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A black plastic carryout container of pale pork roast and bronze skin.
A serving of pernil at Los Primos in the Bronx.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

40 Inexpensive Dining Destinations in NYC

Eater critic Robert Sietsema tracks down some of the city’s best food deals in the five boroughs and beyond

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A serving of pernil at Los Primos in the Bronx.
| Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

For many New Yorkers, rising prices mean dining on a budget is more important than ever. Luckily, there are options throughout the five boroughs and beyond that don’t require spending an arm and a leg. While the coronavirus pandemic has tossed a brick into the machinery of New York City restaurants, I have seen small, inexpensive, often immigrant-run restaurants continue to stay open and even flourish. Here are 40 great dining establishments, including some old standbys as well as some new favorites, where you can dine well for $15 or less — or occasionally more depending on the meal size, cost of ingredients, or location, since overhead is often higher in pricier neighborhoods.

New to this edition of the map are Bakhtar Afghan Wali Baba Grill, Bigoi Venezia, Deli El Chapincito, Jayhan’s Grill, Little Myanmar, Mama Kitchen, Papaye, Pera Zdera, Rio Market, and Sophra 2.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Los Primos Resturant

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This Latin Caribbean diner is home to the most gorgeous steam table you’ve ever seen and there’s an expansive dining room right next door. The menu offers classic breakfasts of green plantains, eggs, and longaniza, plus lumberjack pancakes and three-egg omelets then moves on to lunches and dinners of rotisserie chicken, pork chops, kingfish or salmon, mofongo in several permutations, meal-size soups like sancocho and mondongo, and pernil so good it might make you weep.

Two hands trim a pork roast with scissors.
Carving the pork roast at Los Primos.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Calle 191 Pescaderia

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Located in the northern reaches of Washington Heights near Highbridge Park, this Dominican establishment handily combines a fish market with a restaurant a tad more formal than most fish market eateries. Decorated with artificial palm trees, it also boasts a bar, and the lengthy menu features nearly every Spanish and Latin-Caribbean seafood dish imaginable. One favorite is the marvelous asopao, a tomatoey and vinegary rice soup flavored with garlic and cilantro, generously dotted with large shrimp.

A hand lifts up a spoonful of red soup with shrimp.
Shrimp asopao at Calle 191 Pescaderia.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

This branch of a Grand Concourse original is a bit grander, with a dining room up a few steps from the steam table, where a dozen or so Ghanaian dishes are displayed. Pictures of the food over the counter assist in the selection of your meal, and don’t forget you can combine dishes on one plate, or add extra sauces like egusi (crushed melon seeds) or the fiery shito paste. Get sauces of fish, mutton, or chicken — or pick a mixed meat sauce that contains all of them. Then pick a starch ball like white yam fufu to go with it. As far as the shrimp or goat pepper soup goes — watch out!

A steam table with various stews, a woman behind the counter looking down from above.
Which dish to choose? At Papaye.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Jerk House

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Harlem has rarely seen a Jamaican steam-table restaurant with such a broad, pristine selection of island dishes. Sure, the jerk chicken is great, finished over a flame right before being served, but you’ll also find jerk pork, jerk ribs, and even jerk fried chicken. There’s also escovitch fish, curry chicken, and, perhaps best of all, curry goat. The restaurant is an offshoot of an earlier Jerk House in the Bronx, both operated by Sideon Stewart, affectionately known as “Jerk Chicken Jackie.”

Goat curry with plantains in a small Styrofoam container.
Goat curry at Jerk House, served with plaintains.
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Teranga

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Via Senegalese chef and cookbook author Pierre Thiam, this lively place at the northeast corner of Central Park in the Africa Center manages to catch the spirit of West African cooking with a brief menu in the fast-casual mode. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of seating, and you’re encouraged to relax either indoors or out. Senegalese grilled chicken yassa, with a relish of mustard and sauteed onions, is a high point.

