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.
Elmhurst’s Taqueria Sinaloense was unique among Mexican restaurants in the city, showcasing the menu of the western state of Sinaloa. It closed a few months ago after a too-brief run, but has now been replaced by Tia Julia (“Aunt Julia”). Spawned by a well-regarded taco truck that still parks a few blocks away, this new place has retained the old awning, but it has redrawn the map of Mexico on the wall inside to reflect the culinary origins of the new owners, which centers on the small state of Tlaxcala, east of Mexico City. The chef and part owner Antonio Gonzalez hails from the state.
Specials are listed each day on the chalkboard outside, and recently included huevos en salsa roja, a dish of scrambled eggs in a brick-red sauce propelled by guajillo chiles, which lend a slight sweetness to the gravy. The beef and vegetable stew called mole de olla is another prominent offering, and so are tacos placeros made with boiled eggs and rice. Tia Julia is also proud of its al pastor tacos, which are of high quality. But one of the best things on the regular menu are dobladitas, which are flour tortillas tightly wrapped around a potato filling and fried, then snowed with queso fresco and shredded lettuce. Spoon on the red or green salsa. 40-08 Case St., between Elmhurst and Roosevelt avenues, Elmhurst
The Yeero Joint
After a general absence from the dining scene for a decade or more, inexpensive Greek food has returned to New York City with a vengeance, as evidenced by some really excellent chains like Souvlaki GR and GRK–Fresh Greek. The newest edition, right across from the Port Authority, is the Yeero Joint, desperately trying to correct the public’s mangling of the term “gyro.” The menu is surprisingly far flung, offering pita sandwiches dressed with tzatziki, with french fries inside the sandwich. (Hooray!) There are three kinds of gyro: chicken, pork, and a lamb-beef amalgam, of which the poultry was best. But better yet is the pita sandwich crammed with the sausage loukaniko. Desserts, bread dips, and some nice miniature spanakopita round out the menu. 264 West 40th St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues, Garment District
Philippine Bread House
If nothing else, four-decade-old Philippine Bread House — which stands atop a hill on the road that runs from Jersey City’s old downtown on Grove Street to Journal Square — demonstrates the importance of baked goods in Filipino culinary culture. Enter on a bustling weekend day, and see row upon row of cakes, pastries, and yeast-risen bread and rolls, most of them sweet and many tinted purple with the yam called ube. There are ensaymadas, rich as brioche, and golden pan de sal, sometimes filled with pork, cheese, or coconut. The frozen treat called halo halo is also available, a wild ride of a dessert topped with a scoop of purple ice cream. If you walk to the back of the store, you’ll see a steam table featuring milkfish, kare kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), bopis (beef heart and lung in a mild brown gravy), and other savory Filipino delights, served over rice at bargain prices. 530 Newark Ave., between McPherson Place and Baldwin Avenue, Jersey City, NJ