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. Prices range because the term “cheap eats” is relative, but a meal can be obtained here for less than $20. Find the back catalog here. Also consult the bigger cheap eats guide, with maps, walking tours, and other resources.
Golody Halal Buffet
The East Village, one of the more diverse dining neighborhoods in New York, now has its first West African restaurant. Located on the block south of the entrance to the L train stop at First Avenue, where a Colombian restaurant called Punto Rojo has also recently appeared, Golody is a narrow storefront with two long steam tables facing each other deep inside the room. A cashier sits in front of them, and tables are provided with a view of the street. But don’t go at noon to eat lunch; wait until 2 p.m. or so, when all the steam table slots have been filled.
Choices include popular dishes from Senegal, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria, and the selection changes daily. The cashier told me, for example, that a fermented cornmeal mash from Ghana called kenkey would be available on Wednesdays; it tastes something like San Francisco sourdough bread. The day I went, there were several types of rice available, and a Guinean sauce de feuilles made with sweet potato leaves, a Nigerian okra sauce dotted with beef, and a Senegalese chicken yassa, which features roast chicken with a mustardy onion relish, which you have to find in an adjacent steam table tub and apply to the chicken. It helps to know this food already, but you’ll do quite well just loading up your plate with things that look good to you. The cost is $5.99 per pound, which is a great deal. Open till 3 a.m. or later every night. 222 First Ave., between 13th and 14th streets, East Village
This agreeable cafe maintains a beguiling assortment of metal receptacles in the front window, peddling dishes like crisp roast chicken, small fried fish, steamed bok choy and other greens, tea eggs, fluffy baked omelets, and, of course, Fujianese fish balls, priced at $5.50 for three dishes plus a cup of consomme.
But you can also order from a printed menu or the chalkboard out front, things like pork shank lo mein, beef brisket noodle soup, young chow fried rice, wonton soup, or the shrimp and pork with rice cakes shown in the picture below. It’s also a good place for snacks, from fried turnip cakes to chicken wings, and there are Beijing, Hong Kong, and Sichuan dishes available, too. This modest cafe nearly constitutes a one-stop destination for Chinese food. 139 East Broadway, between Pike and Rutgers streets, Lower East Side
Brennan & Carr
Think of a beef sandwich dipped into meat juices, where the beef is steamed instead of roasted, and you’ll have Brennan & Carr’s tasty signature sandwich, something like LA’s French dip. The restaurant, founded in 1938 by George Brennan and Edward Carr, is rustic inside and out, and though meat sandwiches are the reason most customers visit the Irish emporium, the menu offers so much more. A friend and I recently had a great meal here, including a formidable bowl of white clam chowder, pretty good onion rings, and an especially good piece of blueberry pie with a flaky crust. Burgers, hot dogs, dressed fries, corn fritters, and fried chicken sandwiches round out the menu. Beer available. 3432 Nostrand Ave., at Gravesend Neck Road, Sheepshead Bay