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Cheap eats in Chinatown: Best nosh on a budget

Cheap eats abound in Chinatown, but which stand out from the rest? Fuel up at our critic-approved budget food spots.

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Chinatown excels at cheap eats. Whether you want to line your stomach before hitting the Lower East Side bars or grab an inexpensive bite while perusing local shops or nearby galleries, you can fill up on dumplings, noodles or more exotic fare for just a few bucks.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best cheap eats in NYC

Mei Li Wah Bakery
Copyright Caroline Voagen Nelson, Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nels

Mei Li Wah Bakery

Restaurants Bakeries Chinatown

This tried-and-true mainstay continues to offer some of the freshest steamed buns in the city, each less than $1.64. If you only have a buck to your name, you can’t do much better than the classic pork bun (80¢), still one of the best deals in town.

New Green Bo

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

Since the windows to this tiny, cramped dining room have been plastered over with accolades from English-language press, it’s impossible to gauge the wait-time for this popular Shanghai restaurant unless the line snakes onto the sidewalk. Once inside, beware: the clunky oversized soup dumplings are strictly overrated, as are regional specialties such as suspiciously meatless “lion’s head” pork meatballs and greasy stir-fried rice cakes. Go esoteric instead with lip-smacking bamboo shoots, chunks of meat-like vegetarian kao fu and the juicy ginger crab.

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New Malaysia
Photograph: Ruvi Leider

New Malaysia Restaurant

Restaurants Malaysian Chinatown

The menu at New Malaysia Restaurant resembles those found in many Indian, Thai, Chinese and other Asian eateries—and with good reason: Malaysian cuisine comes from an amalgam of those cultures. So you’ll have your pick of chicken curry, pad thai, beef satay, sweet-and-sour pork and kung pao squid, along with specific Malaysian specialties like roti canai—a flat, fluffy tortilla-meets-matzo appetizer served with chicken curry. The location of the restaurant might be the most exotic thing about it: in a minimall just off Bowery. There’s certainly a sense that you’ve found a locals-only eatery.

Nha Trang Centre
Photograph: Ruvi Leider

Nha Trang

Restaurants Vietnamese Chinatown

The decor is nonexistent at this Vietnamese staple, but the diners who regularly pack the place are quite happy to trade in ambience for top-notch grub. The long menu includes traditional Southeast Asian dishes like sticky barbecued beef and pho noodle soup—a steamy bowl made all the more restorative with toppings like fish balls or tender brisket. Close with a sweet Vietnamese drink like the sua hot ga, a creamy soda made with condensed milk and egg yolks.

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Prosperity Dumpling

Restaurants Breakfast Lower East Side

This Chinatown dumpling shop offers an amazing deal on panfried, pork-and-chive-filled dumplings.

Super Taste
Photograph: Ruvi Leider

Super Taste

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

A standout among the Eldridge Street noodle shops, Steve Yan’s popular eatery also serves steamed Mantou buns and other Northern Chinese specialties.

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Liang pi noodles at Xi'An Famous Foods
Photograph: Marianne Rafter

Xi'an Famous Foods

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

This Chinese chainlet highlights the mouth-tingling cuisine of Xi'an, an ancient capital along China's Silk Road. The fifth location offers the same short menu of spicy noodles and cumin-spiced burgers in roomier digs. Unlike its sparely appointed siblings, a mix of antique touches (porcelain figurines from the Ming dynasty) and modern effects (framed photos of frequent customer Anthony Bourdain) decorates the 40-seat restaurant.

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