Pork Pancake at Spicy Village (née Henan Flavor; $2)
A spongy wheat pancake is griddled until its edges turn crisp. It's then cut open and stuffed with a heavily seasoned pork filling. Hoisin, star anise, and cilantro are the dominant flavors against the soft pulled pork inside.
Pork and Cabbage Pancake at Tasty Dumpling ($1.50)
Tasty Dumpling's rich pork filling is one of our favorites in Chinatown, and the cabbage in this more-portable pancake offers a mellow vegetal backbone and mild sweetness. Take it to go with some unsweetened iced tea and chow down in the nearby park.
Tasty Dumpling: 54 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013 (map); 212-349-0070
Torta de Pollo at Tehuitzingo ($6)
While Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery might not drag you out to 10th Avenue and 48th Street, their torta de pollo is a great lunch if you're nearby. There's a little bit of creaminess in the background, the work of the mayo and avocado, and the flavorful shredded chicken is rightfully at the forefront. At $6, it's notably cheap for such a sizable meal.
Tehuitzingo: 695 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (map); 212-397-5956
Galli Omelet Kati Roll at Desi Galli ($5.99)
With onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and spicy green chilies, this is basically a delicious Indian-spiced breakfast burrito. Make sure you dip at least a few bites in the spicy green cilantro-rich sauce that comes on the side.
Prosciutto, Mortadella, and Provolone Sandwich at Di Palo Selects ($4.99)
Thinly sliced prosciutto cotto, mortadella, and provolone cheese are all stuffed within a soft piece of pizza bianca. The bread choice is perfect for the sandwich, and allows the delicate cured meat to be the star.
Haloumi Cheese Sandwich at Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop($6, small)
A full-flavored sandwich that doesn't shy away from salt and fat. Halloumi cheese and grilled eggplant prove to be substantial replacements for any meaty protein, and the crisp snap delivered by a handful of pickles adds a bright crunch to the whole deal.
Tilapia at Rainbo's Fish ($4.50)
A sizable filet gets a few shakes of a homemade five spice powder before it pays a quick visit to a Foreman Grill. The fish is clean, mild, and among the better tilapia we've had of late. Tangy tartar sauce, lettuce, and tomato round out the cheap but filling sandwich.
Meatball Parm at Rocket Joe's ($5)
The hero may not be destination-worthy, but it's plenty satisfying in its own right. The sauce is sweet and zesty, the cheese stretchy and well melted, and the bread given a solid toasting in the oven after the sandwich is assembled. Half a sandwich is a loaded lunch for one; a whole one (about a foot long) makes an excellent hangover helper.
Fried Eggplant at Bereket Turkish Kebab House ($3.50)
A stew of fried sliced eggplant and peppers with tomato sauce that's rich-tasting and a little greasy is balanced by the tomatoes' sweetness and acid. We're all for sloppy, indulgent vegetables, and this isn't a bad example.
Bereket Turkish Kebab House: 187 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10002 (map);
Pork Souvlaki Pita at Souvlaki Gr ($5.50)
Souvlaki GR just gets pork souvlaki right, with charred edges and a the confidence to serve the meat just a little pink. When it's wrapped in soft, chewy pita with tomato chunks, red onion, and cooling tzatziki (with french fries hanging out), it's just about perfect.
Cuban at El Castillo de Jagua ($5)
We'll quote Robyn on this one: "I know I can't eat this entire sandwich without entering food coma territory, but I eat the whole thing anyway because it's worth the subsequent brain shutdown and I cannot resist the pork. More specifically, a mound of tender roast pork dripping with fat and sweet porcine juices, topped with ham, a long pickle slice, mayo, and gooey Swiss cheese in an Italian roll, pressed to a crisp."
El Castillo de Jagua: 113 Rivington Street New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-982-6412
Spicy Buradi Kati Roll at Biryani Cart ($3)
The Spicy Buradi comes with either chicken or lamb, but we endorse the latter, which stands up well against the not-too-spicy mint-habanero sauce that moistens the wrap sandwich. The meat here is gyro-style: minced, highly seasoned, and shaped into a large mass, then cooked vertically on a rotisserie and chopped. Biryani Cart's version is moist, tender and perfectly seasoned.
