The cost of dining out in New York City held steady over the past year despite an 11% spike in prices at top-tier destinations, according to the 2008 Zagat guide released on Wednesday.
But even the record tabs at high-end establishments such as Per Se and L'Atelier showed signs of moderating, with the price increase down from 15% the year before.
Currently, an "average" meal at one of New York's best restaurants costs $143.
New Yorkers and tourists here pay the nation's highest dining tab of $40 -- a relative bargain compared to London's $79 and Tokyo's $73, Zagat found. Prices include a main dish, one drink and tip.
The survey's 35,000 respondents, the most in its 29-year history, gave the city high marks for the diversity and creativity of its dining scene. Leading the downside were complaints about service and overcrowding.
Challenging conventional wisdom, Zagat co-founder Tim Zagat said that "New York City continues to be a place where good, cheap meals are abundant."
The 2008 survey covers more than 2,000 establishments. Other Zagat editions cover dining, nightlife, hotels and shopping around the globe, all based on respondents' ratings and input.
Among trends this year was a resurgence of barbecue and burger joints, the former in the face of indications a year earlier that the trend might be waning. Meanwhile "small plates" were increasingly popular despite diners' perception that they offer less value.
The Internet figured more widely than ever, with two-thirds of respondents saying they liked to check restaurant menus online before dining, and the number making their reservations online more than doubling in recent years.
Same High and Low Scorers
There were few changes among the survey's high and low scorers.
Daniel, after years of competing with seafood palace Le Bernardin for the top food rating, prevailed in the current stakes, with Le Bernardin relegated to third behind moderately priced Sushi Yasuda.
The Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern continued their nine-year streak of sharing the most-popular honors, while Per Se, with tabs that run in excess of $300 per person, was deemed to have the best service.
Masa again was New York's most expensive restaurant. Sushi chef Masayoshi Takayama's prix fixe piscatorial feast costs $485.
Relative newcomer Asiate, 35 stories above a corner of Central Park, took the honors for decor, while British star chef Gordon Ramsay's first New York venture, which bears his name, was the top-rated newcomer.
The nod punctuated a good week for television star Ramsay, whose Manhattan outpost was also accorded two Michelin stars.
Brooklyn's humble Di Fara maintained its cult following even after health inspectors briefly closed it down, topping the pizza ratings. Le Parker Meridien hotel's burger joint, tucked away behind a curtain in a corner of the lobby, again took the prize for best burgers.
Barney Greengrass was voted best deli again, closely followed by Katz's.
Zagat respondents were just as consistent with the brickbats, once again rating the media-star clubhouse Elaine's and Times Square's sports-themed ESPN Zone nearly equally abysmal in the food department.
Celebrities at Elaine's apparently dine slightly better than the tourists who crowd into ESPN Zone, but ESPN Zone easily trumped the "tavern" atmosphere and "surly" service at Elaine's.