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 50 Cheap Eats Destinations in NYC.
This Sheepshead Bay jewel is often mistaken for Indian, but the round tiled clay oven known as a tandoor may have originated in Persia, and was adopted across Central Asia. Uzbek restaurant Foteh’s Tandoori Café Chayhana is located on a strip of Coney Island Avenue lined with delightful Uzbek and Tajik restaurants charging bargain prices. More like a teahouse than a full-blown restaurant, Foteh’s offers baked goods, monster dumplings, and meal-size soups washed down with pots of green or black tea. Breads include kulcha — not the floppy Indian flatbread but a small round loaf embossed in the center — and non toki, a parabolic cracker something like a giant matzo.
For a meat-stuffed pastry, choose beliash or cheburek, or go veggie with “samsa with greens,” a round burnished roll that bulges with mustard greens. The version of the soup called lagman is superior here, swarming with homemade noodles, with a slick of lamb oil on top. Perhaps most wonderful on a menu with many teahouse curiosities is hanum, a broad noodle stuffed with meat, rolled around a filling like a dim sum rice roll, and decorated with crushed tomatoes and minced herbs. 2650 Coney Island Ave., between Crawford Avenue and Avenue X, Sheepshead Bay
New York City has tons of Ethiopian restaurants, but only one that identifies as Eritrean as well. Named after a coastal city and founded in 1988, Massawa prepares food a shade different than you may be used to at Ethiopian restaurants, with a handful of dishes showing Mediterranean influences and a distinctive style of homemade injera. Apart from those, and an espresso coffee service, Massawa offers the usual bean-based vegan combos, fiery lamb and beef dishes seasoned with berbere, beef kitfo freshly prepared either raw or seared, and seafood dishes featuring shrimp, salmon, and monkfish, which are lesser seen in New York. Wash your meal down with the honey wine called tej, or Eritrean Asmara beer. 1239 Amsterdam Ave., between 120th and 121st streets, Morningside Heights
Farmer In The Deli
This corner convenience store near Fort Greene Park looks like any other, except that its sandwich counter turns out one remarkable specialty that is little known outside the neighborhood. That would be the so-called “chopped sandwich,” slightly different from the Harlem-born chopped cheese sandwich that stepped further into the spotlight last year. Go to the deli counter and order a sandwich, including luncheon meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and various condiments and dressings of your choice. The sandwich guy will then take these fillings and vigorously chop them till they’re the consistency of tuna salad, then pile them on bun or bread. The meat selection is dozens of Boar’s Head products, and the cheese selection is particularly fulsome. Most people order hot peppers for the sandwich, too, and the whole thing ends up tasting like some sort of mutant tuna salad. Open 24 hours. 357 Myrtle Ave., at Adelphi Street, Fort Greene