Cheap Eats

Street-Food Wonders
Hot dogs, takoyaki and more.

Fifth Avenue and 54th Street isn't the sort of corner where you'd expect to find a bargain, let alone a sign reading "Freaking Deal, $5." But that's precisely what's written on the paper-plate sign taped to the Hallo Berlin street cart. Fans of bad puns and good German sausages will recognize the work of Hallo's owner, Rolf Babiel. "It's a frik-a-delle, a German meatball, you get it?" said Rolf as he buried a beef-and-pork meatball under a mound of sautéed onions and tossed it into a paper basket along with an excellent, mildly spiced currywurst sausage and a vinegary heap of German potato salad studded with chopped sweet and sour German pickles, before giving the whole freaking thing a squirt of his proprietary paprika-heavy mustard and his curry steak sauce.

What attracted us to Otafuku, the tiny East Village kiosk specializing in Japanese takoyaki (an octopus-filled croquette) and okonomiyaki (a sort of cabbage-and-egg pancake), was the Wonkaesque sight of a polka-dot-bandanna'd cook squirting batter through what looks like an electric nail gun into a vibrating griddle, its indented surface resembling a giant egg carton. His partner simultaneously formed a cabbage-vegetable-and-egg mixture into patties, which sizzled on the grill under little metal domes; then he did a Jackson Pollock on both snacks with mayo and a thick, sweet barbecue-Worcestershire sauce, after which he gave the whole thing a liberal dusting of bonito flakes. Five dollars here buys six Ping-Pong-ball-size takoyaki, light and airy with a chunk of octopus in the center, a nice contrast of soft-chewy textures and sweet-salty flavors. And the beef, pork, squid, or shrimp-topped okonomiyaki will set you back $7 -- a bargain for such a hearty, satisfying cross between a seafood frittata and a pumped-up potato pancake.

Taxicabs on stilts -- not real ones but a Madison Square Park art installation -- will lead you to the hot-dog stand near Broadway and 23rd Street run by Eleven Madison Park restaurant to raise money for the park's continued restoration. For one afternoon, forget about civic pride and try a "Chicago dog" ($2.50), boiled with bay leaves, onions, garlic, and allspice and topped with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, pickles, mustard, relish, hot chilies, and a dash of celery salt. It's practically a Cobb salad perched precariously on top of a hot dog and a sneaky way of getting you to eat your veggies.

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· OTAFUKU, 236 E. 9th St., 212-353-8503