Maybe you finished a bottle of wine while watching Lost in Translation last night and woke up with a non-refundable ticket to Tokyo. Or maybe you have six weddings to attend in the next two months, and four of them are out-of-state. Either way, you’re trying not to spend money right now, but you want to eat somewhere with a friend tonight. Here are a bunch of places where you can get something cheap and beyond satisfying, but still have money left over for most of your electric bill.
What NYC lacks in easily accessible beaches and forward-thinking open container laws - it makes up for with an abundance of fantastic burgers. One of the very best is at BK Jani, a counter-service spot in Bushwick serving Pakistani street food. The thick burger with spicy mint chutney and the flatbread with sauce and spice-heavy grilled beef both cost $12 and need to be on your table.
Describing Zooba as a fast-casual spot that serves Middle Eastern sandwiches is like calling Magellan a boating enthusiast. This Nolita spot isn’t just a lunchtime alternative to Sweetgreen - the Egyptian street food is a reason to schedule a “doctor’s appointment” in the middle of the day, or take the scenic route home from work. No matter what you order - from taameya to cheese hawawshi - you’re going to find yourself thinking about it in the middle of the night, and it’ll cost you less than $15.
Even if you take into account the $2.75 Path ticket to Jersey City and the perpetually undervalued cost of your time, Bread And Salt is still a great value. It serves some of the best pizza anywhere around NYC, including a $2 rossa slice that’s like a flattened croissant topped with sweet and acidic bolognese. Come with a group and try everything on the menu while taking advantage of the BYOB policy.
You want to have a filling, boozy dinner with a group, but you also want Spectrum, ConEd, and your landlord to stop leaving you annoying voicemails. Go to Sigiri in the East Village. The Sri Lankan dishes - like crab fried rice and string hopper kotthu (rice noodles with stir fried meat and vegetables) - are enough food for at least two people, and it’s BYOB.
Pearl Diner is a FiDi institution where stressed out people drink too much coffee and scream orders across the room. But instead of a trading floor, it’s an old-school diner with swivel stools and booths with rips covered in duct tape. And instead of multi-million dollar buy and sell orders, people here are screaming about coffee and triple-decker tuna fish sandwiches, which cost less than $10 combined.
There’s a lot of expensive fried chicken out there, and Bobwhite Counter beats most of it. Which is especially impressive because you can get a plate of fried chicken with a biscuit and a side for about $13. And if you’re thinking oh, well, that doesn’t sound too healthy, you’re right. But you don’t come here for the health benefits, you come for the food that’ll make you wish there was chicken-and-biscuit-flavored toothpaste so you could fall asleep with that taste still in your mouth.
Superiority Burger serves one of the best veggie burgers out there, which is to say it’s fine and forgettable. At $6, it’s not a big financial commitment, but it shouldn’t be your focus at this tiny East Village restaurant. What makes this place special are the vegetarian sides, like burnt broccoli salad topped with candied nuts and peppers, and the rotating flavors of creamy gelato and sorbet.
The unicorns at The Cloisters and the water lillies at the Musée de l’Orangerie are impressive, but they don’t hold a candle to the hot soppressata at Calabria Pork Store. Sausages cover the entire ceiling of this Arthur Avenue meat shop in the Bronx, and while it looks like an exhibition, you’re allowed to touch the art here. Get the massive, delicious $8 prosciutto sandwich, and a few different types of sausage to go.
If your significant other doesn’t mind when you drink pho broth out of the bowl or make loving comments with chili sauce on your face, then your relationship is probably in a very good or very bad place. It also means you should go on a date at Pho Bar in Chinatown. Order the pho with beef broth that’s been cooking for 25 hours and the lemongrass chicken wings coated in sweet chili sauce, and some beer or wine, which are both $5 during Happy Hour.
If you drop your wallet onto some subway tracks and watch a rat run off with it, see how much cash you have in your pockets, then head to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou on the Lower East Side. For $3.50, you can get 10 pork & chive dumplings - and for another $2.50, you can get a plate of noodles in peanut sauce. Vanessa’s Dumplings is also just up the street, but we prefer this place.
El Floridita serves a big menu of Cuban and Dominican food, but the reason you should go to this 24/7 spot in Washington Heights is the Cubano. The huge $6 sandwich has browned, pressed bread that’s like a crispy shell around fatty ham, pork roast, and swiss cheese that all melt when you bite into it.
