Cheap eats in NYC: The best budget dining in New York
From artisanal sandwiches to homey Southeast Asian fare, find out where to fill up for less with our guide to the best cheap eats in New York City.
Tue Jun 18 2013
Calexico Carne Asada
Defonte's of Brooklyn (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Dousoeur de Paris (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
La Superior (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Lansky's (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Seoul Station (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Tortilleria Nixtamal (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Williamsburger (Photograph: Lizz Kuehl)
Cheap eats 2009
Why we love it: Erstwhile Indian Bread Co. is reborn as a sleek sandwich shop that specializes in upmarket spins on Bombay-style street food, with a focus on pao—meat and vegetable sammies served like sliders on ghee-griddled buns.
Top picks for $10 and under: We drool for potato and coconut chutney pao ($3), chicken and chili ketchup pao ($4) and the copious side of fiery fried Manchurian cauliflower ($3). 212-228-1909
- 194 Bleecker St between MacDougal St and Sixth Ave
Why we love it: Soho’s newest Italian deli boasts a sizable menu; imported Italian groceries like bottled Fernet bitters; and made-to-order specialty sandwiches such as the vegetarian-friendly Il Siciliano, a sesame hero with fried eggplant, ricotta salata and roasted red peppers ($8).
Top pick for $10 and under: Sink your teeth into the filling New Orleans--style muffuletta sandwich, with ham, salami, provolone and fresh mozzarella cheeses on a doughy focaccia roll, for $8.50.
- 181 Grand St , (between Baxter and Mulberry Sts)
Why we love it: Despite its obnoxious location (surrounded by Laundromats, bodegas and whooping car stereos), this minimalist 30-seater stands to dethrone the Caracas outpost around the corner.
Top picks for $10 and under: You’ll forget where you are as soon as you sink your chompers into a pescado ($6), loaded with feathery tilapia and studded with bits of onion, tomato and parsley. A simple plate of fried plantains ($3)—fanned out, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with Venezuelan queso blanco—works as an elegant side, especially when chased with a pineapple, cilantro and lime smoothie ($4).
- 160 Havemeyer St , (between South 2nd and 3rd Sts)
Why we love it: This narrow slice of storefront exclusively peddles bibimbap—Korean rice bowls overflowing with veggies and meat that you can either customize or order la carte. The portions are so generous it’s nearly impossible to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
Top picks for $10 and under: Unless you go hog wild designing your own bowl, nothing on the menu surpasses a Hamilton. A standout is the Spicy Chicken B-Bap ($8.50) made with fragrant green-tea rice, egg, mixed greens, crunchy nuts, steamed mushrooms, zucchini and chili pepper sauce that will have your lips burning long after you’ve devoured it. Put out the three-alarm fire with a pulpy Haitai crushed apple drink ($2.50).
- 830 Ninth Ave, (between 54th and 55th Sts)
Why we love it: An Italian caf with a real old-country vibe, Ballar offers top-notch espresso, along with a fine selection of purist panini (the bread is grilled, the fillings are not), all priced under $10.
Top picks for $10 and under: Mortadella with artichokes on spongy focaccia ($8), caffe macchiato ($1.50)
- 77 Second Ave, (between 4th and 5th Sts)
Why we love it: Michael “Bao” Hyunh’s second outpost of Baoguette, perhaps the most inviting of the bunch (the brand is rapidly colonizing New York), is about much more than sandwiches. Along with classic banh mi ($5), there are refreshing cold noodles with charred proteins on top and exceptional bowls of soup.
Top picks for $10 and under: Beef B’un Bo (cold rice noodles topped with grilled Vietnamese beef, $9), spicy beef pho ($8), or a Sloppy Bao ($7) keep us coming back for more. 212-380-1487
- 37 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves
Why we love it: This bike-messenger pit stop shills salads, burgers, bagels and Balthazar pastries, but the menu’s real stars are its enormous vegan sandwiches. The Makeout Party ($8.50), for example, ain’t kiddin’ about the name: A ciabatta hero crammed with spicy tofu, sauerkraut, creamy garlic hummus and enough onion to make a drill sergeant bawl.
