Eater critic Robert Sietsema brings back a Classics Week favorite, a round up of 12 of the city's long-standing cheap eats.
These are restaurants that have provided inexpensive meals day in and day out for decades, like an old friend always there when you need her but often overlooked. And for the price, the food is excellent. (Note: the restaurants are presented in alphabetical order.)
Al Salam — This combination grocery, halal butcher shop, and snack bar (seating is limited) makes the best pita sandwich in all of Bay Ridge, rolling chicken shawarma in a flatbread with dill pickle slivers and a garlic sauce so strong, it will leave your lips burning. Other culinary delights run to braised lamb shanks, rotisserie chickens, composed salads, stewed veggies, and bread dips. 7206 5th Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 921-1076.
Anatolian Gyro — Now two decades old, this Turkish café was decimated by Hurricane Sandy but eventually reappeared around the corner in more comfy digs. Kebabs cooked to order over charcoal are the things to get, especially the adana made of ground lamb dotted with little bits of juicy onion. It can be incorporated into a humongous "home bread" sandwich with minted yogurt and chopped vegetables. And don’t miss the dumplings called manti. 2623 E 16th St, Brooklyn, (718) 769-4754.
B & H Dairy — One of the last vestiges of the stretch of 2nd Avenue once known as the Yiddish Broadway, B & H is an old-fashioned Jewish dairy restaurant, and there aren’t too many of them left. Since 1947 it’s been catering to dieters, vegetarians, and cheap dining enthusiasts, who fill up on a bowl of soup and buttered challah bread made right on the premises — it threatens to overshadow everything else. The blintzes ain’t bad, either. 127 2nd Ave, (212) 505-8065.
Chirping Chicken — Once these places were ubiquitous, flame-grilling chickens with a Greek flair right in the front window. Only a handful remain (this one’s in Astoria), slinging birds at rock-bottom prices that also include two selections from the steam table, a pita heated over the same flame, and, depending on the deal, a choice of sodas. Nothing could be more fundamental, meal-wise. 3015 Broadway, Queens, 718-721-7766.
Curry in a Hurry — This lively spot, at 40 years old, lays claim to being the oldest restaurant in Curry Hill and the seed from which the whole neighborhood grew. Touching all the bases, the kitchen — most of it visible — turns out southern Indian dosas, northern Indian curries, and the snacks called chaats, in addition to sweets and kulfis. The best part: the upstairs dining room with panoramic views and unlimited condiments and desserts. 119 Lexington Ave, (212) 683-0900.
Defonte’s Sandwich Shop — Ever since 1922 this Red Hook sandwich shop has been turning out their oversized and overstuffed heroes (pictured above), making it one of the best places to dine cheaply in Brooklyn. One hero feeds two (our faves: meatball parm and the Italian combo featuring pepperoni, salami, cappy ham, and provolone). You can eat standing up or carry your sandwich to nearby Coffey Park. 379 Columbia St, Brooklyn, (718) 625-8052.
Downtown Bakery — This modest place evolved out of an Italian bakery nearly 20 years ago, but now serves an all-Mex menu of cut-rate burritos, breakfast tacos, enchiladas, chilaquiles, hard- and soft-shell tacos, and other quick grab-and-go delights, many with a Pueblan flair. There are three tables if you want to sit down and be civilized. 69 1st Ave, (212) 254-175.
Gazala’s Place — A Hell’s Kitchen stalwart — and a great date spot because it’s BYOB — Gazala’s presents the food of the Israeli Druze, a mountain-dwelling tribal group with a maverick ancient religion. The flaky flatbreads made in the front window are a delight, and so are the hummus dishes topped with garlicky fava beans and the charcoal-grilled, ground beef kuftas. The premises is cramped but cozy. 709 9th Ave, (212) 245-0709.
Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli — Since the demise of 60-year-old Adelman’s on Kings Highway, Jay & Lloyd’s has been the neighborhood’s only remaining kosher deli. Though young in deli years (founded 1993), the place has a lived-in quality, with a hot dog theme that includes hanging hot dogs, neon hot dogs, and hot dog hats for the hot dog slingers. The pastrami is exemplary, the matzo ball soup served piping hot, and kids will go for the pigs in blankets. 2718 Ave U, Brooklyn, (718) 891-5298.
Old John’s Luncheonette — One of the few Greek diners remaining in the vicinity of Lincoln Center, Old John’s Luncheonette (dig the strange name, which sounds like it came from a Brothers Grimm tale) gained momentary fame four years ago by being the place Ferran Adria chose to eat his breakfast on the way out of town. Hey, the Belgian waffle he ate was great! And the place also does a fine job of diner-style hamburgers and two-egg breakfasts. 148 W 67th St, (212) 874-2700.
Philippine Bread House — Specializing in cakes, meringues, and other pastries tinted purple with purple yam, this long-running establishment also boasts a steam table in the rear and table seating, providing full traditional Filipino meals. Expect fried milkfish, dinguan (pork simmered in pig-blood gravy), bopis (spicy beef lungs and heart), and kare kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), among other fried and stewed dishes. 530 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ, (201) 659-1753.
Sandy Restaurant — Anchor of East Harlem’s Dominican community, Sandy looks like a Greek diner but with a pan-Latin menu. Soups made with fish, beef tripe, chicken, or the pumpkin-thickened Dominican sancocho come in meal-size portions, heavily laced with cilantro and garlic, and the roast pork is some of the best in town. Also be tempted by the fried pork tidbits called cuchifritos, and the paprika-coated chickens that flip and kick in the rotisserie like Rockettes. 2261 2nd Ave, (212) 348-8654.