The city's neighborhood restaurants serve up well-prepared comfort food.
Time Cafe. NoHo's comfortable neighborhood standby is still going strong at the corner of Great Jones and Lafayette, with one of the area's best sidewalk cafes -- set far enough back from the street so you're not inhaling bus exhaust along with your grilled fish. House drinks include the Tahitian, a mix of vanilla-flavored vodka, cointreau, and peach schnapps, and Sex in the Village--currant-flavored vodka, champagne, and apricot puree. The food is a mix of composed salads and simply prepared meats and fish. Great desserts, too. (380 Lafayette Street; 212-533-7000)
Lunasa. This is definitely not your grandfather's Irish bar. Although it's new, it's well on the way toward becoming a neighborhood hangout. The room is sleek and sophisticated and the bar food veers toward the tapas-esque: grilled shrimp, calamari, panini, grilled pizza as well as more substantial fish and chips. There's a garden out back. The Guinness is good. And there are no leprechauns. (126 First Avenue; 212-228-8580)
The Knickerbocker. Talk about your neighborhood fave. The up-front bar at The Knick is always jammed with locals who come for classic cocktails, friendly bar staff, and a varied bar menu that ranges from pizza and buffalo wings to ribs to salmon tartare and sushi. In back is the more formal restaurant, with its wide circular booths and excellent steaks. No outdoor space, but on an early fall afternoon, there are few places that seem cozier. (33 University Place; 212-228-8490)
Walkers. When we say this place has been around forever, we mean forever: There has been a tavern at this address since 1877. During the day, the bar is crowded with locals; the tables are taken with shoppers, families, and just about everyone else who finds themselves in the neighborhood.The food is of the comfort variety, and weekend brunch is popular and crowded. (16 North Moore Street; 212-941-0142)
Cafe on Clinton. They have the neighborly vibe down to a T here, The crowd ranges from families early in the evening to couples as the night wears on. After work, the bar is busy with people stopping by for a drink. The menu is plenty varied, but it concentrates on uncomplicated dishes like filet mignon, grilled pork chops, pastas, salads, fish, and hamburgers, just the way a neighborhood place should. (268 Clinton Street; 718-625-5908)
Lento's. Fans call the pizza here among the best in the city, with a thin crust, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, and just enough cheese. Besides the pie, there are pastas and fish, chicken and veal dishes. Although Lento's has a branch in Staten Island, this is the original, opened in the '30s and still giving off the feeling of old New York. There's a big wooden bar, a tile floor, and comfortable wooden booths. There's also outdoor seating in summer. (7001 Third Ave.; 718-745-9197. Note: the Staten Island branch is located at 289-91 New Dorp Lane; 718-980-7709)
The Elm Park Inn. This is a Staten Island institution, with a following that ranges from young couples to their grandparents. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the food is straightforward, with dishes like chicken francese, veal parmigiana, and steaks. (238 Morningstar Road; 718-720-1983)
Donovans. The bar gets busy, especially after work, and the staff is friendly. After a pint or two, you can take a seat and order dinner off the extensive menu: specials usually include a couple of different salads, chops, and fish. On the regular menu there are burgers, steaks, open-faced sandwiches, shepherd's pie and other pubby favorites. (5724 Roosevelt Avenue; 718-429-9339)
Portofino. The dining room is huge with lots of windows; the comfort level is high, with low lighting and a piano that comes to life after 6 p.m. Main courses are also heavy on the comfort: veal sorrentino is topped with eggplant, mozzarella, and ham; chicken cacciatore is dense and soothing. (109-32 Ascan Avenue; 718-261-1239)
Dominic's. Right in the heart of Arthur Avenue's Little Italy, Dominic's serves up classic Italian food family-style. The place is always crowded, and the tables are shared, so you might as well go with a group. There's no menu -- the waiter will tell you what you're going to eat, and they figure the bill through some mysterious accounting system that seems to always let the customer come out on the winning end. (2335 Arthur Avenue; 718-733-2807)
Tried and True Neighborhood Restaurants
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