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Taste of Kerala Kitchen and Other Great Cheap Places

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All photos by Robert Sietsema

Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue at Queens' far eastern border, a suburban enclave that hardly seems like New York City, boasts an inordinate number of fantastic South Asian restaurants, some of which are unbelievably inexpensive. Taste of Kerala Kitchen is a comfortable spot that showcases the cuisine of India's southernmost state, featuring lots of coconut milk, seafood, pungent beef, lamb, and poultry curries, and — brace yourself! — pork. When was the last time you saw pork served in an Indian restaurant? Here, it's a clear legacy of a historic Portuguese presence in Kerala, a colonial influence is still being felt in the food.

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There are many unfamiliar dishes on the menu that might make you wonder just what kind of restaurant you're in, and one great introduction is the thali called "Kerala Meals." Given the quantity and quality of the food, the price is astonishing: $7 at lunch and $10 in the evening. Bobbing on its metal tray are 11 dishes and condiments, propelled by a big serving of polished rice and a papadam, and including thoran — a vegetarian mince of yard beans flavored with coconut, a bright orange mango-and-yogurt mixture called pulissery, and a fish curry and meat curry that vary according to what the restaurateurs feel like serving on a given day. Under ordinary circumstances, you could share this with another diner and be perfectly satisfied, so rich are the selections. 267-05 Hillside Ave, Glen Oaks, Queens, 718-470-1702.

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Years ago it was located at the busy corner of Ninth Avenue and 34th Street; nowadays it hides on 28th midblock, just north of the FIT campus. Soul Fixins' (punctuation theirs) is one of those soul food spots that used to dot the dining landscape, but are now largely disappeared — though the menu of ribs, oxtails, mac and cheese, collards, and chicken done several ways will still be instantly familiar. Most dinners come in at less than $10, which is something of a minor miracle in modern Midtown Manhattan, and specials at lunch whittle the price down a bit. One is available most of the day, offering a quarter fried chicken, and a good one, along with mixed veggies, mashed potatoes with copious gravy, and cornbread for $7.95. It's probably one of the cheapest fried-chicken dinners of this size available in the borough. 225 W 28th St, 212-736-1345.

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Yun Nan Flavour Snack has been a fixture of Sunset Park's Chinatown for more than a decade, dispensing noodles that originated in a province of China that lies right across the border from Southeast Asia. The place was cramped; the noodles heavy on offal. Not long ago an amplified version of the noodlery named Yun Nan Flavour Garden appeared, with infinitely more comfy surroundings, but a menu that wasn't really much bigger, if you reduce all the iterations of rice and noodle dishes to their common elements. Priced at $5.25 to $6, these are a great deal, featuring pork, lamb, and chicken stews and soups, some of them spicy. But the real revelation of the menu — apart from a cold series of dishes like pig ear, seaweed, and spicy cucumber that might have been borrowed from a Sichuan restaurant — was the recipe called Crossing the Bridge Noodles, featuring a steaming bowl of plain broth in which you cook things like thin-sliced pork, a piece of black medicinal chicken, quail eggs, garlic, chives, bean cured sheets, sprouts, and spaghetti-like soft noodles. Priced at $8.75, one bowl feeds two. 5121 8th Ave, Brooklyn, 718-633-3090.

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Taste of Kerala Kitchen

267-05 Hillside Ave, Glen Oaks, Queens, NY

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