Around the world in 80 cuisines
Thu Jun 1 2006
Photo: Megan Lynch
ANGEL’S SHARE Filipinos worship the Halo Halo at Elvie’s Turo-Turo.
Photo: Megan Lynch
Our food team often attempts the impossible in order to find great discount grub. We’ve searched the town for a drinkable $5 bottle of wine, force-fed buffalo wings to a panel of female football players and gorged on a city’s worth of burgers in two months’ time. But our latest culinary adventure tops them all. In just a few weeks, we located and tasted 80 different cuisines, savoring budget fare from Afghanistan to Yemen—and using nothing but a MetroCard to cover the world. We think we’ve finally proved that you can get just about any ethnic dish in New York, many of them for a pittance. We now present the highlights.
AFGHAN | Ariana Afghan Kebab
The space is small—and the portions are too—but Ariana’s affable waitstaff keeps diners coming back. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the meat kebabs are among the main draws, although vegetarians are in good hands as well. Luscious curries come with eggplant, pumpkin or potato, and each mildly spiced entre is offset by a side of brown basmati rice and salad drizzled with cool yogurt dressing. BEST BEST Chicken shish kebab ($12.50). 787 Ninth Ave between 52nd and 53rd Sts (212-262-2323). Subway: C, E to 50th St. 11:30am--10:30pm.
American (Southern) | Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen
Charles Gabriel grew up cooking for 19 siblings in North Carolina, so he knows from Southern cooking. In his Harlem kitchen, he whips up four specials a day—a hit parade of soulful grub like panfried chicken, barbecued ribs, meaty oxtails, flash-fried whiting and pork chops smothered in peppery brown gravy. Raise a white flag when you’ve had enough. BEST BEST Lunch buffet ($10), offered weekdays from noon to 4pm. 2839--2841 Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) between 151st and 152nd Sts (212-926-4313). Subway: B, D to 155th St. 7am--2am.
Bangladeshi | Shipa Kasturi Pavilion
Bangladeshi immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of NYC cab drivers, and when they go looking for a taste of their native cuisine (and a TV tuned to the satellite channel ATN Bangla), they end up at this bare-bones stop. BEST BEST The fish platter—curried, bone-in butterfly fish, white rice and a choice of okra, squash or lentil soup ($7). A cup of Bangladeshi tea is $1 more. 83 Lexington Ave between 26th and 27th Sts (212-679-7993). Subway: 6 to 28th St. 10am--8pm.
Belgian | F&B Gdtfood
Despite the delicious frites and beignets (the F and B of this Eurocentric minichain), this compact-sized joint serves surprisingly healthful food. Hot dogs are steamed (and available in a veggie option) and fries are cooked in trans-fat--free sunflower oil. At the 52nd Street location, you can pick from among more than two-dozen dogs, including a breakfast version. BEST BEST Regular or sweet-potato fries, served with zesty dipping sauces like garlic aioli and Thai chili ($2.50). 269 W 23rd St between Seventh and Eighth Aves (646-486-4441). Subway: C, E to 23rd St. Sun, Mon 11:30am--10pm; Tue--Fri 11:30am--11pm; Sat 11am--11pm. * 150 E 52nd St between Lexington and Third Aves (212-421-8600). Subway: E, V to Lexington Ave--53rd St; 6 to 51st St. Mon--Fri 11am--9pm.
Cambodian | Cambodian Cuisine
The room is simple here, but the menu is totally overwhelming. Even after you’ve selected an entre, you have to choose from vegetables, bean curd, chicken, beef or assorted seafood. BEST BEST Save yourself the trouble and try the lemongrass- and coconut-milk--flavored Cambodian curry ($5) with fluffy chunks of fried tofu and vermicelli noodles, or a sliced flank steak with celery and sweet basil in a kafir-lime-and--lemongrass broth. Then return 50 times to try the rest. 87 S Elliot Pl between Fulton St and Lafayette Ave, Fort Greene, Brooklyn (718-858-3262). Subway: C to Lafayette Ave; G to Fulton St. 11am--10:30pm.
