Best of Manhattan '10: Eats & Drink

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Best New Wine Bar: Tangled Vine
434 Amsterdam Ave., at W. 81st St., 646-863-3896

Head west, young man (and woman), and you will find a gem of a wine bar. The Tangled Vine opened last March with wine director Evan Spingarn in charge of the heavy menu laden with organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines, mainly from France, Spain, Austria, Germany and Italy. Not only are the servers and bartenders eager to help you choose a drink, the book of wine is set up in such a way that it’s actually easy to translate. You have reds, whites, rosés and bubbly listed not by price or region, but by dryness. And, if you fancy a real adventure, sample something you’ve never heard of before, like the rueda or refosco.

Best Eatery to Trick You Into Thinking You’re In Middle America: The Pop Tarts Store
West 42nd St., betw. 6th & 7th Aves.

Just a stone’s throw from the trappings of Bryant Park rests a monument to convenience and processed food that seems better suited for Minnesota’s Mall of America: the Pop Tarts Store. So dubious they wouldn’t even let it into Times Square proper, this barren outlet exists, it seems, only to hoist the vile sushi-flavored pop tart upon the world.

Best Place to Eat Green: Blossom Restaurant
187 9th Ave., betw. W. 21st & W. 22nd Sts., 212-627-1144

A restaurant can’t get more self-righteous and preachy than local, organic, kosher, vegan fare offered at a 15-percent discount to members of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. A crunchy version of upscale dining (no entrée clocks in at less than $18), Blossom Restaurant serves up good eating, even if you thought seitan was the lord of hell, not the vegetarian wheat meat. As you sign the exorbitant check, feel that congratulatory tingle of being more environmentally conscious then your fine-dining brethren.

Best, Worst and Only Burmese Restaurant in Manhattan: Café Mingala
1393B 2nd Ave., betw. E. 72nd & E. 73rd Sts., 212-744-8008

“Unpretentious” is not a word we normally find ourselves using on the Upper East Side, but the vibe at Café Mingala is just that. Since Burma is bordered by China, India and Thailand (among others), you can feel worldly without suffering through some horrific Pan-Asian yuppie echo-box ordeal. Try the addictively tangy Mango Chicken/Beef or the crispy Gold Sesame Chicken/Pork Stick with sweet chili sauce—and don’t skip dessert! If you can get past its soggy-cereal appearance, the Thousand Layer Bread, a sweet, scallion-free riff on Chinese scallion pancakes, is worth feeling like the fattest person north of 59th Street.

Best Place to Eat Before a Show, Manhattan: Benny’s Burritos
93 Ave. A, at E. 6th St., 212-254-3286

Pop Quiz: That show at Cake Shop doesn’t start for an hour and the opener kind of sucks, anyway. What do you do? If you’ve got half a brain, you’ll drag your lazy ass to Benny’s Burritos on Avenue A. If the restaurant just had $4 margaritas, that would be enough of a reason to go. But Benny’s also has something approaching real, reasonably priced food. It’s a revelation on the LES, which is otherwise stuffed with overpriced crap for condo-dwellers. By the time you sit down and enjoy a Chicken Mole Ole burrito and frosty beverage, you’ll be right on schedule to go back and enjoy the headliner.

Best Chinatown Greasy Spoon to Wait Behind Bums for Hangover-Killing Food: Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food
79 Chrystie St., betw. Canal & Hester Sts., 212-925-5175

Benders usually leave us broke, broken men. But come red-eyed morning, we like to pull together a fistful of quarters and queue up behind downtown bums for Chinatown’s porkiest bargain. Just $2.50 buys a brick-size (and –heavy) portion of fatty, caramelized roast pork as crunchy as candy. It’s as much medicine as aspirin.

Best Way To Enjoy Fried Pastrami: Bea’s Empanadas
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, 174 5th Ave., betw. W. 22nd & W. 23rd Sts., 212-675-5096.

We’ve had the pastrami egg rolls at FoodParc and heard all about the rye-and-pastrami croissant at Momofuku Milk Bar, but for our money, the best fried meat in town comes from Bea, the friendliest waitress at Flatiron lunch spot Eisenberg’s. She mixes pastrami, olives, peppers and onions, shoves it all inside of dough and serves the oversized, deep-fried gut bombs with a spicy garlic dipping sauce. It’s enough to leave you asking, Reuben who?

Best Street Meat Worth Waiting in Line Beside 25 Clueless Tourists: 53rd and Sixth Halal Cart
West 53rd Street & Sixth Avenue

We’re addicted to this corner cart’s creamy white sauce and tender chicken, which also attracts tourists like moths to light. Silently, and often vocally, we curse the Spaniards and French queued in front of us, until the moment comes when we can mutter these words: “chicken, rice, white sauce, hot sauce.”

Best Use of Carbohydrates, Chinatown Edition: A-Wah
5 Catherine St., betw. Division St. & Broadway, 212-925-8308

We’ve never had carbohydrates quite like this Hong Kong–style joint’s “world famous rice in casserole.” A heap of fluffy rice is tossed into a clay pot, crowned with toppings (we like the mushroom trio), then cooked till crisp, steamy and flavor-infused. Finish it with sweet soy sauce for a bowl-scraping feast.

