BEST 4: HELL'S KITCHEN
Sleekly serving up sushi, sashimi, soups, salads and saketinis, Bamboo 52 (344 W. 52nd St.; 212-315-2777) is a new Hell's Kitchen gay fave, with a great bamboo garden in back.
Upscale contemporary Chinese is the order of the day at Xing (785 Ninth Ave., btwn 52nd & 53rd Sts.; 646-289-3010; $15-25), with its thoroughly modern d?cor and inventive takes on Oriental classics.
Eatery (798 Ninth Ave., at 53rd St.; 212-765-7080; $9-14) offers an eclectic blend of comfort foods and new cuisine. In good weather ask for a table outdoors, on the street front; the scene will be just as interesting as the food.
For tasty and inexpensive Mexican eats in lively and extremely gay-friendly environs, Arriba Arriba! (762 Ninth Ave., at 51st St.; 212-489-0810; $10-15) is the choice for locals and Hellsea visitors alike.
With over 20 years as one of the city's top restaurants, Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St., btwn Sixth & Seventh Aves.; 212-554-1515; fixed price menus $107 and $180) serves sumptuous seafood a la chef Eric Ripert, who carries on the Brittany-born traditions of the Le Coze brothers. It can be a bit business-y, but always exudes Manhattan upper-crustic chic.
District (130 W. 46th St., btwn Sixth & Seventh Aves.; 212-485-2999, $16-24, fixed price menu $45) is a great pre-theater choice. The interior subtly replicates a stage, with curtains, pulleys, and stage lights intermixed in the d?cor, and the three-course pre-theater menu includes items like blue cheese pear beignet, charred lamb sirloin and bananas flamb? with maple ice cream -- and they'll get it done in time so you don't miss your show.
Knife + Fork (108 E. 4th St., btwn First & Second Aves.; 212-228-4885; entrees $26, fixed price menu $45) charts new East Village territory by merging top-notch prix fixe dining (best new outlet in the city, say TimeOut NY readers) with the wonderful laissez-faire vibe the neighborhood does best.
Press and patron-palate darling David Chang of Noodle Bar fame now brings us Momofuku Ss?m Bar (207 Second Ave., at 13th St.; 212-254-3500; $19-32), which offers truly inspired Asia-influenced cuisine, featuring such unexpected wonders as an impressive collection of Southern country hams.
Upscale Asian fusion with a flirtini chaser may have been unthinkable not so long ago on Avenue C, but thankfully Nolia (158 Ave. C, at 10th St; 212-228-8103; $14-24) has come along to prove that it can be done, and done well. A largely overlooked gem.
BEST FOR: BROOKLYN
Fonda Comida Mexicana (434 7th Ave, Brooklyn; 718-369-3144) opened to almost instant rave reviews among the chattering foodie class throughout New York. It's in the charming Park Slope area of Brooklyn, easily accessed by several subway lines or a taxi from Manhattan and well worth the short schlep. And it's no surprise with perfectly prepared contemporary takes on traditional Mexican favorites, like crispy chicken flautas topped with red and green salsas and a melt-in-your mouth roasted cod with tomatilla-serrano salsa. It's hard to choose among the desserts so get a trio sampler to try three.