Best cheap eats in NYC
Perennial burger mecca Shake Shack continues to be one of the most popular postmuseum pit stops for its nostalgic beef patties, crinkle fries and frozen custard. Thankfully, the usually long queue moves fairly fast.
The building that houses this ground-floor food hall may be of the luxury variety, but the all-star eats inside are pleasantly wallet-friendly. Ease into the meal with Seamus Mullen’s shareable tapas, including daily featured oysters, then make your way over to Jianbing for a classic Shanghai-style street crepe. End on a sweet note at Ample Hills Creamery for funky scoops like Salted Crack Caramel and Ooey Gooey Butter Cake.
The O.G. of New York dim sum, this Chinatown legend has been rolling out first-rate dumplings and buns since 1920. Beneath the faded red-and-yellow awning, past the porcelain lucky cats waving in the window, fluffy, oversize char siu bao (roast-pork bun) are steamed on command, as are pleated, pop-in-your-mouth har gow (shrimp dumplings). Must-haves from the fryer include the “Original” egg roll, a takeout upgrade comprised of chicken and veggies wrapped in a paper-thin egg crepe, lightly battered and fried until supremely flaky.
Roosevelt Avenue is dotted with plenty of women hawking arepas, but only one is dubbed the official Arepa Lady. Colombia-born Maria Cano has amassed a devoted following from her sizzling, buttery corn cakes—with a crunchy top yielding to an oozing queso center—and in 2014 expanded her 79th St sidewalk cart into a brick-and-mortar. Though there’s an obvious draw with the late-night munchies crowd, her sweet-and-savory pockets of cheese, along with chorizo drizzled in garlic sauce and shish kabobs with grilled potatoes, are ideal for any affordable meal on the go.
For four decades, this Sheepshead Bay fast-food fixture has been satisfying hankerings for all things cheez, as the neon sign screams in its window. The menu hasn’t changed much over the years, and neither have the prices, with all menu items less than $10. Roll-up-your-sleeves roast-beef sandwiches dripping with gravy pair amicably with crisp-edged cottage fries bathed in melted cheese and golden-fried nuggets filled with creamy corn. Here’s to another 40 years.
New York’s taco naysayers will have to find something else to complain about. At this perpetually-packed counter, a trio of West Coast transplants sling superlative bundles inspired by California street carts. Hand-pressed corn tortillas arrive piping hot, dressed with spit-roasted adobada pork and sweet pineapple batons or succulent, charred carne asada and creamy guacamole. Beyond tacos, find nopal plates (cactus, beans and cheese) and thirst-quenching agua frescas for just a few bucks.
If you’re going to pay for artisanal pizza, it’s best served fresh: Here, slices of piping hot cheese ‘za will only set you back a few dollars. Drop down a few more Washingtons for a leopard-spotted white slice jazzed up with caramelized onions and sesame seeds, and wash it down with a Mexican Coke.
Nicholas Morgenstern (Goat Town, the General Greene) transformed the former El Rey café-bar into this modern lunch counter, where he serves California coast-inspired bites like avocado del sur with chimichurri sauce and a farro-filled grain bowl. Graze on a kale salad with almond dressing or a Japanese-style honey toast while you wait for the barista to prepare your Mexican mocha iced coffee, spiced with chili flakes and capped with sweetened condensed milk.
Born from the namesake rabbi’s pushcart in 1910, the soft, house-made knishes at this shabby LES warhorse, baked in a basement brick oven and hoisted upstairs via dumbwaiter, are a taste of bygone New York. The old-world nosh, a thin dough shell filled with potato, comes savory (kasha, red cabbage) and primed for spicy brown mustard or sweet (blueberry, chocolate) and filled with cheese. Make it a meal with a pickle and coleslaw, and wash it all down with a fizzy cherry-lime rickey.
Tubesteaks-and tropical-quaff purveyors are aplenty in this city, but the King is the original, an Upper East Side mainstay since the 1930s. Amidst the multicolored tiles and neon signs, find hickory-smoked hot dogs and milky papaya juice in a variety of combinations: The “original” consists of two franks crowned with kraut, onions or relish alongside a 16oz sipper; or double down for a “Grand Slam,” which gets you two specialty dogs (chili-and-cheddar, coleslaw-and-pickle), a papaya drink and curly fries.
