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.
Despite the welcome presence of Central American immigrants in the New York City area, Guatemalan restaurants remain few and far between. Sure, we have a few groceries in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, and a pair of places that feature the cuisine in Jamaica, Queens, but little else. A notable exception is Bath Beach’s Jireh, a corner café in a neighborhood of auto body shops that has a timeworn look and a grocery store in the rear.
A steam table displays daily specials that include beef and chicken soups and stews that rotate on a daily basis; the most notable one is a pepian de pollo. Not to be confused with its southern Mexican cousin mole pipian, the sauce is made with tomatillos, tomatoes, chiles, and squash seeds, and turns out light and spicy. The tripe soup is great, too. Of the many antojitos, the leaf-wrapped chicken tamales are wonderfully gooey compared to their Oaxacan counterparts. That’s partly because they are made with rice flour instead of masa. The tacos stuffed with chorizo or shrimp are made with thick, puffy Guatemalan tortillas, which may remind you more of arepas than Mexican tortillas. Such baked goods as cubilletes, conchas, pan de yemas, and polvorosas are made on the premises. Just the thing for breakfast when Jireh opens at 8 a.m. 8715 18th Ave., at Benson Avenue, Bath Beach
Big Nick’s Burger Joint & Pizza Joint TOo
This Upper Broadway stalwart, cherished for its late night snacks in a diner plus pizza vein, closed down in 2013 after 51 years, and its smaller branch just east of Amsterdam and 71st eventually shuttered, too. It was as if a biblical miracle had occurred when the smaller establishment was resurrected by new owners in the guise of a gyro shop. I hastened to check it out. Unfortunately, there was really only one mediocre gyro available. The good news is that the old Broadway location has almost been transplanted, décor, menu, no-nonsense attitude, and all. Stick with the themed burgers, the pizza only as good as it needs to be, and especially, the dressed hot dogs. Nowhere else in the neighborhood can you get a foot long with cheese annealed to the bun, sluiced with chili con carne of a middlin’ sort — and all the better for it, as far as the foot long is concerned. 70 W. 71st St., at Amsterdam Avenue, Upper West Side
This nifty little Chinese noodle shop appeared not long ago just west of Tompkins Square with a minimalist menu. It offers only a handful of seats, and a line waits outside most evenings, so go around 6 p.m. The place specializes in rice noodles with a few extra snacks like garlic cucumbers, potsticker dumplings, and — odd man out — sweet potato fries. The biggest hit with me on a warm summer evening after a stroll in the park was “cold rice noodles with chicken.” It came perfectly arranged like bibimbap with a chilled broth on the side, with a good quantity of slippery noodles in the bottom of the bowl. I chose to dump the broth over the noodles (though one could also dip), and $11 seemed like a reasonable price. Don’t miss the made-on-the-spot lemonade. 435 E. 9th St., between Avenue A and First Avenue, East Village