A bowl of grilled chicken and blackeyed peas with a green relish on the side.
Senegalese chicken yassa at Teranga.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Taqueria 86

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No, this new and splendid Upper West Side taqueria, replete with a full bar, is not located on 86th Street as one might expect from the name, but rather on West 94th. The “86” commemorates the year the FIFA World Cup was held in Mexico. Ten taco fillings are available, colorfully named by point of origin, including birria attributed to Guadalajara, as well as Sonoran shrimp with sautéed pepper, and grilled chicken in the style of Tampico. Burritos, quesadillas, and tortas round out the menu.

A green awning with a soccer ball theme.
Taqueria 86 is quizzically located on 94th Street.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Bigoi Venezia

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There are plenty of off-price pasta mills to be found on the streets of Manhattan, a fad that peaked late in the last century and lingered thereafter. These places encouraged you to pick one of several pastas and then match it with one from a roster of predictable sauces. In a similar but simpler vein, Bigoi Venezia takes a single pasta — freshly made Venetian bigoi, tube-shaped spaghetti — and offers a choice of a dozen or so treatments, some particular to the City of Canals, some not. Turkey sauce (referencing the flightless bird, not the country) and peas, ham, and cream are two top contenders.

A plate of spaghetti with an olive-dotted red sauce.
Bigoi with puttanesca sauce.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ugly Donuts & Corn Dogs

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You’re going to have to sit in the park across the street from this new Korean carryout window in the midst of Flushing’s transportation hub. But the one-two punch of misshapen doughnuts and Korean corn dogs (really, rice dogs, since the batter is made with rice and not corn) makes a very enjoyable meal. The dog-on-a-stick that comes with potato cubes implanted in the batter is particularly enticing, making french fries unnecessary.

A corn dog dotted with potato cubes with a pair of blue jeans with legs in them in the background on a sunny day.
“Corn dog” with potato cubes at Ugly.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

All'antico Vinaio

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Italian-American heroes can be found almost anywhere in town, but All’antico Vinaio offers something different. It’s a branch of a Florentine shop that specializes in very lush focaccia sandwiches. Fillings run to the mozzarella, tomato, and basil; the herb-stuff pork roll called porchetta; and pungent Tuscan salami slathered with artichoke cream. Sandwiches tend to be large enough to split between two people, but not much space to eat is provided, other than the sidewalk outside — just as it is in Florence.

A sandwich cut in half to reveal layers of slice meat, arugula, and pureed salami.
A focaccia sandwich at All’antico Vinaio.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Rio Market

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Cafes inside food markets, both here and in South America, are often good and a good deal. Rio Market in Astoria offers customers the advantage of browsing the Brazilian groceries, along with a cafe that has the feel of a working-class refectory, with its modest seating and harsh lighting. Brazilian pastries (including pao de queijo and salt-cod croquettes) are dispensed from glass cases, and the usual grilled meats are done to order on a flame grill visible right inside the kitchen.

Cheese balls seen inside a white bag.
A bargain bag of hot pao de queijo from Rio Market.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Pilsener Haus & Biergarten

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Located in a 19th century industrial setting up against the cliffs in northwestern Hoboken (yes, it’s a slog from the PATH, but a cab is cheap), Pilsener Haus feels like an actual Munich biergarten, with ample seating inside and out. In addition to a lavish selection of suds, the food is agreeably priced, including crisp schnitzels, a catalog of sausages, lamb burgers, kielbasa wrapped in phylo, and a pretzel pudding resembling bread pudding.

A darkly crumbed pork cutlet sprawled over a red-potato salad.
Wiener schnitzel is made with pork.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Nurlan Uyghur Restaurant

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Nurlan is one of the few Uyghur restaurants in the city presenting the food of an ethnic minority in far northwestern China. The menu is influenced by Middle Eastern and Central Asian fare with its kebabs, pastas, and rice pilafs, but then there’s also the fabled “big tray” of chicken or lamb, which features those meats swimming in chile oil with potatoes. The charmingly decorated cafe is run by Adil Nurdun and Arkin Ali, and you might be surprised to find that the kebab list includes that most New York of meats — the hot dog.

