Shopsin's in New York is well-known as being an incredible diner: at its previous location in the West Village, it boasted a menu with over 1,000 items. In its new cubby at one end of the Essex market (at the corner of Essex and Rivington, in the Lower East Side), it lives in a small unadorned area without even a sign for a name, and the sparse clattering of tables seems like it's the set for some TV version of a diner rather than the real thing. The menu is not 1,000 items right now, but it's still dazzling.
Shopsin's promises a lot, and it delivers the goods. It's inexpensive and the ambience is open, friendly, casual, and high-energy. I chatted with several other patrons during my time there, with the conversation centering around the exciting food and menu. I ordered what my smiling, harried waitress warned me was too much food: a huevos rancheros and a "chocolate banana nut french toast bread pudding" (typical). The huevos came out steaming hot and fresh, and nicely spicy, just as I requested it. The eggs were cheesy and runny and golden and served as a blazing anchor for the stew-like vegetable-and-beans next to it. The color and presentation worked well. Fresh corn tortillas acted as the traditional sop.
The bread pudding was simple but craveable, with the cooked multi-textured bread pieces contasting against the textures of the chocolate and the banana in a homey harmony. My only slight complaint is that it was a little dry -- maple syrup helped, but at the cost of obscuring some of its flavors.
All in all, this is an incredibly fun restaurant with a great atmosphere and value. My only pan is that there are too few tables: you're liable to wait, especially if you come with a group. I plan to come back over and over anyway...
The Vegetarian New Yorker: http://vegny.blogspot.com/