Chopped Cheese Sandwich at Uni One Gourmet Deli ($4)
The Chopped Cheese at Uni One strays from the Philly cheesesteak formula when rather than just topping with pickled peppers, they add a whole slew of 'em directly to the griddle. We estimate at least a 50/50 blend of pepper to steak, with a few slices of cheese melted into it. This thing is sloppy and delicious, hot and tangy, and you can't beat the price.
Uni One Gourmet Deli: 3153 Broadway, New York, NY 10027 (map) 212-280-0215
Ba'al Sandwich at Ba'al Cafe & Falafel ($5.50)
Fried eggplant and hummus are rich and almost meaty, cut by the nutty tahini dressing and refreshing cucumber salad. Hard boiled eggs leave little to be desired, so consider picking them out before diving face-first into this Mediterranean mish-mash of awesomeness.
Ba'al Cafe & Falafel: 71 Sullivan Street, New York, NY 10012 (map); 646-368-9957
Medianoche Sandwich at Margon ($4)
The Media Noche has pickles, mayo, mustard, Swiss cheese and ham. But what really sets it apart is the bread. It's on a sweet potato bread, something like a Cuban brioche, especially good after its turn on Margon's sandwich press.
Margon: 136 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036 (map)
Falafel Sandwich at Nish Nush ($6)
Golden brown falafel are crunchy on the outside, soft and creamy within. Parsley gives them a deep green hue and laces the fritters with a subtle freshness. A light, herb-laced tahini slips alongside diced tomato and cucumber, all of which balance the weight of the creamy hummus. The sandwich comes together on Nish Nush's homemade pita, not the best in town, but still light and springy—a good base for a great cheap lunch.
Shakshuka at Taboonette ($5.95)
We love the traditional dish of eggs baked in a spiced tomato sauce, but Taboonette's version translates well to pita form. The sauce had ample chunks of tomato, deeply flavored with garlic, onion, and harissa; it's well-calculated to be satisfying and sloppy, but not too wet to soak through the pita.
Pork Souvlaki at Mama Gyro ($4)
Cheese Patacon at Patacon Pisao ($6)
Hefty fried plantains are smashed, then fried again to get extra crispy, then used as the sandwich "bread" for a variety of fillings. The fried cheese version comes in wide, thin slabs, salty and meaty and gorgeously browned. Noncommittal romaine lettuce and tomato lighten things up the best they can, but it's the slick of mayo that really pulls this sandwich together, adding creaminess amidst all the crust.
Hummus Sandwich at Taïm ($6)
Taïm offers their hummus sandwich with choice of two salads to go inside in place of falafel. It's a lighter, brighter, vegetabley-er lunch for when fried chickpeas feels like too much. Pictured above is eggplant with paprika and slow-cooked tomato, which adds just enough depth to beets with lemon and garlic.
Doubles at A&A Bake and Doubles Shop ($1.50)
These Trinidadian snacks start from a base of deep-fried bara, squishy and pliant, two of them wrapped around chickpea curry channa and, often and according to preference, a vinegary hot sauce and tamarind chutney. Doubles are spicy-sticky-sweet, of a handheld size somewhere between a snack and a small meal. One will quell hunger for a bit, and three should stuff you silly.
A&A Bake and Doubles Shop: 481 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216 (map); 718-230-0753
Breakfast Torta at Fast and Fresh Burrito and Deli ($3.50 before 11 a.m.)
The egg with chorizo torta sprinkles bits of chorizo into fried egg, serving the resulting omelet with refried beans and pickled jalapeños on a fresh, fluffy telera.
