Il Buco. Catch Il Buco on the right night, and it’s as close to a bull’s eye as you’ll get in NYC dining. Of course, saying that any restaurant hits the bull’s-eye is asking for trouble. No, Bond Street’s stalwart Italian restaurant Il Buco isn’t perfect—meaning you’re not going to have flawless food every single time you go, and your server won’t always win your undying love, and on busy nights you might even have to wait a tad bit past the point where you’re ready to walk. But very few other restaurants (in the neighborhood, in America, in existence) nail so brilliantly that combination of boldly flavorful, soulful food (regional Italian dishes like slow-roasted pig with white polenta and Tuscan black kale; or a soup of Umbrian wild chickpeas and chestnuts in a Parmesan broth with lardo-topped bruschetta), along with a buzzing dinner-party vibe, and a sexy but comfortable dining room that makes you want to linger for hours. Three crucial things—and usually damn-near impossible to find in one restaurant. Il Buco has been pulling off the trio pretty much ever since it opened in 1994. In 2012, the owners opened the spinoff Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, a laid-back and terrific wine bar/restaurant/salumeria around the corner on Great Jones Street.
Caracas Arepa Bar. Sometimes the only thing that will do is a griddled Venezuelan corn cake smeared with salty white cheese, or with sweet plantains and avocado, or with grilled chorizo and jalapenos. These aren’t those flabby street-fest arepas. At Caracas Arepa Bar, they’re expertly handmade (or, to use that insipid word, “handcrafted”) by Venezuelan owners Maribel Araujo, Aristides Barrios, and chef Ilse Parra. Two words: magically delicious. Stop at the take-out shop for instant gratification, or wait in line for a table in the boisterous, narrow dining room at prime meal times.
DGBB. It took me a while to warm up to DBGB‘s dining room: It can feel a bit cavernous and cold. But once you start in on chef Daniel Boulud’s masterfully reengineered burgers and sausages and assorted versions of bistro and American greatest hits—and get absorbed in all the celeb-chef-donated copper cookware lining the walls—suddenly all is warm and luscious and A-ok in this world. Hey, if $40-$50 a head buys a legal, relatively safe pleasure injection for a couple of hours, I’m in. Favorites here: the Piggy burger (beef topped with Daisy May‘s pulled pork and slathered in jalapeno mayo) and the Vermont dog (a smoked-pork and cheddar sausage with red-onion crème fraiche and hash browns). The fries rock too; sit at the bar and have them with one of the gazillion international beers on tap, and you’re in excellent shape. Brunch here is a nice surprise, departing as it does from most NYC-brunch clichés without the punishing waits of nearby, tiny brunch-champ (and all-around winner) Prune.