Small, refined ethnic restaurants and sunny cafs around 14th Street and Fifth Avenue sate Union Square shoppers, Village students and profs, and lower Fifth's editors, publicists, and psychiatrists.
Japonica Dinner's busy, but lunch is serene at this Village veteran. Ask for a window table and order chirashizushi, a wealth of surf-fresh sashimi atop seasoned rice playfully garnished with minty shiso leaves, Japanese pickles, and sweet pink denbu powder. 100 University Pl., at 12th St.; 212-243-7752.
DoSirak You'll spy more backpacks than briefcases in this airy upstairs nook. The food is robust Korean with a healthy spin. The pride of the house is the chill-banishing bibimbap, a meat-optional stew served in a hot stone bowl. 30 E. 13th St., nr. University Pl.; 212-366-9299.
Spain Restaurant This Beatnik-era paella palace flaunts unironic sixties atmosphere. Tapas appetizers are on the house, and the satisfying paella is huge enough to share. Pack Altoids and request a side of garlic sauce. 113 W. 13th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-929-9280.
Taste of Tokyo Now in its second generation of family management, this pretty side-street haunt offers an extensive lunch lineup including bento boxes and rich noodle soups. You can also sit at the sushi bar and savor spicy rolls. 54 W. 13 st., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-691-8666.
Borgo Antico The Tuscan-trattoria lunch menu spans pastas and grilled dishes plus salads, burgers, and robust sandwiches like crab-cake panino and sauted rib eye on baguette. Perk: Enjoying even a modest order in the swank, silvery-walled upstairs dining room. 22 E. 13th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-807-1313.
Sammy's Noodle Shop & Grill A wall of windows overlooking Sixth Avenue wins people-watching points for this inexpensive, efficient, Chinatown-quality noodle shop. You'll find no fault with hearty Mandarin noodle soups, curry-spiked Singapore mai fun, chicken with peanuts and chiles, and classic spareribs. 453-461 Sixth Ave., at 11th St.; 212-924-6688.
Caf Medina This pleasant, pumpkin-hued, Moroccan-accented spot holds its own on East 17th Street's restaurant row. The soup-sandwich-salad-smoothie menu is headlined by a per-pound buffet that offers up delicately poached salmon, coconut-sauced chicken, penne pesto, and Chinese eggplant with miso paste. 9 E. 17th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-242-2777.
Six & Twelve This quiet caf's fresh soups range from chunky African peanut chicken and rich but fat-free butternut squash and sweet potato. Get a twelve-ounce soup and hefty half-sandwich (try the chipotle roast beef and jack cheese), plus a drink, for $7.25. 469 Sixth Ave., nr. 11th St.; 212-242-0581.
Terry's Gourmet Deli Terry's Trinidadian roots make for a mean roti wrap du jour choose from goat, chicken, beef, shrimp, or potatoes and peas. Custom salads cost considerably less than those at slicker joints, and the counter guy is generous with add-ons like curried chicken and chunked tuna. 575 Sixth Ave., at 16th St.; 212-206-0170.