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Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Budget Bulgogi, and Other Cut-Rate NYC Delights

The 36th installment of Robert Sietsema's Three Great Cheap series, chronicling inexpensive restaurants of note around NYC

From the outside it looks like a juice bar — and indeed, you can get a fine frothy smoothie made from the obvious antioxidants, from kale to carrots, with maybe some fresh pineapple or mixed berries thrown in. But there’s also a savory menu of lunch and dinner fare at Shawarma House, a narrow stall with some counter seating not far south of Bryant Park. As the name suggests, there are two twirling and grease-dripping shawarma cylinders just inside the front door, chicken and a beef-lamb combo, both halal. (The chicken tastes better.) Either can be made into rice-pilaf platters or bargain pita sandwiches.

Shawarma

On the vegetarian side of the ledger are falafel fried to order, and other Middle Eastern delights, including good hummus and baba. But the menu has a more international scope, so that you can get Indian vegetarian samosas with yogurt raita, Syrian cracked-wheat kibbe stuffed with ground beef and pine nuts, and Turkish choices that include the flatbread called gozleme stuffed with mushrooms or potatoes, and the supremely wonderful "lamb with rice and beans" — a meat stew dotted (and thickened) with creamy white beans, served over rice with a bit of salad if you ask for it. This is one of Midtown’s best low-priced lunches.

Shawarma House, 70 W 39th St, (212) 827-0801


For 50 years Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Royal Rib House has been channeling the great barbecues of North and South Carolina, and whatever you think of the seaboard barbecue of that part of the country, Royal Rib does it spectacularly well. The same way it’s often done in the Carolinas, the place is only open on weekends — Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — from the afternoon into the evening. The meat and poultry is cooked on vertical rotisseries, not over charcoal, but damn good anyway.

Pulled pork sandwich

The eponymous ribs develop a smoky crust, with rendered fat making the flesh fall off the bone. Chickens are crisp skinned, the pulled pork doused with vinegar in a sandwich that will be topped with coleslaw in the traditional manner at your request. The menu include a number of soul food side dishes, with mac and cheese and collard greens particularly well-executed.

There’s no place to sit, so carry out your order to nearby Decatur or Potomac playgrounds.

Royal Rib House, 303 Halsey St, Brooklyn, (718) 453-9284.


Bulgogi

KuKu Canteen is not the sort of Korean place where you get to sit around a grill and do your own barbecuing. Rather, this restaurant beloved of NYU students located practically on campus takes a fast-food perspective on Korean cooking, offering bargain-priced renditions of things like soondubu (soft tofu stew), bibimbap (decorated rice salad), pajeon (seafood or kimchi pancake), and already cooked bulgogi. Most are offered in two sizes, which is a boon to the budget conscious. A modest amount of seating, plus a table or two, makes this a comfortable place to hang with friends.

Kuku Canteen, 289 Mercer St, (212) 473-6162


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