Three Great Cheap is a weekly series from critic Robert Sietsema that seeks to find and popularize New York City’s most interesting and inexpensive food in the five boroughs and beyond. Find the back catalog here. Also consult the bigger cheap eats guide, with maps, walking tours, and other resources.
El Rancho Burritos
Several modest southern Mexican restaurants (representing states like Puebla, Guerrero, and Morelos) have gone the route of specializing in burritos, a Cal-Mex invention that these establishments have nevertheless embraced and made their own. The East Village’s Sabor A Mexico is a good example, but an even better one is El Rancho Burritos, on the fringes of the Theater District. As you enter, on the left see an order counter and kitchen, on the right a comfortable little dining room with worn tables decorated with bright artificial flowers and bottles of hot sauce.
All the usual burrito stuffings are available, plus a section called Signature Burritos that offers several inventions and quirks. There are burritos attributed to Jalisco, Cancun, and Puebla; a California burrito that piles chicken, beef, and shrimp in a single wrapper; and the deep fried burrito called chimichanga associated with New Mexico and Arizona. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the “chili-bomb burrito,” which contains a filling of rice, beef, and stewed jalapeños, made from a box of fresh peppers just inside the front door. It comes drenched in a thin homemade gravy of tomatoes and chile seeds that renders the flour tortilla pleasantly gooey. 359 W. 45th St., between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, Hell’s Kitchen
Hyderabadi Biryani & Chat
Biryani is common at Indian takeout spots across the city, but several places in Jersey City go beyond by specializing in the fragrant rice dish. Flushing has at least one as well, and it’s quite wonderful: Hyderabadi Biryani & Chat. The small premises supports eight tables, with color pictures of its offerings overhead. Eight types of biryani are presented, but they aren’t displayed on the steam table because each is freshly assembled, giving this place an edge. Goat biryani and egg biryani — both decorated with cilantro and caramelized onions, and arriving with a tub of yogurt on the side for extra lubrication and richness — are particularly recommended. Also don’t miss the Kerala pepper chicken, from India’s southwestern tip. 44-27 Kissena Blvd., between Cherry and Elder avenues, Flushing
This Turkish dessert and coffee chain has hopscotched around New York City, opening branches in Astoria, Midtown, and Cliffside Park, New Jersey, but the best branch of all is the one in Brighton Beach. It’s a stone’s throw from the ocean. The glass cases display a dozen versions of baklava, one tubular and colored green with pistachio, along with semolina cookies, bread pudding, savory and hot pastries like sigara boregi, the bagel-like simit, as well as a selection of egg breakfasts and sandwiches. Gullouglu’s big picture windows provide panoramic views of the bustling neighborhood under the elevated subway tracks, and provides a perfect pit stop before or after a walk along the Brighton Beach boardwalk. 239 Brighton Beach Ave., at Brighton 1st Place, Brighton Beach