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Top-Notch Tamales on LES — and Other Cheap Eats

Critic Robert Sietsema highlights some great affordable dishes around town

Factory Tamal
Factory Tamal
Photo via Factory Tamal/Instagram

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. Also consult the compact guide and map 60 Cheap Eats Destinations You Should Know About in NYC.


Factory Tamal

Using the archaic singular of “tamales” in its name, Factory Tamal moved a block west from its original Essex Street location not long ago into some even more obscure real estate and has expanded its menu in the process. Sure, the heart is still a selection of freshly made tamales served in their corn husks, with fillings that run to green chiles with onions and tomatoes, the milder chicken with salsa verde and spicier chicken chipotle, and my fave, chicken mole poblano.

An assortment of tamales from Factory Tamal, chicken mole on top
An assortment of tamales from Factory Tamal, chicken mole on top

But from there, the menu strays to meal-size salads with a choice of dressings, sandwiches of a conventional sort, and pressed panini, including one featuring pastrami and another that riffs on a Cuban sandwich. At least one of the soups is wonderful: mole verde with chicken. This sour and spicy potage makes great use of tomatillos. Another attraction is a breakfast sandwich layered with a crispy fried egg and grilled sage sausage on a brioche, an unforgettable bargain at $4. 34 Ludlow St., between Hester and Grand streets, Lower East Side

Burger N Grill

Combo platters come with a naan or basmati rice.
Combo platters come with a naan or basmati rice.

On the site of the sainted and bygone Pakistan Tea House, which had undergone a takeover by the Baluchi’s chain that promptly failed by making the food and service inferior, Burger N Grill is a wan attempt to return the premises to its glory days — when artists and cab drivers enjoyed the wonderful, cheap food, especially the multiple breads available. Though naan is now the only bread, it’s a good tandoori naan, and the simple dishes on the steam table are sure to please, including a very nice goat curry, and a spicy stir-up of spinach and potatoes. The seating in the cluttered space is as plentiful as in the original (not very), but a shade less nostalgic. 176 Church St., between Duane and Reade streets, Tribeca

Guizhou Huaxi-Wang Noodle

The plainly named New York Food Court has the best selection of noodles in the city, issuing from several provinces of China, as well as Japan and Taiwan. Expect lots of unusual desserts, too. This particular stall in the northeast corner of the complex features noodles from the province of Guizhou, sandwiched between Sichuan and Hunan. So you expect the food to be hot, but what you maybe don’t expect is it to be hot and sour. Start off with the soup variously called “beef in sour and spicy vermicelli soup” and “red sour beef vermicelli.” Using wobbly rice spaghetti similar to Yunnanese mixian, the soup swims with tender chunks of beef in a wonderfully tart broth. At your direction, an extra slick of chile oil is provided. Other soups feature mutton, goose, and pork tripe, and there are standalone apps of pink sour turnip and pig ear. Stall 14, 133-35 Roosevelt Ave., between Prince Street and College Point Boulevard, Flushing

The Guizhou rice noodle soups are tart and spicy.
The Guizhou rice noodle soups are tart and spicy.

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