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The Cheap List


Zabb Elee
75 Second Ave., nr. 4th St.; 212-505-9533
Pride goeth before the sinus-clearing fall at this Isaan-Thai specialist. Consider deeply before answering your server’s question: “How spicy, from one to five?” Here, two or three will often suffice, even for chile fiends. The Manhattan branch of a Jackson Heights restaurant refuses to make capsaicin concessions and offers a highly specialized menu devoid of coconut-milk curries and pad Thai. Salads take precedence, from ground-meat larbs to green-papaya-based som tum. Remember, you’ve got nothing to prove. There’s no shame in taking respite in a stir-fried sweet-radish omelette or a plate of sautéed morning glory mingled with luscious morsels of crispy pork. (CECS: Duck larb, $9, plus pad ped moo korb, $8, plus pandanus boiled rice, $1; total: $18.)

42 Grove St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-255-3590
Jody Williams is a miniaturist in everything but ambition. She likes small spaces, small servings, small glasses—even diminutive, doll-house-size spoons. Not that anyone should leave her newest ­venture, the French-inspired “gastroteque,” Buvette, unsatisfied. Plates might be small, but they’re generally rich, from slices of toasted baguette slathered with hazelnut-Parmesan pesto to three crusty, gooey variations on open-face croques monsieur, and especially a dense, deeply chocolaty mousse that’s better consumed in measured bites (or spoonlets, if you will). At once welcoming and elegant, Buvette pulls off that neat trick of feeling rooted in its neighborhood and atmospherically transporting at the same time. (CECS: Anchoiade tartine, $7, plus coq au vin, $12; total: $19.)

7701 Fifth Ave., at 77th St., Bay Ridge 347-492-0509
As the name would suggest to Arabic speakers, Man’ouChe, the restaurant, specializes in man’ouche the flatbread—what might be Lebanon’s answer to Neapolitan pizza, though man’ouche mavens might tell you the Lebanese got there first. Man’ouche, by the way, is the singular of manakeesh, which is the menu heading under which you’ll find the variously topped pies. The simplest and most traditional man’ouche is sprinkled with za’atar, the amazing blend of wild thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds that other spice mixes dream of becoming. The best is the one with labneh, tomato, olives, and mint. No eleven-inch flatbread costs more than $3.50. If you eat in, they slice the pies. But if you get one to go, they fold it up, Tony Manero style (must be a Bay Ridge thing). There are some typical Lebanese appetizers and one screwball sandwich made with French fries, too, but the thing to get at Man’ouChe is a man’ouche. (CECs: Labneh man’ouche, $3, stuffed grape leaves, $4; total: $7.)

Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway, Astoria; 718-777-0913
Highfalutin grilled cheese sandwiches, coffee-geek coffee, and craft beer together at last. Yes, it sounds like a Portlandia parody, but we’re not ashamed to admit that we like it. Go for some good pour-over joe or maybe a Mast Brothers mocha in the morning, return at lunch for a perfectly grilled Gouda-guava-jam-and-black-bean-hummus on Balthazar bread washed down with an invigorating blueberry shrub, then toddle in at night for a hibiscus-brewed Sixpoint Craft Ales nightcap. Every neighborhood ought to have a full-service joint like this. (CECS: Grilled Gouda sandwich—includes green salad—$10, plus blueberry shrub, $3.50; total: $13.50.)

Arancini Bros.
940 Flushing Ave., nr. Evergreen Ave., Bushwick; 718-418-6347
Your head is spinning. You’re trying to remember what the hell happened last night. It was dark. It was late. You were in, what, a bar? Or was it a Rikers Island holding cell? No, it was a bar. It was the diviest dive bar you’ve ever been in. You remember the décor: old license plates and graffiti. There might have been car hoods hanging from the walls; you can’t be sure, because you were drinking. And you were eating. Eating what? Eating … arancini—Sicilian rice balls. Yes, that’s it. You ordered them at a takeout window inside the bar. They came in flavors like salmon (good), classic ragù (better), and carbonara (best). They were the best damn rice balls you’ve ever had. But wait a minute. That’s crazy. Who serves arancini in a dive bar? You think you must have been hallucinating. But just in case, you get on the Google. Holy crap! This place actually exists. The bar’s called the Wreck Room; the kitchen next door is known as Arancini Bros. You’re not cracking up. You can continue drinking beer and eating rice balls in dive bars till you drop. (CECS: Carbonara and classic arancini, $3 each, bottle of Miller High Life, $3; total: $9.)

112 Macdougal St., nr. Minetta Ln. 212-614-9100
A few steps above the madding Macdougal hordes, this redoubt of Indian street food calls its rolled-and-stuffed parathas “famous Calcutta Nizami rolls,” perhaps to distinguish them from the competition’s kati rolls down the street. To the untrained eye and taste bud, they’re identical down to the egg fried inside, but no less satisfying. Of the selection of agreeably greasy stuffed flatbreads, the house chicken and the lime-paneer rolls stand out, both benefiting from deft seasoning and piquant garnishes, which can include chile peppers by request. Although most homesick Desis tend to stop by for chaat, we also recommend the ghughni, a vegan chickpea stew. And if this is your last stop (it’s open till 2 a.m.—five on weekends), the masala chai makes a nice nightcap. (CECS: Thelewala chicken roll, $5, plus lime-paneer roll, $5; total: $10.)