Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City + Los Angeles dining scenes through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

Just consider me your one-stop NYC - and, most recently, Los Angeles - shop!



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The Weekly Eater: 11/24 - 12/07

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Thursday, 11/27: Lunch at Juanita’s Taco Shop (Encinitas, CA)

  • Two months ago, the first thing I did after booking my flight to California for Thanksgiving was call my sister. “Leila, after you pick me up from the airport, our first stop must be Juanita’s. I’ve got to get my fix!” Located in the San Diego beach town of Encinitas, Juanita’s Taco Shop is the queen of casual, grab-n-go, authentic Mexican food. From the shredded beef tacos and cheese enchiladas to the refried beans and Mexican rice, Juanita’s consistently ranks as one of my top-10 favorite meals.
This week, I have plans to dine:
Saturday, 12/06: Brunch at Bobo
Saturday, 12/06: Dinner at Hecho en Dumbo


The Weekly Eater: 11/17 - 11/30

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Saturday, 11/22: Brunch at Pershing Square

  • Though I've walked by the restaurant a million times before, I've never been lured inside to have a meal at Pershing Square. My friend, Stacey, planned a brunch date for a group of girls, and to my pleasant surprise, I found the experience to be quite lovely. Located a stone's throw from Grand Central Terminal, Pershing Square is uniquely housed beneath a bridge. The interior is grand, casually chic and filled with large windows that allow the natural light to illuminate the space. My meal consisted of a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a fluffy omelet filled with a mound of cheddar and sauteed onions. While the home fries weren't anything special, my eggs were among the best I've had. After one bite of Melanie's pancakes, I couldn't help but proclaim, "Watch your back, Clinton Street Baking Company...There's a new pancake sheriff in town!"
This week, I have plans to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family in California. Happy holidays, all!


When one door closes...

"When one door closes, another door opens."

Today is my final day at a company that I've been with for the past 3 1/2 years. I was the second employee hired and got the privilege of watching this place grow from eight people to 130. I credit my time here with valuable knowledge, friendships and experiences. It was at this company that "The Lunch Belle" was born in July 2007. After having managed our daily-catered-lunch and events program for a little over one year, I decided that I needed an outlet to voice my many opinions on the NYC dining scene and all of my roller coaster interactions with caterers. One blog post became two, then ten, and before I knew it, I had my first freelance assignment for NY Post's Page Six Magazine.

Bidding adieu to what's left of my fellow colleagues will be difficult, but as I walk away from this experience, I can't help but smile when I think about how much I've grown and taken with me.


The Weekly Eater: 11/10 - 11/23

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Thursday, 11/13: Dinner at Papatzul

  • No money for a trip to Mexico? Take a mini-vacation from the concrete jungle and escape to Ciudad Juarez via Papatzul. Excellent happy-hour drink specials (think half-price margaritas and sangria), spot-on Mexican cuisine, friendly service and an atmosphere that will truly transport you away from the hustle-bustle. I began my meal with a white-sangria, chock-full of marinated fruit that was just sweet enough not to overpower the delicate balance of alcohol to juice. While I've complained of paying for chips and salsa in previous posts, I did have to fork over $5 (annoying, but still $3 less than what I was charged at Crema). For my entree, I ordered a simple plate of cheese enchiladas with green sauce, which I found to be one of the best versions of the dish I've had in NYC, thus far.

Saturday, 11/15: Dinner at L'Express

  • Prior to catching Reckless Kelly, a "Texas Country" band from Austin, Andrew and I headed to L'Express for some cocktails and French brasserie fare. For a restaurant that's open 24-hours/day and doesn't get taken too seriously by many self-proclaimed "foodies," I find L'Express to be one of the city's dining jewels. The atmosphere is romantic, lively and charming all at the same time. My meal began with a glass of pinot noir, followed by NYC's best croque monsieur (France's version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) served with a side of perfectly cooked fries.

Sunday, 11/16: Brunch at The Odeon

  • Hugging a picturesque corner of Tribeca stands The Odeon, where art-deco diner-chic meets French brasserie. Phillip and I only had to wait twenty-minutes for a brunch table, and chose to watch the time pass at the large and boisterous bar. After gulping two bellini's, we were seated. A basket arrived with two pieces of homemade bread and an ample portion of butter. As an entree, I ordered the Beef Shortrib Hash, which was one of the daily specials. Two poached eggs topped with a lemony Hollandaise sauce sat atop a mound of hashed potatoes and short rib. While I found the beef gristly and nearly inedible, the other components of my meal (eggs, Hollandaise sauce and potatoes) were fresh and delicious.

Sunday, 11/16: Dinner at El Rio Grande

  • I'd be a liar if I told you that I wasn't hesitant about dining at El Rio Grande. First of all, the restaurant is a chain, and secondly, nine times out of ten, the Mexican food in NYC leaves much to be desired. Allow me to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was: El Rio Grande is located at the base of an apartment building in Murray Hill. The dining room is illuminated by floor to ceiling windows and tastefully decorated with Southwestern flair. My meal began with a frozen margarita, FREE handmade chips and salsa and an order of velvety smooth chile con queso (a true delicacy to Texas ex-pats). As an entree, I chose the cheese enchiladas that were accompanied by rice and beans. I found the Tex-Mex grub to be quite tasty, the service to be fantastic and the bill to be very affordable.


