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.
Late last year, Papa’s Kitchen moved out of its home on a bucolic stretch of Woodside Avenue near where the BQE slices through Woodside, to a storefront just off of Jackson Heights’ bustling 37th Avenue shopping strip. While the old premises looked something like a shack in the countryside, the new space is sparer, less decorated, but does have some supergraphics on one gray wall and a menu more compact, with elements from Manila and the region of Bicol. But it’s every bit as tasty as the old place, via co-owner and culinary director Maribeth Roa.
For the budget conscious, there are a series of marvelous silogs (a portmanteau made from Tagalog words referring to garlic fried rice and eggs), priced at either $7 or $8, each of which includes a classic Filipino dish served alongside rice with a runny fried egg on top. The unofficial national signature of chicken adobo is one choice, but other selections include fried milkfish, sweetish Filipino sausage, cured pork, and the vegetable assortment called pinakbet. Full main courses are mainly $10 to $14, including items like crisp fried pork belly served with vinegar and pork liver dipping sauces; and kare-kare, a mellow stew made with peanut sauce, here made with beef. 3707 83rd St., between Roosevelt and 37th avenues, Jackson Heights
Taqueria & Deli Gloria’s
In an unexpected location around the corner from Jersey City’s India Square and on the edge of the PATH’s sunken trainbed, Gloria’s is a hopping Mexican restaurant, with a menu where tacos, enchiladas, and burritos are only a point of departure. In the southern Mexican style, hand-patted sopes, huaraches, quesadillas, and gorditas come with a similar roster of fillings as the tacos; the menu also offers a range of breakfasts (it opens at 7 a.m.), including chilaquiles with three eggs, omelets, tamales, pancakes, and the highly recommended scrambled eggs with cactus and onions. The premises is functional, with textile-covered tables and tubular metal furniture, and there’s a real sense of neighborhood, as patrons drift in for a conversation and a champurrado, a maize-thickened hot cocoa.
But solid and inexpensive tacos (three for $8 to $10) on regular size tortillas are the things to grab. Choices run to 13, and go from the relatively bland grilled chicken to the more challenging mixed pork tripe. Carnitas are a clear winner, cooked to crisp but paradoxically still moist fibrosity. Non-Mexican deli curiosities are also listed, including tuna sandwiches, gyros, stylish wraps like turkey avocado, and meal-sized salads. 117 Tonnele Ave., between Newark Avenue and Broadway, Jersey City, NJ
We’ve all heard small restaurants referred to admiringly as “holes in the wall” — well this Egyptian eatery is quite literally a hole in the wall. A window looks into a tiny kitchen, protected from the street by a boxy plastic baffle, with space for two seats along a shallow counter. If you sit down, other customers have to squeeze behind you to order. No matter, the food is fantastic, including chicken or lamb pocket sandwiches; burgers, sausages, and kebabs; plus falafels in a half dozen configurations that include Habibi’s rocket: hummus, eggplant, fries, tomato, pickles, hardboiled egg, tahini, and falafel wrapped in a pita. Smaller appetites may prefer the gyro sandwich ($6) or the falafel plate ($9). Don’t miss the optional garlic sauce. 141 East 96th St., at Lexington Avenue, East Harlem