In the mid 90's a girl I was dating... lived in a loft in downtown L.A. several years ahead of any inner city redeveloping effort - as such very limited food options - so she cooked 3 course dinners almost every night for the "starving" artists... between that and a bar tender job... she got through culinary school.
I then learned that L.A's artist colonies supported dozens of underground restaurants. And of course... on a more informal level... there are many Mexican women that run underground "restaurants" feeding square meals & regional specialties to the immigrant men of their ranch / town / city.
The pathetic, annoying irony concerning the paladares in greater Havana, is that the best ones that gain a following and attract visitors, are so often shut down at night by military personnel. It makes it impossible to recommend a good one, because a recommendation is a kiss of death. I hesitate even to provide guidance by e-mail; the stranglehold on 11 million people there is that palpable.
An article in a Sonoma-area paper ( http://www.metroactive.com/papers/son... ) also references the New York underground dining scene, without naming any places, of course:
"Underground restaurants are popping up all over the nation. Michael Hale, a server turned sommelier turned restaurant owner, recalls his early experience with underground restaurants while living in New York. "It's like having a whole city right in your apartment building," he says. "There's this guy down the hall that's cooking Bengalese food; someone downstairs is doing chop suey. That's how I got started in this business--we'd do all of these dinner parties, and I thought getting paid to do that would be brilliant. So I decided to open up my own place."
So, I assume they are out there. You just need to know where to look.
If I'm not mistaken, there was a place that ran along those lines in Park Slope, maybe in the early 80's. It didn't last too long. It was a very upscale place that had one sitting a night for a small group. It was on north 7th Avenue, a few blocks from Flatbush. I believe the Times reviewed it.
There is also a tradition of these food "speakeasies" in Buenos Aires called Restaurantes de Puertas Cerradas (Closed Door Restaurants). They are quite secretive, but serve some of the best, and most authentic regional cooking in B.A.
In Hong Kong there's another version of these underground restaurants that are far more upscale and can cost upwards of $100 per person.
The New York Times ran an article back in 2003 on these types of restaurants opening up in the States ( http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/12/din... ). While it didn't specifically focus on New York, I don't see why this phenomenon couldn't catch on here. In fact it seems like the perfect breeding ground.