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.
Sometimes french fries make the perfect lunch, or even dinner. Pommes Frites was once located in the East Village but displaced by the notorious East Village gas explosion of 2015, and it has finally found a safe berth just south of NYU on Macdougal Street. The fries, done in the Belgian style, are made with good potatoes cooked twice at differing temperatures. Served in a white paper cone, the result is perfect french fries, offered with a range of unusual dipping sauces. How about Vietnamese pineapple or Bordeaux wine, figs, and sage? If I were you, I’d stick with the free “especial” (mayo, ketchup, and raw onions). Just don’t breathe in anyone’s face afterwards. 128 Macdougal St., between Bleecker and West Third streets, Greenwich Village
The New Thompson’s Diner
Historic Thompson’s Diner in Long Island City is emblazoned with a blue awning with the cryptic slogan “Thompson’s time to life” and a couple of crazy clocks that read 1946 and 1962. The structure itself is architecturally distinguished: a streamlined, red-striped diner built by the Master Diner Company of Pequannock, New Jersey in 1950, and retaining much of its original interior. Instead of diner-typical eggs and burgers — though you can still get those — the menu concentrates on Latin food with an emphasis on Dominican. The place attracts a broad range of diners, many of them students and faculty at nearby LaGuardia Community College.
The menu over the counter is a fallible document; gaze instead right at the steam table, where the daily specials are displayed. On a recent visit, I enjoyed a briny bacalao (dried codfish) stew spooned over rice with red beans, as well as a smaller sancocho, a rich stew flavored with cilantro and studded with chicken, yuca, carrot, and green plantain. Both were delicious. Other steam table choices include paprika-roasted chickens, pasta and tomato sauce, pernil, and chicken noodle soup. Cuban sandwiches also available. 32-44 Queens Blvd., between 32nd Place and 33rd Street, Long Island City
Noodle master Steven Yan introduced Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles to New York City at Chinatown’s Super Taste in 2005, and the phenomenon has continued to grow. Return to the original locale for some of the best hand-pulled noodles in town, served in meal-size soups with a choice of add-ins that range from mutton to oxtail, duck, cow stomach, and some rather arcane organ meats. My favorite is the house special, which highlights beef balls, brisket, and tendon in profuse quantities, plus a bonus fried egg in a heady beef broth. Now you can get some of the same soups with the peel noodles popularized across the street at Sheng Wang (now called Hong Man). Long and thin, here they are called “knife-cut noodles.” Great pork and chive pot stickers are also available, but skip the envelope-shaped Taiwanese dumplings. 26 Eldridge St., between Canal and Division streets, Chinatown