if you don't like eating at home.

Bawarchi [1149 First Ave. (at 63rd St.) 212-371-3535 (See for more locations)]
A good, solid, reasonably priced chain of Indian restaurants (formerly Baluchi's). You know what you are getting here, and you know it will taste pretty good. The lunch special here is a particularly excellent deal.

Beyoglu [1431 Third Ave. (at 81st St.) 212-650-0850]
It's relatively large, almost always crowded, and it's got good Turkish food. Better yet, it's got affordable prices. No wonder so many people come here. I would recommend that you start with the Hummus, the Cacik, or both, depending on how many people are eating (for 4 or more, get both). For main courses, I preferred the fish, as both the Striped Bass and the Swordfish were high quality options. However, if you prefer meat, the Doner Kebab is a solid alternative.

Brasserie Julien [1422 Third Ave. (bet. 80th and 81st Sts.) 212-744-6327]
A wonderfully romantic French bistro. All the standard French dishes are offered, in addition to some specials based on what is fresh. I enjoyed the rack of lamb with a crab cake appetizer, while my beautiful date had a special scallop dish. The brasserie also has an extensive beer selection, and I drank a bottle of Kwak from Belgium. The prices are a little high, and the tables are a little tight, but that just makes things more intimate (tables, not prices).

Cafe 79 [1514 First Ave. (at 79th St.) 212-734-1655]
I went here once and I liked what I saw...and ate. The Belgian Waffle was light and airy, and my Chocolate Chip Silver Dollar Pancakes had a nice consistency. Best of all, the place is cheap, open 24 hours, and serves beer too.

Caffe Buon Gusto [236 E. 77th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-535-6884]
Small and cozy, this is a very tasty choice for dinner. You can create your own pasta or choose a specialty pasta such as the black linguini with calamari or the green and white linguine with salmon that I had. Prices are affordable and of course other Italian specialties are available as well. I recommend reservations as it is a pretty popular place.

Dalga [401 E. 62nd St. (bet. 1st and York Aves.) 212-813-1790]
A nice setting and a great rotating variety of fresh fish make this Turkish restaurant a great choice for dinner. Prices are reasonable for fish, and because of the location you won't be bothered by too many other diners. A nice date spot.

Dallas BBQ [1265 Third Ave. (at 73rd St.) 212-772-9393 (See for more locations.)]
Good, but not great, cheap BBQ all over the city. Texas-sized drinks pack a serious punch. Perfect for large groups that don't want to spend that much. I usually order the Chicken and Ribs combo.

El Paso Taqueria [1642 Lexington Ave. (at 104th St.) 212-831-9831]
Head to the Upper Upper East Side for some delicious guacamole and tacos at reasonable prices. Throw in a mango margarita and you'll have the full experience. I had three tacos, one each of chicken, beef, and pork and was pretty full afterwards for just $8. Although I normally prefer pork tacos, I would say that the beef (Bistec) was my favorite one here. Of course, El Paso also offers all the other classic Mexican dishes and the Burrito de Hongos (mushrooms) is a solid vegetarian option.

Giorgio's Pizza [1343 Second Ave. (bet. 70th and 71st Sts.) 212-628-8419]
At Giorgio's you can find an extremely unique (and pretty tasty) type of pizza. The shape of the slices is the same, but instead of the traditional method of the cheese covering all of the sauce, there are small spots (maybe an inch wide, four per slice) of sauce that are exposed. Definitely good for a change of pace, but I personally could not eat here all the time.

Hale and Hearty Soups [849 Lexington Ave. (bet. 64th and 65th Sts.) 212-517-7600 (See for more locations)]
This chain of soup, salad, and sandwich shops is an excellent lunch location. They have a few solid soups available every day, but I always prefer to go for one of the daily specials. My favorites include Shrimp Bisque, Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato Bisque, and Chicken and Corn Chowder, along with other bisques and chowders.

Haru [1329 Third Ave. (at 76th St.) 212-452-2230 (See for more locations)]
This sushi chain could be considered the Baluchi's of Japanese food. You know what you are going to get and it will be good, but you could get better. That said, Haru certainly serves high-quality, albeit somewhat overpriced, sushi at each of its many locations.

Jasmine [1619 Second Ave. (at 84th St.) 212-517-8854]
Despite its unassuming exterior, this restaurant serves up very good traditional Thai cuisine. All the favorites are here, from Tom Yam Goong to Pahd Thai to my choice, Pahd See You. The chicken in my Pahd See You was particularly tender and overall the food was tasty. I also recommend the Pahd Woosen.