Four brochettes, one with eggplant another with a skewered hot dog.
Uyghur kebabs from Nurlan.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Kotha Grill and Kabab

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Kotha Grill is the latest in a string of Bangladeshi eateries aimed at grocery shoppers surrounding the corner of 73rd Street and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. Boasting a small dining room and outdoor dining shed — a bit unusual for this neighborhood — the focus here is on the steam table, which usually contains a choice of biryanis, plus chicken and goat curries, river fish dishes, and a number of roasted vegetables and mustard-oil-laced vegetable purees, often including potatoes, eggplant, orange squash, and okra.

Slices of eggplant covered with chile peppers on a meatal tray.
Spicy roasted eggplant at Kotha Grill.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Amazing Grace Restaurant

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A successor to neighborhood mainstay Krystal’s, Amazing Grace took over the same Little Manila space not long ago, offering a similar mix of Filipino standards that went from barbecued brochettes (the pig ear is splendidly chewy), to set lunch and dinner plates, to the omnibus breakfasts known as silogs. The one featuring smoked milkfish is a favorite, which also includes garlic rice, fried eggs, eggplant strips, and a fresh salsa of onions and tomatoes. The restaurant is run by longtime area denizens Mary Jane De Leon and Efren De Leon.

In the foreground on a white plate, a whole fish head and all browned from smoking, with an array of dishes around it.
A milkfish silog breakfast.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Sophra 2

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Turkish classics are the focus of this new branch of an Upper East Side Ottoman restaurant, where topped flatbreads fly from the oven at a regular rate, composed salads can be made into a vegetarian platter, and many of the meat offerings are presented as juicy kebabs tasting of smoke. The shaved-meat doner kebab known is particularly flavorful, and you can get a combo of chicken and lamb doner in a sandwich or on a platter. Turkish and Italian wines available, though the list is limited.

A number of vegetable and dairy dishes on a rectangular plate, some involving beets or yogurt.
The vegetarian mezze platter at Sophra 2.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Deli El Chapincito

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This brand-new Murray Hill deli offers packaged Guatemalan cookies, spices, and soups — plus a small prepared-food cafe to go with them. Proceed to the rear of the walk-down premises to find a steam table offering three or four stews per day of beef, chicken, and fish. The pollo guisado is particularly good, tomatoey and mellow, served with black beans, rice, and freshly made tortillas. Fried chicken and grilled steaks form other options.

A black plastic tub with red chicken parts and black beans.
Pollo guidsado — a Central American chicken stew, served with rice and black beans.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Harry Sweets & Snacks

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This modest spot concentrates on Mumbai-style street snacks and is strictly vegetarian. One favorite is bun chole, a small round roll stuffed with chickpeas, potatoes, and onions sweetened with tamarind sauce, very much like Trinidadian doubles. The menu also offers samosa chaats and other chaats, poori-accompanied vegetable curries, milk-based sweets, and snacks combining fried lentils, nuts, chips, and crunchy noodles, sold by the pound.

A flatbread stuffed with chickpeas and potatoes,
Bun choley at Harry.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Crop Circle

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Gui kui is a stuffed flatbread invented in Shaanxi, perfected in Hubei, and now popular in Sichuan, Shanghai, and Singapore. On Greenwich Village’s hopping Macdougal Street, Crop Circle sells oblong flattened dough — stuffed with a choice of pork, pickled mustard greens, chicken, or best of all, spicy beef with Sichuan peppercorns — that’s lowered into a tandoor-like oven and baked until golden brown. Chefs Michael Zheng Chen and Zhuobu Zheng fill out their menu with a few dim sum classics, including pork dumplings and shrimp rice-noodle rolls.

A cook in a mask stands before a vertical oven topped with tile and pulls out a flatbread with tongs.
The vertical oven at Crop Circle.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Terra Thai

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This tiny cafe just south of Tompkins Square specializes in the street food of Bangkok with a limited menu of full meals that will make deciding what to eat easier. Karuna Wiwattanakantang and Norawat Margsiri previously owned a Thai restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, and the best dish on the current menu is basil chicken, with ground poultry cooked down to a rich mixture served with rice, a poached egg, and boiled sweet potato. For vegetarians, there’s a very nice pad Thai.

