The number of cheap cafes in Jackson Heights serving the food of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh has dwindled in the last decade as the Tibetan and Nepalese presence has ramped up. And most of those remaining have switched over to buffets, where the food on a per-pound basis remains inexpensive, in case you want to eat such a big meal that you have to stumble home with your legs nearly buckling under you. Another option is Al-Naimat, which magically occupies the old Jackson Diner space near the corner of 74th Street and 37th Avenue.
The place is spare but comfortable, the meat strictly halal, and an expansive selection of savory snacks like samosas and pakoras, and post-prandial Bengali sweets, also await you. Impressively, the steam table offers more selections — both vegetarian and flesh-bearing — than are usually available. Meal combinations go for under $10, and might include a light take on keema featuring chicken rather than lamb, an excellent palak paneer with an abundant dose of cheese, big plate of basmati rice, fresh-baked naan, bowl of yogurt raita, and salad that should be dressed with the accompanying cilantro chutney. This is hearty food bursting with flavor, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. 37-03 74th Street, Queens, (718) 476-1100
Speaking of Himalayan cuisines, they have finally made their debut in Manhattan’s Curry Hill. But will they grow in numbers until they predominate? Probably not, due to the gradual upscaling of Indian and Pakistani restaurants in the region, and, with over 20 to choose from, their overwhelming presence. Dhaulagiri Kitchen is the Nepalese newcomer, a branch of a celebrated café in the back of a flatbread bakery in Jackson Heights run by chef Kamala Gauchan. Her Manhattan food is even more ambitious, and the bi-level dining room far more spacious.
All the meat jerkies, curries, Chinese-South Asian hybrids, homemade noodle dishes, and stuffed momo dumplings that you’ve come to expect are available. Highlights of a recent meal include a shareable thali consisting of vegetables curries, pickles, chutneys, and bhutan (mixed goat organ jerky, not to be confused with the country of the same name). The focus was dhendo, a big clot of brown buckwheat starch kneaded into the equivalent of a West African mash. It’s wonderful, and the thali can easily be shared by two or three. For the more timid, chicken chow mein is a good choice, or any of the Indian-leaning curries. (When eating the momos, don’t neglect the hot sauce.) 124 Lexington Ave, (917) 675-7679
Everyone is familiar with the signatures of Brooklyn’s sterling Italian-American cuisine, including spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant rollatini, and baked stuffed clams, but what about roast beef heroes with fresh mozzarella and brown gravy? This delicious and fortifying sandwich was once available in nearly every Italian deli, but now only a few places showcase it. One is Clemente’s Fine Foods in Gravesend, a caterer and old-fashioned sandwich shop with no seating to speak of — though you’re welcome to wolf down your prize at the marble counter upon which the cash register rests. That prize is the lushest sandwich imaginable, with thick wads of roast beef sporting a caramelized edge and fresh mozzarella, further mellowed with brown gravy that may or may not come from a can.
Many other delectable dishes are available daily on a rotating basis, including eggplant parm, corned beef and cabbage, grandma-style chicken, and ya yos — a snail-shaped pastry filled with meat and cheese. Patronize this place before it disappears. 138 Avenue T, Brooklyn, (718) 996-0872