Cheap Eats

Best things since sliced bread.

Triangles below Canal: Egg salad sandwiches at Broad Street's Pret a Manger.
There's more to making a Cuban sandwich than throwing some ham and cheese on a roll, tossing the thing onto the sandwich press, and twiddling your thumbs until it's ready. Harlem's La Flor de Broadway earns its nickname, "El Rey del Sandwich Cubano," by meticulously basting the bun with margarine -- while the sandwich cooks in the press -- and generally lavishing attention on the thing as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey. The result is perfectly thin and crispy outside, and juicy within ($2.50). And believe it or not, the simple but similarly fawned over Swiss-cheese sandwich ($2) is even better.

We consider an elaborately dressed "churrasco" (grilled-chicken-breast sandwich, $5.75 to $8.75) at Island Burgers and Shakes to be virtually a two-for-one special. Remove some of the excess meat from the sandwich, fold it into the accompanying garnish of crisp romaine leaves as you would Korean barbecue, and share with your Zone-dieter friend. Be sure to order yours blackened (a couple degrees of Cajun heat short of a call to Jacoby & Meyers) and on a Sullivan Street Bakery ciabatta roll.

None of the prepacked but fresh and tasty sandwiches at the Wall Street outpost of the British fast-food chain Pret A Manger costs more than $5.55, including a $3.25 egg salad and cress on wheat, a boon for wounded Wall Street warriors. And by fall, three more branches opening in midtown will challenge the pricier Mangia's sandwich supremacy.

If egg salad on wheat bread is too white-bread for you, try a banh mi, the Vietnamese hoagie made with mysterious-looking -- but perfectly delicious -- lunch meats. At Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1, $2.50 will buy you a warm hero roll crammed with a salty-spicy-crunchy-sweet combo of crumbly barbecued pork (red), a slice of cured pork (pink), "pork roll" (beige), cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots, homemade mayo, and a dash of tangy hot sauce. And think of No. 16 on the menu at Chinatown's Dumpling House, the "sesame pancake with beef," as the banh mi's poor relation: a pizza-slice-size triangular wedge of bready sesame-studded pancake split open like a pita and layered with thin slices of beef, shredded carrots, and cilantro and topped off with a squirt of "beef juice," just $1.50.

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· LA FLOR DE BROADWAY, 3401 Broadway (at 138th St.), 212-926-4190
· ISLAND BURGERS AND SHAKES, 766 Ninth Ave., near 51st St., 212-307-7934
· PRET A MANGER, 60 Broad St., 212-825-8825
· DUMPLING HOUSE, 118A Eldridge St., 212-625-8008