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String Hoppers, Tripe & Pig-Foot Stew, and Other Cut-Rate Culinary Delights

The 38th installment of Sietsema's Three Great Cheap series

Spicy Lanka — Located along Hillside Avenue’s restaurant row in downtown Jamaica, this rare Sri Lankan treats the cuisine from a halal perspective. The prices are very reasonable, too, considering that the humongous entrees easily feed two. One dish not to be missed is kothu roti, a pyramid fashioned from torn-up shreds of flatbread tossed with slivered vegetables and a main ingredient that runs to egg, chicken, mutton, shrimp, or kingfish. The dish originated in the north of the teardrop-shaped island, once the colony of Ceylon, and the ripped roti will remind you of noodles. Featuring actual noodles, string hoppers are another prize main course: coiled vermicelli that can be matched with any number of curries and chutneys.

Indeed, the menu abounds with exciting dishes, which is why you should probably ignore some of the more prosaic stuff found in the Indo-Chinese and Deviled sections. Other recommendations include the the godhamba roti, a buttery wadded flatbread, and the chicken biryani, which comes embedded with boiled eggs and sided by an excellent piece of fried chicken for no apparent reason. Apps like mutton roll and veggie patty are similarly appealing. Furnished with a palm-tree mural, and small tables surrounded by chairs with a coffee cup motif carved on the backs, the dining room is comfortable in a functional sort of way — though you’d never go to Spicy Lanka just for the décor. 159-23 Hillside Avenue, Queens, (718) 487-4499

Aksaray — This restaurant is named after a small city smack dab in the middle of Turkey on the vast Anatolian plain, and the small premises — more like a market stall, really — is furnished with tables bearing cheery but worn blue-checked tablecloths. As in most Turkish cafes, the double spinning cylinders of doner kebab (aka gyro) draw you inside. Pick the spice-rubbed chicken over the blander lamb, but make sure you also give consideration to the ground-lamb adana kebab and the iskender kebab — consisting of sliced lamb doner heaped on flatbread and moistened with yogurt and spicy tomato sauce.

[Clockwise from the top: the dining room at Margon, kothu roti from Spicy Lanka, the exterior of Aksaray, chicken, beans, and rice from Margon.]

The vegetarian apps are another delight, especially haydari (a walnut and yogurt dip) and the sigara borek (fried fingers of pastry-wrapped feta). The Kings Highway stop on the B and Q is just down the block, where some big real estate projects seem to be underway — so visit before Aksaray disappears in a cloud of construction dust. 1618 E 16th St, (718) 375-9237

Margon — Few places have persisted from the old Times Square in the days before Giuliani and his cohorts turned it into a three ring circus of tourism, eschewed by most New Yorkers unless they are required to go for some reason. Margon persists, a piece of real estate perhaps too narrow for anything else, and the menu remains resolutely Cuban, Dominican, and working class. There really is a lunch counter where you can perch, but the rest of the seating is at a string of small battered tables. Certain dishes, such as the scrumptious roast chicken and the fried pork chops, are available every day, but others appear only certain days of the week. The roast pork sandwiches are good, too, and don’t miss the wonderfully oily tripe-and-pig-foot stew if it’s available. Open only until 5 p.m., in true lunch counter fashion. 136 W 46th St, 212-354-5013.

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