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.
As far as I know, Lagman House — named after the signature noodle of Central Asia — is the only restaurant in town to serve the food of the Dungan people, who are ethnic Chinese living in Central Asia. Yes, we have Uyghur restaurants aplenty, but those represent the diet of Turkic peoples living in the eastern part of Central Asia, most prominently in the Xinjiang province of China. Both cuisines are lively with Silk Road influences.
If you’re a fan of Central Asian food, chef-owners Damirzhan Azimov and Gulshat Azimova’s Lagman House will delight you. Compared with the regular Central Asian menu that’s more ubiquitous in New York, there are more Chinese and fewer Russian influences. There’s no plov, for example, and no kebabs, and fewer Russian salads slathered with mayo, though there are some on a menu written in both English and Russian.
The salad section is substantial, each focusing on one vegetable, such as mushrooms, eggplant, cucumbers, etc. Most salads also contain meat and hot chiles. There are stir fries called gravies, many also spicy with green chiles, as well as stews containing potatoes and meat in addition to noodles. Dapanji — or big plate of chicken — is one of those, and also one of the best chicken stews you’ve ever tasted. It may remind you of something on the menu at Spicy Village. Much more remains to be explored on the menu, and I’m looking forward to my next visit. 2612 East 14th St., between Avenue Z and Shore Parkway, Sheepshead Bay
Luscious oxtails awash in brown gravy, served over yellow rice with fried plantains and black or red beans, is the forte of Cafe Mofongo, a Dominican lunch counter of uncertain vintage convenient to the Port Authority, Garment Center, and Times Square. A line of working stiffs forms every day at lunch, who study the chalkboard menu as they stand patiently. Others pause to eat along shelves in the interior, or dart out with their purchases to dine elsewhere. A woman behind a counter at the rear takes your order and assembles it. On any given day, additional offerings might include roast pork, chicken stew, or codfish, all equally tasty and voluminous. If you need to appetize, try the cheese empanadas, which are deep fried and delicious, especially when warm. 316 West 39th St., between Eighth and Ninth avenues, Port Authority
Fan Fried Rice Bar
This fried rice bar is not really a bar, but a narrow stall with a much bigger kitchen. The place furnishes only a few seats, but with a nice view of Dekalb Avenue a little east of Pratt Institute. Fan Fried Rice describes itself as “Taiwanese delicacies,” but apart from a handful of apps like ma po tofu, popcorn chicken, squid balls, and Taiwanese sausage, owner Paul Chen’s menu pretty much restricts itself to fried rice in several variations. Sesame chicken fried rice is my favorite so far, little morsels of flavorful bird, scrambled egg, and baby fresh soy beans with some nicely oily white rice. Other main fried rice ingredients like shrimp, bone-in pork chop, pastrami, and chorizo fill out the menu, but it is the rice, pungent with green onions and garlic, that you’ll remember long after the meal. 525 Dekalb Ave., between Skillman Street and Bedford Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant