Feb 01 2010
For a Glass of Wine & Bite to Eat:
Houston’s / Hillstone (153 E. 53rd St.; menu and wine list) — Ok, so it’s a chain. But it’s a damn good, reliable and consistent one. Plus they were able to convince the NY Department of Health that they really aren’t a chain and thus don’t have to post calories. So, you can continue to order that deadly-good spinach artichoke dip with a good conscience. This is our go-to spot when we’re looking for a solid bite to eat close to home or a place to have a glass of wine (big pours here). We almost always eat at the bar. While it’s certainly not cheap eating, it’s also not going to put a major dent in your bank account if you order properly. Our bill typically comes out to $55-70 depending on how many glasses of wine we have. Jill’s favorites are the Caesar Salad ($13), the tender, juicy and delicious Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken ($20) and the Market Vegetables ($5 each), especially the brussels sprouts. My favorites include the “Hacked” Chicken Salad ($17), the Classic French Dip ($18), and the off-the-menu Chicken Tenders ($10), which just may be the best chicken tenders I’ve ever had. We’re big fans of Houston’s wine list (and their huge pours!). We like that they have local NY state wines on the list, including Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling ($9/$26), Channing Daughters Vino Bianco ($38), and Lieb Cellars Merlot ($28). The glasses run b/t $9 and $16 with most hovering around the $10-$12 range. Did I mention the huge pours?
For a Good Brunch at a Great Value:
Dos Caminos (825 3rd Ave at 50th; brunch menu) — This is one of the best value-brunches around. We can’t do the crazy Sunday-Funday boozy brunch every week, and this is our go-to spot for a solid brunch that also comes with a complimentary margarita, screwdriver, mimosa or champagne. Jill’s favorite is the Wild Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Huitlacoche Omelette ($13) and the Farmer’s Market Vegetable Quesadailla ($15). My go-to is the Mexican Chopped Salad w/ Chicken ($16). Our bill is typically $30, which is a deal considering the margaritas are usually $11 a piece.
For a Boozy Brunch at an Amazing Value:
Blockheads (954 2nd Ave b/t 50 & 51) –This may be the AYCD deal of the century. You get your choice of a brunch menu item and all-you-can-drink mimosas or champagne for $10.95/person. An omelette from a diner is more than that alone. And if you fancy a margarita, they’re just $3 each. Jill’s favorite is the Chicken and Jack Cheese Omelette and side salad, while I’m a fan of the Mexican Chicken Wrap. Our bill typically comes out to $25, which is hard (if not impossible) to beat for a boozy brunch.
For a Craft Beer & To Catch a Game on TV:
The Stag’s Head (252 E. 51st @ 2nd Ave; Beer menu) — Every neighborhood needs a good beer bar and thankfully we have ours in The Stag’s Head. They have 16 constantly rotating taps of all American craft beers. They’ve recently overhauled their menu and have some pretty good offerings to go along with your beer. Happy hour is from 11am-7pm with $4 and $5 craft beers and $4 well drinks. There are brewery nights on most Wednesdays with free pours of beer and complimentary meats and cheeses. From 11am-4pm you can get a burger + fries & a craft beer for $10. They also have some creative beer cocktails. I like that they most always have either Lagunitas IPA, Green Flash West Coast IPA or Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA on tap.
For a Belgian Beer & Moules Frites:
BXL Cafe (210 E. 51st St) — Just up the block from The Stag’s Head is this Belgian cafe and beer bar. They have 14 beers on tap, including Leffe Blonde, Delerium Tremens, and Duvel Green and Witte. We like that they serve you in customized glasses for each variety of beer. Sundays and Mondays are for mussel lovers when it’s all-you-can eat mussels plus a beer for $20.
Sushi You (246 E. 51st St.) — Walking down the stairs to this quiet unassuming restaurant you would have no idea that you are in for one of the more memorable (and affordable) sushi omakase experiences in the city. You know this place has great sushi since it’s always teeming with Japanese businessman and families. More often than not we’re the only Americans there. You are greeted as soon as you walk in the door (sometimes with a hug) by one of the nicest Japanese women you will meet. She’s like a grandmother in the way she makes you feel as if you were in a warm and kind Japanese house. The $40/person omakase starts with a couple of traditional Japanese appetizers and if you’re adventurous like us, ask for the off-the-menu apps. Then comes a wave of sushi and rolls. The sushi chef does some pretty cool things behind the bar with a blowtorch. You will not be disappointed. It represents what is so amazing about living in NYC — that you can just drop into a tiny neighborhood restaurant and have a transporting experience.
