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Ramen Thukpa and Other Great Cheap NYC Restaurants

All photos by Robert Sietsema

Two years ago when the place opened, it specialized in Chinese hot pots. Then it added Tibetan food to the mix. Finally, it dropped the hot pots and added ramen, making it perhaps the city's only Japanese and Tibetan noodle shop. Why am I telling you about this? Because Ramen Thukpa is also one of the few eateries left in the West Village where you can score a bargain-priced meal at any hour. The room is remarkably comfortable, with a few tables, some running along windows that afford a splendid view of 7th Ave South's tourist hoardes. The Dalai Lama looks down on you benevolently from his perch in the two-story skylight, which provides the room with additional illumination. Hello, Dalai!

Full bowls of ramen hover around $10, which is cheap where ramen is concerned in the West Village, and there are bargain plates of the Tibetan dumplings called momo and the noodles known as thenthuk. A few dishes linger from the days when the place offered a twisted version of Sichuan, including wontons in hot oil. Not bad! But the best deal on the premises is the Chengdu standard dan dan noodles, which the menu erroneously attributes to Shanghai. Normally only $7.50, during a lunch special the house throws in a bonus app, too, which can be Japanese seaweed salad, edamame, three Chinese dumplings, or other treats at the discretion of the restaurant. Don't forget to add the Tibetan hot sauce before you dig in. 70 7th Avenue S, 212-929-2188.

Normally falafel joints are run by Lebanese or Syrians, right? Well not on the East Side just north of the Queensborough Bridge—oops! Now called the Ed Koch Bridge. There a narrow space called Casablanca Grill offers the pita sandwich at the bargain price of $3.99 during most of the day. So why should you prefer it to the normal Middle Eastern version? Well, the Moroccans make all sorts of pickled vegetable apps out of things like carrots, cucumbers, and beet-dyed radishes, and when you ask for your falafel "all the way," they throw those in the sandwich, too, thereby doubling the volume and tripling the flavor. And unlike bare-bones falafel stands such as Union Square's Rainbow Falafel, there is plenty of room to sit and eat it. Shawarma, kefta, chicken, and mixed-meat combos are a bargain, too. 1132 1st Avenue, 212-355-3535.

Everyone admits that Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights isn't what it once was, when it was crammed into an actual diner just down the street a decade or more ago. Now that space has been taken over by Al-Naimat Sweets & Restaurant, a very modest establishment slinging Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi eats to a South Asian constituency. For shoppers interested in a fulsome nibble, there are chaats – anarchistic piles of crunchy things doused with multiple chutneys. A steam table displays much bigger feeds in the $5 to $8 range, running from vegetarian curries to fish and goat. But for sheer economy and hand-held convenience, nothing is better than the vegetarian samosas, stuffed with potatoes and peas and delivered hot. At two for $1.50, they're an amazing bargain, less than half of what you'd expect to pay in Curry Hill. And these are bigger! 37-03 74th Street, Queens, 718-205-7157.
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Ramen Thukpa

70 7th Avenue S., New York, NY