SUSHI YASUDA 204 E. 43rd St.; 212/972-1001; dinner for two $105. What's tangy and earthy like sourdough bread?As intriguingly textured as raw Japanese silk?As fascinatingly fishy as Tsukiji market at dawn?It's the rice at Sushi Yasuda, rolled around morsels of extra-buttery otoro tuna, briny squid, or sweet Santa Barbara sea urchin. Reserve a perch at the city's most thrilling sushi counter and surrender yourself to Maomichi Yasuda's whims. (Ask him about the peculiar grooming habits of sea eels.)
HONMURA AN 170 Mercer St.; 212/334-5253; lunch for two $90. Never mind that the loftlike Honmura An isn't quite the sanctuary you hoped it would be—the handmade soba makes you see Kyoto. SoHo habitués dote on the cold noodles with nori, red salmon caviar, and bonito flakes. Japanese hipsters kick off with small plates—such as the mouth-tingling pickles the owner brings in from Japan—and end with a lacquered box of exotically plain seiro soba. Please don't come in droves to Honmura An: we New Yorkers want it all to ourselves.
British restaurateur Keith McNally gave TriBeCa the enduringly hip Odeon and exported cool to the Upper West Side with Café Luxembourg. At BALTHAZAR (80 Spring St.; 212/965-1414; dinner for two $94) and its brash sibling PASTIS (9 Ninth Ave.; 212/929-4844; dinner for two $70) he conjured up a nicotine-stained, Pernod-drenched slice of Paris that every wannabe brasserie baron in this town would kill to knock off. (Believe me, they've tried.) Two things to know about B. and P.: the steak isn't usually worth its frites (instead, try the glorious côte de boeuf at Balthazar or the braised beef at Pastis), and the dinnertime pandemonium renders them as inviting as Châtelet station at rush hour. The answer?Balthazar on a late weekday morning for café au lait and a wicked pain au chocolat. Pastis, well, at midnight. Too late, you say?Ah, mes amis, c'est la vie new-yorkaise.
In an ideal world—Danny Meyer's world—there are no front-of-the-house ice queens escorting you to Siberia, no "Will you hold?" shticks on the phone. And Meyer's ultra-polished establishments offer more options than the Internet: Have a tasting menu of Floyd Cardoz's jazzy Indian fusion at TABLA (11 Madison Ave.; 212/889-0667; dinner for two $108), or make for Bollywood with Technicolor curries and naan at Tabla's downstairs Bread Bar. Not up for an indulgent evening at the romantic GRAMERCY TAVERN (42 E. 20th St.; 212/477-0777; dinner for two $130)?Swing by at teatime for dessert diva Claudia Fleming's sweet and savory miniatures. Feeling antisocial?Nosh solo on a filet mignon burger at the welcoming counter of UNION SQUARE CAFÉ (21 E. 16th St.; 212/243-4020; dinner for two $110). Meyer trades in delicious justice for all.
THE BIG BEEF
CHURRASCARIA PLATAFORMA 316 W. 49th St.; 212/245-0505; dinner for two $74. If you've been to a meatfest in Rio, you'll recognize the routine here. Flip the button on your table to green, and suddenly waiters samba around you, wielding giant skewers of succulent skirt, flank, top round, pork, turkey, and sausage. Resist the siren call of the buffet station, and beg for another round of iced caipirinhas to cut through the cholesterol. You won't dare bare your midriff on Copacabana Beach anytime soon.
PETER LUGER 178 Broadway, Brooklyn; 718/387-7400; dinner for two $130. Yep, it's all true: beer-hall walls, indifferent service, and a tomato and onion salad that's someone's idea of a practical joke (bring mouthwash). But for your last steak on this planet—a gorgeously aged prime porterhouse—this is where you'd come.
JACKSON HEIGHTS: LAHORE TO LIMA
"Cu·nto for el mango?" inquires a Peruvian customer at a Korean grocery. "Un peso," replies the Indian cashier. Welcome to Jackson Heights, Queens. Take the fast E or F train to the Jackson HeightsRoosevelt Avenue stop, walk to 74th Street, and you're in Bombay—sari merchants, spice emporiums, dollhouse sweetshops. TABAQ 74 (73-21 37th Rd.; 718/898-2837; dinner for two $35) specializes in ruggedly refined Lahore-style dals and mutton cooked on a giant cast-iron tawa; you'll find intricate vegetarian Gujarati snacks at DIMPLE (35-68 73rd St.; 718/458-8144; snacks for two $15).