For a Knock-You-On-Your-Ass Margarita and Some Authentic Mexican Food:
Zarela (953 2nd Ave b/t 50th & 51st) — For more than 20 years now, chef/owner Zarela Martinez (mother of Chef Aaron Sanchez who frequently appears on the show Chopped as a judge) has been knocking out Midtown East’ers with her killer Mexican fare and deadly margaritas. We tend to saddle up to the bar on Sunday evenings when the margaritas are 1/2 priced. We love that they always serve complimentary chips and salsa at the bar. And we’re dying to try the Arroz con Crema (creamy rice) after seeing it featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Also not to be missed is the Snapper Hash appetizer.
For Chinese Delivery:
Our Place Shanghai Tea Garden (141 E. 55th b/t Lex & 3rd) — We rarely eat a Chinese meal out. Though we have a few go-to Chinese delivery spots, the one we find ourselves ordering from time and again is Our Place. This is one of the few Chinese restaurants that has yet to make the leap to SeamlessWeb. Their delivery is lightning-fast . It feels like I have just hung up the phone and the buzzer is already ringing at our apt. We love their “Diet-Conscious Dishes” that come in several varieties with delicious brown sauce on the side ($9.95-$16.95). When I’m not being diet-conscious, the Sesame Chicken is my go-to ($11.95), as is their Hot & Sour Soup ($3.15).
For Japanese BBQ:
Gyu Kaku (805 3rd Ave b/t 49th & 50th) — So, we finally made it out to Gyu Kaku a few weeks back. We were quite impressed. The hot and spicy Tofu Chigae Soup ($8) was delicious. We enjoyed pretty much everything (we were doing the marinating and cooking after all) and would say the Chilean Sea Bass ($15) and Mushroom Medley ($6) are do-not-miss items. We’ll definitely be back soon for the great Happy Hour deal when all BBQ Beef is 50% off (Mon-Fri 5-6pm and Mon-Thurs from 9:30pm-close).
For Sit-Down Indian:
Dawat (210 E. 58th b/t 2nd & 3rd) – There’s an abundance of great Indian food in our neighborhood. When my parents are in town, we’re heading to their favorite Indian spot, Dawat. There are a few great Indian restaurants on E. 58th b/t 2nd and 3rd Aves. But Dawat has one of Jill’s favorite Chicken Tikka Masala ($18.25) dishes in the city and my Dad’s favorite Tandoori Mixed Grill ($27.95).
Our Other Midtown East Standbys:
Sofia Wine Bar (242 E. 50th b/t 2nd & 3rd) – Extensive, but pricey, selection of wines by the glass. Surprisingly great pizza! Mostly delicious small plates. Ideal spot for a date.
Vero Wine Bar (1004 2nd Ave at 53rd St) – Great spot to meet up with a friend to catch up over a glass of wine. Go on Monday night and take advantage of the Free Panini deal. Buy any glass of wine, beer or a cocktail and get a panini on the house! Check out the Wine School (classes offered every Saturday from 4-6pm; $65).
Fusia Asia Cuisine (677 Lexington at 56th St) – This is one of those Asian restaurants that does alot of things — Thai, Sushi, Chinese & Japanese. The difference is that this one does alot of things well. For us, it’s a great dinner delivery spot and it also boasts one of the best lunch deals in town. $9.95 gets you a choice of entree + soup or soda. We love the Broth Noodles and the Tom Yum Soup.
Crisp (684 3rd Ave at 43rd St) — The Mexican Falafel Sandwich at Crisp is one of my favorite non street cart falafels in Midtown. I have it no less than 3 times a month.
PLACES WE WANT TO TRY SOON:
East Side Social Club (230 E. 51st St.) — We’ve been hearing good things about this new-ish spot from the people behind Employees Only and Macao Trading Company. We’re getting more and more downtown-esque spots here in Midtown East.
Soba Totto (211 E. 43rd St.) — Thanks to AlwaysEating for reminding us that we need to try this this hidden gem of a Soba and Yakitori bar near Grand Central.
Naya (1057 2nd Ave.) — We’ve been meaning to try this sleek, relatively new Lebanese-Mediterranean spot on 2nd Ave for some time now. Will report back soon.