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Spam-and-Egg Banh Mis, a Sausage Within a Sausage, and Other Cheap Delights

Robert Sietsema drops another inexpensive eats bomb from his Three Great Cheap series

All photos by Robert Sietsema

Eateries with virtually no seating are becoming a thing as available and affordable restaurant real estate disappears. One such is the oddly configured Souk & Sandwich, which describes itself as specializing in Lebanese Cooking on a sign almost bigger than the building. The space is long and shallow, and 95 percent is kitchen, leaning against the wall of an adjacent structure a block or so north of Canal Street on Sixth Avenue. Sure, there are a couple of benches in front, and if you clear off the accumulated literature inside the waiting room (in which three or four can stand at once), I guess you could eat at the shelf.

[Tongue sandwich and watermelon juice.]

The heart of the menu are a far-ranging series of sandwiches (averaging $7 to $9), wrapped up in big thin pitas to make cylindrical fatties. These assemblages — which also feature pickled vegetables, onions, lettuce, and tomato dressed with the squirtable garlic mayo called toum — often have a predictable main ingredient, such as falafel, ground-beef kufta, or sojuk, a spicy Lebanese sausage. But there are surprising options too, such as a sandwich loaded entirely with French fries, and another with glove-soft strips of marinated tongue — way yummy. Grilled vegetables, meat-and-pine-nut-stuffed kibbe (the Lebanese national dish), North African moussaka, and several honey-driven desserts fill out the menu. Full-blown entrees are available at dinner, with sides and larger portions. And don’t miss the watermelon juice if they have it! 117 6th Ave, 212-625-3982.

[Luu's baguette and a bowl of brisket pho]

Curry Hill boasts one of the city’s finest agglomerations of Indian restaurants, but on its southern verge is a small scale, unpretentious, and very good Vietnamese cafe called Luu’s Baguette. The baguette in question represents a series of banh mi sandwiches that make great fast lunches, but the menu is far more ambitious than that. The double dining room is semi-subterranean and there’s no waiter service, so you order at the counter in the rear, wait 10 minutes, and the order is delivered to your table. That order could be one of 10 phos, of which my favorite contains only beef brisket (pho tai, $7.95); com bo lui — grilled beef rolls over rice; or the wonderful spam and egg banh mi. This café is a favorite of students from nearby Baruch College. 134 E 26th St, 212-679-8881.

[Red Bowl Noodle Shop. Taiwanese hot dog and roasted quails.]

On the roof of Red Bowl Noodle Shop is a giant rice bowl with chopsticks poking out. Jonathan Gold once wrote that you could see it while landing at LaGuardia. The café itself has evolved into a street-food landmark, with a window open to sidewalk traffic that displays charcuterie and grilling sausages, including the wonderful do chang bao xiao chang: a small link known as a Taiwanese hot dog stuffed inside a bigger rice sausage with a slice of cucumber. It’s one of Flushing’s most fascinating snacks. Just inside the door are packaged ducks, skin-on pork chunks, sliced cuttlefish, chicken wings, and other transportable morsels. Inside find seating in a small café that specializes in congees (some served in clay pots), Chinese BBQ over rice, soups, and house specials such as sliced whelk, frog, blue crab, and pork chops cooked in a variety of styles. Open 24 hours. 40-52 Main St, Queens, (718) 353-7283

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