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Looking for casual restaurant with hearty fare (under $30 pp)

Looking for a casual restaurant (bistro, brasserie, trattoria) in Manhattan - preferably below 14th Street, but anything below 96th St is fine - with great food and no more than $30-$35 per person including tax and tip.

I'd prefer an American or European eatery (French, Italian, whatever), and am ok with either traditional comfort food or nouveau/creative preparations. The important thing is that the food is hearty and served in reasonable portions for a grown man. Not concerned about the beer/wine list; just want a place that has terrific food quality at a moderate price point.

Because I'll be dining with an old friend whom I haven't seen in a while, I want to avoid any loud, trendy, or scenester restaurants. The place doesn't have to be super quiet or anything, but it shouldn't resemble a frathouse or Sex & the City casting call, either. Doesn't have to be romantic, but would prefer a place with a little bit of character (divey with character is ok; divey like a check cashing store is not).

The dinner isn't until next week, so I have time to make a decision (and a reservation, if necessary). Thanks in advance.

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  1. For the sake of reference, one place which caught my eye is Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn - but we don't want to travel to Brooklyn on this particular occasion, otherwise I'd probably check it out.

    Other places I thought of but decided against are Blue Ribbon Bakery (kind of expensive and loud), Morandi (vibe is ok, but I don't really love their food), Tartine (used to love this place, but now I think the food is so-so), and Piccolo Angolo (pretty good food, but such a hassle; also, it's kind of at the upper limit of my price range).

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    Piccolo Angolo
    621 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

    Morandi
    211 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10014

    Blue Ribbon Bakery
    33 Bedford St, New York, NY 10014

    Tartine
    253 W 11th St, New York, NY 10014

    1. Focacceria on bleecker and macdougal is a great low key Italian restaurant. Has a create your own pasta section and you can sit there and have a conversation for a while without getting kicked out. Great wine list, small quaint place. Perfect to talk an old friend to.

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      Focacceria
      87 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

      1. Paris Commune - has some great prix fixe daily specials
        Good - on Greenwich Ave
        Corsino - Hudson and Horatio
        Da'Andrea

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        Paris Commune
        99 Bank St, New York, NY 10014

        Corsino
        637 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

        1. You could try places like Heartland Brewery or Mickey Mantle's with no-nonsense American food in about your price range.

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          Mickey Mantle's
          42 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019

          2 Replies
          1. Mickey Mantle's on Central Park South IS still open. The food is decent (!?!) with copious portions. One could do better.

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            Mickey Mantle's
            42 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019

            1. re: boredough

              I hate to pile on but the food at Heartland Brewery is like bad mall food with decor to match.

          2. I appreciate everyone's input so far. Just to clarify, I am definitely not interested in any chain or theme restaurants even if the food is better than expected.

            What I'm searching for is a local neighborhood eatery, preferably with a little bit of character. I am definitely not a "quantity over quality" type of guy, yet at the same time I don't want to go to a place with miniscule portions, either.

            The absolute top priority for me is to find standout dining options at a moderate price point ($30-$35 or less per person including tax and tip). There are tons of casual mom-and-pop eateries of varying quality all over the city, but I'm hoping that you guys can clue me in to the places that are truly head-and-shoulders above the rest (foodwise) rather than "good but not great".

            Thanks again.