Top picks for $10 and under: The $7 Rebel Cruiser showcases barbecued seitan and coleslaw on a kaiser roll, and leaves just enough moolah for dessert—like a $2.50 vegan cupcake in a rotating variety of flavors, such as Earl Grey with lemon frosting.
- 134 Kingsland Ave, (between Beadel and Lombardy Sts)
Why we love it: It’s not often that you can eat the cuisine of a star chef for less than a tenner, but at David Bouley’s casual caf and market, that’s exactly what you get. Everything is self-service (no tip!) and there’s a comfortable dining room with upholstered chairs and marble tables, where you can feast in a civilized setting.
Top picks for $10 and under: Unless you’re loading up on cold salads (recommended: string-beans-and-walnut or olive-and-almond salad), skip the often-tepid $10-per-pound gourmet food bar. More satisfying is a meal of the chicken-avocado sandwich served on a crusty baguette ($7.50), followed by a flaky pain pear au chocolat ($3.50). It is a bakery, after all. 212-608-5829, davidbouley.com
- 120 West Broadway at Duane St
Why we love it: Owner Trevor Budd’s expertly crafted, extensive international and local beer list belies the Big Buck Hunter game, $4 draft-beer happy hour and homemade patio tables at this lovable, low-key dive.
Top picks for $10 and under: Stick with the lowbrow and order two smoked pulled-pork sandwiches on soft white buns with neon-green pickles and barbecue sauce on the side ($5).
- 318 Van Brunt St, (at Pioneer St)
Why we love it: The Vendley brothers earned their stripes with an berpopular Soho street cart named after their hometown of Calexico, California. This new Carroll Gardens spot is just what you’d expect from the Vendy winners: a no-frills West Coast--style taqueria. Despite the meaty name, vegetarians can indulge in tofu-filled tacos, burritos and tortas.
Top picks for $10 and under: Though you can’t go wrong with the obvious main attraction of a rare-meat carne asada taco ($4), the multilayered pulled-pork torta ($7) is a filling concoction smothered with spicy crack sauce (a.k.a., chipotle mayo).
- 122 Union St, (at Columbia St)
Why we love it: The monstrous sandwiches at this long-awaited Manhattan outpost of a Red Hook favorite make it possible to easily get two meals out of a single sub, significantly cutting the cost of your chow.
Top picks for $10 and under: Try the roast beef, mozzarella and fried eggplant on pillowy Italian bread ($9.75), or the Dino, stuffed with homemade meatballs ($8.50).
- 261 Third Ave, (at 21st St), 10010
Why we love it: Sheer volume and short lines are the biggest draws of Doc’s soul-food takeaway menu. Arrive early in the day for mac and cheese and baked chicken fresh from the oven.
Top picks for $10 and under: A roasted chicken thigh ($2.50) or six charred and sticky rib tips ($7.95) both come with fries, but if you prefer, add on a generous side of sweet potatoes bathed in butter and brown sugar ($1.50). Book end that meal with sweet tea ($1.25) and a slice of red velvet cake ($3.75).
- 1902 Seventh Ave, (between 115th and 116th Sts)
Why we love it: The Roman-style pizzas here—four feet long and rectangular—are made with quality local and imported ingredients; when sliced, the thin crust has enough backbone for comfortable on-the-go munching.
Top picks for $10 and under: At $3 per slice, you can load up on classic Margherita with tomato and mozzarella, or paper-thin slices of potato and onion ($3.25 per slice).
- 90 Worth St, (at Broadway)
Why we love it: You’d never guess that this charming old-school caf—already populated with neighborhood characters lingering over coffee and pastries—is actually a brand-new Red Hook addition run by Pegu Club vet St. John Frizell.
Top picks for $10 and under: A serious simulacrum of the New Orleans muffuletta sandwich ($9) with olive salad, cheese and a variety of salami, executed by Good Fork alum Sam Fiorino. Make sure to ask for a tall glass of satisfying seltzer on tap ($1.50), chilled and carbonated to order.
- 365 Van Brunt St, (at Dikeman St), 11231
Why we love it: For Columbia students on a shoestring budget, Haakon’s dressy comfort food sates the homesick soul.
