Cops and city workers rub elbows with professors, bankers, and the courthouse crowd in the micro-micro-neighborhood around Mulberry and Canal Streets. In addition to fine Chinese, you'll find everything from Malaysian and Vietnamese to Italian and New American.
Il Palazzo A standout on a street of wall-to-wall Italian restaurants, Il Palazzo distinguishes itself with old-world elegance, attentive service, and fresh, generous fare. Highlights include the homemade pappardelle alla casalinga (with porcini, prosciutto, and mascarpone), a fluffy gnocchi alla Napoletana, and, for those on expense accounts, lobster with vodka sauce. 138 Mulberry St., nr. Hester St.; 212-226-3177.
New Green Bo Settle in at a large round table, and start with thin-skinned, wonderfully chewy fried pork dumplings, ironically named fried tiny buns (they're huge), and the tangy cold spicy cabbage. It's hard to pick a dud, entre-wise, but the melt-in-your-mouth stewed beef over rice and spicy, aromatic bean curd home-style are especially good. 66 Bayard St., nr. Mott St.; 212-625-2359.
Almond Flower Bistro A sign of how far the Bowery has come. Chef-owner Chris Chung's just-opened bistro serves inventive New American cuisine at reasonable prices in a swank, modern atmosphere. The $15 prix fixe will get you savory short ribs on pappardelle pasta with red-wine cream sauce and the oddly named "braised beef lollipops" fried in chewy wonton skins. 96 Bowery, nr. Hester St.; 212-966-7162.
Vegetarian Dim Sum House The gluten here could satisfy an avowed meat eater. Go for the mock-shark-fin dumplings, mock-ham treasure balls, and veggie-loaded Buddhist fried noodles first, but try to sample across the menu by splitting with friends. Consider crispy banana rolls or a glass of vegan-friendly sweet-and-tart pured kiwi juice for dessert. 24 Pell St., at Doyers St.; 212-577-7176.
Nyonya Top-notch Malaysian cuisine served in a laid-back, Southeast Asiantype setting. Recommended: the terrific homemade roti canai (an Indian-style pancake with a chicken-curry dipping sauce), mouth-melting beef rendang (slow-cooked with lemongrass, coconut milk, and spices), and coconut jumbo prawns, a well-stacked platter of giant, lightly fried golden shrimp perfect for sharing. Wash it all down with a sour plum drink or refreshing watermelon juice. 194 Grand St., nr. Mulberry St.; 212-334-3669.
East Ocean Seafood Restaurant In addition to the carefully prepared seafood on offer at this newish, upscale restaurant, consider some of the delicious dishes you won't find elsewhere: the savory rack of veal with black-bean sauce, a sizzling beef-and-pepper platter, or one of their clay pots, veritable potpourris of flavor and aroma that you need to specially request (they're not on the menu). 53 Bayard St., nr. Elizabeth St.; 212-619-2633.
Hong Kong Station A noodle outpost seemingly plucked from an Asian subway. Choose one of nine noodles (including toothsome udon and fresh, eggy "thin") to add to a rich chicken broth. Then pick toppings. At $1 each, you can afford to go nuts. Tender braised beef, fried tofu, and golden fish balls are great places to start. If you're feeling bold (and indulgent), consider the beef tendon and pork skin. (The wonderful Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is just down the block, if you're looking for something sweet in warmer months.) 45 Bayard St., nr. Elizabeth St.; 212-233-0288.
Asia Roma In an area dominated by Chinese eateries, Asia Roma offers tasty Continental classics like a fresh-seared tuna nioise salad and what may be the juiciest ten-ounce mushroom bacon cheeseburger in the area. A favorite under-the-radar spot for courthouse workers seeking a quick, hearty midday meal. 40 Mulberry St., nr. Mosco St.; 212-385-1133.
Excellent Pork Chop House Grab a seat at a communal table at this no-frills side-street gem and try a plate of fried five-spice pork chops on rice. There are good noodles, too, especially the vaguely sweet-and-sour shredded pork with pickled cabbage. 3 Doyers St., nr. Bowery; 212-791-7007.
Deluxe Food Market Inc. What looks like yet another Chinese grocery is the neighborhood's biggest surprise: a veritable cornucopia of hot dishes and prepared foods, stretching a full block from Mott to Elizabeth. You name it, they probably have it, but our favorites include crispy, golden soy-roast chicken, glutinous rice with bacon, and steak in black-bean sauce. There are also full-service butchers, bakers, and fishmongers for those whose offices come equipped with hot pots. 79 Elizabeth St., nr. Hester St. (additional entrance at 122 Mott St.); 212-925-5766.
Bnh M Saigon Bakery They may well serve the tastiest $3.25 lunch in the city. These unassuming sandwich masters share space with a jeweler and offer a gem of their own: the Vietnamese hero to end them all, a Saigon-style bnh m stuffed with roast pork, cilantro, daikon, carrots, and pt. Their light, crisp shrimp and papaya salad are also very good. Creamy Vietnamese coffee doubles as dessert; the sweet-and-spicy beef jerky sitting on the counter makes a perfect afternoon snack. 138-01 Mott St., nr. Grand St.; 212-941-1541
Nha Trang A bustling Vietnamese hot spot, home to numerous low-priced lunch dishes. Tops may be the highly addictive bo luc lac, marinated beef cubes served on a bed of fluffy, fragrant rice. Also habit-forming: the thin-grilled pork chops and pho, rice vermicelli which comes in a bowl of light broth and is topped with chewy spring rolls and barbecued meat or shrimp. The fresh lemonade aids digestion. 87 Baxter St., nr. Walker St.; 212-233-5948.
Grand Italian Food Center The sandwich stop. Create your own from just about every cold cut imaginable, or go with one of 40 combos. Standouts include the three-meat, two-veggie, one-cheese "New Yorker" (No. 1) and "the Fireman" (No. 9), a smoky mix of turkey, mozzarella, and hot peppers. They also serve appetizers, hot dishes, and daily specials, like fried calamari (on Fridays) and garlicky stuffed cherry peppers. 186 Grand St., at Mulberry St.; 212-925-2954.
Fried Dumpling Tucked away in a little alley off Mott, Fried Dumpling has some of the areas cheapest and tastiest pork-and-chive-filled treats, especially at lunchtime when turnover is fast and furious. Sample their juicy namesake and its doughy cousin, the mini-pork bun; at $1 an order, you can afford to splurge. 106 Mosco St., nr. Mulberry St.; 212-693-1060.