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.
Eat’s Khao Man Gai
Hey, are you tired of rotisserie chickens as an easy carryout dinner option? How about khao man gai instead? Translated “chicken fat rice,” the dish was brought to Thailand by immigrants from the Hainan province in China centuries ago. In the most common recipe of the Thai version of the dish, chicken is poached, garlic cloves sautéed, and rice cooked with broth and garlic to achieve a mellow flavor and deep brown color. The chicken can be pulled off the bone and added to the finished rice, or served separately alongside.
It used to be you had to go to Queens to eat khao man gai, but now it is available in the East Village. Eat’s Khao Man Gai, which opened in August, offers four versions of the dish, mainly based on size of the serving. For the lone diner, there’s a good size serving of boneless chicken mixed with garlic rice and served with a cup of winter melon soup. Half or whole chickens with their giblets are served with the rice on the side, and they easily feed two or three people. Finally, a vegan version exists that makes use of turmeric and a vegetable stock. All dishes are served with red and green spicy dipping sauces. A couple of tables are available inside, but why not traipse over to Tompkins Square to eat your chicken rice? 518 East 6th St., between avenues A and B, East Village
The French Workshop
This very elegant marble-clad French bakery in Bayside is Greek owned, and it’s a great place for lunch, brunch, or a light meal. Small tables line the windows, and no waiter service means you queue up at the register near the front door to place and pick up your order. Sandwiches galore are available on good baguettes, including prosciutto pesto, turkey croquet madame, and cordon bleu. All the usual pastries are displayed, but look to some of the more unusual pastries, some savory, for extra thrills. Cheese and spinach bougatsa is a breakfast treat that one-ups the Greek pie spanakopita with a richer crust and creamier filling. Also don’t miss the french toast bread, obviating the need to actually make your own french toast. It’s steps from the Bayside stop on the LIRR from Penn Station. 38-39 Bell Blvd., at 39th Avenue, Bayside
Located downtown across from the old city hall on Grove Street and very close to the PATH train station, Ibby’s has been slinging the fried chickpea orbs known as falafel for 22 years, and they’re some of the best in the metropolitan area. But my favorite viand at this place founded by Adnan Kwara, a nephew of Lebanese superstar restaurateur Mamoun Chater, is the lamb shawarma sandwich. Cut to order from the rotating cylinder, the meat is piled on a pita, heaped with roughage, and sluiced with tahini and a gritty red hot sauce. Delightful! Middle Eastern dessert pastries are also particularly good here. 303 Grove St., at Wayne Street, Jersey City