Dumpling houses are a typical go-to when pinching pennies, but this East Village den, run by sisters Hannah and Marian Cheng, employs a generation of recipes passed down from their mother, Mimi. The handmade ginger-and-scallion pockets are made fresh daily, filled with pork and bok choy, chicken and zucchini or kale, egg and mushroom. The little wonders are either pan-fried or steamed and then served with a side of Mimi’s secret sauce.
Husband-and-wife team Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich opened up their first lobster shack in Red Hook in 2009 serving up the finest crustaceans they could find. Fast forward several years, and getting your hands on their chipotle-mayo-slathered Lobster BLT or a bowl of lobster-and-mussels Down East chowder couldn’t be easier with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Montauk (along with their ever-roaming food truck).
You’ll get three meals out of one at this sizzling Philadelphia import—the one you ordered and enough leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day. The only thing bigger than the portions is the sheer spice; the menu is scrupulously ranked on a heat scale, from tolerably tingly to five-alarm mouth fire. Offset fierce, springy dan dan noodles tangled around nubs of minced pork and batter-fried dry-pepper chicken wings with cooling reprieves like scallion pancakes or pork-charged pickled vegetables.
In just a few short years, the popular Smorgasburg stand has transformed into a formidable barbecue empire, even expanding into the depths of New Jersey. Pitmaster Hugh Mangum sates carne lovers with his Texas-meets-Carolina-style meats, like slow-cooked, paprika-rubbed brisket and hulking spare ribs. But sides are no afterthought. One bite of the exceptional baked beans fortified with burnt ends or the maple-drizzled sweet-potato casserole will prove that.
Hop the ferry to Staten Island and get transported back to the good ol’ days at this Dongan Hills staple, serving up a renowned bar pizza that rivals the city’s crispiest brick-oven pies. Head to the back dining room and order an individual-sized round with sausage and zesty red sauce, or be a purist and get it plain Jane.
Manhattan’s only Bolivian restaurant (housed in, of all places, a subway food court at Columbus Circle) grew out of Smorgasburg, where brothers Alex, Patrick and David Oropeza served their family’s recipes. With no seats at this stand, you’re best off opting for portable sandwiches and pasties. Grab a chicken salteña, a flaky pastry filled with a stewy meat center that’s traditionally eaten as breakfast but is appropriate for any time, or the triple-pork-threat chola, a street sandwich that combines braised pork shoulder, pork belly crackling and house-cured bacon.
There are few word combinations more delightfully Brooklyn than “pop up-gone-permanent vegan Ethiopian restaurant,” which, naturally, is located in Bushwick. A combo plate with five veggie dishes like gomen (greens cooked with garlic, onion and ginger) or savory split-pea shiro won’t break the bank, and extra injera (the sourdough bread that doubles as a plate and utensils) is always available.
While this Basque-inspired restaurant serves a reasonably priced tasting menu, we’re all about the à la carte tortilla española and patatas bravas. Also, where else can you find mussels escabeche (that is, marinated in lemon and herbs) for less than $20? Probably in some tiny tapacieria in the Basque country.
Mathieu Palombino’s international pizza joint is but one of many that extol the virtues of the Neapolitan pie, but its stellar lunch prix fixe distinguishes it from the pizza-slinging masses. The set menu includes a mixed green salad and choice of any menu pizza (margherita, Brussels sprout, soppressata, marinara) during weekdays from 11am-4pm. Non-pizza crowd pleasers include roasted peppers and belly-warming meatballs topped with pecorino and fresh basil.
Joining the ranks of Smorgasburg vets gone brick-and-mortar, the first full-fledged storefront from this lumpia specialist goes beyond its namesake Filipino spring rolls. The menu revolves around snacks—puffy garlic chips are a good starter—and mix-and-match rice bowls, with toppings such as fatty pork belly and sauces like the Bicol, a fragrant, curry-like mix of coconut milk, pickled jalapeño and non-dairy coconut yogurt.
