Nathan said everything I was going to say. (Although I still think Red Cat's two stars are nuts.)
I think that even with the "$25 and Under" column, there's room for starred reviews of really exceptional cheap places. I think Noodletown deserved its two stars ten years ago, and I think these new entries deserve their two stars now (Spicy & Tasty by repute). I personally think that the institution of the "$25 and Under" column deprived Grand Sichuan of the starred review it deserves, as that place(s) was just getting recognition at about the time the "$25 and Under" column was instituted, and it appeared to me that, at that time, more of an effort was being made to segregate the cheaper places in order to create an identity for the new column.
To make this more (tediously) explicit, I think "$25 and Under" is for places like, say, Via Emilia: places that are worthy in their way but which aren't really of a quality or interest to warrant starred reviews.* I think that if a place has food that's really exceptional, like the Asian places we're discussing, a disservice is done (more to the readers than to the places) by keeping them in the "$25 and Under" ghetto, just because they're cheap and have rudimentary service and ambiance.
* For example, on the one hand, Freeman's is, like, a prototypical "$25 and Under" restaurant: interesting, cheap, and fully worth its cheap prices -- but not really good enough for stars. OTOH, I think its no-star "starred" review was also justified, not so much for anything it said about Freeman's itself (if anything, Freeman's was better served by its "$25 and Under" review, which appreciated it for what it is rather than castigating it for what it isn't), but because an explanation (if not a corrective) was needed of what Bruni's criteria were for small places of modest ambition -- and Freeman's is a well-known (and popular!) enough place to provide a justifiable vehicle for that. In contrast, a no-star "starred" review of a place like Via Emilia would be pointless and even cruel.
Edited by Sneakeater, 29 November 2006 - 12:37 PM.