Finding bargain eats like cheap falafel in NYC isn’t all that difficult, but finding good cheap food? Now that’s a skill worth writing about. From Bed-Stuy to the Bronx, we’ve shared our favorite cheap pizza joints and the best bowls of ramen under $10, but no file of cheap eats would be complete without a nod to New York’s favorite Middle Eastern street food: the warm and crispy, garlic- and parsley-packed falafel. So the next time you’re craving a quick and filling meal like one from vegetarian restaurants that won’t break the bank, head to one of these trucks, carts or counters for some of the best falafel pitas and platters a few bucks can buy.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to cheap eats in NYC
Best cheap falafel
Astoria’s Fares “Freddy” Zeideia has been dishing out Vendy Award-winning falafel since 2002. With a cart in Manhattan, a truck on Ditmars and a brick-and-mortar on Broadway (where a model of the famous food truck adorns the facade), the king’s crispy chickpea fritters thankfully never seem too far out of reach. Although falafel variations abound, keep it cheap with a $7 handheld sandwich: warm homemade pita stuffed with fresh falafel, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and pickled turnips generously drizzled with creamy tahini.
Dating back to 1971, Mamoun’s is the oldest falafel shop in New York, and arguably, the best bang for your buck. For a mere $3.75, Mamoun’s toasty pita sandwich (packed with falafel, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and tahini) will quiet any growling belly, whether it’s 4pm or 4am. Just add the hot sauce gingerly—this secret homemade scorcher delivers a delayed sting.
If you’re looking for a top-notch New York falafel experience without the clamor of the late night crowds, duck into Taïm, the West Village’s quiet and calming eatery that boasts a stellar all-vegetarian menu carefully curated by Israeli chef and former Bobby Flay apprentice Einat Admony. Experience Admony’s full range of Middle Eastern flavor and order the mixed falafel platter, which comes with three kinds of house-made falafel (parsley-cilantro-mint, Tunisian-spiced, kalamata olive), hummus, tabouli, Israeli salad and warm, pillowy pita dusted with fragrant za’atar spice ($12). Oh, and enjoy three distinct side sauces for dipping: nutty tahini, pickled mango chutney and Yemeni hot sauce.
Batata, which means “sweet potato” in Hebrew, is a much-welcomed Middle Eastern addition to a neighborhood populated by garlic knots and Sicilian squares. The $11 sweet-potato falafel plate is overflowing with smooth hummus, fresh Israeli and carrot salads, pickled red cabbage and a dual side of creamy tahini and piquant schug. Pair your plate with a drink or two—beer and wine is just $5.
This unassuming gyro joint slings some killer falafel alongside its famous chicken and pork souvlaki. The $5 stuffed-pita falafel sandwich comes canopied in fresh lettuce, tomato and onion with a generous drizzling of bright and refreshing tzatziki. And with all the dough you saved on that sandwich, why not splurge on a side of oven-baked Greek fries smothered in feta, oregano and olive oil? They’re just six bucks.
In 2014, New York City’s beloved Midtown food cart opened its first brick-and-mortar in the East Village. Here, crispy falafels are made fresh, as opposed to reheated at the cart, and come with the option of added hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush and olives (another departure from its flagship Sixth Ave cart). Each sandwich is just $5.49. And those signature white and hot sauces? They remain free of charge.
What it lacks in ambiance, Oasis more than makes up for in its dirt-cheap falafel plate. For just $7, ravenous night owls can sate themselves with five sizable falafel balls nestled alongside hummus, salad, pickled red cabbage, tahini and not one, but two rounds of warm pita. Add on sides until your heart’s content—and kiss what would’ve been a hangover goodbye.
Looking for a cheap sandwich?
In a city full of eateries striving to come across as authentically New York, it takes a Japanese-inspired London import to create a space that feels truly international. With locations in far-flung Dubai, Bangkok and Miami, Zuma’s globe-trotting influences play out in both appearance and menu at this New York outpost, which opened in 2015. The brainchild of German-born chef Rainer Becker, the 100-seat, iron-and-leather–clad concept centers on the informal Japanese style of izakaya dining, which typically involves shareable small plates along with a selection of sake. And while the markings of an upscale izakaya abound—there’s a sushi counter, 80-bottle sake bar and robata grill—, informal would also be the best way to characterize the restaurant’s treatment of its principal cuisine. Offered a la carte or in a choice of chef’s omakase ($58 classic, $98 signature, $158 premium), the menu comprises such worldly offerings as prawn-and-cod dumplings, pork belly with yuzu mustard miso and an oven-roasted, corn-fed chicken roasted on cedar wood. On a recent night, the mid-range signature omakase opened with a steamed baby spinach lathered in a pleasantly sweet, almost peanut-buttery sesame dressing, before delving into a mixed parade of raw and robata offerings—of these, the standout was a simple yet instantly addictive fried softshell crab dipped in mizuna (Japanese mustard) and wasabi mayo, while crowd-pleasing seabass sashimi (yuzu, truffle salmon roe) proved likewise a succ
Venue says: “Zuma New York's twist on the classic brunch is not to be missed; join us every Sunday. For reservations call 212.544.9862”