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.
Bang Chengdu Street Kitchen
Wonderful new Chinese restaurants concentrating on dumplings, soups, bing, bao, and other street fare are embroidering themselves into the fabric of many Manhattan neighborhoods. On bustling 23rd Street, Chengdu Street Kitchen is just the latest. The jazzy, bright white premises features a street food cart in the front window, and a wall mural explaining that Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, and that in its alleyways, “…you’ll find culinary masters at work, conjuring all kinds of enticing flavors from sweet and spicy to hot and sour.”
Three counters dispense food conforming to the menu’s categories: Dianxin Bang (short dishes), Guokui Bang (pocket sandwiches), and Mian Bang (noodles and dumplings). Nothing is over $9.50. Best of the things I tried were chile oil dumplings, thickly snowed with crushed red pepper, and a bargain serving of “spicy crinkled potatoes,” served cold and slicked with Sichuan peppercorn oil, which is one of four condiments offered; black vinegar, soy sauce, and red chile oil are also available. These condiments should be used to steer the flavor of the noodle soups — they tend to be a bit bland. 158 West 23rd St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, Chelsea
Jay & Lloyd’s Deli
If your heart yearns for pastrami in one of Brooklyn’s older and less publicized neighborhoods, kosher deli Jay and Lloyd’s may be your place. Founded in 1993 — though it looks much older — the well-worn dining room is inviting, hot dog iconography permeates the space, and you could do worse than to pick the frankfurter, knish, and cup of soup special. But you could also choose the well-browned potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, or the tongue, hard salami, hot pastrami, or hot turkey sandwiches. There’s even a kosher Reuben — omitting the cheese, of course. 2718 Avenue U, between East 27th and East 28th streets, Sheepshead Bay
Curry Hill anchor Haandi — named after a copper cooking vessel with a wide mouth that may be set directly over the fire, more often spelled “handi” — has been around since 2001 serving great Pakistani food. Downstairs find a bargain buffet, but my favorite action is upstairs, where a steam table displays a dozen or so dishes. Pick three selections for the vegetarian special ($7.99) or two meats and a vegetable for the meat platter ($8.99). These come with a giant mound of rice, freshly baked naan tonged right out of the tandoor oven, and a salad for which your only dressing is the raita that comes alongside. So maybe bring your own dressing to take full advantage of these amazing specials. 113 Lexington Ave., between 27th and 28th streets, Murray Hill