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.
For 15 years, I’ve been going to a narrow storefront near the corner of Allen and Grand for my Chinese charcuterie and wonton soup. At first it was called New Manpole, then became Bing Hing Wong, and is now called Delight Wong, with the staff remaining basically the same throughout the duration. Now it’s the refuge of old men, who drink shots of brandy between communally shared dishes that arrive by dumbwaiter from an unseen kitchen. Once, there were dozens of these so-called tea houses or duck shops in Chinatown; now only a handful of these quintessential Cantonese institutions remain.
The over-rice dishes (“with gravy,” promises the menu) are still a steal at $5.25 for shredded pork with vegetable or 25 cents more for my favorite, shrimp with scrambled egg. The wonton soup is fundamental, with a dozen dumplings as diaphanous as goldfish in a rich pork broth. All the usual charcuterie are available: roast duck, poached chicken, red pork loin tasting of star anise, and, best of all, crisp skinned roast baby pig. But most recently, more dim sum has been added to the menu, presumably to keep up with the times. But this dim sum doesn’t arrive by cart. Order from a special menu and wait for the dumbwaiter bell to ring, and you’ll have your shrimp rice roll freshly assembled and steamed; dim sum doesn’t get any fresher than that. 300 Grand St., between Allen and Eldridge street, Lower East Side
This combo Himalayan and Japanese restaurant is a Park Slope sleeper, offering dumplings and noodle dishes that are a couple of dollars less than you might expect in a comfortable premises with chairs that have backs. Skip the soup dumplings, which lack the necessary delicacy, and head for the Tibetan momo — real stick to your ribs stuff. The dish I liked best was itself a hybrid, a mash-up of ramen and dan dan mian that comes with a big wad of ground pork on top and a miso broth spicier than I expected, with droplets of chile oil dancing across its surface. Lots of lunch specials that include an app or side dish, and Momo Ramen is a great refuge on a rainy night. 78 Fifth Ave., between Prospect Place and Saint Marks Avenue, Park Slope
Let’s face it, despite a few attempts, New York City has never gotten the Southern dining institution called “meat and three” quite right. Though Harold’s is a decent restaurant, it missed the economy part, with a menu too sprawling. Now along comes Carmen’s Kitchen on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, a narrow den of a place with a few tables in back, most of the square footage taken up with a ginormous steam table that offers 30 selections. Pick a main course of chicken, beef, pork, or fish, and then three sides, and your all-in price, which includes a soda, ranges from $10 to $12 with no tax or tip. All your selections go into a recyclable bowl, in line with the modern zeitgeist. The virtue of this system, apart from its budget price, is that you can see everything before you order. Obviously, you’ll pick what looks best at the moment. Hooray! 601 Sixth Ave., between 17th and 18th street, Chelsea