Category Archives: New York Restaurants

NY Halal Food (Cart on 14th and 3rd)

The traditional hot dog and pretzel stands are no longer part of mainstream New York culture. If you walk the streets of NYC today, you find endless amounts of halal carts. Although the cheap prices for lamb and shrimp from street carts may seem worrisome, don’t be silly. Halal carts are abundant for a reason; you should eat at them as much as you can.

If you ask almost any New Yorker, they will immediately bring up the 53rd and 6th cart, truly the “mecca” of New York halal food. This cart does sell their own t-shirts and have their own websites. Sadly, I have not been, so I can not make a judgment so far.

However, there is another great option for those who live a bit further downtown. This fantastic cart is located on the southeast side of Union Square. The absurd number of halal carts on 14th Street make it difficult to find. Here are some basic steps for identifying it: it’s the only one with a $3.99 deal including a drink, it is the 3rd cart from 3rd avenue, and the guy running the stand will call you “brother”.

Now – what to order:

Although the gyros are considered favorites, go with the lamb and rice. The lamb, despite coming in a large chunk, is surprising good quality and is even leaner than the chicken. Although thousands of carts offer lamb and rice, this one if different. First, it comes with potatoes on top. The potatoes are chopped up and have a bit of spice on them; they taste very similar to those used in Indian dosas. Second, they put pita on top of the lamb and rice, without extra charge. As always, the pita is coated in butter and the famous New York halal “white sauce”. Third, it costs only $3.99.

If you want a lot of great food for only $4, there is no better option.

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S’MAC: Mac and Cheese Like Never Before

S’MAC, also known as Sarita’s Mac and Cheese, takes the simple dish of Macaroni and Cheese and brings it to an entirely new level. This quick and simple restaurant has quite a few different flavors that can cater mac and cheese to any audience.

Here is a list of the flavors that I have tried, ranked in order.

(Note: that these are merely my opinions. These opinions are all fiercely contested among S’MAC fans.)

1. The Four Cheese-this is the holy grail of mac and cheese. The “quattro fromaggios” featured are Cheddar, Gruyere, Muenster and Pecorino. Although some disagree about what the best flavor is, the Four Cheese is, on balance, the most popular. The fresh cheeses are all seperated on to different sections of the pasta, so you can enjoy four distinct flavors in the same meal.

2. The Cajun-this is quite good. It has a balance of meat, cheese, and vegetarian flavor. The green pepper and onion give it a crunchy texture and a bit of heat. If you like a mild amount of spice or like Cajun food, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Napoletana-simple mac and cheese with an Italian spin. As its name suggests, it is quite similar to the basic Italian pizza, featuring chopped up tomato, basil, and garlic. My opinion on it is similar to the classic Margherita pizza: great, but simple without much innovation over the traditional mac and cheese.

4.The All American-this is the classic and original flavor that we associate with mac and cheese. Although it is nearly impossible to dislike, it is designed to be plain and simply. For most, it lacks enough flavor, but if you are in the mood for classic mac and cheese, this isn’t a bad option.

5. Buffalo Chicken-this is the most divisive item on the menu. Certain people love this, while the others rank it at the bottom of the list. Although the sauce does give the pasta a bit of extra flavor, I thought it overwhelmed the cheese and breadcrumbs–I could only taste buffalo sauce. However, others, like Ishita, enjoyed the chicken and buffalo sauce. As a general rule: if you love buffalo wings, you’ll probably like this.

6. Parisian-“overly ambitious”. It features shitake mushrooms and figs, as well as rosemary. Although it sounds good and elegant on the menu, S’MAC is a delivery mac and cheese shop. Most people agree the ingrediants don’t jive well. My advice: avoid this.

After the Four Cheese, the best thing about S’MAC is that it delivers to most areas in Manhattan. The restaurant is fun to go to, but nothing special. It is a bit small and can be crowded sometimes.

But, when you don’t want to leave your room, nothing beats S’MAC. It is really good food, with great value and a convenient delivery service.

(Note: the delivery guy never lets you keep the receipt. No one really knows why, but since he doesn’t speak English very well, you should let it slide and go with the flow.)

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Num Pang Sandwich Shop: The best sandwich in New York

No, the best sandwich in New York is not a pastrami sandwich from Katz, or any other classic New York delicatessen. Zagat gave the award to this quick and informal Cambodian sandwich shop near Union Square, on University and 12th Street.