There are only 12 seats at this pint-size noodle shop, but the jump-starting ichiju-sansai meals most certainly warrant the elbow bumping. The handsome set-price combos, served from 9am to 3pm on weekdays and 10am to 4pm on weekends, employ one soup and three dishes—think broccoli rabe dressed in tofu-sesame shiraae sauce, roasted Spanish mackerel and miso soup with radish and kale.
At this boozy Smorgasburg brother, graze on a day’s worth of grub for just a few bucks: chorizo-packed tacos from Maizey Sunday Tacos; Landhaus’ jalapeño-spiked grilled cheese; and smoky, melt-in-your-mouth brisket sammies slathered with pickled onions and peppers from Mighty Quinn’s. Get there early, stay all day and put what you saved on food to good use at the bar, where a dozen taps pour local crafts like Last Stop IPA from Five Boroughs Brewing Co. and Kings County Brewers Collective's Marble of Doom Sour Ale.
Dirt-cheap taco shops are nearly as ubiquitous in this city as dollar-slice dens, but California native Otto Cedeno sets his taqueria apart with supple house-made tortillas topped with shrimp and serrano crema, beer-braised carnitas and garlic-compound-butter-sautéed cremini mushrooms. A trio of these mighty masas is more than enough for one meal, but aggressive appetites can bolster their plate with a side of masa fries or rice and beans. And no one should miss the sweet, spiced horchata.
Noah Bernamoff and Matt Kliegman gave the authentic New York bagel—that hand-rolled, boiled-and-baked icon—new life with their fledgling Nolita bakery. The small, crusty Montreal-meets-Manhattan rounds are excellent with just a thick schmear of cream cheese, but the real fun comes in inspired combinations like lox-and-dill spread with radish and sprouts and egg salad with butter lettuce, red onions and cracked pepper.
Tucked away on a dead-end corner of Scott Avenue lies this vibrant flavor haven from Jimmy and Jacky Tu—the brothers known for dishing out some of the finest Vietnamese food this side of Hanoi. Their house-smoked Red Wattle bacon bánh mì satisfies on a level you never knew existed, stimulating both texture and taste receptors with melt-in-your-mouth pork and a refreshingly pillowy baguette, complemented by an energetic punch of pickled daikon.
This dimly-lit lounge’s fat, broiled beef burgers, hooded in American cheese and crispy bacon, are so legendary that New Yorkers are known to wait in line for one. Though it might take a while to get your hands on the patties, dirt-cheap drafts of McSorley’s Ale and a heaping plate of chili fries should help pass the time.
Ivan Orkin’s double-soup ramen bowls are the stuff of food-world legend, but with his bright, muraled LES restaurant, the New York noodle master proves he’s about more than just exceptional rye-flour strands. His Japanese small plates wittily riff on all-American budget classics: fried tofu shellacked Coney-style chili-dog trappings and crispy chicken with toasted garlic caramel, togarashi and shiso ranch.
Divided into multiple areas—a made-to-order juice bar, a taqueria rigged with a tortilla-making annex and an open kitchen centered on hulking spits of al pastor pork—this colorful Mexican joint from the Tacombi team doles out more than just a mean taco. Along with marinated Berkshire pork and seared Carolina shrimp curled in soft corn tortillas, there are sides such as chile-mayo-licked grilled corn and refreshing Lupita sodas to round out the meal.
At this fast-casual favorite, try the spicy pork and pickles, which tops chili-marinated pork belly with Asian cukes, cilantro and Koji mayo. Or go full green with their veggie and hummus number—a hearty vegan option that stacks roasted mushrooms, miso-charred zucchini, piquillo peppers, artichokes, lemon-harissa hummus and alfalfa sprouts on crusty ciabatta.
This Bangkok transplant, a sanctuary of northern Thai cuisine, serves the papaya salads of its namesake with grilled pork neck or fermented fish sauce and miniature crabs. Those in search of Isan-style deep-fried chicken will pay mere pocket change.
This oven-fired Union Square operation isn’t your garden-variety bakery, serving irresistibly snacky cheese straws and upmarket sandwiches, like Brie and olive on a Jerusalem baguette, for the lunchtime crowd. Weary office drones should pick up a package of heavenly, hand-rolled chocolate rugelach for a midday refresher.
