Hole-In-The-Wall: Experience The Charm Of Small Eateries

Freemans Restaurant, at the end of Freemans Alley in the Lower East Side
Image: Flickr


As one of the largest cuisine capitals on the globe, New York City is a foodie’s paradise. From Michelin-starred, world-class dining establishments run by celebrity chefs to thousands of food carts, and everything in between, Manhattan offers virtually limitless culinary options.

With so many choices -– unabashedly vying for the public’s patronage – within a stone’s throw of any corner in Manhattan, it’s easy to miss or not even know about NYC’s unexpected (and even secret) eateries. Some are off the beaten path, or unassuming in appearance. Still, others are purposefully hidden to all but those in the know.

If you decide to venture out beyond the ordinary, prepare for a culinary adventure that will surprise and delight your taste buds with such treats as mouth-watering Italian favorites, Old World American fare with a modern twist, authentic Mexican specialties, Swiss chalet-inspired fondue, and the best duck this side of Peking.

Image: John’s of 12th Street

John’s Of 12th Street

John’s of 12th Street (302 East 12th) proudly proclaims it is “rich in history, rich in food, and easy on the wallet.” Truly, if John’s walls could talk, they’d tell you tales as tasty as the traditional Italian fare on each plate. From those characters hip enough during prohibition to ask for “dessert upstairs,” to infamous mobsters exacting revenge upon one another, to Hollywood directors using John’s for location shots in Empire Boardwalk and The Sopranos, this place is as New York as it gets – except for the prices. Try the homemade Pappardelle or all-veal meatballs with John’s legendary red sauce. You won’t leave hungry, or broke…but leave your credit card at home because John’s only accepts cash.

Freemans Restaurant

Located at the end of Freemans Alley in the Lower East Side – off of Rivington Street between Chrystie and the Bowery – is an unlikely Colonial-style tavern complete with rustic décor (including antlers) and a hearty American/Anglo menu. This hidden spot is a cozy place to enjoy a craft cocktail and savory menu offerings that change to feature the freshest seasonal flavors. Dine on favorites such as the artichoke dip, maple glazed pork belly, smoked trout with horseradish cream, Shepard’s pie, and 5 cheese macaroni. For an extra special treat, try brunch at Freemans, which NY Magazine awarded the Best Brunch To feed your inner Hipster Award, as part of their “Best of New York” series.

Image: NYEater

Taqueria Tehuitzingo

You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but in the back of the Tehuitzingo Deli and Grocery at 10th Ave. and 48th Street lies a taqueria with authentic Mexican food and unbelievable prices. Treat yourself to ome of the most delicious Mexican sandwiches, platters, burritos, enchiladas, hearty soups, Mexican breakfast fare, CalMex and TexMex dishes, and – as one patron puts it – “some of the best tacos in the city.”

Don’t let the location or prices fool you…Taqueria Tehuitzingo prides itself on offering “healthy, fresh Mexican cuisine using only the finest ingredients and fresh products.” Moreover, along with all the usual Mexican dishes you know and love, there are also exciting and lesser-known specialties to choose from such as beef tongue or goat’s meat taco/burrito filling, Albondigas (Mexican meatballs), huaraches, pumpkin flour quesadillas, huitlacoche (Mexican truffle) quesadillas, pambazo and cubana sandwiches, and a variety of Mexican soft drinks.

Image: Pinterest

Aprés Ski Fondue Chalet at Café Select

During the winter months, Café Select’s back room (behind the kitchen) transports you to a cozy Swiss Chalet featuring specialty cuisine and spirits that will make you feel like you’ve just stepped off the slopes of the Alps. The adorable décor and semi-private ambiance makes this a perfect destination for a romantic rendezvous, or a kitschy spot to hang with a few close friends, relaxing over wintry cocktails or wine while sharing a dipping Fondue.

While the varieties of fondue (cheese, beer, mushroom, etc., served with a bread basket and plate of apples, pears, and veggies to dip) and Raclette are the mainstay, there are other options such as lobster salad, spatzle with wild mushroom, bratwurst, charcuterie plates and more. Space is limited, so call ahead to reserve, and be prepared to pay cash.

Image: DecoyNYC


As a clever play on words, Decoy describes both the fare and the purposefully understated approach to this restaurant that the NY Post named “one of the sexiest restaurant in NY.” While most restaurants cook their duck ahead of time and just fry to re-heat and crisp, Decoy prepares each duck fresh on the spot, yielding duck that is succulent and tender on the inside, with a lovely crispiness on the outside.

Located in a former laundromat underneath its sister restaurant RedFarm (at 529-1/2 Hudson Street in the West Village), Decoy’s dining room and bar are elegant and inviting – perfect for late night bites – with dark wood and black marble, fanciful duck artwork, and mostly communal tables on which its succulent duck is served family-style. Reserving their pre fix menu guarantees one duck (minimum) for every four people which will be served with pancakes, three sauces, and duck consommé “shots”.

Prix fixe menus for parties of eight or more, and a walk-in a la carte menu for dining room or bar patrons are also available featuring a variety of exotic proteins, sides and appetizers. A word to the wise – unless you reserve ahead of time they may not have a seat (or duck) for you.


A Less Traveled-By Experience

In a city as big and diverse and Manhattan, you don’t have to look very hard to find well-known, popular places to eat. Yet it’s often the unexpected treasures and rare experiences you stumble upon that can make your travels in Manhattan so exciting and memorable.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

  • Robert Frost

Look for next week’s blog, “Unexpected Culinary Journeys: Exciting Eats.”

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