Ethiopian | Awash
In theory, Awash is ideal for a hot date. Everything is shareable, and everything is finger food (you scoop up each bite with the native bread, injera). The catch: Ethiopian food is richly spiced and, although thoroughly delicious here, not exactly stomach soothing. (The sour, spongy injera tends to expand after consumption.) Better, then, to enjoy this joint with friends and stuff yourselves on smooth shiro, a chickpea puree, and fantastically tender doro wat, a slow-simmered spicy chicken stew served with a boiled egg. BEST BEST Carnivorous combo ($18, serves two). 338 E 6th St between First and Second Aves (212-982-9885). Subway: F, V to Lower East Side--Second Ave; 6 to Astor Pl. 4--11:30pm.
Filipino | Elvie’s Turo-Turo
It’s not rude to point at Elvie’s; turo turo means “point point” in Tagalog, and that’s how you order, selecting from dishes displayed behind a plate of glass. BEST BEST Chicken adobo (Adobong Manok “O Baboy” on the menu), the famous native dish ($4), is tamer than usual, the sauce spiced with a piquant splash of vinegar and soy and a sweet kiss of star anise. 214 First Ave between 12th and 13th Sts (212-473-7785). Subway: L to First Ave. Mon--Sat 11am--10pm; Sun 11am--9pm.
French | Chez Brigitte
Tiny Chez Brigitte’s lunch is a West Village bargain: your choice of veal stew, chicken fricassee, chicken cutlets and more—accompanied by roasted potatoes, yellow rice, peas and salad—all for $6. Any way you order, you’ll find a deal: None of the crusty French-bread sandwiches top $6. BEST BEST Veal stew lunch special ($6). 77 Greenwich Ave between Bank and W 11th Sts (212-929-6736). Subway: A, C, E, 1, 2, 3 to 14th St; L to Eighth Ave. 11am--10pm.
Haitian | Kombit
Few NYC restaurants are devoted to Haitian cuisine, but at Kombit it’s all Haiti, all the time, with dishes such as lambi (conch stew), riz djon djon (wild rice with black mushrooms) and poulet en sauce (baked chicken in a tangy tomato gravy). Kombit is owned and operated by three expat sisters—Denise, Pascale and Maryse—who’ve made sure that the atmosphere is just as down-home as the cooking. BEST BEST Fried okra with piklis ($5). 279 Flatbush Ave between Prospect Pl and St. Marks Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (718-399-2000). Subway: B, Q to Seventh Ave; 2, 3 to Bergen St.
Indonesian | Borobudur
You can practically eat your way through Southeast Asia at this family-run restaurant, savoring the influences of Thailand, Vietnam, India and other lands in Indonesia’s cuisine. The kitchen won’t subject you to fiery spices, just excellent flavors: soft fried pancakes with a mild chicken curry; piles of steamed bean curd dressed with peanut sauce and bits of lamb in a chili-spiked coconut broth. Try one of Borobudur’s exotic drinks for dessert, like boiled ginger with palm sugar. BEST BEST Lamb in coconut-milk curry sauce ($10). 128 E 4th St between First and Second Aves (212-614-9079). Subway: F, V to Lower East Side--Second Ave. 11am--11pm.
Italian | Supper
Frank Prisinzano, the man behind East Village favorites Frank and Lil’
Frankie’s Pizza, opened this budget Italian eatery a few years ago to remind us that the simplest things in life still rule. The kitchen goes back to
basics, using ingredients sparingly in the mostly Northern Italian dishes—tagliatelle with butter and fresh mint, plump gnocchi with tomato sauce, roasted chicken with wild fennel. BEST BEST Spaghetti limone ($9). 156 E 2nd St between Aves A and B (212-477-7600). Subway: F, V to Lower East Side--Second Ave. Sun--Thu 11am--1am; Fri, Sat 11am--2am. Cash only.
Jamaican | Yvonne Yvonne
Jamaican cuisine comes with a side of soul food at this tiny self-service restaurant. A steam table dominates the storefront with about a dozen savory selections—priced at just $5.59 a pound. On the Caribbean side, you’ll find succulently tender, mildly spiced curried chicken and curried goat, and a meaty slice of king fish, fried and then stewed in tomato gravy. On the soul side, the fried chicken and collard greens are unsurpassed. BEST BEST Mix-and-match plate of fried chicken, curried chicken, curried goat, collard greens, candied yams ($5.59/pound). 301 W 135th St between Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) and St. Nicholas Ave (212-862-1223). Subway: B, C to 135th St. Mon--Sat 11am--9pm. Cash only.
