I'm sure you all have your faves. This list comprises some of mine. You won't find (most) of these in books. They are family favorites or those I found while wandering. Nothing fancy (except one) and nothing mind blowing. Just good, legit food in fun spots with great stories.
Sam's- Court Street, Brooklyn NY
A true "red sauce" joint, this Court Street institution features ripped red leatherette banquets, awesome coal oven pizza and chicken parm as big as your head. Louis, the owner, makes a mean martini and brings it to the table, spilling it as he goes. If you catch him in a good mood you can get him to regale you with stories of old Cobble Hill/Carrol Gardens. The guy has opinions, and he is absolutely not afraid to share them. Eating here is a blast from the past- (they film The Deuce here)- and the food is just as good as the old world charm and Louis's stories.
El Nuevo Portal- Smith Street, Brooklyn NY
Not sure if it's the steam tables full of yellow rice, plantains or pernil, but this place is mesmerizingly legit. As a native Californian who loves Mexican Food, I had a hard time assimilating into a city whose idea of the above is Chipotle. Enter my new found love for Dominican Food. Portal is great- a full kitchen with a menu as long as an encyclopedia, If you get overwhelmed, you can't go wrong with Pollo Guisado and Tostones. Don't miss the Morir Sonando. A mix of OJ and milk, it's a straight up nostalgic return to my mall days and love for Orange Julius.
Gordo Taqueria- Multiple Locations, Berkeley & Albany, CA
BEST BURRITO, period. I'm putting it in writing. If you disagree, please send me your fave spot, I will visit and judge and reply accordingly. Let the discussions begin.
Mexicali Rose- Oakland CA
Pepto Bismol pink and across from the Oakland holding jail. Occasional biker gangs parked out front, amazing Holiday calendar with truly authentic and somewhat questionable art. Also, great authentic (not trendy or fancy) Mexican food. I mean full plates of combo platters and one of the best Chile Verdes I have ever had. It's the benchmark against which all other are judged. Ask to sit with Delores- she's been working there for as long as I've been going there (since I was a kid and the OG Alameda location burned down.)
Bar Bruno- Union Street, Brooklyn NY
A frozen margarita machine and queso. Also, a great carne plate and amazing stews. The chef of this place was on one of the Food Network shows but it's a legit spot that cured my hate for the NY Mexican Food scene. And, on nice days, you can sit outside.
Fentons- Oakland CA
Legend has it that this is where I had my first bite of ice cream. My dad likes to say he put my car seat on the bar and that was that. Today, I like to go back with family and friends and share a crab melt and Black and Tan (no vanilla- all toasted almond, please.) Key word, here- SHARE. The ice cream sundaes can put you in a sugar coma.
Robert et Louis- The Marais, Paris
This spot comes complete with open wood burning kitchen, plaid curtains, a surly owner who gets sauced at the bar and amazing steaks. It is to me, all I love about Paris- a great mix of the chic and the norms, eating at communal tables from a menu that is just really about one thing- meat. Go early or call ahead. If you must speak English, apologize profusely before hand. If you tell the owner you are also a giant Yankees fan he may just like you and give you a table.
Brasserie Lipp- Rue St Germain, Paris
I do love BL. I'm not a hug fan of fancy spots and white table cloths but this place is magic. Pure magic. It's like walking back in time with the old school French Menu and waiters in white jackets to prove it. This place is best for a long lunch that leads to happy hour with lots of wine and a big hearty meal. Best visited in fall or winter when they may just have cassoulet on the menu.
Noura- Multiple locations, Paris
This is an amazing Lebanese mini chain in Paris that serves all of the classic mezze and full entrees. All are delicious. It also has the most amazing rose water ice cream. Yes, rose water. Def worth a trip just to try it.