Ex-New Yorkers, long time California residents, we get back about four times a year. Lately we've made I Coppi, on Ninth Street between First and A, a regular stop. It never disappoints, even though we couldn't get into the garden because we neglected to call ahead. We dropped into Orologia on Avenue A just north of Tenth for dinner, without the first clue what were about to experience, and were surprised with excellent focaccia, and great, uncomplicated pasta.
In Chelsea we went to the Bright Food Shop (I think it's 23rd and 8th). Now there's an adventure. Our appetizer, some kind of shredded duck taco on a blue corn tortilla, was creative, but it didn't hang together. The roast loin of pork was excellent, and the chipotle corn bread was great. They have a way better than average beer selection. Does this place make anyone's maps?
Also, friends recommended a little Cuban place on Avenue C, right across from Haven Plaza. At the moment, it's really crowded and they do take-out, but there's an expansion planned. We walked by, and checked out the menu and what people were eating, and plan to go back.