When you want to eat a good dinner without spending an uncomfortable amount of money, there’s no better place to look than the East Village. You could get some falafel on St Mark’s or have a Caesar salad and a glass of wine at The Smith next to a guy wearing a tailored blue linen blazer, but fortunately, these aren’t your only options. The East Village actually has an overwhelming number of spots to have a very good, sit-down dinner for about $30 (here, we’ve defined “dinner” as an entree with either an appetizer or a drink). Whether you want Italian, sushi, or Sri Lankan, use this guide to find the best places to eat affordably in the East Village.
There are a lot of dumb ways to spend $10, like playing five games of ring toss for an unwinnable stuffed giraffe at a carnival or buying a Serge Gainsbourg record from a sidewalk table on 1st Avenue when you don’t own a turntable. A smart way to spend $10 is on a bowl of the pho at Sao Mai. The housemade noodles are topped with a solid amount of beef, and even if you add on an appetizer (like the shrimp summer rolls), you’ll leave very full for less than $20.
Bobwhite Counter serves inexpensive and excellent fried chicken in one of the more nondescript restaurant spaces in the neighborhood. It’s basically just a little white room with a bar and neighborhood people enjoying chicken biscuits and half-price wine during Happy Hour. This is the kind of food that makes you feel like someone cares about you, and nothing costs over $14.
Empellon Al Pastor is a loud, dark space that feels like a lot of other divey bars in Alphabet City, except for the fact that they make some of our favorite tacos in the city. Come solo for al pastor tacos and beers at the bar, or bring a group and share the Scorpion Bowl (which is a bowl of tequila and mezcal).
Sure, you could spend $29 on the brontosaurus beef rib at Mighty Quinn’s, and you’d leave feeling pretty good about yourself. But the full Mighty Quinn’s experience includes some sides, like the burnt end baked beans and the sweet potato casserole, and a mason jar of beer on your tray. Pair those with a pulled pork sandwich and sit at a window seat or an outdoor table on 2nd Avenue.
Veselka has been around since the ’50s, and it’s still a fun spot that’s also useful. This place serves a huge menu of Ukrainian comfort food - latkes, borscht, and pierogies - plus American diner classics. Come with friends or latke enthusiasts for an inexpensive and reliable meal in the neighborhood.
This is a little Japanese restaurant on 9th street that, despite the name, we like for rice bowls topped with raw fish. The soba noodles are good too, but the real draw here is the fresh fish that you can get for a decent price. They also have an “Early Bird” dinner special from Monday to Thursday until 7pm where you can get an appetizer, tempura, noodles, sushi, and ice cream for $22.
Come to Balade for a Lebanese meal that will feel like you’re spending more money than you actually are. If you’re looking to keep things safely under the $30 per person mark, bring someone you don’t mind sharing with and get a platter, some mezzes, and wine. The atmosphere is just a little bit romantic, but not so much that it’ll feel weird to come with someone you’re not dating. It’s a casual spot overall.
Takahachi is the sushi spot that you want in your neighborhood - better quality than the place playing house music and serving California rolls with too much rice, but more casual than an omakase restaurant where you’ll spend at least $100 and still need to grab pizza on the way home. You can dine solo at the sushi counter or grab a table with a group. Either way, your order here is the $24 sushi deluxe, which comes with eight pieces of fresh sushi plus a roll and miso soup.
Choosing to go to Westville East is kind of like buying laundry detergent: you’ve thought about trying something new, but ultimately it’s easier to stick with what you know you like. At Westville, you can always be sure you’ll be able to eat something kind-of-healthy like a salad or market sides (or not-healthy, like a burger), drink a glass of wine, and enjoy yourself while not emptying your wallet.
Gruppo is a thin-crust pizza spot on Avenue B with an atmosphere somewhere between Two Boots and Nicoletta, meaning there’s bar seating and some affordable wine options, but you could also walk in with a group after a pick-up basketball game across the street in Tompkins Square Park. You can choose your own toppings or go with any of the 15 house varieties, which come in personal and shareable sizes. A personal pie is pretty small, so get a small plate like the prosciutto crostini as well.
Finding a Tuesday night spot that’s basically an extension of your apartment is a legal requirement of living and eating in the East Village. So if you haven’t done that yet or you’re feeling a little bit “it’s not you, it’s me” with your current choice, try Lui’s. This is a small Thai spot on East 4th Street with solid vegetarian options and plenty of curries and noodle dishes. It’s easy to get an appetizer and an entree here for under $30 to go with your BYOB selection from the deli next door.
When your group doesn’t feel like hanging at Penny Farthing for two hours until a table opens up at Han Dynasty, but you really want dan dan noodles, head to Hunan Bistro instead. The bright, casual Chinese spot serves them, along with dumplings in chili oil and Hunan dishes like preserved duck. You’ll rarely have trouble getting a table, the portions are pretty large, and almost everything on the menu is under $20.
Even if you get the Taiwanese beef noodle soup at Ho Foods with add-ons like extra marrow and double meat, you’ll only spend about $20. The soup and sides come out quickly, and there tend to be crowds of people looking through the storefront window waiting for any of the 10 seats, so don’t plan on spending much time here. Ask for your soup extra spicy along with a can of Taiwanese beer.
Ichibantei is a casual Japanese restaurant that’s sort of hiding on 13th street right off of 1st Avenue. They serve comfort food like ramen, fried chicken, and donburi rice bowls, including something called Oyoko Don - an excellent stewy mixture of egg, chicken, and onion. This is a great late-night option (they stay open until 3am on weekdays and 4am on weekends), but you can also use Ichibantei for a laid-back date or a solo weeknight meal where you’ll be able to keep things under $30. Just know it’s cash only.
Sigiri is about the size of an East Village railroad apartment, but instead of a futon and some foldable chairs, it’s filled with dates and small groups eating very good Sri Lankan rice, curry, and noodles. Entrees like the string hopper kotthu (rice noodles with stir fried meat and vegetables) and the crab fried rice are enough food for two and this place is BYO, so you’ll almost definitely make it out of here for under $30.
Despite there being a ton of other casual Italian spots in the neighborhood, San Marzano is always packed, mostly thanks to $9 pastas and $6 glasses of wine. If you don’t want to spend much on an Italian dinner in the East Village, but also want something better than a supermarket bottle that just says “red Italian wine” and a box of Barilla spaghetti, head here.
Haile is a small spot on Avenue B near Tompkins Square Park with excellent Ethiopian food. Every main here comes with two vegetable sides (one of yours should be the chickpeas) and enough injera (spongy flatbread) to feed you for two meals. Haile’s space is quiet and comfortable enough for a date, dinner with relatives, or the small group of people at work you actually feel like hanging out with after work.
In the East Village, there are good restaurants hidden everywhere - and K’ook is one of them. It’s a Korean spot in a plain little basement space that you could walk by without even noticing, and it’s where you can eat some rice cakes and fried chicken while you listen to K-pop. The menu is pretty big, with stuff like bulgogi, kimchi stew, rice rolls, and dumplings, and it’s some of the best homestyle Korean food you’ll find in the area. Portions are also large, and the prices are ideal for weeknights.