For restaurants, Staten Island is the new frontier. Building on a bedrock of unique and excellent pizzerias, Italian restaurants, seafood spots, and honky tonk bars, new places arrive daily in many categories. One of the latest types to appear is Vietnamese pho cafés. For years, Pho Mac in Bull’s Head was the lone example on the Big Island, but now it’s been supplemented by newcomer Pho Rainbow, conveniently located in the plaza opposite the New Dorp Station of the Staten Island Rapid Transit system, which is easily accessible via the Staten Island Ferry.
They offer a dozen permutations, and the pho is better than average. Indeed, the rice noodles themselves are spectacular, with prices a dollar or two less than you’d expect at Vietnamese establishments elsewhere in the city. Com dia (over-rice plates) are especially lively, including "combo CSNLXA," which features a whole Chinese sausage, fried egg, and a pair of pork chops dumped over broken rice with salad and pickled vegetables. Pour on the nuoc cham dipping sauce! All the usual apps, banh mis, and buns are offered, in addition to a long list of typical Vietnamese beverages like salty lemonade, egg-yolk soda, avocado milk shakes, and coffee with condensed milk. 42 New Dorp Plaza S, Staten Island, (718) 987-1084.
Since 1952, Rego Park’s Knish Nosh has been enfolding tasty fillings in spongy dough and baking the heck out of them. The primary result is the Jewish snack called the knish, which was probably brought here by Polish immigrants around 1900. Knish Nosh makes them in the traditional round format — not the pillow knishes associated with hot dog carts and Coney Island — and offers a choice of eight fillings. These include cabbage, kasha, potato, and the undefined "meat." The innovation here is simply making them much bigger than usual, so that one’s almost a whole meal. Potato is my favorite, a starch bomb of mind-boggling proportions. Also available are several varieties of pastry-wrapped hot dogs, including the dazzling foot-long. 98-104 Queens Blvd, Queens, (718) 897-5554.
If ever a place might be called a "hole in the wall," Cheeky Sandwiches is that place. Located somewhat obscurely on the Lower East Side, the narrow whitewashed interior is decorated with slogans, inscrutable murals, and caricatures of its avid patrons. The sandwiches in question skew Cajun/Creole, including formidable oyster and shrimp po’ boys and fried chicken sandwiches. There’s also a misspelled veggie "muffalata" made with fried cheese that’s really nothing like a muffaletta but is good anyway, and a braised short rib sandwich slathered with horseradish on challah bread. The prices are kept low, and you’ll either love this place or hate it. 35 Orchard St, (646) 504-8132.