A palapa is a palm-thatched sun haven found on beaches in Mexico. True to its namesake, La Palapa offers cuisine that is at once a haven from ordinary Mexican fare and an effective tool for blocking the sun. For lunch, start with a palate-pleasing appetizer such as plátanos con crema (sweet plantains with cream and house-made queso fresco, $6.95) before moving on to the famous Mexico City–style tacos ($5.95 each), which can be filled with eight delectable flavors, including al pastor (pineapple-chile rubbed pork). Later eaters can hang a fang on dinner entrees such as pato al mole negro oaxaqueño (grilled duck breast in rich black mole infused with 26 magical ingredients) or camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp sautéed with garlic, red tomato rice, and slow-cooked black beans). Lubricate throat pipes and conversations and complement the meal with a tangy selection from the cocktail catalogue.
The mousaka makers at Okeanos wield Mediterranean insights while crafting a diverse dinner menu. Start off with grilled octopus ($8) or a dip platter ($12) with dill yogurt, fish roe caviar, and hummus that's hankering for pita tip attention. Organic mesclun greens—picked from YaYa's backyard—mingle with the variety of fruits, nuts, and cheeses dancing amid myriad authentic salads ($8). During lunch, diners can hang a few fangs on burgers ($10) or hearty sandwiches ($10) served with a side of fresh-cut, feta- and oregano-laden fries. For a sweetened ending, unwrap the flaky and sticky layers of the homemade baklava ($3), which is, like most Thanksgiving turkeys, baked inside the house. Okeanos also serves up an American-style brunch on weekends (10 a.m.–4 p.m.)
During New York's golden age, when big-band music filled the streets and Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie reigned supreme in regal zoot suits, Ellsworth Statler held court at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Known as much for its delicious food as it was for its swanky shows, the hotel became the standard of swingin' cool by which all others were measured. Today, the same spirit that propelled Ellsworth Statler to greatness inhabits his namesake: the Statler Grill. Using classic midcentury charm and more than four decades of experience in the restaurant business, the owners of Statler Grill reanimate the New York of decades past, time-warping diners as they sit at tables cloaked in white linens amid muted lighting. Artwork festoons the walls, adding warm hues and a jubilant air while frosted glass and earth-toned walls segment the dining room for more romantic dining and more covert fantasy baseball meetings. An adjoining bar serves up a similar sophistication, with a menu of light fare appropriate for an after-work snack, or after a game, being located across the street from Madison Square Garden.
For dinner, the kitchen lines classic new york prime sirloins and porterhouses with the marks of the char grill. Seafood arrives fresh daily to offer the best flavors of the deep blue, including Prince Edward Island mussels, Long Island clams, and fried calamari. The chefs' traditional and inventive American fare complements every meal of the day, from eggs benedict for brunch to filet mignon for supper and Maryland crab cakes for late night sleep eating. All of this fancy fare doesn't get in the way of friendly service, though; the restaurant's friendly waitstaff and knowledgable bartenders earned glowing praise from the foodies at Midtown Lunch.
Cozumel Grill & Tequila Bar’s crafty chefs cull together spices, meats, and seafood to craft a menu of both classic and inventive Mexican eats. Diners can crisscross hands to share an adventurous appetizer of fried cactus strips ($10) or enjoy solo fare such as a jerk chicken quesadilla ($11). Patrons can take off their hockey helmets or at least lift the facemask to sink teeth into two tacos or one burrito weighed down by a choice of chicken ($10), beef ($10), shredded pork ($10), or steak ($11). For enchiladas, chefs reinforce two corn tortillas with one of five meaty fillings, paint on ranchero sauce, and add a final floor of cheese that bakes to melted gooeyness and pairs with an accompanying bed of red rice ($10–$11).
At Juan & Maria's Empanada Stop, a bell chimes regularly throughout the day, ringing along with the festive Latin music in the background. Its sound does not indicate the time, however—it greets every 50th customer to the empanada hot spot and rewards him or her with $5 worth of complimentary Spanish cuisine. When Chilean couple Juan and Maria Contreras opened their stand in 2000, they rarely had the opportunity to use the bell, as they were serving between 10 and 20 empanadas on any given Saturday. Today they dish out a minimum of 1,000 empanadas each day, vying to beat their current record of 1,504 empanadas sold in eight hours.
Their popularity stems in part from a commitment to traditional, healthy cooking methods. Each of their empanadas is handmade and stuffed with one of 12 types of filling, including 90% lean beef and pork as well as vegetarian options. The deep fryers are filled with light salad oil, and none of the menu items include chemicals or preservatives. Juan and Maria extend the same homemade treatment to their fruit juices, which can be frozen and sold as "Juan-sicles," and their four hot sauces: green gold, red gold, spanish mayo and spanish ketchup.
Attitude accounts for a second element of the pair's success. Their mix of hospitality and cultural pride draws diners to the turquoise shop, where Juan exuberantly lists the specials to newcomers. They have hosted the Juan & Maria's International Spanish Festival for the past four years, showcasing customs from 20 Spanish-speaking countries alongside their empanadas.
In 1909, Frank Pepe immigrated to the United States from his native town of Maiori, Italy. He was poor, illiterate, and just 16 years old—but he had a strong work ethic. After a stint in a New Haven factory and service as an Italian solider in World War I, he settled down for good in New Haven with his wife, Filomena, and started a bakery delivery service. But because he couldn’t read, he had trouble deciphering the orders. So he started having his customers come to him, and in 1925, he and Filomena added a simple item to the menu: Neapolitan-style pizzas.
To this day, the staff still heats up coal-fired ovens to bake the original tomato pies that Frank and Filomena first made famous. They can also add toppings such as bacon, Italian-imported anchovies, and house-roasted red peppers to their pizzas, or create specialty pies such as their signature white clam with olive oil, fresh garlic, and oregano. Diners can pair their pies with Pepe’s salad, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, or have the server tap draft brews such as Sam Adams Boston Lager and Peroni. They’ve served Foxon Park soda since 1925, so diners can request bottles of cream soda or diet white-birch beer made from only the sveltest birch trees.