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.
Jalsa Grill & Gravy
The city has plenty of Bangladesh restaurants, but few that represent for the food of West Bengal, India, just across the border. That’s one reason Jalsa Grill & Gravy was so welcome when it opened last September in Ditmas Park, a neighborhood already filled with Pakistan and Afghan restaurants. Owner Nowshin Ali lived in Kolkata (the former Calcutta), the capital of West Bengal, “But I grew up in Uttar Pradesh, and had to learn several languages as I grew up, including Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, English, and Bengali,” she told me. The halal food at Jalsa features several West Bengal dishes from a menu of northern Indian fare.
One highlight was a chaat featuring slices of slender eggplant fried with a coating of spiced chickpea flour, dusted with shredded coconut, and arrayed on a hump of sweet and sour potatoes. It was irresistible. Cooked in the tandoor, the outsize lamb tikka kebabs were juicy and smoky, but the ghost chicken tikka was not as spicy as the name promised. Of the West Bengal dishes, there was a chingri malaikari (butter shrimp) with plenty of creamy pink gravy, accompanied by a dish of mustard-laced chickpeas. The dum biryani came with chicken and was pleasingly subtle. “That biryani’s from Lucknow,” she told me, “not as spicy as the one from Hyderabad.” Ali also runs an after school tutoring program for neighborhood kids, and a women’s center is planned. 964 Coney Island Ave., between Newkirk and Webster avenues, Ditmas Park
Grab & Go Deli
How cheap is cheap when it comes to ramen? Greenwich Village’s Grab & Go deli, a convenience store specializing in Asian groceries in the grand tradition of the East Village’s now-closed M2M, offers a limited range of Japanese meals at bargain prices. Located directly above the bustling West 4th Street subway stop, it normally sells several types of ramen in substantial servings for $8.75, but a special deal currently in place delivers tonkotsu ramen with thick slices of chasu pork for a mere $7, which is five or six dollars less than most ramen-ya. The sushi also available isn’t bad, and when you buy a bowl of ramen, you get a roll of your choice for $4 , including higher-priced ones like barbecued eel and shrimp tempura. 388 Sixth Ave., between West 8th Street and Waverly Place, Greenwich Village
In much of the Balkans, a burek is a round pie with a top and bottom crust made with a flaky dough something like phyllo, stuffed with simple ingredients such as spinach, cheese, or ground lamb or beef. Sometimes it’s served with homemade yogurt for dipping bites, but even better is kaymak, a kind of clabbered milk that is rich, creamy, and only slightly tart. Burek’s Pizza is a pizza parlor converted to making bureks, and you can get them hot out of the oven in either wedges or whole pies, which serve four people — or two if they’re very, very hungry. 6857 Forest Ave., between Catalpa and 69th avenues, Ridgewood