A black plastic carryout tray with a green chicken stir fry on one side, and rice with a poached egg and sweet potato on the other.
Basil chicken at Terra Thai.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Little Myanmar

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Little Myanmar is quite simply the best Burmese restaurant the city has yet seen (and we’re going back to 1980 or so here). The interior is bare bones and not particularly comfortable — though your ability to see into the kitchen is an advantage and a pleasure. The 100-item menu covers the vast sweep of the national cuisine, from the salads called athokes (try the tea leaf salad), to noodle soups and stir fries (try Shan noodles), to curries (see the goat curry, pictured) and beyond.

A metal wok of dark red meat curry on the bottom right, with a plate of rice and cup of soup on the upper left.
Goat curry at Little Myanmar comes with a bowl of lentil soup.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Banh Mi Co Ut

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There are two other Vietnamese sandwich shops in close vicinity — both good — so why pick owner Co Ut Tran’s shop, which opened just over a year ago? Because the sandwiches tend to be overstuffed: The No. 4, for example, begins with the usual pate, cha lua, and salami, but then adds a bonus slice of fatty Virginia ham. The vegetarian banh mi made with baked tofu is also good, redolent of lemongrass, and the kitchen staff ably turns out a modest collection of more ambitious dishes, which include pho, and the wonderful tapioca dumplings called banh bot loc, which come wrapped in banana leaves glowing like amber.

A hero sandwich seen in cross section with layers of meat and vegetables.
Banh mi at Banh Mi Co Ut.
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Jayhan's Grill

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This jazzy spot in the middle of the West Side’s Philippine community is aimed at a younger crowd than many of the neighboring cafes, with chalkboard walls upon which slogans and specials are scrawled. In addition to the classics, snacks are an equal focus of the menu, which often lists specials — on a recent weekend afternoon, deep fried siomai dumplings, which went magnificently with the fish-intensive rice soup goto. Dishes like oxtail kare kare sometimes come deconstructed in a further touch of modernity.

A yellowish rice soup with chunks of fish visible, one suspended on a spoon over the soup.
Fish goto at Jayhan’s Grill.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Taiwan Pork Chop House

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Most patrons of this Taiwanese cafe tucked away on picturesque Doyers Street pick the first or second items on the menu: a pair of soy-glazed pork chops over rice with mustard greens, or an ample chicken leg with a similar treatment. Either way, it makes a perfect full meal. But rice cake stir fries, oyster pancakes, fish ball noodle soup, and taro cakes make other fine choices.

A pile of pork chops on rice in a round black plastic container.
Choice number one on Taiwanese Pork Chop House’s menu.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Bakhtar Afghan Wali Baba Grill

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This Jamaica Estates Afghan restaurant offers meats, meats, and more meats — including kebabs of chicken, beef, and lamb in various combinations — and little else. The lamb chops, in particular, are superb, often cut to order from the rib cage (you can hear the saw thrumming in the kitchen), smeared with a reddish spice rub, and grilled to complete succulence. A few curries are also available, though as the attendant said, “We don’t have vegetables.” A Bangladeshi menu is sporadically also available at this highly recommended halal establishment.

A platter or dark rice, small metal bowl of curry, and reddish lamb chops heaped on another plate of rice.
Goat curry and grilled lamb chops.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Mum Mediterranean Cuisine

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Ridgewood Egyptian restaurant Mum replaced Little Egypt in the same storefront not too long ago. The premises are now sleek and modern and the food is less seafood-oriented. One specialty of the menu is feteer, a double-crust sheet pizza said to date to the time of the pharaohs. Fillings are many, including pastirma, shawarma, vegetables, and the sausage called sujuk. The usual dips and flame-grilled kebabs are available, but then so is the rice, pasta. the bean casserole koshari, and mombar, a rice sausage in a sheep intestine casing.