Arkansas native Rob Newton taps into the South’s penchant for both sky-high cholesterol and super-casual eats with this fried-chicken-focused canteen. That fowl, marked by a high-decibel crunch and juicy, flavorful meat, is sold by the piece—breast, thigh or drumstick—or gas-station-style on a skewer. But the best bang for your buck is the old-school chicken dinner—a stick-to-your-ribs plate featuring half a bird, potato salad, Martin’s potato roll, buttermilk dressing and one side, such as braised collards with bacon or smashed-and-fried Red Bliss potatoes.
Soba is the star of this Lower East Side noodle shop, where you’ll find diners eagerly dipping chewy buckwheat noodles into bubbling crocks of chicken-and-bonito broth. Opt for pairings like ginger-flecked chicken meatballs or sliced pork and special kimchi. Once the soba is gone, dilute the leftover liquid with noodle-cooking water to form a soul-soothing soup.
The folks from Chelsea Market’s ridiculously popular Los Tacos No. 1 have turned their attention to fresh seafood for this spin-off. Nosh on the Baja-style fish tacos—a perky dream of breaded bass, pico de gallo, cabbage and mayo—and shrimp ceviche, or pile on the heat with a perfect-for-two aguachiles (think spicy Mexican ceviche) with red or green shrimp. Completing the beachy vibes, the tiny stand pours Pacíficos and Micheladas.
After test-driving the concept at Berg’n and Threes Brewing, brothers Max and Eli Sussman launched their first brick-and-mortar Mediterranean gem. The Williamsburg storefront functions as a hybrid specialty grocery and restaurant delivering elevated, homemade dishes. Inhale the chicken shawarma, served with daily-baked pita, or create a plate with rice, salad and pickles for just a few dollars extra. And for a twist on an old favorite, give the za’atar wings with labna ranch sauce a whirl.
This pint-sized Upper East Side hang pairs your childhood favorite—grilled cheese—with the apple of your adult eye, beer. Soak up daily-changing suds (recent tap additions include Nine Pin Cider and SingleCut 18-Watt IPA) with curd-focused sandwich combos like gorgonzola-and-ginger-fig-preserve and one with NY State cheddar, pork belly, kimchi and a fried egg on sourdough. Drool.
This cheapo, celebrated Hong Kong import has had a line out the door since it opened, and given the throngs of New Yorkers craving its savory apps, perhaps this Union Square outpost should become a 24-hour joint like its overseas original. No matter, although the entire menu can be ordered for a little more than a Benjamin, nabbing the signature baked buns filled with moist barbecue pork, crispy pan-fried turnip cakes and superfine, steamed Chiu Chow-style dumplings filled with jicama and chives for texture are musts for first-timers.
After shifting gears from deli sandwiches to rum-soaked Caribbean fare, this canteen piles your plate with hot jerk-rubbed half-chickens and pulled pork, plus sides like bok choy and jerk-fried wings. The crowning deal of the menu, however, is the lunch special, which includes a fried jerk chicken sandwich and fries. Stay for the rum punch happy hour special, served every day from 5:30-7pm.
At this chainlet of graffiti-emblazoned sandwich shops, Ben Daitz (Bouley, Daniel) applies fine-dining finesse to humble num pang, the Cambodian cousin to Vietnamese bánh mì. Airy baguettes act as vessels for tender, coconut-flecked shrimp and spicy honey-glazed pulled Duroc pork, each crowned with cilantro, thinly-sliced cucumbers, pickled carrots and a smear of house-made chili-mayo.
Moving from Alphabet City to the Meatpacking District, the folks from cocktail haven the Wayland opened this new all-day healthy(ish) restaurant—think buckwheat pancakes and grain bowls. Kick-start your day with a Good Morning Sunshine, piled high with braised bacon, a sunny-side-up egg and avocado on brioche. For those uninterested in all-day eggs, choose one of the slow-roasted sandwiches: the pulled chicken accompanied by pickles and apples or the Pernil Romero with pork cooked in fennel and rosemary.
Despite its name, the specialty at this midtown hole-in-the-wall isn’t Japanese ramen. Instead, you’ll find bowls brimming with pliant Chinese la mian served by actor-turned-noodle-twirler Peter Song. Buns are equally top-notch, especially the juicy, thin-skinned soup dumplings and pleated, brown-bottomed baos swaddling orbs of gelatinous pork.
