The Cheap List

Bab Al YemenPhoto: Danny Kim

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.)

DanjiPhoto: Danny Kim

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.)

Giuseppina'sPhoto: Danny Kim

346 W. 52nd St., nr. Ninth Ave. 212-586-2880
A snug, stylish tapas bar with a twist: Hooni Kim’s inventive menu fuses his Korean ancestry with his classic French training, yielding delicacies like poached sablefish with tender daikon, masterful fried tofu, and a kimchee-fried-rice “paella,” resplendent with bacon, chorizo, and the occasional crispy bit. The signature dish, or dishes, though, might be the pair of sliders—bulgogi beef and spicy pork belly, each dressed with scallion vinaigrette on soft butter-grilled buns. They’re dispensed from the kitchen unremittingly and consumed with the same gleeful haste as a sack of White Castles. (CECS: Bulgogi beef sliders, $12, plus fried tofu, $7; total: $19.)

548 Court St., nr. 9th St., Carroll Gardens 718-596-3248
This unassuming comfort-food café located at the heel of Carroll Gardens is home to one of the best new burgers in town, and it’s not even a member of the Pat LaFrieda Appreciation Society. (The meat is from Master Purveyors in the Bronx, which also supplies the venerable burger joint J.G. Melon, in case you were interested.) The flavor-packed patty is tender and juicy, and if you were a reviewer of romantic film comedies, you might say that it has great chemistry with its brioche-bun co-star. There’s a lamb burger, a scallop burger, and some exotically topped and/or stuffed beef-burger specimens, too, but our motto, as always, is: Stick to the classics. For dessert, consult the restaurant’s Facebook page to discover the pie of the day; the banana cream is killer.(CECS: Tuesday’s special beef burger and Sixpoint Sweet Action on draft, $10, plus tempura green beans, $6; total: $16.)

691 Sixth Ave., at 20th St., South Slope 718-499-5052
Like its sister pizzeria, Lucali, ­Giuseppina is long on atmosphere and short on menu: You’ve got pizza, and you’ve got calzones. (Toppings too, if you insist on complicating matters.) The nineteen-inch pies seem a cross between New York and Neapolitan styles, with a wide, flat cornicione, or lip, that turns brittle as it cools. It’s a fine pie, mostly distinguished by the dusting of grated Parm around the edge and the fresh basil leaves strewn on top. But given our druthers, we’d go for the calzone every time, preferably stuffed with marinated artichoke hearts, and a bowl of peppery marinara sauce on the side. (CECS: Small calzone, total: $10.)

Fonda Nolita
267 Elizabeth St., nr. Houston St.917-727-0179
Unlike its taco-truck brethren, the vintage VW bus its owners have christened Tacombi never leaves the garage. Instead, it’s the centerpiece of a somewhat elaborate stage set, meant to evoke a Mexican street scene. While not entirely convincing, the setting is novel enough and tacos tasty enough to merit a virtual vacation. Of the daily assortment, we recommend the chicken-chipotle tostada, the taco de cochinita pibil, and the all-day breakfast taco filled with eggs and chorizo. It doesn’t hurt that the tacos are nicely seasoned and minimally garnished, and that they’re made on fresh corn tortillas from Corona’s estimable Nixtamal. (CECS: Tostada de tinga de pollo, $4, plus taco de cochinita, $4, plus horchata, $3; total: $11.)

21 E. 7th St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-228-4923
Order anything from the entrées section of the menu and you will break the Cheap Eats bank, but it’s possible—maybe even preferable—to dine well at Sara Jenkins’s trattoria on appetizers and pasta alone. Especially when that primo piatto is what’s become the joint’s signature: a bowl of anelloni, the wide paccheri-size tubes of ridged pasta that, unlike, say, rigatoni or mezze maniche, wear their sauce-gripping grooves on the inside and, in some inexplicably wonderful, gravity-defying way, cling to Jenkins’s spicy lamb-sausage ragù like no spicy lamb ragù has ever been clung to before. The anelloni is such a hit that Jenkins—an expert on the subject of single-food specialization from her success at roast-pork mecca Porchetta—jokes that she should open an anelloni outpost on St. Marks Place that serves neither appetizers nor entrées, just that sensational noodle. We’re so there. (CECS: Mozzarella-and-bottarga crostino, $8, plus anelloni, $17; total: $25.)

Bab al Yemen
413 Bay Ridge Ave., nr. Fourth Ave., Bay Ridge; 718-943-6961
Middle Eastern–food fanatics, take note: No amount of falafel and shawarma can prepare you for aseed, a Matterhorn of soft, bland dough in a moat of lamb gravy, meant to be anointed with emulsified fenugreek and tomato relish, pinched and dipped, and swallowed without chewing. Less exotic, perhaps, but even more impressive is a sizzling stone pot of Yemeni omelette, with a layer of ground lamb forming a crispy burnt crust beneath egg-and-tomato stew. But don’t even contemplate making the trek to this modest, hospitable spot without sampling the curry yamaani, an unexpectedly harmonious marriage of tender diced chicken and creamy hummus, or the fattah b’lahm, an intimidatingly hefty assemblage of soft-cooked lamb and sauce-soaked Yemeni “croutons,” which are actually torn from the giant wheels of puffy blistered flatbread that, along with lamb broth and salad, accompanies many dishes. Digest over complimentary sweet mint tea—or the subway ride home. (CECS: Yemeni omelette, $8, plus curry yamaani, $10; total: $18.)

629 Classon Ave., at Pacific St., Crown Heights; 718-857-9227
Even in downtown Manhattan, this wine-bar offshoot of a Fort Greene vintner would stand out for its eclectic list of small-production bottles from lower-profile European regions, many imported by Francophile Kermit Lynch. Among the auto-repair joints and tire shops off Atlantic Avenue, though, it’s some sort of oenophilic mirage, where bottles of Montbourgeau Côtes du Jura ’09 are listed on the chalkboard menu behind the bar. The stripped-down space is without pretension, and so are the owners, who repurposed beer beakers from the Brooklyn Kitchen as decanters and use Greenmarket produce for the small, often-changing French-bistro menu. It’s a collaboration with consulting chef Ginevra Iverson, formerly of Prune, and runs to rustic, seasonal fare like verdant nettle soup and sorrel-onion tart. (CECS:Caillettes—pork-and-beet-green sausage—with zucchini salad, $12, plus French lentils with lardons and hard-boiled egg, $9; total: $21.)

80 Dekalb Ave., nr. Hudson Ave., Downtown Brooklyn; 718-222-1101
Is New York doomed to be a burger-chain town? Maybe so. Because as much as we hate to admit it, the burger at this first local branch of the Denver-based upstart is not only good; it’s in the same big-time league as Shake Shack’s. It’s beefy and salty and fairly juicy, with just the right amount of patty busting out of its “artisan” egg bun. As the name suggests, the Smashburger kitchen uses the much-talked-about “smashing” technique—the one that employs brute force and a custom bludgeon of sorts to make for a nice crisp crust, and the mere mention of which causes burger nerds to jump up and down and clap their hands. Of the six topping varieties, we like the Classic best, but we’d happily gobble any of them except for the “Brooklyn” burger: a pastrami-topped patty with Swiss cheese on a pretzel bun. According to the press materials, it “was developed just for local palates.” But what kind of Brooklynite puts pastrami on a cheeseburger? (CECS: Classic Smashburger, $4.99, plus fried pickles, $2.49, plus chocolate shake, $4.49; total: $11.97.)

The Cheap List