New York City is wonderful. And, because of this fact, people will constantly be making excuses to come visit you. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - but entertaining out-of-towners can get pricey, and if you aren’t careful, you can wind up with a stack of unpaid ConEd bills. So here’s where you can affordably eat with some out-of-towners. These places aren’t too expensive, and your tourist friends or family members will think that they’re even cooler than Magnolia Bakery or the Seinfeld diner (neither of which are on this guide).
When people come to New York, they like to eat pizza. It’s just one of the things this city is known for, the same way Paris is known for cheese and Australia is known for sharks, kangaroo meat, and koalas that fight openly in the streets. So if you take an out-of-towner to Rubirosa, they will be pleased. It’s some of the best pizza you’ll find in NYC, and, unlike most places that tourists enjoy, it’s a pleasant place to hang out.
If a visiting friend of yours wants to go to Il Buco or Locanda Verde, but you’d rather not spend the half a month’s rent on dinner, just go to Lil Frankies. It isn’t nearly as fancy as either of those places, but it’s still a cultural experience. Think of it as a big clubhouse in the East Village for people who appreciate good, affordable Italian food. It’s a fun spot, and the food itself is great.
Russ & Daughters Cafe
Bagels. People like them. And people also tend to like smoked salmon, latkes, and eggs. Russ & Daughters has all of these things, and they also happen to be an NYC institution. They’ve been open for over 100 years - although this cafe offshoot of theirs is considerably newer. It’s also open all day, seven days a week, so you don’t have to wait for brunch in order to get your smoked salmon board.
Just down the street from Russ & Daughters, there’s Katz’s. You’ll recognize it from the big sign that says “Katz’s.” This is another NYC institution, and all out-of-towners will want to eat here, if only because of that one scene in When Harry Met Sally. Although the real reason to come here is for the pastrami. It’s the rare tourist attraction that is very much worth it. Sure, the sandwiches are $20, but they’re also massive.
Corner Bistro has been around for decades, and, depending on who you ask, this might be where you can find the best burger in NYC. We think it’s in the top 20 - but you can just go ahead and tell your out-of-towner friends that it’s number one, if all you want is to take a break from sightseeing and drink a beer while you sit on a stool in a dark tavern.
The people behind Cotenna have quietly been building an affordable Italian empire on the west side of Manhattan. It’s sort of like how the Sith took over the Senate in those bad Star Wars prequels, except it’s a good thing. In addition to Cotenna, there’s Aria, Briciola, Codino, and Terra - and they all serve some pretty decent Italian food at prices that won’t upset you. They’re also all sufficiently busy and cool enough to satisfy your out-of-towner friends.
Hou Yi Hot Pot is a magical place for three reasons: 1) It’s all-you-can-eat, 2) There’s a scoop-it-yourself ice cream station, and 3) The food here might be some of the spiciest you will ever experience (your face will numb, and you’ll sweat). If that doesn’t sound great however, just get not-spicy soup for your hot pot, then enjoy cooking your own meats and vegetables in it. This place isn’t very fancy, but it is fun, and it’s also close to a bunch of good LES bars.
Scarr’s is not the best pizza in the city. But the regular (not-square) slices are perfectly good, and it’s a great place to show an out-of-towner what the southern part of the Lower East Side is like these days. Outside, you’ll probably see some people wearing things they lined up to purchase, and inside you’ll find a tiny dining room that feels like something from 70’s-era bowling alley.
When it gets warm outside, there’s a place where you should be eating burgers. It’s called Mister Dips, and it’s in a semi-hidden elevated park beneath the William Vale Hotel. You order your food at a vintage Airstream trailer, then you can find a little table or just sit on the grass and enjoy a view of Manhattan that any tourist (or even NYC resident) will find impressive. Also, there’s candy-dipped soft-serve ice cream that you should be eating.
Vini E Fritti
Vinne E Fritti is an excellent restaurant. What makes it even better is the fact that it isn’t really a restaurant. It’s actually a wine bar that happens to have great food - and this means that you can stop by, eat some fried pizza dough, drink something, and get out of there without spending too much.
