PERHAPS IT’S DUE TO the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts across the street, but this sprawling pod has become downtown’s worldliest collection of carts. For the mobs of clock-watching cubicle dwellers who queue up daily (rain or shine), there are two strategies for taking on the sprawling food bazaar: join the same ol’ long line for a favorite fix, or ramble about, eyes peeled for a quick opening. Either option has its pros and cons, but what’s certain is quality—the competition is fierce here; half-baked concepts have come, but then always gone. There’s no room for chump chow or sloppy service.
Eurodish: Polish Plate ($7.95)
Beyond the occasional sausage, most folks pass their days unaware of the meaty merits of Polish cuisine—especially for lunch on the go. But with its lumberjack-size portions of kielbasa, pierogi, and a mind-blowing savory camp stew called bigos—juicy morsels of ham, sausage, and beef clinging to a pile of stewed cabbage—the Polish Plate at Eurodish is the most sublime introduction we can think of.
Ziba’s Pitas: Burek Plate ($6.50)
On Ziba’s Burek Plate, the pita—here, a hearty vessel of beef, potato, onions, garlic, and paprika baked in homemade dough and cut into four coiled slabs resembling a divvied-up cinnamon roll—makes quite an impression. But it’s the presence of the ajvar (a Balkan mashup of red peppers, garlic, and eggplant) that properly crowns each bite in a burst of hot and tingly tremors.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai ($6)
There’s only one entrée at this bustling cart—and in this case one is plenty. Khao man gai is nothing more than poached chicken slices laid over rice, but both grain and fowl are simmered in a whisper-subtle gallimaufry of garlic, ginger, and soy sauce that elevates this staple of Thai street food, mysteriously renewing any flagging midday spirits. Elegant and elemental, khao man gai is a nearly magical meal.
Cool Harry’s Yogurt: Harry’s Original Tart ($3.25)
Cool Harry’s is perfectly positioned to quell all inner fires wrought by a surfeit of spices from the surrounding abundance of curries and peppers. And the Original Tart is about as basic as nonfat yogurt gets: a lemony-sour, resoundingly tangy swirl of chilly richness atop a foundation of seasonal fruit and berries. Initial reaction: surprise and delight. Lasting impression: unwavering loyalty.