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Really Strange Egg Curry at Lakruwana, Plus More Spectacular Cheap Eats

Eater critic Robert Sietsema shares a few of his favorite budget eats around New York City.

Chicken, three cheap
pork sandwich

[Clockwise, from the top left: Casa Adela, sancocho, Cuban sandwich, rotisserie chicken. All photos by Robert Sietsema.]

A cheap-eats fixture on Avenue C for almost 40 years, Casa Adela is one of the few Latin diners that persist on the Lower East Side. Principally slinging Puerto Rican chow to an admiring and diverse audience, the café's scrumptious, salty food can be eaten at one of several comfortable tables, but more often it's carried out to tenement apartments in the vicinity. The half rotisserie chicken comes rubbed with paprika and sofrito, so tender it nearly falls off the bone. And the massive serving of rice and beans that accompanies it means that $10 easily feeds two. I have friends that love this chicken so much, they travel from neighborhoods in Brooklyn to get it.

The hot pressed sandwiches are notable, too, including the roast pork pernil (pictured), which can be dandied up with lettuce and tomato; the plain but delectable ham and cheese; and the Cuban sandwich, with cheese and dill pickles oozing out the sides. While much of the food is Puerto Rican, there's Dominican stuff on the menu, too, including sancocho, an oxtail-and-vegetable stew thickened with pumpkin and served with a demi-baguette. (Sometimes you must request the bread, especially if you look like a carbophobe.) 66 Ave C, (212) 473-1882

Jen's Doubles

[Clockwise, from the top left: Jenn's Roti Shop, shark bake, doubles, goat roti.]

One of Brooklyn's greatest culinary treasures are its Trinidadian restaurants, offering a cuisine rich in vegetables, goat, and seafood, influenced by the fare of India, West Africa, and Spain. Flatbush has the greatest accumulation, and one of the newest and most inexpensive is Jen's Roti Shop right on Flatbush Avenue itself, not far from the ancient Dutch Reformed Church (constructed in 1793), and also near Erasmus Hall, the high school Barbra Streisand, Neal Diamond, and Barry Manilow attended long ago when this neighborhood was Jewish.

Jen's has very little in the way of seating (confined to two stools at a counter looking out the window), and you're likely to encounter a line any time you go — the food is splendid. Shown is a serving of goat curry with pumpkin added, configured as a buss-up shot ("busted-up shirt") with the flatbread on the side, rather than rolled into a flatbread called dal poori to make a roti. Also available at the same ($7 to $9) price are shrimp, chicken, beef, or a vegetarian version. But these are the menu's most expensive items. For $1.25 you can get a doubles (the word is both singular and plural): a split baby poori filled with chick-pea curry. For $5, you get a sandwich called a "bake," which is made with a deep-fried roll also called a bake. Shark and bake is shown, but there are other seagoing fillings, including a smoked herring version that shows either a Dutch or English colonial influence, depending on who you believe. 825 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 826-2280.

Sri Lankan Food

[The Lakruwana buffet and a buffet plate.]

Sometimes if you're really, really hungry, you may be better off visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet. The problem is, most of them suck. (I'm thinking in particular of the Chinese buffets, of which there must be 50 in the five boroughs.) But what if the buffet was great, and educational, too? And heavy on the pleasing vegetable-driven dishes, but with enough meat that you don't feel deprived? Such is the case with the buffet at Lakruwana — which sounds like a regional Pennsylvania railroad, but is really the city's most ambitious Sri Lankan restaurant.

Located in Stapleton, a pretty town with a village green and several Mexican and African restaurants, the establishment moved a few years ago from its original location in St. George in the direction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but still an easy two stops away by train from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The seven-foot buffet includes 17 dishes and condiments, two types of rice, and four choices for dessert, featuring a really great tapioca pudding and a classic Spanish flan. Highlights from the savory side of the menu: an orange-colored manioc curry, a rich pork "black"curry in which the spices have been toasted, a coconut-and-kale sambal, pineapple curry, and a really strange boiled egg curry. The price for limitless platefuls is $11.95, and the buffet is served Saturday and Sunday all day from noon until 10 p.m. Going there from another borough makes a perfect weekend expedition — and don't forget, the ferry ride is free. 668 Bay Street, Staten Island, (347) 857-6619

Top photo: The dining room at Lakruwana.

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