JG Melon [1291 Third Ave. (at 74th St.) 212-650-1310]
This Upper East Side hot spot is always mobbed around dinner time, but if you really want to eat there, it is open until 4 am every night, so you should have plenty of chances to feed your cravings. And this is a good idea because the burgers here are juicy and delicious. There's a reason that people come here from far and wide. Finally, for once, I would highly recommend ordering the fries. They are among the best I have had in New York.

John's Pizzeria Eastside [408 E. 64th St. (bet. 1st and York Aves.) 212-935-2895]
This is the Upper East Side outpost of the chain of pizzerias spawned by the original John's of Bleecker Street. No slices is the rallying cry here, and it makes sense because the pizza is so good that you will want a whole pie. Sadly I have not yet been to the original, but I plan on making a pilgrimage there in the not-too-distant future.

JoJo [160 E. 64th St. (bet. 3rd and Lexington Aves.) 212-223-5656]
Located in a beautiful converted townhouse, this elegant Jean-Georges resturant serves up splendid French fusion cuisine. The setting is superb and the seemingly simple menu (main courses are named Chicken, Duck, Lamb, etc... although they rotate) belies a high level of creativity in the dishes. For starters, I recommend the Soft Shell Crab or the Warm Asparagus Salad, depending on which way your tastes tend to lead you. I chose the crab, and could not have been more satisfied. For an entree, I chose the Duck and again was very pleased with my selection. The fowl was tender and delicious, with a wonderful sauce to complement it. But if you prefer chicken, fish, or any other meat, I have a feeling that you will be equally happy. Finish things off with the Warm Valrhona Cake. Trust me.

Luke's Bar & Grill [1394 Third Ave. (bet. 79th and 80th Sts.) 212-249-7070]
I liked the atmosphere and the beer selection and prices. It has a nice traditional feel to it. And the burgers are pretty good, although not amazing. All the American classics are available here.

L'Absinthe [227 E. 67th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-794-4950]
Absolutely outstanding French food in an authentic brasserie setting. Certainly an expensive treat, L'Absinthe is worth the money. My favorite dish is the rack of lamb, but you can't really go wrong here. A nice date spot for the well-heeled. A nice parents-take-you-out spot for the not-so-well-heeled.

La Cantina Toscana [1109 First Ave. (bet. 60th and 61st Sts.) 212-754-5454]
Try out this tiny Tuscan treat on the Upper East Side. Featuring an authentic Italian atmosphere and more options than most comparable restaurants, La Cantina Toscana is a good place to try something new. For starters, if you want something light, go for the Mesclun Salad. If you want something a little heavier, order a bowl of the Pappa al Pomodoro. For your main course, make sure you have some wild game or fish. For wild game, you can choose anything from wild boar to venison to pheasant, generally served in a ragu with a healthy portion of pasta. Buon Appetito.

Maya [1191 First Avenue (bet. 64th and 65th Sts.) 212-585-1818]
You may not have realized it, but there is such a thing as upscale Mexican food. And Maya serves it up with aplomb. The guacamole is a must-have appetizer and the Tacos de Punta de Filete (basically Filet Mignon tacos) are very good as well. For main dishes, I would recommend the fish, either the Pescado a la Talla (Red Snapper) or Robala con Hongos (Striped Bass). Make sure to wash your food down with a margarita (I like mango the best).

Maz Mezcal [316 E. 86th St. (bet. 1st and 2nd Aves.) 212-472-1599]
As mentioned, there is a general dearth of high-quality Mexican food, but Maz Mezcal provides some. The good food, along with tasty drinks, mean that this place is certainly worth a visit.

Mediterraneo [1260 Second Ave. (at 66th St.) 212-734-7407]
A Berger family favorite for years, pasta doesn't get much better than at Mediterraneo. The pizza and other dishes are good too, but pasta is clearly the specialty (along with fast service). Among others, I would recommend Tagliolini al Granchio, Linguine Nere all'Arrabbiata, Pappardelle all'Anatra, and Penne al Sugo Toscano, but every single pasta dish I have ever tried there has been delicious. This restaurant is almost always crowded, so if you can't get a table, I suggest a visit to the sister restaurant down the block, Za Za (see below).

Our Place [1444 Third Ave. (at 82nd St.) 212-288-4888]
Good quality Chinese cuisine at not too terrible prices. I like the Chicken Corn Soup, Li Po Chicken, and Beef with Chinese Vegetables. There is also another location on East 55th St. bet. Third and Lex.