A platter with falafel squiggled with tahini, with a brown sausage on the side and salad underneath.
Falafel platter at Mum.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Caravan Uyghur Cuisine

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This halal restaurant near the South Street Seaport owned by Abdul Ahat Bakri put in a surprise appearance in the middle of 2020, peddling Uyghur standards — charcoal kebabs, rice pilaf, meat-bulging samsa, and fist-sized dumplings. The floppy spaghetti called lagman is made in the kitchen from scratch, and for fans of lamb, multiple dishes are available. One more tip: The entrance is on Pearl Street.

Peppers, lamb, onions, noodles, celery, and red broth on a plate.
Lagman at Caravan.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

While most Lebanese restaurants have a straight-up Middle Eastern menu of such items as falafel, hummus, kebabs, and salads, Semkeh does the formula one better by including some rarely seen regional dishes, including the namesake samke (a more common spelling of the dish in the restaurant’s name). This classic from the north of the country features a fish poached in a garlic-and-tahini sauce, which makes for a very spicy fish. Have it wrapped in a pita, or substitute sujuk, a Lebanese beef sausage. For vegetarians, check out the wrap of falafel and fried cauliflower with the garlicky aioli called toum.

A tubular wrap made with a grilled flatbread, a tomato slice peeking out the end.
Samke at Semkeh.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Taqueria Al Pastor

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Sure, there are dozens of great, old-fashioned, mainly Pueblan taquerias within the borders of Bushwick, but this place opened early in 2020 with a jazzier demeanor, including a brightly painted minibus on its exterior. The lure is a humongous rotating trompo of pineapple-marinated pork al pastor, sliced and deposited on a rustic corn tortilla. Or have it as a volcane, which is essentially a baked tostada. Cactus, chicken, and carne asada fillings are all available.

A man in a blue shirt with a long knife bends over a twirling vertical spit of meat.
The al pastor cylinder twirls at Taqueria Al Pastor.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Pera Ždera (Peter Eater)

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This small storefront specializing in Balkan bar food, located in the wilds of Glendale (an easy bus ride from the L train), is an apparent branch of a place in Subotica, Serbia. It concentrates on grilled meats and pastries, the former including the skinless sausages called ćevapi and the burger-like pljeskavica, which comes on a round bun that may be dressed with kaymak (something like clotted cream) and ajvar (a red pepper paste, available spicy or mild) — plus the usual onions, tomatoes, and lettuce. Burger lovers: Don’t miss it.

A burger in a mottled and irregular bun with some angry looking red sauce visible on the bottom half of the bun, lettuce, too.
Pljeskavica from Pera Ždera.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Pupusas Ridgewood

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Many places make their own Salvadoran pupusas, sometimes hand-patting the masa or rice dough, but this establishment from Guillermina Ramirez takes the process one step further. Its pupusas are of larger circumference, juicier, and stuffed with a choice of 10 fillings. Some, like broccoli and cheese, are a bit unusual, but neophytes should first try cheese and loroco, a pickled flower that resembles oregano; and revueltas, which combines pork rind, beans, and cheese. First split the pupusa then shovel in some of the slaw called curtido for extra crunch.

An assortment of outsize papusas, browned stuffed pancakes sometimes broken open to show fillings, on a red plastic tray.
Assorted pupusas at Papusas Ridgewood.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Grandchamps

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Haitian restaurant Grandchamps, owned by Sabrina and Shawn Brockman, has rustic modern decor, featuring a big communal table with views of the neighborhood and a counter selling food products imported from Haiti. Appetizers and breakfast menu items are available, but the heart of the menu are seven classic Haitian dishes. Griot is one, the pork confit made by cooking the meat in its own citrusy marinade. Instead of being served as an entree, this griot is incorporated into a sandwich. The result is wonderful and unique. A dark red and slightly oily gravy accompanies.