Fast and Fresh Burrito and Deli: 84 Hoyt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (map); 718-802-1661
Eggplant a la Yafa at Kulushkät Gourmet Falafel ($5.50)
On the eggplant a la yafa, there's an incredibly delicious, oily marinade that adds flavor to everything it touches. It seeps into the eggplant, bleeds into the hummus, and further dresses the Israeli salad. A slice of this eggplant garnishes their falafel sandwich, too, but it's smart that they give you the option of letting it take the starring role.
Kulushkät Gourmet Falafel: 446C Dean Street Brooklyn, NY 11217 (map); 347-799-1972
Halloumopita at Artopolis ($4.50)
Unlike other Greek "X-pitas," halloumopita is made with yeasted dough—not a flaky phyllo wrapper—that holds chunks of filling. The inclusion of cilantro takes this decidedly out of "Greek food we're used to" territory, but it's the perfect compliment to lightly sweet onions and meaty chunks of chewy, salty halloumi. Not quite a sandwich under typical definitions, but as a bread-stuffed-with-sandwich-filling-objects, we'll let it pass.
Shawarma at Cedars Meat House ($3.50)
Once filled with a moderate amount of meat (we like the crisp-edged beef), the pita is stuffed with your choice of add-ons, which include tomatoes, onions, pickles, fries, chili sauce, and an oil-based garlic sauce strong enough to keep Twilight fans away. The pita is then flattened in a sandwich press to bring meat and flatbread together as one.
Cedars Meat House: 41-08 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103 (map); 718-606-1244
Chicken Shawarma at Duzan ($5)
Your $5 pita comes stuffed with generously marinated spit-roasted chicken, tender and crisp with a rich flavor evocative of fresh coriander and turmeric. There's salad, too, a mix of cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, and onion. Strips of pungent pickled turnip and sweet tahini round things out, and the pita is consistently fresh, fluffy, and moist.
Duzan: 24-11 Steinway Street, Astoria, NY 11103 (map); 718-204-7488
Cured Meat Sandwiches at Euro Market ($5.50)
There's a lot of cured meats to choose from at Euro Market. Most any of them can be turned into a sandwich, which you order with whatever fillings you like. A good place to start: salami with wine and hazelnuts, sliced to order and layered with feta, lettuce, onions, oil, and vinegar. Feta adds creaminess and tang, and the lettuce and onion pick up almost briny pickled flavors from the oil and vinegar. Packed on a large roll, it's a hearty but surprisingly refreshing lunch.
Euro Market: 30-42 31st Street, New York, NY 11102 (map); 718-545-5569
Egg and Cheese at The Queens Kickshaw ($5)
The classic Egg and Cheese is a beautiful thing, morning sustenance for a couple of bucks. But for a couple more dollars you can get yourself a substantial upgrade at The Queens Kickshaw, where egg and cheese is filled with a lush dollop of creamy ricotta. Thick-cut slices of Balthazar brioche are shellacked with crisps of Gruyere, a salty, crusty jolt to the mild filling. When a grilled cheese sandwich features cheese on the inside and outside of the bread, it's twice as fun, and twice as good.
Cevapi at Ukus ($6, half)
Cevapi are slender Balkan minced meat kebabs, about the diameter of a hot dog but half the length. They're springy, but not emulsified, and they should be juicy, preferably garlicky, and nicely charred. Ukus' succeed on all counts. Stuffed with minced onions, ajvar (smoky red pepper spread), and creamy, tangy kaymak (a soured clotted cream), it's a taste of Eastern European kebab sandwich heaven.
Ukus: 42-08 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103 (map); 718-267-8587
Paneer Tikka Sandwich at Usha Foods & Sweets ($5)
Wonder-esque white bread is stuffed with chili-spiced paneer and cut into fine shreds, then layered with green chili and tamarind and mint chutneys. It isn't grilled—though Usha will griddle it for you—but since the diner also bills itself as a fast food/takeout kind of place, you're welcome to take it home and give it the press yourself. Do it, and the sweet bread becomes crisp like pastry and slightly caramelized. Paneer doesn't melt, but it does warm through, and this is a multicultural grilled cheese to love.