The pretty good again: El Paso Taqueria on the Upper East Side, where my consort and I, in search of soothing/cheap food on a stressful Sunday, trekked with bulging Baggus from the Columbus Avenue Greenmarket and where our rewards were a plethora of overstuffed tacos and one great plate of three enchiladas with salsa verde, black beans and rice. I always want to write the place off, but the combination of location and value sucks me back in. My enchiladas were all of $9, and they were even better reheated next day to get them to Arizona-level meltiness. Bob’s tacos were $2.75 apiece, and two would have sufficed. WIGB? At least until a branch opens on our side of the park to beat down overpriced Cafe Frida and lame Noche Mexicana. 64 East 97th Street, 212 996 1739.
The not too bad: Little Giant on the Lower East Side, where three of us retreated after the outstanding Ed Kashi opening at Anastasia Photo (complete with good bar and great bartender). Our mission was to get far away fast to talk, so we passed up other places I was tempted by, and we got a table right away. The fact that we could not order a few apps first with wine was off-putting, but we did get to sit there for hours, sharing one bottle of red, some okay deviled eggs, some decent seared peppers, an over-cheesed kale salad and finally a pozole-esque concoction senza the dread cilantro. Too late, I remembered the place is all about the staff’s convenience. WIGB? Maybe. My cranial sieve is increasingly unreliable. 85 Orchard Street at Broome Street, 212 226 5047.
The tired: Aquagrill in SoHo, where I wound up with a great friend in from Veneto after finding my first old-reliable/quintessential-American choice has lost its chef to the wonderland of the West Coast. It was one of those gorgeous days when the outside tables were too tempting, but, as always, we would have been better off inside (and he might have gotten more of an impression of a Manhattan restaurant). The receptionist was nice enough to check his stack of books he was bearing to FedEx, though. I ordered my standby, the Aquagrill sandwich, after trying to explain what a crab cake is (“like a burger, but made with fish” — no sale), and he had the salmon BLT on my recommendation; apparently he scored. My choice was pretty heavily breaded, and the fries alongside seemed weary and meager (as did his). The breads to start also looked to be limping. We each had an inoffensive if not brilliant glass of white from Friuli, too, for $10. What was weirdest was the service. The waiter was flummoxed when I asked for tocai, which was all I absorbed from the description of the wine blend while Diego and I were intently catching up, so he brought the dessert menu to clarify. And then he never approached the table again for an hour and a half. How do you say WTF in Italian? This was a reprise of our last experience at the Red Cat, where a furriner also spooked the pro. WIGB? Hope not.