Top picks for $10 and under: A starter of chicken livers sauted with green apples ($4.50) or a poached duck egg and a cup of the soup du jour ($6.50), or rotisserie chicken for $9.75. 212-300-4166
- 187 Amsterdam Ave at 118th St
Why we love it: The proximity of Heartland Brewery’s burger restaurant to Times Square pretty much guarantees tourists, but look past them: The straightforward, griddle-seared patties are juicy and bursting with beefy flavor.
Top picks for $10 and under: The burger with fries is $10, but for fifty cents more you can get bacon-cheese Tater-Tots—a defensible splurge.
- 127 W 43rd St, (between Broadway and 6th Aves)
Why we love it: Though it’s hard to find, lovers of fiery food know that Hunanese cuisine can be every bit as robust as Szechuan fare, as evidenced by this Flushing standout. Experience the smoked tofu topped with pepper relish, spicy water-spinach stir-fried with fermented black beans, and cumin-kissed lamb, and you’ll see what we mean.
Top pick for $10 and under: The sauted poached eggs ($8.95) are an irresistible mound of crunchy yolks blanketed with salty pickled red and green chilies. 718-353-1808
- 137-40 Northern Blvd between Main and Union Sts, Flushing, Queens
Why we love it: The Swedish superstore’s restaurant pays homage to authentic Scandinavian delicacies, and you don’t have to navigate your way through the labyrinthine mart to get there—it’s located right by the entrance.
Top picks for $10 and under: The meatball plate includes mashed potatoes, gravy-like cream sauce and that ubiquitous lingonberry sauce ($4.99). Starting at 11am on Wednesdays, a half rack of baby back ribs, french fries and a cube of corn bread is $7.99.
- 1 Beard St, (at Otsego St)
Why we love it: Picture the best taco truck in L.A. doing it up restaurant-style in Williamsburg and you’re halfway there. Streetwise takes on tacos ($2.50--$3.50) and quesadillas ($3.50) abound, but good luck tearing yourself away from the baseball-size gorditas overflowing with mild requesn and slick, orange chorizo ($5 for two), or the exceptional sopa tarasca ($6), a traditional black bean soup punched up with ancho chili goodness.
Top picks for $10 and under: Invest in four $2.50 tacos (we’re fans of the juice-squirting carne asada and carnitas varieties), or the more dignified torta ahogada—pork confit and black beans bundled in a sourdough roll and swirled with tongue-lashing arbol sauce—for $8.
- 295 Berry St, (between South 2nd and 3rd Sts)
Why we love it: You’ll need to unhinge your jaw to wrap your mouth around the sandwiches (most of which are less than $10) at this classic Jewish deli. The dining room’s retro look and homey, outsize portions will bring you back to Bubbe’s kitchen.
Top picks for $10 and under: Make a meal of the soothing chicken noodle matzo ball soup ($4.50) served in a bowl that could double as a birdbath. Those who bleed for red meat will appreciate the Lansky’s grilled cheese ($9.25), made with cheddar, crispy pastrami and tomato on rye, or a juicy ten-ounce cheeseburger blanketed with mushrooms ($7.70). Bonus: Sour pickles and creamy homemade coleslaw are free when you dine in.
- 235 Columbus Ave, (between 70th and 71st Sts)
Why we love it: Though the trip to your table is a bit of a challenge (factor in the subterranean entrance and spiral staircase that eventually lead to the dining area), once you overcome it, you’ll be rewarded with a gem of a restaurant. The draw here are ippin, or small plates—at least two dozen priced at less than $10—designed to pair with sake.
Top picks for $10 and under: Don’t miss Berkshire pork simmered with brown sugar and soy sauce ($8) or sliced tomato with fleur de sel ($3).
- 157 E 28th St, (between Lexington and Third Aves )
Why we love it: It was only a matter of time before New York’s most venerable cheese shop jumped on the panini bandwagon. Go beyond basic grilled cheese ($4) and mix and match nine meats, 14 cheeses, four breads, eight veggies and five add-on condiments, or choose from among the ten signature melts.
