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 Little Taco House
First, the narrow shop next to Mary’s Fish Camp was a tailor going back 30 years and more. Then it turned briefly into a bodega that mainly peddled Cokes and lottery tickets. Now, it has magically transformed into a taqueria — far humbler and more affordable than designer taco spots that tend to proliferate in the West Village. At the charmingly named Little Taco House, find a two-tortilla, standard size, overstuffed taco for $3.50 apiece. In this neighborhood, it’s a steal.
The set-up is simple: Right inside the door is a steam table with a choice of 10 fillings. A small griddle in the rear is used to reheat the meats and soften the tortillas. The meats are then shoveled in, and the usual chopped onions and cilantro applied. The optional sauces include chipotle, and the even-better chile de arbol, which is homemade. These are among the finest Pueblan tacos in town, with the carnitas being especially nice and chewy. Burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and tortas available with a similar roster of fillings, which include nopales for vegans and vegetarians. Cash only. 246 W. 4th St., between Charles and West 10th streets, West Village
It’s getting to that time of year when we pay our last visits to the municipal beaches. When going to Coney Island, don’t forget the perfect apres-surf destination, John’s Deli. It was founded in 1968 targeting beach goers at the quintessential corner of Stillwater and 86th Street in Gravesend. Styling itself the “Hero King,” it whips up all sorts of sandwiches, in addition to Italian steam-table specialties like lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and potato croquettes. But John’s most famous production is the roast beef, fresh mozzarella, and brown gravy hero, made on a seeded roll and way delicious, assembled with mozzarella so fresh it squeaks. The term “gut bomb” might have been invented for this sandwich. Not always available every day, so call ahead. 2033 Stillwell Ave., at 86th Street, Gravesend
Dimes Deli and Market
Do you miss the old days of Dimes? When the tiny space was filled with neighborhood characters grooving on its kooky menu, and where you may have scarfed your first avocado toast? Where bowls first became a thing (to our infinite detriment, I might argue)? Well, the benches and potted plants still welcome outside, and something like the old menu is still in place. The difference is the crowds have moved to the newer, larger, and more ambitious Dimes across the street. In addition to lots of quirky sandwiches and bowls featuring acai and chia, the old kitchen whips up a mean breakfast burrito, which shouldn’t be missed, whole wheat tortilla and all. 143 Division St., between Ludlow and Essex streets, Lower East Side