The Nolita offshoot of the nearly century-old Doyers Street favorite, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, is everything the original isn’t: high-tech, casual and operating without the aforementioned mainstay’s often slow steam-cart service. This counter, located off the Bowery, offers iPad ordering and vegan-focused warmers that you can’t get on Doyers, like hearty vegan ho fun noodle soup and meatless mapo tofu.
With nearly 30 fillings and three types of shells (corn, white flour and organic whole-grain), this pint-sized spot truly has a combo for every palate. Standouts include shredded beef wrapped in a corn casing and the Hawaiian, a white flour crust swaddling chunks of ham, pineapple and gooey cheese. Whether you stay purist or go the creative route, be sure to load on the addictive, cilantro-spiked hot sauce.
What’s an affordable eats roundup without some love for Flushing? Chef Takanori Akiyama’s Curry Bo takes the Asian-flavored cake, dishing out savory Japanese curry plates bursting with flavor—all are made with a two-weeks-aged roux of chili peppers, garlic and 16 other spices—such as veggie croquette and meaty options like hamburger steak and katsu, a Japanese pork cutlet.
At Sarah Schneider and Demetri Makoulis’ cheery egg-head hang, a.m. bodega standards like the bacon-egg-and-cheese get a serious upgrade: The house B.E.C. is built with Black Forest bacon, Vermont white cheddar, tomato jam, pickled jalapeno and runny yolks dripping sensuously over a bouncy panini roll. Or you can build your own breakfast sandwich with fixins like egg whites with feta and caramelized-onion aioli on a buttermilk biscuit. Still hungry? Slap a helping of fried chicken—yes, you read that right—on that sammie.
Former Ivan Ramen chef Michael Bergemann is behind one of the city’s best slice joints found in an unlikely location—Hell’s Kitchen’s Gotham West Market. Taking on the city’s arguably quintessential dish, the all-important pizza pie, his West Side spot has slices with exceptionally light crust—thanks to the artisanal Central Milling flour, cake yeast and a nearly three-day fermentation—most appreciated in Corner’s no-nonsense Margherita slice.
Deal seekers should skip the main dining room in favor of the tapas bar, where Instagram- and share-worthy artisanal meats and cheeses are beautifully splayed alongside house-cured olives. Go ahead and add a plate of light and crispy calamari fritti, complemented by a side of spicy burro bianco.
Although it seems the poke wave is cresting, there’s nothing fishy or flash-in-the-pan about bowls of seafood, rice and light vegetables done right. This Murray Hill iteration combines the Hawaiian dish with some distinctly West Coast sensibilities, serving fresh, super-filling dishes of ahi tuna drizzled with shoyu and sesame oil over white rice, as well as an avocado-heavy, chili-dusted salmon tostada boasting a warm, freshly made tortilla that tastes oh-so-Left Coast.
This American bistro in Soho is more than a pretty face. Although buzz-flocking social-media addicts are quick to snap surfacey shots of its well-presented plates and sleek interior, what’s inside its breakfast and lunch staples are the actual attention grabbers. The grain-based Tiger Bowl is loaded with house-cured salmon, avocado, hijiki and black sesame—a dish so vibrant it’s sure to brighten any morning.
Consider this techy midtowner concentrating on vegetarian quinoa bowls the modern-day Automat. IPad orders are executed in the kitchen by a speedy team, so you can seamlessly get your mitts on the good stuff such as No Worry Curry, stir-fried quinoa and spaghetti squash in a red Thai curry, or the Burrito Bowl, toasted quinoa topped with portobello. Not having to, you know, talk to anyone? Even sweeter.
On the surface, this woodsy Greenpoint drinkery looks pretty darn close to Boulevard Tavern, the long-running bar that occupied the space until 2015. But look past the flannel-dude decor, and you’ll find an upgrade: Southern-fried fare from the powerhouse team behind Williamsburg’s the Commodore and Bushwick’s El Cortez. Do like your grandpappy used to and match brews with Low Country boiled peanuts, deviled eggs piled high with peppery pimento cheese and wavy potato chips with a side of soothing smoked Vidalia onion dip.