Park Avenue Cafe [100 E. 63rd St. (bet. Lexington and Park Aves.) 212-644-1900]
If you are under 25, you should definitely go here for dinner one night. If you are 35 or under, you should consider it. If you are older than 35, I hope that you are smart enough to go elsewhere or wealthy enough to not care about paying too much for a nice dinner. You see, Park Avenue Cafe offers a wonderful deal in which diners get to pay their age (from $25 to $65) for a three-course meal any time after 8:30 pm any night. With this meal, you get the typical appetizer, entree, and dessert combination, and an excellent combination it is. The Goat Cheese Ravioli is one of the better appetizers, and both the Duck and the Lamb are wise choices for entrees, but most of the food is very good, so you probably can't go wrong with too many of the selections. For dessert, try The Chocolate Cube (mostly for its presentation) and if you are young, you can leave the restaurant knowing that you got a wonderful deal.

Penang [1596 Second Ave. (at 83rd St.) 212-585-3838]
This chain of Malaysian restaurants is pretty good and not overly expensive. As with most of the Southeast Asian restaurants, I like the decor, especially the exterior of this location.

Pintaile's [26 E. 91st St. (bet. 5th and Madison Aves.) 212-722-1967]
An extremely thin crust pizza with a totally original taste, Pintaile's is not for everyone. I would recommend it personally, and I think that is a slice that all New Yorkers (and even tourists) should try. If you don't like it, eat no more. If you do like it, you have discovered a whole new world of pizza.

Pio Pio [1746 First Ave. (bet 90th and 91st Sts.) 212-426-5800]
One of the best deals on the Upper East Side, this Peruvian chicken joint will fill you up with good food on the cheap. The centerpiece of the experience has to be a full chicken. This will comfortably feed three people, and maybe even four if you load up on sides. The chicken is tender and flavorful, offering both white and dark meat. As for side dishes, my favorites were the Maduros (sweet plantains), the Avocado Salad, and the standard rice and beans. All of these are perfect for sharing, although you may need two orders of rice and beans if you have four people. Make sure to show up early if you can, because this small restaurant fills up quickly.

Poke [305 E. 85th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-249-0569]
This tiny, tiny sushi place serves up a wide variety of specialty rolls with high quality fish. Too many rolls can get a little pricey, but sushi is expensive everywhere, so when you visit, indulge yourself. Try the Xmas Roll or the Ninja Roll.

Quattro Gatti [205 E. 81st St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-570-1073]
Authentic Italian food that tastes better than most of its neighbors. I liked the Linguine alla Positano, but I would also recommend the Branzino. A little expensive, but far from outrageous considering the quality of food and atmosphere.

Roma's Pizza [1568 Third Ave. (at 88th St.) 212-369-3455]
Formerly La Mia, this place will always be near and dear to my heart for the countless slices I ate here during and after school for many years. The slices here are always reliable and tasty and the prices are reasonable as well. For some reason, the delivery is not quite up to the same standards, but it has been awhile since I ordered from here so maybe times have changed.

Scalinatella [201 E. 61st St. (at 3rd Ave.) 212-207-8280]
High-end, fantastic Italian food. The setting may be a little crowded and the prices may be a little high, but the food is always most important to me, and it is excellent here. They even give you two incredible free toppings for your bread (some diced zucchinis in a brown sauce and a seafood salad of sorts). Listen for the specials, because there is usually something particularly good there.

Sel et Poivre [853 Lexington Ave. (bet. 64th and 65th Sts.) 212-517-5780]
This cozy French bistro serves up a tasty, traditional menu at reasonable prices. The best time to go is actually on a Friday or Saturday night when you can enjoy steak frites or any chicken dish on the menu for only $12.95. Bon appetit!

Shanghai Pavilion [1378 Third Ave. (bet. 78th and 79th Sts.) 212-585-3388]
This new Upper East Side restaurant serves excellent and distinctive Chinese cuisine at affordable prices. If you want to, you can create your own dishes, but I would recommend choosing from among the specialties, including Green Tea Chicken.

Silver Star [1238 Second Ave. (at 65th St.) 212-249-4250]
An old Berger family favorite, Silver Star is a nice, reliable, Upper East Side diner. The French Toast is particularly good, the pancakes are solid, and portions in general are huge of course.

Slice, The Perfect Food [1413 Second Ave. (bet. 73rd and 74th Sts.) 212-249-4353]
Pizza that's good for you? And Vegan? And Kosher? That's right...and it's only at Slice. All these things might sound scary to pizza lovers, myself included, but I have to say that the pizza here tastes very good. It may be overpriced and the pieces may be too small for my liking, but you cannot complain about the taste. And the taste isn't just good, it's different and unique. So I encourage anyone and everyone to give it a try and find something new that you just might like better than that something old.

Sotto Cinque [322 E. 86th St. (bet. 1st and 2nd Aves.) 212-472-5563]
With nice new digs and a location on 86th street, Sotto Cinque has stepped things up a little bit. On the other hand, they are not exactly living up to their name, as only the three most basic pastas cost less than $5. But luckily, none of the more expensive "standard" options cost more than $8.95. I recommend the Rigatoni Cinque, which is very similar to Penne alla Vodka, costs just $6.95, and is rather tasty. Sotto Cinque is an excellent place to go for cheap Italian. If you want the real high quality stuff though, you're gonna have to pay the price and probably head elsewhere.

