Now that the city has been flooded with Sichuan, Shanghai, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and even Uighur Chinese restaurants, plain old Cantonesein comparatively short supplyhas become exotic. EXCELLENT DUMPLING HOUSE (111 Lafayette Street, 212-219-0212) has been slinging the stuff for two decades on the western frontier of Chinatown. The scallion pancakes are miraculously ungreasy, and the tasty fried rice is impressively diverse, ingredient-wise. Don't, whatever you do, miss the dish discouragingly called "sliced fish and sour cabbage," but avoid the dodgy "sizzling" dishes, which are mediocre and beyond our budget anyway.
Ever since the gleaming streamlined diner that housed Sam Chinita was demolished a couple of years ago, with no interference from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the cutest cheap restaurant on the Chelsea strip has been HAVANA CHELSEA LUNCHEONETTE (190 Eighth Avenue, 212-243-9421), where a glass case thrust out into the sidewalk displays the fixings for its trademark Cuban sandwichavailable in sizes big and biggerand the puckeringly good salt cod salad and wonderful wobbly flan. The faded dining room dates from the day in the '60s when Cuban refugees flooded the city, and you'd do well to examine the specials menu before placing your order, especially if the beef short ribs are available.