Korean | Han Bat
You don’t have to grill your own meat at this reliable 24-hour Koreatown spot: Your order is ready when it gets to the table. The menu isn’t logically divided into courses, so the descriptions are indispensable—and hilarious. We ordered Sam Gye Tang: “The Body Cavity of a Small Chicken is Stuffed with Glutinous Rice, Young Ginseng Shoots, and Jujubes” for the name alone! BEST BEST Pajun ($11) is a great starter for up to four people, or even as an entre if you’re really into scallion pancakes. 53 W 35th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-629-5588). Subway: B, D, F, V, N, Q, R, W to 34th St--Herald Sq. 24hrs.
Lebanese | Tripoli
One family has been running this Lebanese eatery since the early ’70s,
and they plan on sticking around. The restaurant, named for the Salem family’s hometown, turns out traditionally hearty native staples like baba ghanoush and spinach pie, followed by meaty entres like charcoal-broiled leg of lamb and tahini-and-nut--crusted fish filets. If you’re lucky enough to show up on a slow night, it feels like they’re cooking just for you. BEST BEST Baba ghanoush ($4). 156 Atlantic Ave between Clinton and Henry Sts, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn (718-596-5800). Subway: M, R to Court St; 2, 3, 4, 5 to Borough Hall. Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu noon--10:30pm; Fri, Sat noon--11:30pm.
Malaysian | New Malaysia Restaurant
The menu here resembles those found in many Indian, Thai, Chinese and other Asian eateries, and with good reason. Malaysian cooking is an amalgam of those cuisines. You’ll have your pick of chicken curry, pad thai, beef satay, sweet-and-sour pork and kung pao squid, along with native specialties like roti canai, a flat, fluffy -tortilla-meets-matzo appetizer served with chicken curry. BEST BEST Hainanese chicken, beef brisket and fried egg on rice ($5.25). Chinatown Arcade #28, 46--48 Bowery between Bayard and Canal Sts (212-964-0284). Subway: B, D to Grand St; J, M, Z, N, Q, R, W, 6 to Canal St. 10:30am--10:30pm.
Norwegian | Smrgs Chef
This pan-Scandinavian destination with two branches serves up an authentic Norwegian pickled-herring sampler. BEST BEST The entre version ($15) includes four varieties—with onions, in tomato sauce, in mustard sauce and plain—along with lefse and potato salad. If the price tag has you saying “Uff da!,” go for the $8 appetizer. 53 Stone St between Broad St and Hanover Sq (212-422-3500). Subway: 4, 5 to Bowling Green. Mon--Fri 11am--9:30pm; Sat, Sun 10am--5pm. * 924 Second Ave at 49th St (212-486-1411). Subway: E, V to Lexington Ave--53rd St; 6 to 51st St. 11:30am--11pm.
Pakistani | Pakistani Tea House
There’s not much that’s attractive about the bright lights and linoleum of the Pakistani Tea House. That is, until you approach the cafeteria’s counter and smell the fresh, fragrant nan coming out of the oven. BEST BEST A mere five bucks buys you any of three saucy dishes, like chicken curry or spinach saag over rice, but the chicken tikka $6 pulled straight from the tandoor, is the tastiest dish in the House. 176 Church St between Duane and Reade Sts (212-240-9800). Subway: A, C, E, 1, 2, 3, to Chambers St. Open 24 hrs.
Polish | Lomzynianka
Lomzynianka has the charm of Grandma’s place (mismatched plates, plastic flowers, taxidermy), and meat-and-potatoes cuisine to match. Twenty bucks here will easily buy dinner for two or leftovers for four. BEST BEST The Polish Platter ($5.50) comes with three pierogi, a stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, mashed potatoes and bigos, a traditional Polish stew of meat and cabbage. 646 Manhattan Ave between Nassau and Norman Aves, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (718-389-9439). Subway: G to Nassau Ave. Noon--9pm.
Russian | Gina’s Caf
Sprightly eggplant caviar and all manner of vareniki (half-moon dumplings) cost less than five bucks here, but an even better bargain is Gina’s Salad ($7.50 BEST BEST), a fresh take on the Caesar topped with generous strips of lox and first-rate salmon caviar. Sour cream stars in the cold borscht, and with tender beef in a rendering of Russia’s most recognizable dish that would make Count Stroganov proud. 409 Brighton Beach Ave between Brighton 4th and 5th Sts, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn (718-646-6297). Subway: B, Q to Brighton Beach. Sun--Thu 11am--11pm; Fri, Sat 11am--midnight.
