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.
La Tranquilité & L’Impressioniste
Avenue L between Remsen and Rockaway Parkway is one of Brooklyn’s best — and perhaps least known — restaurant rows. A little over a half-mile from the L train eastern terminus in Canarsie, it boasts Nigerian, Jamaican, and Guyanese-Chinese restaurants, as well as an old-guard pizzeria and a bodega that sells tacos and tortas alongside an international selection of groceries. In their midst is a wonderful Haitian restaurant with the poetic name of La Tranquilité & L’Impressioniste.
Open over 20 years but now in a new location, the interior is homey, decorated with bright paintings of Haiti in an almost Fauvist style. Order at a window in the rear wall, and sit down at the table to wait for your food. Combining West African and French elements, that food is spectacular as well as inexpensive, and each meal comes with a substantial appetizer salad and big plate of rice and beans. On a Sunday afternoon, as the place was filling with the after-church crowd, a friend and I enjoyed pork griot, a confit annealed with its marinade of shallots and sour orange, as well as the dish called legumes, which stews beef with a selection of vegetables and plates it with twice-fried plantains. We can’t wait to return. 9128 Ave. L, between East 91st and East 92nd streets, Canarsie
Ciao Bella is the younger cousin of Murray Hill classic Bella Napoli, and the Italian-American fare is every bit as good. The pizzas are lovely in the neighborhood pizzeria style, but motor past them to get to the steam table. Thereon, find all sorts of red sauced pastas, from lasagna to baked ziti to chicken parm served with spaghetti, all with extra tomato sauce poured on, along with a shake of parmesan. My favorite is ziti with a pair of meatballs added; both the pasta and the ground beef orbs so plain tasting that the tomato sauce shines in its piquancy. This is cheap, stick-to-your-ribs fare of the best sort. 257 Seventh Ave., between 24th and 25th streets, Chelsea
Just off Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside lies a grocery and meat purveyor called Butcher Block. One look at the steam table, where two dozen or so hot meats await your selection, including old-fashioned pot roast. A sign that reads “boiled bacon, rashers, and bacon shanks” lets you know you’re in an Irish store. Those same meats on the steam table can be used to make sandwiches. On a recent afternoon, I picked the hot pastrami, which seemed more like corned beef. On a roll, the $6.50 sandwich was huge for the price, the meat nicely moist and spice encrusted, without having the smoky flavor you expect from pastrami. Let’s call it a hybrid — but a scrumptious one. Take your sandwich under the elevated 7 train to eat, where tables have been set out in the shade as trains rattle overhead. 43-46 41st St, between Queens Boulevard and 43rd Avenue, Sunnyside