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.
Not long ago, semi-discount Japanese sushi chain Mi-Ne Sushi Totoya, on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village up near the Chelsea frontier, closed down after being open less than three years. It was a shame for lovers of good sushi who don’t want to pay between $100 and $200 for an omakase. Well, right next door was the agreeable Japanese grocery Dainobu, selling mochi, packaged snacks, and beauty products. It moved into the space, leaving just the “Mi-Ne” part of the sign. It also transferred some of its groceries, and installed a counter in back dispensing Japanese comfort food at bargain prices. Some of the same things are available cold from a pair of glass cases in the front, but you should go to the back to have your food specially assembled for you.
Most dishes clock in at $8.99 each, though some are less. That price gets you a choice of four types of ramen, one of which sports a tomato broth. The same price applies to a bowl of udon, also available in four permutations. One of Mi-Ne’s most interesting options involves putting familiar Japanese dishes on top of omurice, a freshly made rectangular omelet. Beef teriyaki is a fine choice in this regard, and you can have the top squirted with a variety of sauces if you ask. Then there are over-rice donburis, including one made with spicy chicken, and a selection of affordable soups. Though most customers carry out, ample seating at counters is available in the front of the shop. Pre-packaged sushi also available. 496 Sixth Ave., between 12th and 13th streets, Greenwich Village
Watch Galdino Molinero at work through his window right on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens, and you might think he’s the borough’s most talented sandwich maker. He grabs an outsize bolillo, a bread that’s soft as a cloud, then layers it with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, stringy Oaxacan cheese, and other vegetables and condiments. It culminates in the main ingredient, which is more often two or three main ingredients, like chorizo, head cheese, or carnitas. Almost all the sandwiches are $10, and unless you’re a very big eater, one is good for two meals.
Just recently, Molinero added a luscious pambazo to his catalog of sandwiches. It features the same roll, only with both halves dipped in bright red guajillo chile sauce and toasted on the griddle till they develop a crisp texture and begin to blacken. Then he adds a filling of potatoes and chorizo, and the whole thing is re-squished. It’s damn good and the perfect dish for a weekday brunch. Once you’ve acquired your pambazo, you may eat it in the Juan Bar next door — if you buy a beer, that is. 96-15 Roosevelt Ave., between Junction Boulevard and 97th Street, Corona
There are few snack shops left in the metropolitan area that sell hot dogs and nothing but hot dogs. Boulevard Drinks, across from the PATH station in Journal Square, on a stretch of Kennedy Boulevard known for its ornate movie theaters, is one of those old timers. Founded in 1962, it still has the twirling stools and alarming yellow color scheme, with the all-beef franks griddle fried in the front window as a fragrant come-on. And the place is still operated by John Bardis, son of the founder. Prices for a frank range from $2.10 to $2.60 depending on toppings, but don’t miss the chili. The usual chalky drinks also available, and Boulevard Drinks opens every day at 8 a.m., making the dream of eating hot dogs for breakfast a reality. 48 Journal Sq., between Pavonia and Bergen avenues, Jersey City, NJ