Half a block over, on Roosevelt Avenue, is a vibrant pan-Latin stew pot, fueled by sounds of merengue and cumbia. Try tropical shakes and fluffy arepas (South American stuffed corn cakes) at the neon-bright COSITAS RICAS (79-19 Roosevelt Ave.; 718/478-1500; snacks for two $12), spicy Peruvian rotisserie chicken with Chinese sides at LA CASA DEL POLLO (87-07 Roosevelt Ave.; no phone; lunch for two $10), and a masterly Argentinean mixed grill at LA PORTEÒA (74-25 37th Ave.; 718/458-8111; mixed grill for two $28.50).
ASTORIA: GREECE AND EGYPT
The N train that goes to Astoria, Queens, deposits you in the old Hellenic world that flourishes around 31st Street under the elevated tracks. Take a detour first to Central Europe with pilsner and potato cakes at the BOHEMIAN HALL (29-19 24th Ave.; 718/274-4925; appetizers for two $15), then delight in the lovingly prepared mezedes and grills at Scouna (23-01 31st St.; 718/545-4000; dinner for two $55), and finish with a coffee frappé and honey-drenched pastries across the street at LEFKOS PIERGOS CAFÉ (22-85 31st St.; 718/932-4423; dessert for two $10). Want more?STAMATIS (29-12 23rd Ave.; 718/ 721-4507; dinner for two $40) delivers the authentic dishes you never found on Mykonos, and TAVERNA KYCLADES (33-07 Ditmars Blvd.; 718/545-8666; dinner for two $50) excels in grilled fish.
But that's not all. On a stretch of Steinway Street near 25th Street, there's a secret Egyptian enclave lined with small cafés populated by men puffing on hookahs and hunched over games of backgammon. Here you'll find MOMBAR (25-22 Steinway St.; 718/726-2356; dinner for two $60). There are no menus or set prices—just inspired Egyptian cooking done by the owner's sister on a small stove. The interior explodes with homespun Orientalism. Ditto the couscous cake.
BACK IN THE U.S.S.R.
When the first Russian émigrés settled in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach in the seventies, they erected temples to the sort of conspicuous food consumption they'd always dreamed of back home. Take any of the several subway lines that stop at Coney Island, wolf down a hot dog at NATHAN'S FAMOUS (1310 Surf Ave.; 718/946-2202; hot dog $1.99), and then stroll east on the boardwalk until a cluster of caféscumsushi bars—with names like Tatiana—signals your arrival in Little Odessa. Grab an outdoor table at any of them, skip the sushi in favor of blini and borscht, and savor the great Felliniesque promenade. Among the famously rambunctious Brighton Beach supper clubs, PRIMORSKI (282 Brighton Beach Ave.; 718/891-3111; prix fixe dinner for two $40) is my favorite. Bring a crowd and order the banquet, with its never-ending parade of cold and hot zakuski and liters of vodka. Is that Mom dancing on the table?
FLUSHING: THE OTHER CHINATOWN
No, Flushing isn't something you do in the WC: it's a neighborhood where you'll discover the bigger and brighter Queens branch of Chinatown. Surfacing from the 7 train at Main Street, you can navigate all of east Asia over on tiny 40th Road. You'll find Taiwanese dim sum (try the scallion pancakes with beef) at JIA XIANG LO (135-25A 40th Rd.; 718/886-8829; lunch for two $20), tanks of live fish at the H.K. (for "Hong Kong") SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (135-32 40th Rd.; 718/539-2200; lunch for two $35), Shanghainese soup-filled crab dumplings and braised pork shoulder at SHANGHAI TANG (135-20 40th Rd.; 718/661-0900; lunch for two $15), and Malaysian curries at RESTORANT MALAYSIA (135-17 40th Rd.; 718/353-2901; lunch for two $30).
A bit farther east, Little Korea is worth the short cab ride from Main Street. A casserole of goat and peppery shiso leaves; kimchis of exotic wild shoots; and sensational potato pancakes are yours at SOL BAWOO (41-10 149th Place; 718/445-2542; dinner for two $45). Cleanse the palate as Koreans do, with arrowroot noodles in a chilled tangy broth, at Hanjoo (41-06 149th Place; 718/359-6888; noodles for two $15). Little English is spoken, but you can always point, smile, and nod.