Dining on a dime is part of New York’s DNA—just look at the best cheap eats in NYC for proof, stocked with classic city grub from New York pizza parlors to dumplings to deli sandwiches. In fact, it’s never been a better time for budget eating: You can get bargain-hunter dim sum at some of the city’s best Chinese restaurants, stellar square slices at highbrow food halls and junky-great burgers at the boroughs’ homiest diners and luncheonettes. Here are the year’s best cheap eats NYC has to offer.
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Best cheap eats in NYC
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 a classic egg tortilla ($6), then make your way over to Cannibal for a spicy Italian hoagie ($14). 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, $3.75) are steamed on command, as are pleated, pop-in-your-mouth har gow (shrimp dumplings, $4.75). Must-haves from the fryer include the “The Original” egg roll ($7), 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 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 no item costing more than $7.95. Roll-up-your-sleeves roast-beef sandwiches dripping with gravy ($5.95) pair amicably with crisp-edged cottage fries bathed in melted cheese ($3.45) and golden-fried nuggets filled with creamy corn ($3.95). 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 ($3.50) or succulent, charred carne asada and creamy guacamole ($3.75). Beyond tacos, find nopal plates (cactus, beans and cheese for $6) and thirst-quenching agua frescas ($3.75).
If you’re going to pay for artisanal pizza, it’s best served fresh: Here, slices of piping hot cheese ‘za will set you back $3.25, a whole $1.50 cheaper than Artichoke. Drop down another $3.75 to try a leopard-spotted white slice jazzed up with caramelized onions and sesame seeds, and wash it down with a Mexican Coke ($2.75).
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 ($8) and a farro-filled grain bowl ($13). Graze on a kale salad with almond dressing ($10) or a Japanese-style honey toast ($7) while you wait for the barista to prepare your Mexican mocha iced coffee ($3.75), 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 ($3.50) or sweet (blueberry, chocolate) and filled with cheese ($4). Make it a meal with a platter pickle and coleslaw ($1.50), and wash it all down with a fizzy cherry-lime rickey ($2.50).
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 $5.44 “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 for $11.97.
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Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina
In a city not typically known for its Mexican food, you might not expect to find a cantina in the heart of the Financial District. Nevertheless, that’s where you’ll find Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina serving up bowl after bowl of guacamole made fresh to order ($12 for a single serving). For your main course, try one of the crowd-pleasing burritos ($15–$17), quesadillas ($13–$15) and tacos on offer (four for $14–$17), or opt for one of the more traditional plates. Think chiles rellenos with black beans and rice ($18) and shrimp fajitas served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet ($24). What Mexican feast would be complete without a margarita? Pick the tequila you like from the list of more than 30 brands, then choose whether you’d like it frozen or on the rocks ($10–$23). Add a flavor like cucumber, blood orange or cactus pear for $2 more. Don’t forget the flan with caramel sauce ($7) or deep-fried churros ($8) to finish the meal!
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