Maybe the line at Trader Joe’s was too long or maybe you just read Eat Pray Love, and now you want more from life. It doesn’t matter. You should be able to go out on a weeknight and not have to spend half your paycheck. So here are the places where you can go out on a weeknight without spending a fortune. Unless you’re a raccoon, in which case your fortune is some tin foil and rhinestones in a tree trunk.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina
If you want to sit down and eat a pizza on the Upper East Side, you should be going to San Matteo. They make Neapolitan-style pies in a wood fired oven that you can see in the back of the space, and almost all of them are under $20. You can also get a panuozzo here, which is pretty much just a very large sandwich made with pizza dough. There’s also plenty of seating, and you can always sit at the bar and watch sports on TV if it’s a Tuesday night and you don’t want to talk to anyone.
There are any number of ways you could go about a weeknight dinner at K’ook, and one of them involves a dish called “Corn Corny Corn.” If you don’t want a plate of corn and melted cheese, however, you can get some stew, bulgogi, bibimbap, or fried chicken. Everything at this East Village Korean restaurant is pretty affordable, and the food is consistently great. There isn’t anything too fancy about the little basement space, but the little wooden tables and K-pop soundtrack are perfect for a Monday night.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
During the daytime, Davelle is a coffee shop/cafe where you can drink a latte and have a Japanese breakfast or lunch, and at night they specialize in various things cooked in broth (called oden). These range from daikon and avocado to fish cakes and octopus balls, and they all cost between three and five dollars. So get a few of these, or go for some pork curry or Japanese fried chicken. The little LES space isn’t very large, but there’s a bar where you can sit if you’re hanging out by yourself, and you’ll probably wind up talking to the person behind the bar while they make your food.
Posto specializes in pizza, and the crust on their pies is extremely thin. It’s cracker-like and on the lighter side, which works out well if you don’t often feel like eating dense circles of cheese and dough on weeknights. There are also usually a bunch of families here, so if you have kids, bring them. The pies come in small and large sizes, there are a couple of different pastas, and the wine list has some very affordable bottles on it.
At Playa Betty’s, you can get some “California-style” Mexican food - which essentially just means that they serve enchiladas, burritos, and tater tot nachos. There are also about 30 other things on the menu, and they should all make you feel better about the fact that it isn’t a Friday or Saturday. So if you’re around the Upper West Side and you want to eat something quick, get some food beneath a little palm tree here.
Kazunori was essentially built for quick, relatively antisocial dining. So it’s ideal for a weeknight when you want don’t want to speak to anyone while you eat a few sushi hand rolls. That’s what they serve here, and you can get them in sets of three to six. Consider this place a more affordable alternative to sushi, and stop by for some toro wrapped in seaweed after you get out of work in Nomad (or a surrounding area).
Rai Rai Ken
A bowl of ramen at Rai Rai Ken will cost you around $12, and it’ll provide enough broth, pork, and sodium to balance out any weeknight stress you might currently be dealing with. Go for the shoyu kind or the Mabo one with ground pork and chili sauce, then try to get home before you fall asleep. If you live in the East Village, that should be doable.
Soba-Ya specializes in soba noodles (which they make on the premises), but we especially like the rice bowls here. They come with stuff like tuna sashimi, spicy salmon tartare, or shrimp tempura - and you can get them in a few different sizes, depending on how hungry, bored, or upset you are.
There are two 12 Chairs locations in NYC (in the West Village and Williamsburg), and both are perfect for a quick meal that’s more satisfying than whatever salad you were thinking about building at home. The menu here is Mediterranean, and it includes stuff like chicken schnitzel, some very good hummus and falafel, and a lots of different sandwiches and salads. If you go to Westville too often, this place is a great alternative, and they also serve breakfast all day if you need some eggs at 6pm.
Purbird is a counter-service spot where you can eat half a grilled chicken and a side of sauteed spinach, mac and cheese, or some mashed potatoes covered in a tennis-ball green jalapeno puree. There are also some sandwiches (mostly with chicken) and a couple of salads, and you’ll find it difficult to spend more than $20 on a dinner here. There are two locations (both in Brooklyn), and they make for excellent backup plans when you can’t or won’t make your own food.