The Weekly Eater: 11/03 - 11/16

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Saturday, 11/08: Dinner at Malatesta Trattoria

  • You can't beat this trattoria's charming West Village locale, hugging the corner of Washington and Christopher Streets. Once inside, enjoy the dimly-lit romantic atmosphere and friendly Italian waitstaff. A fantastic meal begins with a gratis plate of homemade focaccia, followed by menu standouts such as the Tagliatelle Al Ragu (handmade fettuccine-like noodles topped with a velvety tomato sauce and ground beef). Decent Italian wine list. Cash only. 649 Washington St., 212-741-1207

Sunday, 11/09: Dinner at Momofuku Ssam

  • What adjectives come to mind when you hear the words, "East Village?" I immediately think, "Hipster, rock, cool, mish-mash, New York." And what better neighborhood for the uber-hip Momofuku chain to to reside in? The last time I visited Ssam, I was with my ex nibbling off of his plate, kicking myself that I didn't order something of my own. When I was dining at Ssam this Sunday evening, I made sure to make up for lost times. Momofuku's modern space is a bit small and packs up quickly after opening. The background music is one or two decibels away from being deafening and the only soft drink on the menu is root beer, but the food is so good that all of these minute details can definitely be overlooked. Momofuku Ssam's concept is the use of locally, farm raised food to create an American/Korean fusion menu. Sounds complicated, but the finished product is simply outstanding. Menu highlights included: Seasonal pickles, Steamed pork buns (pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallions), Satur Farm's fried Brussels sprouts (mint, scallions, fish sauce vinaigrette), Blondie pie and the PB&J dessert with concord grapes and Saltine panna cotta.

Dinner at Lugo Caffe

"Lugo Caffe is located at 1 Penn Plaza? Interesting address. Isn't that right across the street from Madison Square Garden?" I wondered. Sure enough, after doing a quick restaurant search for "Lugo Caffe" on menupages.com, my greatest fear was confirmed: 1 Penn Plaza sat on 33rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues...Directly across the street from Madison Square Garden. Lugo Caffe, Midtown South/Chelsea's newest Italian, was conceived in one of the most random and challenging neighborhoods for a restaurant of its caliber. T.G.I.Friday's, locally-owned deli's, and fast food joints lined the streets and took center stage...Until now.

After my mother and I exited our taxi on 33rd Street, it took me a couple of moments to locate 1 Penn Plaza. As we approached the large office building, I saw Lugo Caffe situated on the ground floor. What stood out like a desert oasis was a space that had me at "hello." Upon entering the restaurant, I found the interior divided in to three rooms; a bar, main dining area, and a semi secluded private dining space. Artfully displayed just above the boisterous open bar were the words "La Dolce Vita," which means "the sweet life" in Italian. The space felt so large for a New York City restaurant; perhaps it was because of the grand twenty-foot-tall ceilings and walls of windows that overlooked Lugo's very own vast outdoor patio. Rooms were divided by fully-stocked wine racks appearing to be suspended mid-air. The usage of butcher block tables, subway tiles and art deco-style lamps, fans and a splash of Vespa turquoise-blue was the perfect combination of "brasserie" meets "modern Italian chic."

Although my mother and I arrived at 6:30p.m. (which is considered quite early), Lugo was already hopping with both happy hour and dinner patrons. Impressive, especially for a restaurant that had not even been open yet for a month! We were seated promptly and given a basket filled with two large pieces of bread, a bowl of infused olive oil and food and drink menus. Mom and I each ordered a martini, and began perusing what to choose for our appetizers and entrees.

To begin, we chose to split three appetizers. Brussels sprouts are my new obsession, so when I placed this particular order, I suppose I wasn't expecting these emerald green morsels to arrive chilled. The Classic "Caesar" dressed with romaine, parmigiana, a bitter-creamy lemon dressing and homemade croutons was one of the best versions of the salad that I've tasted. Our third appetizer was the Mozzarella Carozza, which was sliced cheese lightly fried and served with stewed baby tomatoes. I enjoyed this dish, however, I thought that the batter surrounding the mozzarella tasted more like tempura than traditional "carozza" (an exterior so lightly crisp, one may not know that it's fried). My mother even mentioned that this dish reminded her of the mozzarella "sticks" one can order at sports bars. I was horrified!

In keeping the spirit of sharing, we decided to split two entrees. The homemade ravioli filled with velvety ricotta cheese, spinach and topped with a simple dollop of stewed fresh tomatoes and chopped basil was divine. Besides the light dusting of freshly grated parmigiana cheese added table side, I, the self-professed salt/pepper addict, had one of my very first "douse free" experiences. Conveniently, we ordered a Margherita pizza to sop up all of the extra pasta sauce. Think authentic Italian pizza: Thin, lightly charred crust; chunky, bright red tomato sauce; homemade mozzarella cheese and finished with fresh basil leaves. Delicioso!

To end our meal on a sweet note, Mom and I split the profiteroles and an order of ricotta cheesecake. I was surprised to find that the profiteroles were filled with custard instead of (what I thought was traditional) gelato. The cheesecake was nice, but it would have been much tastier had the crust been thicker.

Lugo Caffe is the most welcome addition to the neighborhood surrounding Madison Square Garden! For a restaurant that has just been open for a month now, I found that it has very few "kinks" to work out. The food, service and space were lovely and I look forward to returning.