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.
Named after the southern province of Narathiwat, Thai Nara reflects the cuisine of Thailand’s Muslim minority and its connections with nearby Malaysia. That means some surprising menu selections in addition to classics that are more ubiquitous at neighborhood Thai spots. This new cafe is located just off Broadway in Woodside’s northeastern quadrant, heralded by a bright blue awning, featuring plenty of sunny windows with tables aligned alongside, and pictures of a modernistic mosque and Mecca on the pleasantly spare walls.
Malaysian roti canai is here rendered in a chunkier vegetable-heavy rendition, with a beef version available in addition to the usual chicken, either almost a full meal. The roster of soups includes one called Thai soup, flavored with galangal, makrut lime leaves, and sambal oelek, a tart chile sauce. Some curries are served in big bowls with egg noodles rather than rice, some incorporating a peanut-thickened coconut sauce. For vegetarians, mock duck or tofu are available with curries, fried rices, and the multiple stir fries — two of which are cashew pineapple and garlic black pepper, in addition to the usual fresh basil and fresh ginger. Most entrees fall between $8 and $12; and the food is halal at this excellent addition to the city’s roster of Thai regional restaurants. 64-02 35th Ave., between Broadway and 35th Avenue, Woodside
Panino Mucho Giusto
Even in overpriced neighborhoods, hidden gems still persist — places where the food is reasonably priced and locals congregate. One example is Panino Mucho Giusto, a largely unsung coffee bar and sandwich shop where West Village locals hang, and not the ones living in townhouses with private lap pools in the basements, either. A couple of welcoming benches sit outside that fill up in sunny weather, and the inside, with its irregular floor plan, is comfortable, too. Cookbooks by local authors line the shelves, and the fare runs to breakfast pastries, cookies, panini, soups, salads, egg breakfasts, and a recently added hamburger. Yes, the food is predictable, and good but not spectacular. Just the thing you want in a neighborhood clubhouse that doesn’t attract much attention. 551 Hudson St., between Perry and West 11th streets, West Village
Driven from West 116th street by increasing rents a few years ago, Africa Kine was able to relocate to a new storefront just south of 135th Street, but still in Harlem. The premises is smaller now, but meticulously decorated, including a large map of Africa mural and just a handful of tables. The food is excellent and the menu, via chef Kine Mar and co-owner Samba Niang, is large for a West African eating establishment in New York. The usual Senegalese standards of mafe (lamb or chicken with peanut sauce), yassa (fish or chicken smothered in onions and mustard), and cheb (the national dish of fish and vegetables over red rice) are available, but also a number of rarely seen apps, including nems (spring rolls brought to Dakar by Vietnamese expatriates) and fataya (meat or fish turnovers something like empanadas). 2267 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd., between 33rd and 34th streets, Harlem