Anyone who knows me, and anyone who reads this will soon enough know that, when it comes to food, I’ve always been more fond of the low key spots where the food is more important than the aesthetics. I could care les how the place looks as long as they deliver the goods that matter. For this reason, my favorite two blocks in the city (I mean Manhattan) is the two block walk from Caracas Arepa Bar to The Hop Devil Grill. Nowhere here will one find the “best” food in the city, but if one is looking for a fun night out with minimal walking, this is the area to go to.
We start our evening off at the corner E. 7th St and 1st Ave at Caracas Arepa Bar. For those who may not know, arepas are venezuelan sandwiches that are made using cornmeal for the container instead of bread. The restaurant is oddly split into two locations with a store front in between, the smaller sit in/take out area, and the actual dining room two store fronts over. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I actually prefer eating in the smaller room. The food tastes a bit better, the room is a bit cozier, the staff is a bit friendlier: the ultimate triple threat. First timers may want to start with their arepa combo meals but, if you ask me, the ones to go with are: la sureña (pictured above), la del gato, los muchachos, and/or la mulata.
Right between the two store fronts is the next culinary delight to visit. It’s a bit more on the expensive side, but if you’re up for some seafood Luke’s is the way to go. The lobster roll is quite enjoyable, but if you’re hungry enough and want it all, the “taste of Maine” is always a great way to go.
From there we move north on 1st Ave and turn east on St. Marks. The wait for the Arepa Bar can get a bit long and, much like the fiscal political strategy, it is never a good idea to starve the beast for too long so, luckily enough, we have some alternative options as we move east on St. Marks. The first stop on this minor trek is the Dumpling Man. I’ll admit, as far as dumplings go, Dumpling Man is neither the best nor the cheapest. They’re actually a bit pricey considering Prosperity Dumplings offers vastly superior dumplings at a much cheaper price (if you ever find yourself in Chinatown near Eldridge Street I highly recommend them). However, if you just need a quick fix, the Dumpling Man’s seared pork dumplings are a fine way to go.
As we head farther down the St. Marks rabbit hole we eventually find ourselves at the wonderful Crif Dogs. If you find yourself in need of some great fucking hot dogs you can’t go wrong at Crif Dogs, they’re just brilliant. The added benefit with Crif Dogs is their inner sanctum, PDT. PDT is a small area inside of Crif Dogs, accessed by reservation only. It has its own, very special, menu of hot dogs (including one made by Wylie Dufresne) and cocktails. If you’re planning to do PDT, plan ahead. You need a reservation and they’re busy, so don’t try to wing this.
The quietest and most laxed eatery before the final destination is the always wonderful Tuck Shop. Aussie meat pies as far as the eye can see. Their original location is at 1st and 1st, the nexus of the universe (STAY ALIVE, NO MATTER WHAT OCCURS, I WILL FIND YOU!) but they’ve since expanded to a couple other locations. I’ve had almost all their pies and they’re just brilliant. Come with a group so you can sample a bit of everything. Here, the mandatory gets are the Guiness Steak and Mushroom pie, the BBQ Pork with Coleslaw pie, and the sausage roll. Then wash it all down with some boylan’s; it’s not just soda, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Or am I confusing soda with the maltese falcon again? Oh well. By the time you’re done, you’ll find yourself in that odd situation where your brain battles with your stomach on whether you should have more, the stomach will win more often then it really should.
And finally we reach our final, drinking destination: The Hop Devil Grill. I’ll admit something now. I’m not a big drinker, and for me it’s always better to milk a couple bottles of beer for the night then to go for any of the harder stuff. It’s for this reason that Hop Devil is the perfect spot for beer lovers. They have an amazing menu of craft beers and they change the menu regularly. They used to update the menu on their site but it seems like they’ve given up on that quite a while ago. They’re also a sports bar so you no longer have to make the hard decision between going out or staying in because a game is on (I still refuse to leave my room during Jets games, but this is my failure as a person, plus how are the Jets supposed to win if I’m not sitting in right spot?). Food-wise, it’s nothing to write home about, ate a burger once and had their nachos and it really wasn’t anything special, but with the other options in the area for food, I doubt you’ll go hungry. They play some decent music too, which is the icing on the already dark and hoppy beer of a cake. If you find yourself in a group that likes to change locations, you now have the added bonus of being only a few blocks away from another great bar at d.b.a. It falls outside my two blocks but the option is too good to pass up on. So that’s my favorite two-block area for food and drinks, and with no better way I can think to end this post I’ll just go with good night and good luck (love that movie).