Top picks for $10 and under: The Great Cabot Roast features thinly shaved roast beef and top-of-the-line clothbound Cabot cheddar in between buttered Blue Ribbon Pullman bread ($8.99). The What a Croque sandwich is a superdeluxe croque-monsieur with cave-aged Gruyre and a fried egg on top ($6.99). An extra $2.50 adds a drink and a bag of British Tyrrells chips.
- 254 Bleecker St, (between Sixth and Seventh Aves)
Why we love it: There are only ten seats in this eensy eatery-cum-Asian-grocer, but that’s just fine by us—these banh mi have picnic written all over ’em. BYO sriracha or load up before you leave—though the sandwiches are indisputably delicious, they need the kick.
Top picks for $10 and under: Nh Ti’s portions give Subway a run for its foot-long money: A $6 sandwich will last you all day, and you’ll have dough to spare for a beef-and-kimchi or lap chong (pork sausage) summer roll ($3--$4). Order a rice-powder-dusted, shredded-pork bi heo ($6) and a seared tofu banh mi ($6) to go, plus Lucia’s thick, sweet coconut juice ($1.75), and make off to nearby Macri Park (Union Ave between Conselyea St and Metropolitan Ave).
- 160 Havemeyer St, door 6, (between South 2nd and 3rd Sts)
Why we love it: Kampuchea Noodle Bar chef Ratha Chau opened this tiny shop to sell his assertively flavored Cambodian sandwiches in a convenient grab-and-go format. Similar to Vietnamese banh mi, the oblong baguettes are filled with a variety of meats, pickled vegetables, cilantro and spicy chili mayo.
Top picks for $10 and under: If you’re hankering for mammal, spring for hefty ingredients like braised pork belly with pickled rhubarb; fish eaters will be satisfied by a thickly cut slab of mackerel packed in with leeks and cilantro.
- 21 E 12th St, (between Fifth Ave and University Pl)
Why we love it: One bite of the fish or shrimp taco—golden hunks of seafood packed into a soft corn torilla and doused with crema—at this hole-in-the-wall Tijuana import, and you’ll be momentarily transported to the Mex-Cal border.
Top picks for $10 and under: Two seafood tacos ($4.29 each), or switch to the cheaper meat options, like braised pork and grilled steak, and you can get three ($3.20 each).
- 227 Mott St, (between Prince and Spring Sts)
Why we love it: This friendly little hole-in-the-wall has a hearty Peruvian and Colombian menu that provides infinite combos of delicious deals. Portions are generous, rice and beans are restorative, and Inca Kola is served in sundae glasses with crushed ice and a straw.
Top picks for $10 and under: A quarter juicy roast chicken with expertly caramelized skin ($3) and a side order of tostones (fried plantains, $2.75) make a straight-up satisfying meal, or go with the almost soulful arroz con pollo ($4.25). Either way, make sure you ask for some of the punchy pale-green hot sauce.
- 36-02 Steinway St, (at 36th Ave)
Why we love it: The fatty, crispy, moist pork at this East Village nook already won an Eat Out Award and topped our 100-best list of 2008. Add the fact that it’s cheap—the sandwich is $9—and it’s officially a triple threat.
Top pick for $10 and under: One ciabatta stuffed with fennel-scented, garlic-kissed, gloriously greasy slow-roasted pork ($9).
- 110 E 7th St, (between First Ave and Ave A)
Why we love it: Since we’re not holding our breaths for the arrival of a permanent NYC Kogi truck any time, we’ll happily make do with the flavorful Korean tacos and heaping portions of bibimbap at this St. Marks storefront.
Top picks for $10 and under: Spicy pork bibimbap with fried egg, shiitakes, carrots, cucumber and a tangy chili paste ($7.75); a beef bulgogi taco with generous amounts of raw onion and chopped cilantro ($2.50). 212-979-9300, seoul-station.com
- 81 St. Marks Pl between First and Second Aves
Why we love it: Thoughtful food (the baguette sandwiches are perfectly mouth-sized! brunch is available all day Sunday!) and small-town-friendly service make this coffeehouse/wine bar a local favorite.
