Eat at NYC’s best restaurants for under $50
For 30 years, Le Bernardin has sat on top of lists of best restaurants in the city, with its elegant décor and superb French seafood. While dinner in the main dining hall sets customers back $150 per person—and that’s not including drinks—lunch at the more casual but still decadent lounge is much more manageable. A la carte options like smoked salmon, tuna and lobster and truffle en brioche all go for less than $30. If you can spend just outside the $50 range, splurge on the three-course prix fixe lunch for $55. Not only will you get an appetizer, entree and dessert, but $5 of your meal is donated to City Harvest, which will make that Banana S’more taste so much sweeter.
Jean-Georges is another heavy-hitter that has received accolades for years, but you don’t have to break the bank just to taste the savory French cuisine cooked in the kitchen. Nougatine, the famed restaurant’s adjoining casual dining room (which still has spectacular views of Central Park), serves hearty lunch entrees like veal milanese and roasted organic chicken for just over $30, but the real deal is the $38 three-course lunch prix fixe that includes appetizers like tuna tartare and shrimp salad and entrees like black bass and lobster burger with gruyere.
The establishment that helped solidify Danny Meyer's standing as one of the city’s most influential restaurateurs 20 years ago is still serving its famous prix fixe menu in the main dining room, but in the lively, less-fuss tavern portion, a la carte rules. Menu items that will likely get any foodie’s mouth watering, like meatballs with swiss chard and lentils, grilled lamb with garlic butter and duck Andouille, are all served for less than $40. Avoid the dinner rush to get a seat—the tavern does not take reservations—and go ahead and spend as close to your $50 limit as you like. Since this is a no-tipping restaurant, hospitality is included.
Established in 1962 and one of the last remaining white-tableclothed upscale French restaurants that once dominated midtown, La Grenouille is a fantastic throwback to another Manhattan. To avoid the decidedly not 1960s prices, sit at Aviateur bar and come during lunch for a crab cake in lemon butter with capers ($26) and creamy veal stew ($31), or leave work early to enjoy the pre-theater menu (5pm–6:30pm) that has options like poached white fish dumplings in champagne sauce ($19) or a creamy chicken pot pie ($19) that leave room in your budget for a glass of wine. Cheers!
There’s nothing basic or greasy about this acclaimed restaurant’s bar menu. While the well-heeled gourmands indulge in Gabriel Kreuther’s pricey prix fixe menu, from the bar you can feast on duck confit ($29), country sausage ($25) and smoked flat iron steak ($36). The savory tarte flambés like the classic with bacon, onion and créme fraiche ($18), leave room for you to get one of the much-trumpeted house cocktails—but we do mean one, since most go for $20 a glass.
You don’t need a passport or a fat wallet to appreciate Scandinavian fare with aadventurous flair at the long-trumpeted Aquavit. Visit the Soho staple at lunch and find multiple mouth-watering dishes for under $40, including a salmon burger ($29), halibut ($34) and Scandinavian bouillabaisse ($31). If you’d rather come for dinner, grab a seat at the bar and order off the more limited menu there, which features Swedish meatballs ($26) and shrimp skagen ($18).
All right, we admit the inclusion of Mario Batali’s excellent, refined Italian restaurant on this list is a bit of a stretch: The lunch prix fixe is technically $49 not including tax or tip, but considering the meal you get with your $50-and-change, it’s easily worth it. Up first is the antipasti with rich, decadent options like the lobster salad or truffled beef, then comes the primi with dishes like the orecchiette with lamb neck sausage or yesterday’s 100-layer lasagne. Finally, the secondi with plates like the slow baked chicken or poached Atlantic wreckfish will leave you full way past suppertime.
There are iconic and famous New York restaurants, and then there’s Keens—a steakhouse that’s been around since 1885, serving the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Will Rogers. Though it’s possible to stay under $50 come dinner time by ordering the solid buttermilk chicken or shrimp salad, you come here for the dry-aged juicy meats, so make the trip at lunchtime for a prime sliced sirloin steak ($29), or splurge on prime rib for $38. If you really want an old-timey meal worthy of your surroundings, grab a seat in the pub and order the pub-sized mutton chop ($29.50)—we have a feeling Babe Ruth would approve.
Kaiseki cuisine, a traditional and formal multi-course haute Japanese food style, has arrived in New York. While a la carte menu items are available, to fully appreciate chef Isao Yamada’s artistry, customers should aim for a tasting menu. The dinner tasting menu goes for $135 a person, but lunch will set you back just $45 and will get you three courses. Still too pricey for you? The Ichiju-Sansai lunch menu includes several small dishes in each meal and is only $30, which leaves room in your $50 budget to add matcha green tea ice cream or hojicha tea pudding for dessert.
Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud brings haute cuisine connoisseur from all over for his eatery in the stylish Surrey Hotel. Though the lunch menu has a few items that won’t break the piggy bank, like the peekytoe crab salad ($26) and smoked ora king salmon ($25), the best bang for your buck comes with the two-dish prix fixe for $39. The full French country-style meal starts with light dishes like a roasted beet salad or mushroom barley soup and is followed with savory delights like lamb panzotti or seared tuna.