In the 44th “Three Great Cheap” installment, critic Robert Sietsema recommends favorite inexpensive dishes from recent restaurant visits.
Named after Ghana’s capital, Accra is a West African cafeteria just south of Harlem’s main drag of 125th Street specializing in the food of Ghana, Nigeria, and other West African countries. The food is laid out on an imperially long steam table, making it easy to order by pointing, and first time visitors will receive a warm welcome. Still, it’s up to you to engineer a meal — done in the same way as in many of today’s fast-casual restaurants by picking a stew or soup, a meat or fish to go in it, and a starch to accompany. Once the meal is assembled in a bowl, you can have an extra topping like stewed okra or egusi (crushed melon seeds) applied.
I dropped by recently craving some pepper soup, which is a fiery red potage that usually has as its main ingredient shrimp, chicken, or mutton. When I ordered it, the counter attendant told me that today the pepper soup was mixed meat, a common designation in West African cooking that means everything but the kitchen sink. In this case, the soup contained cow foot, turkey, and beef tripe, each adding its own savor and texture. On the side, I got white yam fufu, though plantain fufu was also available. Besides pepper soup, another easy thing to order is joloff rice, or fried rice flavored with tomato and topped with a meat or fish of your choice. 2065 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., between West 123rd and West 124th streets, Harlem
This grocery store is one of the latest Bushwick bodegas to turn into a taqueria, and it already provides some of the best Mexican food in a neighborhood filled with Mexican food. Go on the weekend and enjoy the pork soup called pozole, furnished with a pair of bean-slathered tostadas, or the tripe soup called pancita. Tacos are always a good choice, and the steamed goat known as barbacoa is available all week, not just on the weekends. Topped with a bright green tablecloth, the single communal table puts you in the center of the action, and you can do your grocery shopping just by reaching out your hand. 1537 Dekalb Ave., between Knickerbocker and Irving avenues, Bushwick
The wacky design of this Astoria restaurant features a waterfall right down the window, life size Egyptian funerary figurines such as Ushabti, and a golden throne near the front door, fit to have your picture taken in. But the feeling of being trapped in Tut’s tomb disappears the minute the order begins to arrive, a semblance of street food like one might find in Cairo or Alexandria. Check out the stuffed crust pies called feteer, the bulging beef sausages known as mombar, or mesa’a’ah, a dish of roasted eggplant and tomato sauce. And don’t miss the shawarma sandwich with fries, one of the best meal deals on the Steinway Street’s Middle Eastern strip. 30-91 Steinway St., between 31st and 30th avenues, Astoria