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.
The awning at Cevabdzinica Sarajevo proclaims “Since 1976,” but that’s when the predecessor of this small corner restaurant opened in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The present establishment — located near the Kaufman Astoria Studios near the Steinway stop on the R — originated in the ‘90s, when founders Ifeta and Ismet Huskovic emigrated to Queens during the Bosnian War. The interior is decorated with soccer paraphernalia, photos of Sarajevo, and handsome tiles with Islamic motifs, and the menu reflects the culinary commonplaces of several Balkan countries.
Grilled meats like pljeskavica (shaped like a hamburger) and cevapi (finger-shaped, skinless sausages) are made of an amalgam of beef and lamb and are quite delectable. They’re served with chopped raw onions and ajvar, a red pepper paste that’s more sweet than hot — at least in the incarnation served here. There are bowls of beans and smoked meat, salads snowed with feta cheese, dessert crepes sluiced with chocolate syrup, and particularly good stuffed cabbage leaves served with tiny scoops of mashed potatoes in the lightest of tomato sauces. Wash everything down with the Croatian herbal soda called Cockta. 37-18 34th Ave., at 38th Street, Astoria
If you’re a fan of traditional bagels, stay away from Bo’s. This Harlem bakery prides itself in innovation, both in the bagels themselves and in the spreads that go on them. Select both from an L-shaped counter, with the bagel oven in the background, and sit at one of the raised tables provided. In addition to the usual varieties, bagels include blueberry, pumpernickel cranberry, and one seasoned with the Middle Eastern spice mixture, za’atar. Spreads include berry almond and chocolate chip cream cheese. Strangest of all might be the hot dog bagel, which comes with the sausage implanted in the linear pastry, with chili, cheese, and raw onions on the side. 235 West 116th St., between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass boulevards, Harlem
Just For Fen
It was inevitable that in the profusion of new Chinese noodle shops moving into the East Village, a few would be neglected by food writers and critics. Just For Fen is one, punningly referring to Guilin-style mifen, the slender rice noodles that are now all the rage. With a menu that straddles the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, the small café concentrates on those noodles, with ramen or udon substituted for a slight extra charge. Spicy chicken rice noodles ($10.95) is my fave, with its diced dark chicken, pink pickled daikon, supple rice noodles more firm than most, and baby bok choy in a broth laced with Sichuan peppercorn oil. For an additional $4, you can add a pair of side dishes, say, crispy cucumber and pork wontons. 229 First Ave., between 13th and 14th streets, East Village