04/01/2013 10:44 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2013

Top 5 Tastes: Back to the City

After a few weekends of travel-eating, throwing any monetary or dietary restrictions to the wind, both my stomach and wallet needed a break. I ventured to the land of the unknown: a four day (pseudo) vegan regimen. Knowing that the ever-present goodies at work would provide many temptations, I braved the cattle-herding experience at the Union Square Trader Joes to stock up on healthy snacks and veggie-based meal options for the week. After four days of barley, hummus, chopped vegetables and endless crunchy coconut pieces, (none of which made it onto my taste list) I was ready to re-enter the New York food realm and did so with some standouts and some staples. Here, my top 5 tastes for the week:

#1 "Churrasco" - Grilled Skirt Steak, Mint Verde, Cipollini Onion Marmalade (Buceo 95, New York, NY) In my book, the only way to end a bout of veganism is with some good old red meat. This steak was cooked perfectly, toothsome yet tender, with the charred outside creating a rich smokiness. Fragrant mint salsa and an aromatic savory marmalade were great counterpoints to the meat. An ideal return to carnivorous existence.
#2 $1 Cheese Pizza - (2 Bros Pizza, 17th St & 7th Ave, New York, NY) I'm ashamed to say, as a New York resident, I'd been previously un-initiated into the $1 Pizza club. Yes, I've had cheap pizza, but never this cheap. After some insistence from friends, I agreed, entering the world of the competitive budget pizza without looking back. While the flavors can't be described as mind-blowing, it was a slice of New York City deli pie, a kick in the mouth that I needed, especially after my travels and experimentation with health consciousness.
#3 Hot Chocolate - (City Bakery, New York, NY) After $1 Pizza, we were craving a sweet reprieve. Seduced by the dizzying display of savory goods, we had our second lunch before satisfying our sweet tooth (teeth?) with City Bakery's legendary hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. With a sweetness that just stopped short of cloying, and a texture far more akin to a dessert than a beverage, their hot chocolate is, as some might say, too legit to quit. I failed to quit, instead drinking the entire cup which resulted in a brief but fairly intense food coma.
#4 Melted Aged Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon and Cranberry Onion Chutney (The Big Cheesy, OpenHouse Gallery, New York, NY) When your Saturday afternoon plans involve a grilled cheese competition and a Pekinese's birthday party, you're either a total yuppie or a person with great plans. I'm hoping I'm in the second category. In any case, eating my way around eight plus grilled cheese sandwiches is nothing to be ashamed of. In my mind (and, apparently those of the other attendees), the winner was Melt Shop's, a majorly gooey, crunchy, sweet, Umami-heavy sandwich. Although I'm generally a better-sans-bacon kind of gal (blasphemous, I know), the salty bacon worked so well with the fruity cranberry chutney, and the uncomplicated boldness of the cheddar topped it all off, making it the best bite I had. Was it traditional? No. But the mix of flavors checked every decadent box, enticing me to sneak back to the table more than once.
#5 Sautéed Chinese Sausage with Thai Chili-Lime Sauce (Kuma Inn, New York, NY) With its dim lighting, lax BYOB policy and location in the Lower East Side, Kuma Inn is an ideal locale for a boozy dinner before a night out. It also happens to have very tasty food. The tastiest dish of all, in my opinion, is the Sautéed Chinese Sausage. Although some of my dining companions weren't pork eaters, a friend and I took a firm stand, ordering one plate with the rest of the tapas, and another before dessert for good measure. The thin disks of sausage managed to be both crispy and chewy, with the sugary fat caramelizing on the outside, rendering them sticky and totally addictive. The pungent acidic condiment cut through the fattiness of the sausage, but we preferred them unadorned, the sauce unnecessarily distracting from the end goal of snagging the last porky morsel. With greasy hands and full bellies, we sauntered into the Lower East Side, ready for the throngs of underage boozers.