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.
Sabor A Mexico
Now almost a decade old, Sabor a Mexico (“Mexico flavor”) is a mini-chain with two branches on the Upper East Side and one in the East Village, at least partly showcasing the food of Guerrero, a mountainous and largely rural state that runs from southwest of Mexico City to the Pacific Ocean that is also home to Acapulco and other seaside resorts. While the branch in the East Village has largely dropped the regional dishes from its menu, the one at the corner of 90th and First Avenue has retained them. Along with the other branches it is owned by Roberto Escamilla, and this one also offers a large and comfy dining room where you can enjoy a cocktail.
One amazing dish from Guerrero is pozole verde. The color is olive drab, and a verdant and earthy fragrance arises as it’s brought to the table. A plate on the side includes Mexican oregano; dump it in, along with the chopped chiles, onions, and slices of avocado, and it will make the soup even tastier. Also don’t hesitate to drop tortilla chips in the soup as you plow through the bowl. Red pozole is also available, and even hotter. Both pozoles are made with chicken, and put regular white pozole to shame. Another menu highlight is the birria, a stew that’s made here shredded beef and comes in a taco. It originates from the state of Jalisco and is a specialty of the Mexican community in Los Angeles that’s rarely seen here. 1744 First Ave., between 90th and 91st street, Upper East Side
Bebe Fritay is a Haitian quick service chain with four branches in Brooklyn. Usually, the locations have only limited counter seating and specialize in fried things like sausages, fritters, griot, and tassot — the latter two representing delicious pork and goat confits, respectively. These are great places to dash in for a snack.
But the newest branch on Utica Avenue has broken the mold by providing table seating, waiter service, and a modest amount of decoration, though the prices remain low. And the food is beyond excellent. On a recent visit, I went for one of the bargain platters advertised on the menu board and added a bulky garlic sausage, and the price remained well below $10. My entree was legumes — a beef stew thickened with callaloo, spinach, or both, according to my server. Don’t forget to ask for piklis, a fiery vinegar-based condiment laced with scotch bonnet peppers. 744 Utica Ave., between Lenox Road and Linden Boulevard, East Flatbush
Saigon V-Bread Cafe
This spacious Chinese and Vietnamese café is one of the cheaper options in Chinatown and the food is good. It offers three specialties: over rice charcuterie, banh mi sandwiches, and noodle based breakfasts — the last at less than $2 apiece, all washed down with Hong Kong-leaning beverages like Ovaltine and Horlicks. There are seven variations of over rice dishes, including vegetarian mock chicken curry. The duck over rice was a generous portion, served with lots of rice and cabbage for $4.50, while the Vietnamese sandwich with the usual pate and barbecued pork were overstuffed but a little short on cilantro. No matter, Saigon V-Bread Cafe provides one of the city’s most inexpensive tuck-ins. But skip the coffee. 11 Allen St., between Canal and Division streets, Chinatown