You could go to Ops on a weekend, and you could even bring a date. But it’s also perfectly good for a Tuesday or Wednesday when you don’t have the energy or ingredients to make your own food, and you feel like eating some of the best pizza in NYC. Just be sure to bring at least one other person, and order the square pie. You should also get some antipasti and a glass of wine if you feel like it. They open a bunch of different bottles every night, so chat with your waiter about what you like and they’ll let you try different options.
For a piece of fish, some vegetables, or a piece of fish over some vegetables on a weeknight, Seamore’s will be always be a solid choice. There are a few locations around the city (in Chelsea, Nolita, and Dumbo), they all have the same sort-of-healthy food, and each feels more or less like something you’d find near a beach with waves that you could plausibly surf on.
Pretty much every neighborhood has a place where you can sit down and eat a good Neapolitan-style pizza. In Harlem, you have a few different options - although Babbalucci is especially good for a weeknight when you want something quick and easy. They do about 20 pizzas in two different sizes, the small dining room is roughly as casual as your own apartment, and there’s also some outdoor seating for when you want to enjoy our famously nice New York City weather.
Tsion Cafe is a little restaurant on the ground floor of apartment building at the northern end of Harlem, and if you live in the area, it’s where you should be eating Ethiopian food. We like the veggie combo that comes with bunch of different things like chickpeas, beets, and lentils, along with a side of injera. Although if you want meat, get a burger or some chicken stew. And if it’s nice out, sit in the backyard and drink an Ethiopian beer.
At Allswell, you can sit in a dark room and eat a mound of ground beef between two buns. There’s other stuff too, like chicken or trout - but these guys are mostly known for their burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. The food here is better than the stuff at your average pub, and it’s one of the less crazy places on Bedford Ave.
Lighthouse is good for a lot. You can eat healthy here, or you can have a burger. You can also bring a date, or you can come here with your parents (or by yourself). You can also grab a table and spend $100 on dinner, or you can just have a chicken sandwich and get out for less than 20 bucks. The atmosphere here is fun and casual, and the food is consistently excellent. Plus, beers start at $4.
You can just call this place Diet Aria. Not because it’s healthy, but because they serve the exact same food as Aria Wine Bar in a smaller space that doesn’t get quite as busy. Sure, weekends get crowded - but if you stop by on a weeknight, you should be able to grab a table (or a bar seat) and a $12 bowl of pasta no problem.
Sally Roots is the restaurant you wish you had in the bottom of apartment building. It’s cheap enough for a weeknight and fun enough for a weekend dinner. They do Carribbean/Jamaican food here, and it’s all pretty straightforward and garlicky. Have some fried plantains and some kind of grilled protein covered in covered in garlic sauce. And drink a cocktail with rum.
Edward’s is nicer than a diner - but, at the same time, they make tacos, rigatoni, and French onion soup. So maybe we’ll just call this place a nice Tribeca diner. They do a great burger, their fish options are reliable, and the Mexican food on their menu is unexpectedly good. Will it be the best food you’ve ever had? No, dummy - check out our Greatest Hits for that. This is just an easy, no-stress dinner option downtown.
There’s nothing fancy or charming about this space in the East Village, but you don’t need ambiance when you have good fried poultry. Bobwhite is a super-casual spot where you order at the bar and someone brings you fried chicken with some coleslaw and a biscuit. They also have sandwiches and sides (and also a salad). Come to Bobwhite when you’ve had a rough weekday, and eat a cheap meal that’ll put you to sleep.
Pies ‘n’ Thighs is right off the Williamsburg Bridge, but the inside of this little Southern spot feels like something you’d find in a city with a population significantly under one million. The order here is a chicken box (that comes with three pieces, a biscuit, and a side) or a chicken biscuit. The chicken biscuit is a piece of fried chicken in the middle of a biscuit, and it comes dripping with butter.
Dokebi is a Korean restaurant in Williamsburg where you can grill your own meat or mess around with some shabu shabu. But if it’s a weeknight, you probably aren’t going to do either of those things. You’ll probably just get some bibimbap, fried chicken, or a few of their Korean BBQ tacos. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices, none of them will cost you too much, and there’s even a good beer selection.
If you’re looking for a Thai place where you can order something other than pad thai and have no regrets, Up Thai is a good option. Stop by on a weeknight and have some larb, peanut-chicken dumplings, or maybe even pad thai if you’ve come to terms with being the sort of person who orders this. Up Thai is also better-looking than your average Thai spot, and they have at least 10 different types of bright, shiny lanterns to stare at.