Nobody wants to walk more than three blocks for lunch during the workday. In this series, we'll comb the city's micro-micro-neighborhoods in search of affordable spots for dining with co-workers, eating solo, or just getting takeout.
Today: The area around the intersection of William Street and Liberty Street.
From the European-style outdoor cafés of Stone Street to purveyors of bang-up corned-beef sandwiches, the Eastern edge of the financial district — which houses acronymic city and state agencies, small consulting and law firms, and neighborhood anchor Thompson Financial — offers culinary adventures both refined and rugged. With a couple of quirky gems hidden deep in the recesses of other businesses, it's clear that there's much more to the neighborhood than insipid salad bars and expense-account beef.
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• Spa 88 Restaurant Here's a Russian restaurant, inside of a bathhouse, that's so secret a spa employee didn't know about it on a recent visit. Its obscurity and bare-bones intimacy guarantee that you'll be able to talk business — or gossip — with complete privacy. Or you can simply warm your bellies with harcho, a rich, gamy lamb soup redolent of pepper, and Siberian pelmeni (meat dumplings with sour cream). 88 Fulton St., nr. Gold St.; 212-766-8600.
• Little Lad's Basket This ultra-cheap vegan restaurant in the basement of the D.A.'s office exudes a comfortable, grandmotherly vibe perfect for lingering, and the eats aren't merely good "for health food." Split-pea soup, for instance, coaxes out the bean's natural butteriness. And here are four words you've probably never seen together: totally compelling nut gravy. 120 Broadway, nr. Cedar St., basement level; 212-227-5744.
• The Blarney Stone Bar and Grill Get in the lunch line at this dark, old-time beer hall, and let the grill man's deft meat-spearing techniques mesmerize you. If you can resist tasting his solid steak-sandwich work, move down to the slicer for a phenomenally unctuous corned-beef sandwich, one that's more of a "slider" than any pretentiously miniaturized burger being sold under that name in hipper places. 121 Fulton St., nr. Dutch St.; 212-267-4042.
• The Country Kebab Although they risk inciting an international incident, some say the Greeks got the inspiration for gyros — everyone's favorite mystery meat — from Turkish doner kebabs. Here, the doner is crisp and succulent — by no means of suspicious origin — and garnished with spice-speckled veggies, hot sauce with backbone, and dilled yogurt. The room is bright but tiny; sit at the massive windows for prime people-watching. 76 Fulton St., at Gold St.; 212-349-4290.
• Express Power Lunch Cart Among the city's finer halal chicken-and-rice dealers, this gentleman's care shows. His basmati rice is delicately spiced with cinnamon and clove; he browns his chicken thoroughly, though it remains tender; and his white sauce, which combines the tang of yogurt with the richness of mayo, should be a controlled substance it's so addictive. William St. at Maiden Ln.
• Mardigras Pizza Though the theme is ostensibly Cajun, the out-of-place tacos and tortas rule this menu. Local lore has it that a customer requested the Mexican standbys after watching the staff enjoy them on their own lunch break. You'll thank that forward-thinking soul after your first bite of carne enchilada, blending beguiling chile and fatty pork, sparked by tomatillo salsa bright with lime. 3 Maiden Ln., nr. Broadway; 212-233-6066.
• Ise Tired of swimming in cut-rate California rolls? Ise treats sushi with the utmost seriousness, offering obscure specials like fluke fin and snapper, flown in from Japan and laid across rice that's well cooked, delicately handled, and judiciously seasoned with vinegar and sugar. The kitchen staff aren't slouches, either — ask for a translation of the daily Japanese specials menu. 56 Pine St., nr. William St.; 212-785-1600.