Best Freebie Bar Snack: Bacon Maple Popcorn at South Houston
331 W. Broadway, at Grand St., 212-431-0131

Offering patrons free pretzels, nuts, wings and even tatertots is old hat. Enter brown sugar and bacon-coated popcorn, fresh from the kitchen and oozing sweet-savory goodness—and gratis to boot. At SoHo’s new sports bar South Houston, they treat you to a metal bucketful of this sinful snack, which is perfect to help coat your belly before you have too many of their potent cocktails, like the Grand Street Manhattan or the cool and refreshing Martini Cochon. You might not want to get seconds if you have meal plans later; you’re likely to ruin your dinner.

Best Place to Go After You’ve Been Dumped: The Donut Pub
203 W. 14th St., betw. 7th & 8th Aves., 212-929-0126

For those breakups that leave you too blue for even a bartender to psychoanalyze, plant yourself at a stool in this Formica bar and bury your woes in a red velvet donut and a cup of joe. Watch the light in the window to know when the donuts are fresh, and don’t worry if it’s difficult to pick just one: at $1.10 a pop, you won’t have to. Since 1964, the Donut Pub has been mending hearts and filling stomachs 24 hours a day. So stop in to satisfy some late night drunchies and maybe meet your next great love over a black-and-white cookie.

Best Hero to Make You Rethink Deli Meat: Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry St., at Prince St., 212-965-0955

To us, a turkey sandwich is elementary-school sustenance. To Torrisi, it’s art. The herbaceous, mouth-stretching masterpiece begins with Parisi Bakery bread, which is stuffed with house-roasted turkey (glazed with garlic, herbs and honey), shaved lettuce, wisps of red onion, tomato, mayo and piquant sauce so good, we lick the wrapper clean.

Best Unfancy Sandwich: This Way from This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef
149 1st Ave., betw. E. 9th & E. 10th Sts., 212-253-1500

Piles of thinly sliced roast beef on a fresh, eggy bun with a slathering of Cheez Whiz for only $5.50 is exactly what makes this the best meaty sandwich around. Though This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef came at a time when Brooklyn’s Mile End was getting all the glory, the sheer convenience of this joint in the bustling East Village and its deli-like prices trump the Canadian competition. Of course, we aren’t surprised owners of the delicious fatty food havens Artichoke and Led Zeppole did their meat sandwiches right—they have the heart attack cuisine cornered and we’re forever grateful.

Best Popsicle: Chocolate Gelato at Popbar

5 Carmine St., at 6th Ave., 212-255-4874

Remember when you were a kid and your mom placated you with Jell-O Pudding Pops? The chocolate gelato bar at Popbar has the same rich, creamy texture and deep cocoa flavor, but unlike the corn syrup-filled treat of childhood, the pure, high-quality chocolate in this bar is imported from Italy and there are no artificial flavors added.

Best Dessert That Could Be a Meal: Crème Brulee di Parmigiano Peggiano at Perbacco
234 E. 4th St., betw. Aves. A & B, 212-253-2038

Hidden among classic Italian dishes like ravioli and risotto, Chef Simone Bonelli has included some gastronomic surprises in the menu at Perbacco in the East Village. Perhaps most stunning is the crème brulee di Parmigiano Reggiano, an appetizer that pretends to be a dessert that actually tastes like a savory meal. The dish is made with 18-month aged cheese, but, instead of caramelizing sugar on top of the mixture like a normal crème brulee, Bonelli uses a 12-year-old aged balsamic vinegar. When you dip into it, make sure to scoop from top to bottom so the burst of creamy cheese goodness will play off of the sweet crunch of the hardened vinegar.

Best Coffee Shop For Killing Time: Birch
The Gershwin Hotel, 5 E. 27th St., betw. 5th & Madison Aves., 212-686-1444

Sure, people crowd about Stumptown in The Ace Hotel, but only two blocks away lies the true hidden treasure of New York hotel caffeine dispensors: Birch. Between serving their own fair trade coffee and delicious baked goods (big ups to the goat-cheese-and-apple muffin) and doling out other fine drinks (like the best peppermint iced tea in town), the shop also lures us in with a menu of real food, plenty of seating and a big take-a-book, leave-a-book library on the second floor that could easily be one of the most magical rooms in town—there’s enough to do here to kill an entire day without working at all.

Best Burger And Drink In One: M&M Burger at Rare Bar & Grill
152 W. 26th St., betw. 6th & 7th Aves., 212-807-7273

While the fancy environs of Rare might not normally attract our sort, the meat mecca, which features a pretty kick-ass rooftop bar, is home to the $15 M&M burger, a gigantic hunk of meat that, just like us, is sloshed with Maker’s Mark (then cooked). The burger differentiates itself by hiding beneath carmelized shallots, cheddar cheese and applewood-smoked bacon, making it well worth braving the inside of a building called The Fashion 26 Hotel for this boozy beast of a burger.

Best Way to Beef Up For Winter: Baked by Melissa
7 E. 14th St., betw. 5th Ave. & University Pl., 212-842-0220

It only takes a bit of one of Baked By Melissa’s compact cupcakes to understand that the treat isn’t a gimmick, but a game-changer. Pop one of those frosting-topped babies, chew and just wait for it. The tiny-ness of Melissa’s cupcakes account for keeping them moist, more so than any of their full-sized competitors, and with a perfect butter-sugar ratio that always manages to surprise. Additionally, Baked By Melissa ensures at least one flavor that all your friends will like, without being flavor-happy like Crumbs; they only stick with what works.

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