10 to Taste in New York’s East Village

For timesonline.co.uk
December 29, 2010

Coffee from The Mud Truck

Coffee from The Mud Truck

Ramen noodles at Rai Rai Ken

Ramen noodles at Rai Rai Ken

Middle Eastern Eggs at Cafe Mogador

Middle Eastern Eggs at Cafe Mogador

(Click on image to scroll through pictures.)

In lower Manhattan, ethnic eats abound at prices that demand sampling – often late into the night.

10.  Coffee from the Mud Truck

Even if you’re not a regular coffee drinker, The Truck will make you one.  It’s hard to resist, simply because it’s there:  a bright orange beacon right in the middle of Astor Place, standing defiantly across from you-know-which coffee-shop chain.  But here’s the surprise:  the baristas always give you a warm welcome (even in the bitter cold) and they pour a cup that tastes as good as it smells for just $1 – same as they did a decade ago.
4th Avenue & 8th Street

9.  Pommes frites at Pommes Frites

Yes, they’re greasy.  Yes, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten a bit too much.  But if you have a hankering for authentic Belgian fries, there’s only one place to go.  Twice fried, generously salted, and thick enough to spoon one (or three) of their 26 sauces (from roasted garlic mayo to hot chili paste and everything in between), you’ll get your order in a paper cone to go or to eat in at the tiny shop which has little paper-cone holders carved throughout.
$4.50 for a regular order + $1 per sauce (or $2.50 for three)
123 Second Avenue (between 7th & 8th Streets)
212- 674-1234

8.  Mushroom barley soup at B&H Dairy

This kosher diner looks like it hasn’t had a makeover since it opened in the 1950s and consistently gets rave reviews for its hearty soups, all served with two door-stop size slices of fresh, buttered challah bread baked on the premises.  But the mushroom barley stands out – a creamy infusion of chewy grain that really coats the throat and leaves you feeling full for hours.
Bowl of soup with bread, $4.50
127 2nd Avenue (between 7th Street & Saint Marks Place)

7.  A slice from Artichoke Basille’s

No top-10 list of New York City food would be complete without a slice of pizza – one that flops beyond the perimeter of your paper plate and that you can eat on the run.  But the ones from Artichoke Basille’s are made with such care, they’re worthy of your undivided attention.  Ask the cashier what the secret ingredient is, and he’ll tell you right out:  “amore.”  Check out the website for an old blue eyes’ welcome that will get you itching for a slice – now.
$3.75 and up
328 E 14th Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenues)

6.  Vanilla and bourbon French toast at Belcourt

Warning:  one bite of the French toast at this Parisian-style brasserie, and you’re setting yourself up for cravings every weekend morning from then on out.  Served with a cloud of house-made ricotta cheese and a large shot of real New York State maple syrup (no high-fructose corn syrup here), the four slices of bourbon and vanilla-drenched brioche make any other French toast seem, well, decidedly un-French.
84 East 4th Street (at 2nd Avenue)

5.  Scallion pancakes at Dok Suni

Named “Kimchi Pajun”, this Korean appetizer combines crisp, tenderly fried scallion pancakes with pickled cabbage for a taste that’s instantly sharp on the tongue and lingers in the mind.  If you go with friends, you’ll want to ask for a few orders to share.
119 1st Avenue (between 7th Street & Saint Marks Place)

4.  Shoyu Ramen at Rai Rai Ken

Search for “best restaurants in the East Village”, and you’ll undoubtedly come up with Ippudo, the darling of the Japanese ramen scene.  But for an unforgettable bowl of noodles at nearly half the price, skip the long wait and head over to Rai Rai Ken where the fanfare is reserved for the food, especially the classic Shoyu: a soy-sauce based soup topped with bamboo shoot, half a hard-boiled egg, roast pork, spinach, fish cake, dry seaweed, scallion, and some of the best noodles you’ll ever slurp.
214 E 10th Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenues)

3.  Borscht and blintze at Veselka

This Ukranian diner is an East Village fixture, and you’ll want to sit at the counter to watch all the kitchen action – a constant outpouring of dishes from pierogi (filled dumplings boiled or fried) to chocolate-chip pancakes.  But nothing tops a meal of borscht (a sweet soup made of beetroot) and blintze (wafer-thin pancakes filled with sweet cheese served with applesauce and sour cream).  If you can go back for another round on the weekend, order the Salmon Latka Eggs Benedict for a show-stopping potato-pancake twist on the brunch favorite.
Cup of borscht: $3.50
Blintze: $6.95
144 2nd Avenue (at 9th Street)

2.  Middle Eastern Eggs at Cafe Mogador

By night, Cafe Mogador is a sultry den conjuring up Casbah classics like saffron-studded tagines and cous-cous brimming with chickpeas.  And you might have to wait up to two hours for a table to try them.  So don’t, not when the morning brings original dishes in their own right like organic eggs any style with hummus, tabouli, salad, and za’atar pita – a spice-dusted mound of bread that will make you re-think breakfast.
101 St. Marks Place (between 1st Avenue & Avenue A)

1.  The lunch special at Caracas Arepa Bar

You could say arepas are the pitas of South America: steamy pillows made of cornmeal and stuffed with any number of ingredients.  And nobody does it better than the busy cooks at Caracas.  Specifically, ask for the number 19 called “La Mulata,” an arepa bursting with black beans, salty grilled cheese, sautéed red peppers, and the kicker: fried sweet plantains…plus jalapenos if you dare.  Don’t forget to top it off with some of their house “secret” sauce, a mustard-colored concoction that instantly reveals itself in your mouth as a fiesta of passion fruit and peppers.
$7.95 for any arepa + soup or salad (weekdays noon – 4pm)
93 E 7th Street (between 1st Ave & Avenue A)