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.
With all the excitement generated by Kopitiam, don’t be surprised that other small-scale Malaysian restaurants specializing in coffee shop cuisine are popping up. Closer to the heart of Chinatown is Let’s Makan, which owner-chef Michelle Lam opened in January of 2018. In the logo, the name of the restaurant is followed by an enthusiastic exclamation point, and makan means “eat” in Malay. A tiny kitchen adjoins a tiny dining room, in which ten or so seats are available. The table tops are embedded with shiny pennies.
Apart from hot coffees and teas, the specialty of the house are made-to-order apam balik, the folded and stuffed pancakes common throughout Southeast Asia. Traditionally, these are stuffed with peanuts, sugar, and butter, but a half dozen other fillings are available, in addition to flavorings in the pancake itself, like pandan and ube. But Let’s Makan also offers soups and over-rice dishes. Pan mee is the shop’s signature, a chicken broth flavored with anchovies that buoys amazing handmade noodles in irregular shapes. A chicken curry thickened with coconut milk might be found in almost any Southeast Asian restaurant. Finish off your meal with kuih talam, jellylike tray cakes available in several bright colors. 64 Bayard St., between Elizabeth and Mott streets, Chinatown
One of the saddest closings of last year was Taqueria Sinaloense, apparently the city’s only restaurant offering the cuisine of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Now a new Sinaloan restaurant has opened in the Marble Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, also called Taqueria Sinaloense but unrelated to the closed establishment. Though it doesn’t offer dishes like chilorio and machaca found at the previous establishment, the food is excellent and includes some real antojito oddities. One is tacos canasta (“basket tacos”), a type of taco sold by street vendors. The examples here were stuffed with chorizo and fried cheese, and dipped in oil to keep them fresh tasting while being carried around by vendors. Another fascinating item is the gobernador taco (“governor taco”). Loaded with buttery tasting shrimp, one can easily imagine it being served to a governor. The pozole at Taqueria Sinaloense is red, cheap, and hot as hell, with chile oil dancing on its surface. 113 W. 225th St., between Broadway and Marble Hill Avenue, Marble Hill
La Fe (“faith”) is a restaurant of long standing that lies directly above the N and D express subway stops in Sunset Park. The interior is spacious and commodious, decorated with flags of every Latin nation, though the bargain meals are mainly Dominican. I manage to stop there a couple times a year before climbing the hill to the knob of a park that gives the neighborhood its name, and often carry out one of its splendid Cuban sandwiches. How does it differ from the usual? Well, the sandwich is less aggressively pressed, and the quantity of pork roast is much larger. Other recommended dishes include oxtail stew, salt cod salad, and fried pork chops. 941 Fourth Ave., at 36th Street, Sunset Park