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Num Pang Sandwich Shop

(Note: the anonymous hipster is not guaranteed during your visit.)

The sandwiches are an interesting fusion of European and Asian cuisine. While the legacy of French occupation has influenced this particular Cambodian food item, the meat and veggies within the sandwich have a very particular Asian flavor. The foundation of Num Pang is the soft, freshly toasted baguette roll, while the flavors inside the sandwich can vary from sweet Asian sauces to spicy styles of meat familiar in Thai restaurants.

Inside, each sandwich comes with a homemade chili mayo sauce, cilantro, carrots, and cucumber. The sauce complements the meat with both a creamy essence and a bit of heat. Similarly, the veggies do not distract from the flavor of the meat, but give the sandwich an interesting crunchy texture.

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The Grilled Khmer Sausage sandwich

Ishita and I ordered two sandwiches:

The Pulled Duroc sandwich is very sweet. The quality and taste of the pork itself is quite good, but the base of the dish is a spiced Honey sauce. If you enjoy foods like sweet flavors with meat, like sweet and sour sauce or teriyaki, you will enjoy this.

The Grilled Khmer Sausage sandwich takes a different approach. The sausage was leaner and thicker than the pork. The taste was characterized by a bit of spice and heat, as well as the smoky, lean taste of the sausage. Even as an avid lover of sweet foods, this sandwich was the better option.

In addition to the sandwiches, there are a multitude of interesting Asian drinks, ranging from teas, Ginger Beer, and watermelon juice. I personally recommend the “blood orange lemonade”.

The restaurant itself is designed for take-out and on to go eaters, but there is a small eating area on the second floor if you feel like sitting down. The restaurant can be a bit busy sometimes, but it’s well worth the wait.

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La Laterna: rich flavors, romantic ambiance, an affordable pleasure

la laterna located at 129 MacDougal Street New York, NY 10012

Last week, I visited NYC for a few days and explored a bunch of fun eateries with my favorite foodie, Robert. Although we mostly sampled NYC’s offerings of casual dining (thank you college student budget), we stumbled upon an unassuming gem on MacDougal Street – La Laterna di Vittorio. The restaurant’s exterior doesn’t do justice to its unique, romantic exterior. Lighting is minimal while the furniture is reminiscent of that which would be in a European garden. There are three parts of the restaurant — the immediate seating, downstairs seating with jazz and then an indoor patio (shown above). Our experience of sitting in the indoor patio was marvelous: paper lights hanging at different heights coupled with subtle wall lighting made La Laterna an ideal Friday night date spot.

Robert and I ordered the following dishes:

Appetizer: Pomodoro e Basilico Bruschetta ($6.99) — 3 generous slices of crisp but airy peasant bread topped with finely chopped tomato, onion, and basil. This was a great starter because the bread was light while the toppings were fresh. It revved up our appetites for the upcoming entrees without stealing too much valuable stomach real estate.

Entree 1: Lasagna Quattro Formaggi ($12.99) — this dish was the classic four cheese pasta dish: satisfying cheesy creaminess, silky pasta, the top baked crisp to perfection. As almost every four cheese pasta usually tends to be, this dish was definitely very heavy (many will argue that this is what gives this classic comfort food its charm.) If you choose to try this dish, I would recommend ordering it as a dish to be shared among your party instead of a personal entree. If you’re in the mood to try something risky or new – I’d go for something else on the menu.

Entree 2: Pizza con Salmone Affumicato e Cipolla ($13.99) — this pizza was the star entree of the night! Every component of the dish seems to come together perfectly: thin and delicate slices of smoked salmon coupled with creamy mascarpone cheese, slightly tart capers, and mildly sweet onions. Moreover, the pizza is incredibly thin crust which allows the smoked salmon and cheese to take the front stage (it also means that this entree disappears especially quickly…). If these flavors seem even mildly appealing to you, I would urge you to try this dish — it’s the reason that I am sure I will be making my way back to La Laterna next time I am in NYC.

All in all, I would definitely recommend La Laterna for an enjoyable affordable dining experience. If you’re going with more than four people, consider calling ahead of time to make a reservation — most likely, that will save you the average 10-30 minutes of wait on a busy weekend night. Enjoy!

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