Sushi of Gari [402 E. 78th St. (bet. 1st and York Aves.) 212-517-5340]
Make sure to get a reservation for this fantastic sushi specialist. The fish is so fresh you might think that it's still swimming. A little more expensive than most, but the food is worth it. Definitely get a dish with fish, sushi regular is a steal at $22. But the good stuff costs a little more. The Chef's special sushi is incredible, but it costs $75. If you want something special, but also fantastic, for a more affordable price, try the Tuna of Gari for $43. Another small Upper East Side location, Gari has a sister restaurant simply called Gari on the Upper West Side which is equally delicious I'm sure.

Sushi Seki [1143 First Ave. (bet. 62nd and 63rd Sts.) 212-371-0238]
Absolutely outstanding. The most unique and delicious sushi I have had in New York. I highly recommend Seki's Original Special Recipe Platter. It may be a little more expensive, but it is worth every penny for the creative combinations of fish and sauces. For those not inclined toward sushi, the Beef Negimaki is tender and tasty, and you can't go wrong with the Chilean Sea Bass. But I would still insist that sushi has to be the ticket to a splendid meal. Seki is only open for dinner, beginning at 5:30 PM, and due to the small space, you must make a reservation ahead of time if you want to eat dinner any time from about 7:00 to 9:30 PM. After that, tables and the sushi bar are often available, and amazingly the restaurant is open most nights until 3:00 AM.

Taco Taco [1726 Second Ave. (bet. 89th and 90th Sts.) 212-289-8226]
It's another solid Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side. I especially liked that they made the guacamole tableside. It had nice chunks of avocado and was spiced to your liking. Not surprisingly, tacos were the choice for a main course. The Carnitas were my personal favorite, but the Carne Asada was of similar, solid quality. For drinks, the mango margarita was very good, albeit somewhat overpriced. Overall, this is a reliable neighborhood Mexican restaurant, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

Tsuki [1410 1st Ave. (bet. 74th and 75th Sts.) 212-517-6860]
An absolute gem. I am consistently amazed by how many excellent sushi restaurants there are in New York. Like many of the other ones, Tsuki has a very modest decor, but some fantastic fish. You should really make sure to treat yourself here, and here is how you should do it: Start with the 3 Salad Appetizer, which is definitely big enough to share between two people, but also worthwhile for a hungry individual. The Lobster Salad is particularly delicious and can be ordered with just seaweed (no Hijiki) in an exquisite combination. For the main event, go for the Omakase if you've got the money, but there is also a more affordable way to taste some of the best fish available. In this case, I am referring to the Tsuki Selection, in which you get six of the chef's best cuts of fish along with the fantastic Volcano Tuna Roll. In fact, this selection is big enough that you could certainly share it with someone else, along with one other roll (perhaps Salmon Carrot Sauce?), and feel full. Finally, if you still don't feel full (or even if you do), top off your meal with the Mochi ice cream. Get chocolate and vanilla. Both are excellent and come with very sweet and tasty mountain berries. On the whole, Tsuki is a very good alternative to a place like Sushi of Gari because it is cheaper, much less crowded, and of similar quality.

Turquoise Seafood [240 E. 81st St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-988-8222]
Owned and run by a friendly Israeli man, this seafood restaurant offers fresh fish from around the Mediterranean. The setting is beautifully designed and there is excellent food to go along with it. Good appetizers include the Homemade Tzaziki, the Grilled Vegetables, and I would think the Zucchini Medallions as well. As for main courses, you must have fish, either whole, or prepared in one of a variety of ways. The Chilean Sea Bass, the Red St. Peter's (Tilapia), and the Salmon Fillet en Papillote (cooked in parchment paper) were all especially good. Then, if you're not too full, top your meal off with an exquisite molten chocolate cake.

Yuka [1557 Second Ave. (bet. 80th and 81st Sts.) 212-772-9675]
An all-you-can-eat paradise and long-time favorite among me and my friends. For just $18.00, you can stuff yourself with tuna, salmon, and other favorites until you have gills. Unlike most places with this same deal, the fish is pretty high quality. For those without such a large appetite, most other food is fairly inexpensive as well. And portions tend to be huge.

Za Za [1207 First Ave. (bet. 65th and 66th Sts.) 212-772-9997]
This sister restaurant to Mediterraneo serves up food just as good, but it is almost never crowded and it delivers! Za Za is especially good in the summer when the back garden is open and they offer an incredible $10 lunch special.

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