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Reality and Bordertown

What to Eat: A Tasteful Guide to Border Cuisine

Bordertown is unmanageably well-supplied with restaurants. They open and close, change names and menus and owners, so fast and frequently that even the weekly rags have trouble keeping track of them. What follows is a wildly incomplete list, which is weighted in favor of restaurants that have been around for a while and so might possible still be around next week.

The Army of Cumberland
(Water Street, just north of Soho): A fine quiet brewpub with deep booths and good ventilation, and the best possible place for long theoretical conversations. It's run by the inscrutable Mrs. Denton, who serves assorted salads, soups, stews, and hot biscuits along with her ales and bitters. There's tea if you'd rather, and if Mrs. Denton thinks you're reliable it'll be brought to your table in a proper teapot with cozy.

Bolivar's (515 Heaven's Court, near Trader's Heaven): Ignore the name; the cuisine is a blend of Magyar style and Faeire ingredients, with results to die for. the prix fixe dinner looks pricey but isn't; you'll be full by the time you finish your appetizer, and you can take home your entree and dessert and live on leftovers for the next several days. The rednut pastries alone are the size of megaliths. And if someone else is footing the bill, consider treating yourself to a serious Tokay, because their wines are as good as their food.

BOS (1313 Gulliver Lane, Soho): You can't call BOS a downmarket bar, it's definately a dive. Don't talk to the other patrons , try not to touch the floor, and don't eat the free lunch. For that matter, don't eat anything that's on the menu. What you want is the barbecue, which is mentioned nowhere in the joint. You have to know to ask.  When it comes, grab the quart-size bottle of BOS XXXX sauce -- the one whose label claims "it will TEEZ or TIKLE the cockles of your palate, a few more drops will SPUR your appetite and put som ZIP to it, and finally SNAP your hunger." Pour it on. Take a bite.  That's why you go to BOS. (Note: the guy behind the counter, who in our opinion is somewhat diranged, for some reason absolutely hates take-out. If you try to carry off your barbecue instead of eating it on the spot, not only will he glare holes into you, the next time you come in he'll tell you that barbecue isn't on the menu, and ignore you there-after.)

The Dancing Ferret (10 Carnival Street, Soho): Yes, it's primarily a club, but as long as Farrel Din is stuck eating the food that comes out of its kitchen, it'll serve the best burger in Bordertown. Their sausage on a roll, smothered in caramelized onions and sauerkraut, is a culinary high point, but you'll get on the staff's bad side if you refer to it as Fried Lubin.

Dragontown/New Asia: Walk down the street. Look at th menus in the windows. If a place takes your fancy, stick your head in and sniff. If it smells like what you had in mind, go in and sit down. We will mention in passing Chef Chui's lo mein at The Phoenix; the Lhasa Tea House's mom, or Tibetan dumplings; the cold sesame noodles at Tien Fu; and the velvet corn chowder at Short Lu's Quick Fix.

The Eighth Street Cafe (Eighth and Puck, Soho): Not good, but useful, and very weird. The owners speak none of the common Bordertown languages, so you'll have to take the place as you find it. The cafe opens for dinner around sunset, and while the menu is extensive, the only items that are ever available are the dinner specials. These are incredibly cheap; along with your entree you get soup, a salad, two vegetables, fresh corn bread, coffee, and dessert. The catch is that while it all looks correct, it tastes just plain weird -- wholesome, but weird.  Like, the "Spanish omelette" sauce will turn out to be sweet-and-sour, not tomato-and-peppers, and the chocolate pudding can taste of salt and onion. Our theory is that the proprietors are working entirely from photographs. But if you're poor and hungry, or just up for something strange, this may be the place for you.

Miruvor's (999 East Ho, Soho): Bad, bad, bad elf takeout, seriously overpriced and contemptuously served. The place used to be tolerable, but of late it's gone into abject decline. Hold out for better times, and refuse to set foot inside until you hear that better times have come.

Ozeki (997 East Ho, Soho): The only Japanese restaurant on Ho Street.  Endlessly inventive variations on sushi and sashimi, prepared while you watch by a Japanes-speaking Trueblood whom the rest of the staff adress as Gojira. But hey -- when the dead raw fish is this good, who cares what he did to Tokyo? Brave souls can also try their "Surprised Yakitori -- For Your Strength," which is odd but tasty.

Taco Hell (23 West Ho, Soho): Everybody knows, everybody goes. A Soho institution, for all the best reasons: it's cheap, it's pleasant, it's racially tolerant (as are it's customers, or they don't come back), and the beer is cold. But it's fame rests on the fabled Meltdown Burrito, which has the power to release endorphins and remit sins. Try one and become enlightened. Your tongue will grow back, honest.

Vates (Stone and Third, Soho): It's said that if you're from the Realm, you know exactly what Vates serves and where its cook was trained the minute you get your nose inside the place. If you're human, it's pronounced vah-tavs, and the food is more or less foccaccia with assorted toppings.  They're all good; the topping that looks like pistachio nuts with rosemary (and almost is) is austere but brilliant. Everything comes with an unavoidable side of thin, crip-roasted slices of some root vegetable, but we'll eat yours if you don't want it.

Cafe Cubana
(Ho Street at Oshun Way): Okay, so it's not a restaurant, it's a coffee shop that serves tea -- but what tea! Let me count the ways you can fill your pot: the menu divides into "leaded" (caffeinated brews like Assam and Earl Grey that, if you let them brew to full strength, can give espresso a run for your money! Just add milk) and "unleaded" (herbal blends ranging from peppermint for that morning-after stomach, to the Cafe's own House Special Blend, a mix of flowers and ginger that seems to be good for everything including a broken heart). Expect to pay more for the imports.  food is limited to things that work with tea: try the raisin cake or the nutmeg tarts, avoid the stale scones (like everyone else -- maybe that's why they're stale!), and you owe it to yourself to at least taste the fried bananas. The best part of all, though, is the floorshow: your host(ess), Screaming Lord Neville, has a collection of shoes and gowns that would be the envy of any screen goddess.

Hell's Kitchen (69 Ho Street, Soho): A High Concept kind of place, with lurid lighting, black furniture, red walls, and waitsaff got up in cute little horns and hooves. Everything on the menu is hot, hot, hot, including the Jalepeno Ice and the Ginger Bombe. Luckily, their beer and wine lists are superb. Clientele tends towards slumming Hill-folk and visiting dignitaries from both sides of the Border who want a meal on the Wild Side. This is not the place to go if you hate Yeppies or you're feeling the pinch.

For the empty of pocket and hungry for company, Soho provides a unrivalled range of greasy spoons, soup joints, quick fix taquerias, noodle-shops, and usquah bars. Some of these are ptomine heavens; most of them pride themselves on serving decent, cheap food; some of them are magnificent. This kind of operation tends to have the life span of a mayfly, but enduring favorites are the Hard Luck Cafe on the west end of Ho (watch the blackboard for the Stone Soup of the Day), Chaz'N'Chang's at 24 Ison Street (Tofu Teriyaki and fiddleheads), and Godmom's at the corner of Puck and Second (cozy sofas, red-check tablecloths, and a free wish with every order if you dare).