While Chinatown’s ever-expanding arm may be stretching into Little Italy and Soho, the rest of Manhattan’s Chinese food still, for the most part, needs to up its game. This Morningside Heights dumpling spot is an exception: It churns out classic kimchi-spiked steamed-pork dumplings and not-too-doughy pork xiao long bao that almost compete with the killer versions at Joe’s Shanghai. Nestled next to Columbia University, La Salle is something of a go-to for hangover-nursing students. And if it ever starts staying open past 10pm, we’re guessing it’ll be a destination for sobering after-party eats, too.
In a city packed with calzones, pasties and Jamaican meat pies, it was odd that no restaurant served panzerotti. The half-moon pastries here come with either sweet or savory fillings, like their international cousins. There are spins like the original Mr. Panzerotto with tomato sauce and mozzarella or Mr. Chicken with poultry and pesto. End the meal on a sweet note with the Miss Nutella, in which the signature ingredient is blended with ricotta.
This comfy Lower East Side takeout den—named after, yes, the Guns N’ Roses album—is all about long pastas, any of which can be served in a paper cone for easy portability à la old-school Italian street fairs. Designed to aid the twirl of the noodle on a fork, cones include the Chitarra, a mix of house-made mozzarella, spaghetti, basil and tomato sauce; the sautéed-garlic and pancetta-boasting Bucatini Amatriciana; and the healthy nut-friendly Kale Pesto, with walnut, pesto and Parmesan cream sauce.
One of Rome’s top street foods has arrived on the LES—and it ain’t no dollar slice. Trapizzini are, basically, Hot Pockets. Hearty bread supports a meaty, stew-like filling in versions such as pollo alla cacciatora, stuffed with tender pulled chicken, or braised-beef-heavy Genovese. Does the rotating menu encourages repeat visits? Yes. It does.
Co-owners Dave Oz and Michael Kaplan (Stone Street Coffee) might be meat obsessives. (This midtown spot’s name refers to the utensils used to shred the slow-roasted pulled beef and chicken in its sandwiches.) But lighter, more inventive options abound, too, like tzatziki-slathered spaghetti squash topped with apple-and-goat-cheese slaw.
This Gramercy cocktail den, the sister restaurant to the neighboring Cannibal Beer & Butcher, boasts a rotating list of seasonal cocktails and a robust—and much more wallet-friendly—bar-snack menu. For a little nibble, try the everything pretzel which comes with scallion cream cheese. And the Cannibal beef jerky is not to be missed. When in Rome.
There’s no shortage of first-rate eats at the legendary Red Hook Ball Fields, but this seasonal truck, which runs from late April through the end of October, draws the longest lines and with good reason: The freshly griddled pupusas are some of the best in town. Using a recipe handed down from Mom, siblings Marcos and Janet Lainez serve more than a dozen varieties of the crispy Salvadoran corn cakes—ground pork is a favorite filling—along with a gloriously cheesy disk cloaked in sweet plantains.
Charlie Chen, a chef poached from Michelin-star chain and soup-dumpling heavyweight Din Tai Fung, is at the helm of this xiao long bao outpost. There are other familiar Chinese dishes on the menu—we wouldn’t scoff at you for digging into a plate of dan dan noodles—but with this sort of chef-and-chain pedigree, the dumplings take the limelight. Rotating specials highlight seasonal flavors and keep you coming back, but menu essentials like the pork-soup, mushroom and indulgent, cooked-in-pork-fat seafood dumplings nail it every time.
Former caterer Guy Vaknin doles out vegan sushi at this diminutive Gramercy spot. At three wood tables, diners choose from colorful rolls packed with fruits and vegetables from nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Combos include the Green Machine (English cucumber, asparagus topped with charred edamame) and La Fiesta (avocado, pickled jalapeño, chayote and cilantro). Vaknin also crafts a line of vegan pastries, such as coffee and chocolate coconut oat rounds and sweet-potato black-bean brownies.
The Korean-style wings at this adorable streetside window are just as killer as the prices, but if you’re really hankering for some fresh-from-the-fryer bird, pick up an organic half fried chicken, brined for a whole day in Southeast Asian spices. Sides like house-made kimchi and Chinese sausage-laden collards are available for just a few extra bucks.