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.
La Cabana Salvadorena
Located right on Broadway just south of The Cloisters in Hudson Heights, La Cabana Salvadorena is the perhaps city’s most ambitious restaurant devoted to a Central American cuisine. Wooden tables, exposed beams, art-lined walls, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and a full bar fill a pair of storefronts, handsomely decorated on the outside with red roof tiles. Look no further than the pupusa list to grok the restaurant’s riches. A dozen of these delectable stuffed flatbreads are offered, including standards like cheese and pickled loroco flowers, beans and cheese, and chicken. Also available are the less common spinach and cheese and broccoli and cheese, and a whole range of pupusas made with rice flour rather than maize.
But the biggest strength of a menu that also features pricier seafood are the Salvadoran combo platters. One features a pupusa of your choice with its slaw-like relish called curtido; a tamale wrapped in a banana leaf shot with olives, carrots, and chicken; and a nicely grilled half-steak that is enough for almost anyone. Other plates features Salvadoran enchiladas (like Mexican tostadas), Salvadoran tacos (like Mexican flautas), and sweet tamales stuffed with kernels of corn and served with sour cream. 4384 Broadway, between 187th and 188th streets, Hudson Heights
Kong Sihk Tong
Taiwanese, Sichuan, and Hong Kong restaurants in a casual vein are on the upswing, and newcomer Kong Sihk Tong falls in the last category. For a budget restaurant, the exterior is ultra-stylish, showing up its fustier Bayard Street neighbors with gold lettering on a jet-black background. The interior keeps pace with a double dining room painted black and decorated with irregular gray and blue tiles. Dishes are mainly in a noodle and over-rice vein, with the thin noodles composed of rice and exceedingly delicate. A favorite on the first visit was Xiamen fried vermicelli — the dish that used to be called Amoy lo mein on old Cantonese menus. (Amoy is an old way to say Xiamen, an island city on the southeastern coast of mainland China on the Taiwan Strait.) Brit-leaning Hong Kong snacks like condensed milk toast, macaroni and tomato sauce, a variety of egg dishes, and Horlicks also available. 65 Bayard St., between Mott and Elizabeth streets, Chinatown
“Two Friends” is an old fashioned lunch counter with swirling stool on a side street in the extended Jersey neighborhood sometimes called Havana on the Hudson. It has only one specialty — pan con bistec, a long and luscious sliced-steak sandwich that is also loaded with onions and french fries before being stuck in the sandwich press. Cheese is optional. The effect is cheap and magnificent, and one sandwich will generally feed two people. It’s Little Havana’s answer to Tampa’s Cuban sandwich, and every bit as popular. Wash it down with fresh squeezed juices. 5300 Bergenline Ave., at 53rd Street (entrance on 53rd Street), West New York, New Jersey