A sandwich on a French roll filled with chunks are pork, with gravy in a small cup on the side.
Griot sandwich at Grandchanps.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Mama Kitchen

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Mama Kitchen is a kosher Israeli restaurant far exceeds expectations when it comes to food quality (everything except the composed salads are cooked to order) at below the price you might expect to pay. An entree (there are lunch specials, too) features a full plate of food plus another plate from a salad bar with over a dozen selections. The Ashkenazic schnitzels are superb, but there are Sephardic North African tajines, too, and there’s no better place in Bed Stuy for a falafel sandwich.

A browned irregular chicken cutlet on a mottled green plate sitting atop rice, with some reddish steamed veggies on the side.
A perfectly breaded chicken schnitzel at Mama Kitchen.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Ethel & Annie Mae's Soulfood Kitchen

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Catering veteran and master baker Danielle Moore started this corner soul food place in Flatbush, showcasing the cuisine’s standards, including chicken wings, fried porgies, and New Orleans po’ boys. But at whim she ventures outside the canon, producing a wonderful lamb burger with a thick sear on each side and a tzatziki dressing. Also don’t miss the pineapple upside-down cake and banana pudding.

A blackened patty in a bun with bright green lettuce and slice of tomato sticking out.
Lamb burger at Ehtel & Annie Mae’s.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Bedawi Cafe

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This Windsor Terrace staple celebrates the contributions of the Bedouins to Middle Eastern cuisine, focusing on cooking of Jordan. The interior is small, charming, and well-decorated, making you feel like you’re in someone’s living room, and the menu features kebabs, sandwiches, and platters, plus many of the same ingredients made into flatbreads called “pitzas.” And there are salads and other snacking appetizers galore, including a Levantine spin on potato salad, and wonderful garlicky fava beans.

A hand holds a meat and lettuce sandwich with a pickle chip sticking out almost wrapped completely in a flatbread.
Leg of lamb sandwich at Bedawi.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Tortas Morelos

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Tortas Morelos, located on the northern border of Bay Ridge, is a slip of a shop that specializes in overstuffed Mexican sandwiches including my favorite: La Chilanga, which matches boiled ham with the richer head cheese — a marriage made in heaven. The menu is not limited to sandwiches, however. It recently added one of the city’s best renditions of beef birria with a consomé so good you might slurp it up first and leave the tacos for later.

Crisp fried tacos with deep red soup on the side.
Birria tacos at Tortas Morelos.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

New Asha

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Located across the street from a mosque a short bus ride straight uphill from the Staten Island Ferry, New Asha, founded by Vijayakumari Devadas in 1999, is a funky sort of place with excellent Sri Lankan food. A glass case displays heavy tubular fritters that are good for snacks, but why not sit and chow down on mutton or jackfruit curries, poured over rice and served with yellow dal and a chopped vegetable salad? The meat is halal.

The front of a storefront with a green awning that with the words “New Asha Srilankan Restaurant” in all capital yellow letters
New Asha is a Staten Island mainstay.
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Chef Vincent Dardanello is the owner of this nifty Sicilian cafe in Bay Ridge, where standard dishes — think rice balls, fried calamari, potato or chickpea croquettes, focaccia, and olive-oil-glossed salads — are presented in a modern context and not as afterthoughts on a mainly Neapolitan menu. Amuni reproduces a wonderful muffuletta sandwich inspired by the New Orleans original, and two types of Sicilian pizza called sfincione are available, along with such characteristic Sicilian vegetables as fennel and cardoon in simple presentations.

An oblong white bowl of round pasta in tomato sauce, with cheese and bread on the size.
Pasta al forno at Amuni.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

Al Aqsa Bakery & Restaurant

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Only recently have Palestinian restaurants become an attraction unto themselves in the city with the advent of places like Al Badawi, which offer sit-down dining. At lower prices and with more of a lunch counter atmosphere, Al Aqsa specializes in pita or laffa sandwiches, tucked or rolled, respectively, and filled with chicken shawarma, falafel, or lamb shish kebab, slathered with a strong toum, a garlicky white sauce. Kufta, bread dips, lahmacun in several variations, and even schnitzels round out the menu.