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The Cheap List

A roster of extreme deliciousness (at modest prices).


Bab Al Yemen  

Bi Lokma
212 E. 45th St., nr. Third Ave.212-687-3842
Orhan Yegen doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Or food writers. Or other Turkish chefs. Or demanding customers. One wonders what possessed him to add an “Ask Orhan” feature to his website. No good, it seems, can come of it. “I find cracked wheat more interesting added to a dish than regular rice,” wrote one hapless Elaine. “How do you prepare it?” To which the chef responded, “Elaine, do you think this is a question? ... Leave the dish alone and serve the rice or the cracked wheat on the side.” And then there was Losya, who wondered, “Why is there such a great variance in the customer reviews of your restaurant?” Orhan’s reply: “The reviews vary because we have good customers, and then we have bad customers.” Maybe Yegen’s true, selfless, giving nature is better understood through his homey Turkish fare, which he has served over the years at Turkish Kitchen, Deniz, Beyoglu, Efendi, Sip Sak, and now Bi Lokma, a cozy little nook near Grand Central. Whatever you need to know about Yegen, a legend in New York’s Turkish-food community, is articulately conveyed by his tart and creamy yogurt soup, his succulent lamb doner with rice, and especially his ali nazik, a lush deposit of mashed eggplant topped with ground lamb, yogurt, and garlic sauce. The no-brainer finish would be baklava and tea, but why not sample something unexpected, like butternut squash with sweet syrup and walnuts? If you asked Orhan, he might even approve. (Cheap Eat Cheat Sheet: Ali nazik, $9.50, plus butternut squash, $5, and Turkish coffee, $2.75; total: $17.25.)

61 Delancey St., nr. Allen St.; 212-925-5220
Soba noodles made from scratch are the featured attraction in this snug, cozy noodle bar, where they’re either served cold, in hot soup, or, most intriguing, cold with a warm dipping sauce (tsukemen style), a technique that preserves the buckwheat strands’ al dente texture while delivering an extra burst of flavor—one you get to savor through meal’s end, when the soba cooking water is poured into the remnants of the dipping sauce to form a nourishing broth. Among the multitudinous toppings, from curry to kimchee, we’re partial to yuba, the skin that forms when soy milk is heated. And though you can nibble on tasty starters like steamed chicken meatballs crusted in sticky rice, do not tarry once the soba arrives: Eat it while it’s hot. Or cold. Or dipped. (CECS: Yuba dip soba, $13, plus miso coleslaw, $2.50; total: $15.50.)

Fisherman’s Dawta
407 Atlantic Ave., nr. Bond St., Boerum Hill718-855-7555
Jennefier Ewers’s zesty jerk chicken comes with a generous mound of rice, steamed cabbage, and a serious Brooklyn pedigree: The cheery reincarnation of the chef’s previous venture, Brawta Caribbean Cafe, is one block east of the original and just as delicious. The menu is small and changes daily, service—by Ewers’s daughter, Kamilah—is counter style and warm, and the sweet, spicy ginger beer hits the spot. While the simple storefront is clean and comfortable, it seems misguided not to park yourself on the umbrella-and-leaf-shaded deck out back, which, on a steamy Brooklyn afternoon, lends a tropical flair to the proceedings. (CECS: Jerk chicken, $10, plus ginger beer, $4: total: $14.)

Souvlaki GR
116 Stanton St., nr. Essex St.; 212-777-0116
Born from a popular food truck, this Mykonosian trompe l’oeil looks like a 3-D Greek Tourist Board ad, down to the newsstand up front. That’s just for show, it turns out, but the grill in back is fully operational, dispensing tender, appealingly charred pork- and chicken-souvlaki “stix” at two bucks a pop (six for $10). An austerity plan here would mean ordering the fries without feta and oregano strewn on top. We advise against it. (CECS: Chicken pita souvlaki, $4.50, plus Greek fries, $5; total: $9.50.)

San Matteo
1739 Second Ave., at 90th St.; 212-426-6943
There are good things to eat at this pizzeria that aren’t pizza: meatballs, gnocchi, stuffed peppers, a tuna salad that comes with the largest crouton known to man. But what you want is a panuozzo. A panuozzo, in case you didn’t know, is a supersize panino of sorts, and, according to Salerno-born partner Vincenzo “Enzo” Scardino, a specialty of his native stomping grounds. What cheese­steaks are to Philadelphia, panuozzi are to Salerno, says Enzo. To make a panuozzo, you rejigger a round of pizza dough into a loaf, toss it in the wood-fired oven for 60 seconds, pull it out, slice it lengthwise, layer it with various fillings, then shovel it back in the oven for another minute or so, and there you have it. The end result looks a little like an overgrown ciabatta with a similarly cool and creamy crumb, but with a charred and tender crust. As far as fillings go, you want the roast pork and fresh mozzarella. But fillings are almost besides the point. When you hear sandwich aficionados say that great sandwiches are all about the bread, it’s probably because they just ate a panuozzo. (CECS: Panuozzo di Bartolomei, $14, plus frozen crema caffe, $4.50; total: $18.50.)

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