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Xing Wong BBQ Inc. exterior
Xing Wong BBQ Inc. exterior
Robert Sietsema

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Filipino Fish Stew, Cantonese Congee With Cruller, and Other Memorable Cheap Eats

The latest in a series of cheap eats favorites from critic Robert Sietsema.

There it stands on winding Woodside Avenue, which still has the character of the country lane it once was: Papa’s Kitchen, a narrow brick storefront with a tiny front yard, before which is furled a banner showing a suckling pig resplendent on a bed of greenery. It’s one of the homeliest Filipino restaurants in town, and the owner hails from Bicol, a region 50 miles southeast of Manila. The dining room is small and boxy, with just a handful of tables and a convivial hostess. One more thing: The karaoke is continuous. Once a customer stops singing, another picks up the cordless mic and plows onward.

Papa's Kitchen exterior

The food is also very good, and inexpensive. Highlights of a recent meal taken at the trencher table outside around sunset — as two elderly Woodside residents sat in their rocking chairs on a porch next door — included a wonderful sinigang, a tart soup floating a whole pompano fish and Napa cabbage in a tamarind-laced broth. Other enjoyable dishes included crispy pata (a pair of whole pork shanks, skin-on, roasted to perfect crispness, with a pleasantly gluey texture) and the national dish of chicken adobo. For a pork- and fish-intensive cuisine, there are a surprising number of vegetable-focused dishes, such as sitaw n kalabasa (green beans and pumpkin), though these often contain fish or shrimp sauces. 65-40 Woodside Ave, Queens, (347) 724-9586

congee xing wong

Adobo at Papa's Kitchen and congee with cruller at Xing Wong BBQ, Inc.

Cantonese food has made a big comeback in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and the newly revived tea shop — a sort of Chinese diner, with charcuterie hanging in the window — has led the way. Recently, I reviewed King's Kitchen on East Broadway, a thoroughfare that was once a Fujianese stronghold, and not long ago I dropped in on another example just across the street, Xing Wong BBQ, Inc. The setting is a little more formal, with starched napery and big round tables fit for families. The rice soups called congees are some of the best on East Broadway, with add-ins including the unspectacular-but-delicious minced beef. Sliced fish and the unctuous combo of pork belly and liver are two more popular choices. Get a cruller to go alongside, if you know what’s good for you. Dip and chew. Also recommended are the Hong Kong fried noodles and the dim sum known as chiang fun: slippery white rice noodles rolled around a choice of fillings. 89 East Broadway, (212) 779-8899

Shio ramen at Zaiya

On a strip of East 41st Street across from the New York Public Library’s main branch that at one point seemed to be poised to become another Little Tokyo, Café Zaiya steadfastly remains, a Japanese beanery that makes all sorts of home-style and street-food specialties. Take a glance at the chalkboard outside on the pavement for fantastically cheap daily specials; the other day it was a generous bowl of Tokyo-style shio ramen, and on my previous visit I had a bowl of katsudon, topping rice, egg, and onions with a nicely fried pork cutlet, both $8. There is a seating area in the front window with almost enough tables and shelf seating to accommodate more diners-in. Ordering is done at a series of counters and the place can be bedlam at peak lunch hours, so wait till mid-afternoon to go. 18 E 41st St, (212) 779-0600

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