Cheap Eats

The best filling stations.

Last time we made the trek uptown to Charles' Southern Style Kitchen, we had thegreat good fortune to arrive at the exact moment when the all-you-can-eat buffet ($6.99 at lunch, $9.99 at dinner) was being replenished with crackling-hot fried chicken, chef-owner Charles Gabriel's claim to soul-food fame. Suffused with the kind of distinctive flavor that comes from long, slow marination -- and sheathed in the sort of light, crispy skin that indicates expert frying -- this bird alone is worth the cover charge, which you pay up front, as if you were buying a movie ticket. Inside, a friendly waitress offers you individually wrapped, beyond-moist cornbread and a plastic glass of sweet lemonade ($1extra, free refills), and then you're free to repeatedly pillage the steam table for beefy oxtails; smothered steak; okra succotash; fine macaroni and cheese; candied yams; first-rate collard greens tinged with turkey so smoky we swore we tasted pork; and barbecued ribs in a splendid sweet sauce that gives the fried chicken a run for your well-spent money.

Indian lunch buffets abound in this town, but we've narrowed the field down to two personal faves. Dimple, a kosher vegetarian restaurant and sweetshop, does deeply elaborate, delicious things with vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and yogurt. Seating is communal, at hard wooden booths, so if you'd rather commandeer a comfy booth of your own,head to Utsav, the ritzy restaurant located uniquely in an elevated bridge between two midtown office buildings. At $12.95, the spread is pricier than most, but the setting's posher (in a contemporary, tasteful way), with tablecloths and flowers and gracious waiters wearing chili-pepper-patterned neckties. Every day brings a selection of vegetables and three meat dishes, plus a choice of cold salads, top-notch chutneys and pickles, nan, superb saffron pullao rice, and silky-sweet Indian puddings for dessert.




· CHARLES' SOUTHERN STYLE KITCHEN, 2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd., near 152nd St., 212-926-4313
· DIMPLE, 11 W. 30th St., 212-643-9464
· UTSAV, 1185 Sixth Ave., near 46th St., 212-575-2525