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.
Radiating from the Junction Boulevard stop on the 7 train in Corona are dozens of taquerias, some specializing in a few types of antojitos, others mounting broad menus of Mexican and Mexican-American fare with something to please everyone. But which taqueria to choose? One of the newcomers — with a menu that focuses on tacos, huaraches, picaditas, and other masa-based fare — is Homemade Taqueria, just a block south of the elevated station. One of the cafe’s great assets is an upstairs dining room with big picture windows that overlook the neighborhood and provide dizzying views of the downstairs order counter.
Other items irresistibly beckon, too. Excellent tacos al pastor are one specialty, with the pork cut to order from the usual vertical spit. These are available in small taco form (here indicating the use of small double corn tortillas), here called taquitos, overloaded with carmine-tinted meat and heaped with cilantro and raw onions. At three taquitos for $5, these are a great deal. Friday the taquitos get even cheaper at one dollar apiece. Garnish them from the expansive collection of sauces and other condiments on a separate table upstairs, including guacamole, stewed onions, pinto beans, pickled jalapeños, etc. In a tip of the hat to the South American character of the neighborhood, an Argentine torta with steak and sautéed onions is also available. 40-10 Junction Blvd., at 40th Road, Corona
Noodle King of New York
The paradigm of the neighborhood Chinese restaurant and carryout has long been under attack. Some owners have switched over to Thai or Japanese menus as a result, or added Sichuan, Taiwanese, and sushi to their collection of Chinese-American fare. Now a new type of Chinese neighborhood restaurant has begun appearing, focusing on noodles and dumplings rather than over-rice stir fries. Noodle King of New York, on Sixth Avenue in the northern part of Greenwich Village, begins with the hand-pulled noodle menu popular in Chinatowns five years ago, and then adds hot pots and stir fries, covering three popular types of Chinese food. The noodles are available in soups or “pan fries,” and peel noodles can substituted instead. Both types of noodles are made to order on the premises.
A friend and I recently tried a couple of the soups, one made with Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles and beef tendon ($9.50), with a formidable broth and plenty of greens and cilantro. A bowl of peel noodles was equally good, with the unusual addition of pork wontons. Meanwhile, we picked at a bowl of rubbery shredded seaweed. If nothing else, it boosted our blood iodine levels. Other appetizer possibilities included scallion pancakes with beef, Shanghai soup dumplings, pig ear in oil, and shredded potato in sauce. The bill of fare provides a compendium of the contrasting forms of Chinese food available in New York City today, at bargain prices. 513 Sixth Ave., between 13th and 14th streets, Greenwich Village
This classic Cuban diner has been a prominent feature of Hoboken’s main drag since 1970, and a sort of expatriate clubhouse for Cubans who have made the shoreside stretch of Jersey from here to Union City a sort of Havana on the Hudson. The menu at La Isla under chef Omar Giner is surprisingly comprehensive for the small size of the place. Sit at one of the twirling stools and enjoy an app like ham croquetas ($3 each), big batons of crushed ham with a lingering smoky flavor. All the usual entrees are available, some presented as specials one day a week, including a voluminous lechon asado ($14), featuring mountains of rice and a pond of don’t-miss pink beans shot with pig parts. Mellow! You’ll be taking some home. The least expensive meals, however, are the pressed sandwiches, including an outsize Cubano ($9), and — favorite of Havana on the Hudson — pan con bistec. 104 Washington St., between First and Second streets, Hoboken, NJ