If your friends want to go out in the general vicinity of the Meatpacking District, steer them toward Old Rose. It’s the restaurant in the bottom of the Jane Hotel, and the space looks like ballroom that was turned into a cafe. There are also some really good pizzas (as well as some excellent meatballs), and, despite how impressive the space is, most things cost under $20.
There will come a time in your life when some out-of-towners ask you take them to the High Line and/or Chelsea Market. You will, of course, oblige them because you’re a nice and accommodating person - and, afterwards, you can all get some food at Los Mariscos. It’s a taco spot on the side of Chelsea Market, and it’s from the same people behind Los Tacos No.1. It doesn’t get nearly as busy as that place, however, and they make some of the best fish tacos in the city.
The burger at J.G. Melon is classic and straightforward. It comes with a toasted bun, a few pickles, some onions, and a patty that’s roughly one fistful of meat. You can also add bacon or cheese - and you should if you enjoy either of those things. This place has been around since the 1970’s (and now there are several locations), and it’s the perfect place to bring someone who wants to eat in an old-school place and would also like to be able to tell their friends that they’ve eaten one of the best burgers in NYC.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine
As a resident of NYC, you’re also an unofficial tour guide. This means that you should be able to pronounce “Houston”, you should have a story about seeing either Jon Stewart or David Letterman on the street, and you should also know a few great places where you can eat in Chinatown - because people will inevitably ask you to show them around this neighborhood. If you’re trying to save money (and eat well), we suggest Shu Jiao Fu Zhou. A plate of 10 dumplings will run you $3, and you can add on some great peanut noodles for an extra $2. The more-famous Vanessa’s is right down the block, but the dumplings here are better, and you’ll impress your guests by knowing that.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou is counter service - but if you’re looking for a place where you can sit down and get served in Chinatown, go to Noodle Village. They make what might be the best wonton soup in the city, and we think their soup dumplings are better than what you’ll find at the much more touristy Joe’s Shanghai.
If some people are visiting and they want to get dinner in the West Village because they saw a photo of Bradley Cooper walking around this neighborhood in Us Weekly, try Tartine. It’s a French cafe in the West Village, and it’s relatively affordable. And, if the weather is nice, you can sit outside and try to spot actors walking their dogs. Also, it’s BYOB.
For some people, Veselka is a 24-hour diner where you can eat an omelette and latkes at 5am on a Sunday morning. But it’s actually a Ukrainian restaurant that’s been open since 1954, and they make all sorts of things like goulash, pierogies, and kielbasa. And seeing as how this section of the East VIllage is also known as Little Ukraine, this makes for a cultural experience. Plus, there’s always a decent crowd, and they sometimes film TV shows here.
A few years ago, ramen in this city was like Bitcoin or the New York Mets circa 2015. It was exciting. Now, you can find ramen is everywhere - but the most New York-feeling place is still Ivan Ramen. They make their noodles with rye flour and sometimes serve things like pastrami buns and tofu with yellow mustard. In part, that’s because the owner is from Long Island (and there’s a decent chance your out-of-towner friends have seen him on TV).
Maybe you’re tired of ramen. If that’s the case, check out Cocoron. They specialize in soba, and they serve it a few different ways. We prefer the kind that you dip into a rich broth on the side - because it’s fun, interactive, and happens to be one of the better things to eat in the city. Bring some tourist friends, and they’ll be impressed. And, after dinner, you can walk just a few blocks over to the heart of Nolita or the Lower East Side.
During the daytime, Okonomi serves Japanese set meals that come with a grilled piece of fish, rice, a few small vegetable sides, and a bowl of miso soup. So if you happen to be walking around Williamsburg with someone who’s visiting you, and you need a place to grab a fun and argurably-very-healthy breakfast or lunch, stop by here. The space is tiny, and it’ll feel like you’re dining in a mashup of Brooklyn and Tokyo.
Le Bonbonniere is a regular diner, but with a few key differences: it’s in the West Village, there’s outdoor seating in the summertime, and you will occasionally see famous people eating pancakes here. Come for an affordable brunch when you just want to eat some French toast and bacon while your companions look at the photos of celebrities on the walls.