Top picks for $10 and under: Have at it—there’s nary an item over $10 on this menu. Regularly changing soups—like the deliriously creamy (yet dairy-free) cucumber and almond puree ($5)—are favorites, as are the delicate sandwiches, like a white-bean-and-tuna number served on the aforementioned flour-dusted baguette. 212-388-0614, simonsips.com
- 72 E 1st St at First Ave
Why we love it: This Lilliputian takeout spot is hotter than the Mojave, and with good reason: Its organic Argentine empanadas are all oven-baked to order. No wider than a credit card and flaky as croissants, they’re a far cry from the beached whales you’ve come to know at mainstream staples.
Top picks for $10 and under: Most empanadas are $1.50 or less, and it takes only three to feel full. Spend the rest of that tenner on a tangy fruit and low-fat yogurt smoothie ($3.95), available in 16 flavors. The Crabby Pattie ($2) is stuffed with the shredded crustacean (yes, the real deal), shrimp, cilantro, tomatoes and chipotle, and tastes oddly delicious chased by a vapor-light Cheddar Egg-panada ($1.50), a breakfasty combo served around the clock. And no trek on the 7 train would be complete without an oozy-gooey Nutella-banana dessert empanada ($1.25).
- 45-57 47th St, (between Greenpoint and 47th Aves)
Why we love it: While this Chinatown noodle shop is a bit out of the way, the priciest item on the menu is $6.50. That’ll even get you plates of the more traditional and adventurous meat options, like lamb, tripe or oxtail.
Top picks for $10 and under: The beef hand-pulled noodles—a large, steaming, pho-style soup with thinly sliced, broth-cooked beef, plus spinach, green onions, ginger and cilantro—is a feast for a mere $5.
- 1 Doyers St, (between Chatham Sq and Pell St)
Why we love it: Mexican eateries are ubiquitous in Corona, but unlike most, this sunny, family-run tortilleria painstakingly grinds corn into fresh masa for many of its dishes. This means that the tamales are delicate and fluffy, and profoundly corny tortillas envelop fillings such as fried skate in the first-rate fish tacos.
Top picks for $10 and under: The Italian tamale ($2.50) is a melting-pot marvel of steamy masa, sausage, peppers and mozzarella.
- 104-05 47th Ave, (at 104th St)
Why we love it: Donburi (hefty servings of rice topped with your choice of protein) and slurpy bowls of udon noodles with broth, which top out at $8, are bolstered by an array of Japanese grocery favorites like the full line of Ito En teas and kani crab--flavored chips.Top picks for $10 and under: Oyako Don (chicken and egg rice bowl, $6.50), Eel Don ($8), wakame seaweed udon ($6)
- 9 E 37th St, (between Fifth and Madison Aves)
Why we love it: When it comes to affordable late-night eats, much of Brooklyn phones it in. But not this burger joint: Cory McPherson’s airy, off-the-Bedford-path resto cranks out hamburgers ($7--$13); hot dogs ($3--$4); fries, onion rings and pierogi ($3-$6); and thick-as-quicksand milk shakes ($4--$5) till as late as 1am on Saturdays. For a real splurge, order the $11 California burger, slapped with government cheese and crowned with a glistening fried egg.
Top picks for $10 and under: A “dragged-through-the-garden” Chicago-style hot dog ($4) smothered in relish and fresh veggies, and a side of hand-cut sweet potato fries ($4.50).
- 342 Wythe Ave, (at South 2nd St)
Why we love it: The budget menu at West Village bar Wilfie & Nell—courtesy of Momofuku alum Joaquin Baca—is designed to complement, not upstage, your frothy pint.
Top picks for $10 and under: Drink to a pair of succulent Berkshire pork sliders with McClure’s pickles ($10) or a fine grilled Gruyre on Blue Ribbon pullman bread ($7).
- 228 W 4th St, (between Christopher and W 10th Sts)
By Joshua M. Bernstein, Jay Cheshes, Zachary Feldman, Gabriella Gershenson, Daniel Gritzer, Ashlea Halpern, Jeanne Hodesh, Kate Lowenstein, Timothy Monaghan, Tejal Rao and Cristina Velocci
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