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In This Guide ...

·  All You Can Eat
·  Bar Food
·  Cafeteria Style
·  Cheap Dates
·  Dumplings
·  Indian
·  Italian
·  Latin
·  Mexican
·  Noodle Shops
·  Pita Sandwiches
·  Pizza Kings
·  Prix Fixe Dining
·  Rotisserie Chicken
·  Sandwiches
·  Street-food Wonders
·  Surf (sans Turf)
·  Turf (sans Surf)
·  Thai


Favorite Cheap Eats of 7 Famous Chefs

  Daniel Boulud, Todd English and other top chefs reveal their favorite pizza, french fries, movie snacks and more.
  Taxi Driver Picks
  Hail a good, low-cost lunch.
  What's Your Favorite Cheap Eat?

Don't just take our word. See what other New Yorkers think and post your pick.


Cheap Eats

Where the lemon grass is always greener.

Stick 'em up: Beef panang at Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens.
Too often, Thai chainlets give us what they think we want: too-sweet satays, tame tom yum, pallid pad Thai. The critical balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet is lost in translation. There are exceptions -- namely, and most spectacularly, Sripraphai, a superb Thai kitchen housed inside a nondescript Woodside, Queens, storefront that looks about as cheerful as an H&R Block office. With all due respect to Mets fans -- if there are any left this season -- we can't think of a better reason to board the No. 7 train than feeding on crispy dried catfish in a piquant mango, red-onion, cilantro, and chili-pepper salad ($10.50); fiery beef panang redolent of basil and lemon leaf ($7); mouthwateringly good minced pork with chilies, peanuts, and lemon juice ($6). You'll trivialize the experience to some ineffable degree if you eat indoors, cramped among the Formica tables, under the fluorescent lighting, so instead repair to the semi-secret bare-bones backyard with its picture-book border of overgrown pink and red rose blossoms. But don't forget to make a pit stop at the dessert counter on your way out to stock up on sticky coconut-rice confections or some milky puddings for the road.

Somewhere between standard Americanized Thai and Sripraphai are Thai Cafe and Amarin Cafe, two brightly flavored spots in Greenpoint's pierogi-laden landscape. In the East Village, Kai Kai Thai Eatery deliciously breaks the menu monotony with fifteen appetizers that read like Thai dim sum, priced from $1 to $5 apiece. (We're addicted to the ma-ta-ba, a flaky, buttery chicken pastry.)

Good grub turns up in the unlikeliest of places, perhaps none less likely than Lady Bakery, a generic fluorescent-lit pastry-and-birthday-cake depot near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. Strategically located a couple doors down from Cupcake Cafe, ostensibly to undercut the competition, this nondescript storefront dabbles in takeout Thai home cooking, almost as if it were a hobby. "People would come for coffee and ask for food," the cashier told us. She and her mother obliged, with handwritten signs announcing a daily choice of two soups and a main dish, like the rich and pungent chicken curry served with soft jasmine rice ($6.50). If the Hell's Kitchen cake racket proves too cutthroat, these ladies clearly have something to fall back on.

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· SRIPRAPHAI, 64-13 39th Ave., Queens, 718-899-9599
· THAI CAFE, 923-925 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-383-3562
· AMARIN CAFE, 617 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, 718-349-2788
· KAI KAI THAI EATERY, 78 E. 1st St., 212-777-2552
· LADY BAKERY, 510 Ninth Ave., near 38th St., 212-268-2616