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.
Co-worker• 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.
Solo• 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.
Takeout• 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.