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.
A & A Bake & Doubles
When this legendary Trinidadian snack shop closed its tiny and rickety premises on Nostrand not long ago, many feared it would not reopen. Now, it boasts spectacular new digs around the corner on Fulton Street. While the old place offered almost no accommodations except for a small table set outside on the sidewalk under a scaffold, now there’s seating aplenty at tables and along a shelf with comfortable stools. The walls are decorated with flags, pennants, and a picture of the Obama family early in the presidency.
The classic menu is still firmly in place under the watchful eye of owners Geeta and Noel Brown, including namesake doubles still priced at $1.50: two small flatbreads flopped around a curry chickpea filling, spiced up with tamarind and pepper sauces applied by the counter attendant at your discretion. (The pepper sauce is way hot.) Bakes also make up an important part of the menu, with fillings like herring, salt cod, salt cod and egg, and fried shark, placed in a round roll called a “bake.” But the menu is being expanded, and the wraps called rotis, including goat, chicken, and shrimp versions, will soon be available. 1337 Fulton St., at Verona Place, Bedford-Stuyvesant
Normally, you’d go to Ironbound in Newark to enjoy Portuguese food of the traditional sort, but here and there around the five boroughs, old taverns remain that fulfill the need without leaving New York City. O Lavrador has been a fixture between downtown Jamaica and Kennedy Airport since 1981. Sit in the rustic barroom rather than the dining room to enjoy some bargain Iberian fare. There’s a range of sandwiches that include a great bifana, featuring a charcoal-grilled pork loin, and you may also feast on a plate of heavily-garlicked octopus in olive oil, a handful of salt cod fritters, perfectly steamed shrimp in an Angolan piri piri sauce, or a house made chourico sausage set aflame at the last minute with grappa. Is it ever good! 138-40 101st Ave., between Cresskill and Sanders places, Jamaica
Souk & Sandwich
Now that the weather’s fine and you want to eat outdoors, consider revisiting Soho’s Souk & Sandwich. Ringed with benches, this purveyor of Lebanese street food offers no indoor seating, but has some of the best and most intriguing Middle Eastern fare in town. There’s a pita sandwich of veal tongue, and another of chicken livers, both garnished with pickles and parsley. A lamb kibbeh burger comes with zaatar-dusted fries, and there are vegetarian dishes galore, including moussaka, arnabeet meckle (fried cauliflower with tahini), and a sandwich made of chicory root called hindbi. For the starch inclined, there’s even a sandwich made with potatoes as the filling. Sandwiches tend to be under $10, while platters are over. 117 Sixth Ave., between Watts and Broome streets, Soho