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.
Sami’s Kabab House
This elegant restaurant, fit for a date or special occasion, is extensively decorated with folkloric textiles, and the well-spaced tables are covered with crisp tablecloths surmounted by a single rose. Located on a side street in Astoria a short walk from the N or W trains at the 36th Avenue stop, Sami’s Kabab House remains open till midnight every evening of the week.
The menu is centered on flame-grilled Afghan kebabs in ten permutations, including chicken, salmon, lamb, beef, and shrimp. Each hefty pair of brochettes is accompanied by an appetizer salad, warm bread, and a massive heap of rice pilaf glistening with raisins and julienne carrots. The best kebab I tried was the ground-chicken kobidah. And the $11.99 tab for a massive two-course dinner is a bargain. As if you needed to eat more: Dusted with mint and sluiced with scented yogurt and tomato sauce, the beef-stuffed ashak dumplings make a good shared appetizer, as does the hummus laked with olive oil. 35-57 Crescent St., between 36th and 35th avenues, Astoria
Named after a famous outdoor food court located on a pier in Port of Spain, Trinidad, this comfortable café near the main intersection of Flatbush and Church really does open at 7 a.m. every morning. This means you can start your day with a herring fry bake or corn beef coconut bake (both breakfast sandwiches), a bowl of cornmeal porridge, or a sada roti, a puffy wheaten flatbread served with a vegetable side for scooping like pumpkin, callaloo, or chickpeas. If lunch or dinner is approaching, have a chicken or goat roti, a plate of oxtail stew, or maybe a bowl of cowfoot soup, one of the restaurant’s specialties. Expect lines at mealtimes, but even after a 15 minute wait, you’ll have no trouble finding a table. 3209 Church Ave., between 32nd Street and New York Avenue, Flatbush
Madonia Brothers Bakery
This quintessential Bronx Italian bakery recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Sure, there are the usual seeded semolina loaves, black olive breads, bulbous crackers called taralli, and other bread types transplanted directly from Italy; as well as Neapolitan pastries and butter cookies in every shape and with every topping, some gloriously dipped in chocolate. But the best thing available here is the cannoli, the empty shell filled to order as you watch with ricotta cream dotted with chocolate chips, available in small and regular sizes, the latter perfect for a snack on your way to the Arthur Avenue Market next door. 2348 Arthur Ave., between 186th Street and Crescent Avenue, Belmont