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. Also consult the compact guide and map 60 Cheap Eats Destinations You Should Know About in NYC.
OFC Chicken V
The Taiwanese component of Chinatown is zooming, especially in the fast-food sector. These places are not serving such traditional dishes as stinky tofu or three cup chicken, but what is basically Taiwanese-American fusion food. At newcomer OFC Chicken V — a burgeoning local chain — fried chicken is front and center, in the form of the poultry tidbits called popcorn chicken and as a faddish chicken sandwich called a chicken burger. (There are also pork chop burgers and teriyaki burgers, and french fries of mind-boggling length.) What you shouldn’t miss is a soup called “Tainan style noodle,” attributed to a historic coastal Taiwanese town with a colonial history. The soup is made with dry packaged ramen, and contains shrimp, ground pork, and boiled eggs, and will really warm you up on a winter’s afternoon. 124 Hester St., between Chrystie Street and Bowery, Chinatown
This mainstay of the Flatbush jerk chicken scene has opened a second branch in Crown Heights, just off Nostrand Avenue. The gleaming premises is decorated with reggae vinyl, including contributions from Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, and Leroy Stibbles, who stare down at customers approvingly as they enter. The front window is lined with brand new tables and stools, allowing you to eat in the cheery premises, which is something you couldn’t do at the original.
The jerk chicken at Peppa’s is as solid as ever, even though now prepared on a new flame grill. But the menu has been expanded, adding Jamaican curry chicken, stewed chicken, and best of all, curry goat. A $6 lunch special makes a nice meal, sided with rice and peas and fried plantains. Other dishes include oxtails, mac and cheese, salad, steamed cabbage, escovitched fish (presented cold in vinegar sauce), and, of course, the linear donut called festival, the conventional sweet accompaniment to jerk chicken. 791 Prospect Pl., between Nostrand and Rogers Avenues, Crown Heights
Chicken House is one of the Garment Center’s more unusual restaurants. The strangely lettered sign (“Grilled” was added later) is redolent of another era, as is the hopelessly narrow interior. Like the two remaining loading dock restaurants in the vicinity, it suggests an era in this neighborhood when places to dine out were an afterthought, tucked here and there among the warehouses, showrooms, and sweat shops. Served with french fries or rice and beans, the fried chicken is damn good, and so are the fried fish and fried shrimp. A surprising addition to the menu is Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches in four permutations, and everything on the menu is less than $10. 270 W 36th St., between 7th and 8th Avenues, Garment Center