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.
The city happily hosts around 50 West African restaurants, principally from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast, found mainly in such neighborhoods as Harlem, Soundview, Bedford-Stuyvesant, University Heights, Jamaica, and East New York. Medina is different, but more for its location than its menu. With a bill of fare combining the national cuisine with other popular plates such as jerk chicken, fried fish, and lamb chops (known as diby), Medina is a Senegalese restaurant situated in downtown Brooklyn.
The dining room is windowed and spacious, and food can be ordered from a handwritten menu or by ogling the steamtable; note that many classic Senegalese choices are not prominently advertised, but have to be asked for. These include a wonderful beef mafe — tender chunks of meat in a thick peanut sauce, with carrots thrown in for contrast; and the national signature of thiebou djenne, which can be referred to simply as cheb: hunks of bluefish on a mountain of tomato-tinted rice, along with other vegetables that may include cabbage, eggplant, carrot, and manioc. Don’t forget to ask for the hot pepper paste called pima. 51B Willoughby St., between Jay and Lawrence streets, Downtown Brooklyn
On a picturesque cobbled courtyard behind Swiss restaurant Trestle on Tenth, sandwich shop Rocket Pig has lurked since 2012. The heart of the brief menu is the self-named sandwich, a heap of brined and smoked pork shoulder with a nice crusty edge dressed with onion jam and mustard sauce. The smaller $9 version called “shorty” is shown here. Eat it in the shady courtyard, or carry it out to the nearby High Line. Also available: a salad, a soup, bacon caramels, and assorted pastries. 463 W. 24th St., between Ninth and 10th avenues, Chelsea
Famous Fish Market
This Hamilton Heights mainstay fries up some of the city’s best and most generous fish sandwiches, on white or whole wheat bread and slathered with mayo, Tabasco, ketchup, or tartar sauce — or any combo thereof. A line forms outside the slender premises, and though there are a few nooks in which you may eat your sandwich, you’re better off carrying out one block east to Jackie Robinson Park. Harlem’s favorite fish choice is whiting, but Famous Fish Market also offers scallops, shrimp, clams, and decent french fries. Open till midnight on the weekends, and 11 p.m. other days. 684 St. Nicholas Ave., at 145th Street, Hamilton Heights