Senegalese | Le Baobab
Decorated with gold-tassel-trimmed burgundy drapes and paintings of rural life, Le Baobab at first seems somber, but the servers bring the place to life, and the food does the same. BEST BEST Thiebou diene, Senegal’s national dish, consists of generous chunks of market-fresh fish stewed in tomato sauce with carrots, eggplant, cabbage and cassava, all spooned over plump, nutty rice ($8). 120 W 116th St between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (Seventh Ave) and Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave) (212-864-4700). Subway: 2, 3 to 116th St. Noon--4am. Cash only.
Swedish| Good World Bar & Grill
Sweden’s most famous edible exports are meatballs and herring. But there’s much more to try at this seemingly out-of-place hideaway in Chinatown, including nearly limitless sandwichlike options: skagen (shrimp with fish roe and spices on buttered bread), vasterbotten (Scandinavian cheese) and dill pesto, and hard-boiled eggs and kalles kaviar on knckebrd. BEST BEST Consume the old reliable open-face meatball sandwich ($8) with something from the stellar beer selection. 3 Orchard St at Division St (212-925-9975). Subway: F to East Broadway. 11am--4am.
Tibetan | Tsampa
The food here is as clean and light as the Zen-like surroundings. The homeland momo (dumplings) are a must: Choose from steamed or fried wheat noodles, and one of three fillings, then try an entre of grilled whole fish with ginger sauce. BEST BEST Chicken-and-vegetable dumplings ($5). 212 E 9th St between Second and Third Aves (212-614-3226). Subway: L to Third Ave; 6 to Astor
Ukrainian | Veselka
Most people gravitate to this all-nighter’s breakfast bargains, such as waffles, omelettes, pancakes, blintzes and challah French toast (a steal at $5.50). Heartier appetites willing to shell out a full $10 can get a platter of classic Ukrainian grub: goulash, kielbasa, beef Stroganoff or bigos (a stew made from sausage, pork, sauerkraut, onions and potato). If you just want a nosh, try the Ukrainian poppy seed cake and kutya (traditional Ukrainian pudding made with berries, raisins, walnuts, poppy seeds and honey). BEST BEST Blintz appetizer ($4.75). 144 Second Ave at 9th St (212-228-9682). Subway: L to Third Ave; 6 to Astor Pl. Open 24hrs.
IN THE POCKET The pitalike sandwiches at Venezuelan Caracas Arepa Bar are muy bueno.
Photo: Patrik Rytikangas
Venezuelan | Caracas Arepa Bar
We can’t think of a more cultured substitute for the grilled cheese sandwich than a piping-hot arepa filled with juayanes, a handmade cheese. The secret here is in the arepas themselves: Each golden patty is made from scratch daily. The pitalike pockets are stuffed with a choice of 18 fillings, like chicken and avocado or mushrooms with tofu. Top off your snack with a cocada, a thick and creamy milk shake made with freshly grated coconut and cinnamon. BEST BEST Plain butter arepa ($2.25). 91 E 7th St at First Ave (212-228-5062). Subway: F, V to Lower East Side--Second Ave; 6 to Astor Pl. Tue--Sat noon--11pm; Sun noon--9pm.
Yemeni | Yemen Caf
Those who can’t find Yemen on a map might as well just make their way here: Framed prints of the Middle Eastern nation’s hillsides line the entranceway of this family-style restaurant, and the food covers the native cuisine (hummus, baba ghanoush, etc.). BEST BEST Louybia, a thick chicken stew served with clover-seasoned basmati rice and nanlike bread ($8). 176 Atlantic Ave between Clinton and Court Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (718-834-9533). Subway: M, R to Court St; 2, 3, 4, 5 to Borough Hall. 9am--10pm. Cash only.
Reported by Alia Akkam, Michael Anstendig, Joshua M. Bernstein, Maile Carpenter, Erin Clements, James Oliver Cury, JJ Goode, Karen Tina Harrison, Brett Johnson, Soren Larson, Katherine Pushkar, Kate Rope, Heather Tierney, Reed Tucker, Elisabeth Vincentelli, Alexa Weibel and Kate Williams