The 41st installment of critic Robert Sietsema’s bargain dining series
Manousheh — This Greenwich Village fast casual specializes in Lebanese flatbreads, styling itself “a real taste of Beirut.” These breads fly from a gas-fired brick hearth that dominates the small room, which is equipped with a modest amount of counter seating. Rudimentary as the accommodations are, the made-to-order flatbreads — you might almost call them Levantine pizzas — are absolutely delicious, and beer and wine are available.
The best-known of these is the za’atar order, paved with a Middle Eastern spice mixture containing sesame seeds that tastes a bit like an assertive oregano. The same breads are folded over or rolled around other ingredient combinations, including a wonderful paste of tomatoes, onions, and dried yogurt called kishek. The brilliant orange color is reason enough to try it. The classic lahem bi ajine is also available, deploying a very soft ground meat mixture to good effect — squeeze on the lemon! Any menu item may be improved with cornichons and toum, a garlic spread so strong it will wilt flowers if you exhale upon them. 193 Bleecker Street, 347-971-5778
La Duena Deli — The high quality of the food at this Mexican deli in Corona is apparent the minute you traipse through the door and see the orderly displays of cheese empanadas and meat-stuffed flautas: various street foods enhanced by crumbly cheese, guacamole, crema, and salsa. Other La Duena specialties include picaditas, sopes, and tlaycoyos, all hand-patted to order, and tacos placeros made from humongous tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs, pig parts, or chiles rellenos and pickled chiles. Weekends, there’s goat or lamb barbacoa and everything may be washed down with a full line of Mexican sucrose-bearing sodas. If you’d like to sit an enjoy your street food, there’s a charming dining room in the back. 103-22 Northern Boulevard, Queens, 718-426-4383
Gumbo Bros. — The Cajun and Creole fare of Louisiana receive short shrift in NYC restaurants, and when it is touched on, it’s often done badly. Not so at Gumbo Bros., a recent arrival on the edge of Cobble Hill just south of downtown Brooklyn. The place doesn’t overextend itself, concentrating on a handful of po’ boys, of which the roast beef is best, smothered with “detritus gravy” and deposited on a roll perfect for this purpose. The gumbos are spot-on too, especially the sausage and chicken — though the vegetarian gumbo is nearly as good. Occasional specials pop up along the lines of an etouffee or a jambalaya, but these tend to be not as good as the regular offerings. (Though sometimes there are great beignets for dessert.) 224 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 917-909-1471