Like El Floridita, My Cuban Spot serves a fantastic Cubano, but this Latin spot in Gowanus isn’t just a place to get one of the best sandwiches in Brooklyn. The rice bowls here, like the “Oink Oink Babe” that has the same juicy, rich, salty pork as the Cubano, are great as well, and they’re all less than $12. There’s no seating, so pick up your order from the takeout window, and eat it around the corner at Strong Rope Brewery with a flight of beers.
For $7, you can get a few rolls of paper towels, an extra-large cappuccino, or a third of a ticket to a 3D movie. Or you can go to Peppa’s and get a small portion of jerk chicken (which would be considered large by most standards). The chicken comes out charred and smoky, and for a few dollars more you can make it a full meal with some sides like rice and plantains.
Get a burrito or some nachos here, and if you fall into a manhole on your walk home, you’ll have had enough food to last until you get rescued. Think of this place as a Chipotle that doesn’t make you sad in a weird, existential stare-at-your-reflection-in-the-front-window kind of way, and come here the next time you want to exchange roughly $10 for a large amount of meat, cheese, and guacamole. If you get a burrito, go for the al pastor (and get everything on it).
The rotisserie chicken at El Gran Castillo, an all-day Dominican spot in Prospect Heights, is extremely juicy, which is important for a couple reasons. First, it’s delicious and a strong contender to make our guide to the best roast chicken in NYC. Also, the half-bird comes with a big portion of beans and yellow rice that soak up the pool of gravy-like juices, and make this a very filling use of less than $10.
In the East Village, there are roughly two restaurants for every human being. And that’s why places like K’ook aren’t impossible to get into. Take advantage of this, and have an easy weeknight meal at this casual Korean spot on 6th Street. Portions are large, most things cost less than $15, and the food is consistently great. We especially like the bibimbap, tofu stew, and fried chicken wings.
Maybe you were walking to work one day, saw some puppies in a store window, and decided to buy all of them. So now you have a house full of puppies, but very little money. Go to Taboonette for dinner. This a little counter-service place near Union Square where you can get a big portion of some very good chicken shawarma or salmon over brown rice for around $15. There are couple of tables inside, and the food comes out quickly.
Sure, you could always just stay home and make instant ramen, but if you want to eat something that’ll make you a happier person who doesn’t mind getting out of bed in the morning, go get the real thing. Tamashii is a good place to do that on a budget. There are a few different locations in Queens, including this one in Forest Hills, and you can bring a casual date or a friend who wants to catch up with you over the exact amount of time it takes to eat a bowl of noodles.
Taqueria St. Marks is a big, sit-down restaurant where you could potentially spend less than $10 on a meal. What would that meal consist of? Maybe some chips and a quesadilla, or maybe a few tacos. Or maybe a margarita. We aren’t going to tell you where to get your calories, just know that this is a great place to get them. This is also a fun spot for a group, and while the food isn’t mind-blowing, it’s all pretty solid.
Some afternoons, we just sit around and think about the chicken choila roti at While in Kathmandu. It’s a little wrap that comes on charred flatbread with chicken and vegetables, and you can get one for about $4. Add an order of chicken or pork momos (which come in a bowl of cold tomato soup), and you have yourself an excellent little meal. This Nepali spot in Ridgewood also has a great backyard. Just keep in mind that it’s cash-only.
Xi’an Famous Foods is a mini-chain, and they make the kind of food you think about when you eat an early dinner and then have trouble falling asleep because you’re hungry again. Get some of their long, chewy noodles with spicy cumin lamb, and supplement with a “burger” if you’re especially hungry.
If you want a full-service pizza spot that’s not too expensive, try Posto in Gramercy. They specialize in (very) thin crust pizza, and there are plenty of little tables and booths in the brick-walled space, plus outdoor seating when it’s warm outside. Large pizzas start at $17, and they’re big enough to split - but if you get here during Happy Hour (from 3:30-6:30pm), you can get a free cheese pizza with a pitcher of beer or bottle of wine. If Gramercy isn’t convenient, one of the five other locations of this mini-chain (Gruppo, Vezzo, Spunto, Tappo, and Brado) might be.
Bombay’s is one of our favorite casual lunch options in FiDi, especially when we don’t feel like dealing with hundreds of interns power walking to pick up their boss’s Sweetgreen. They offer a delivery special that’s $16 for an appetizer and entree, like crispy samosas and spicy rogan josh with tender lamb. It also comes with buttery naan that’s ideal for soaking up the pool of sauces in most of the entrees here.
This place is called Noodle Village, but you actually come here to eat soup dumplings and wonton soup (it’s some of the best in the city). Bring a friend the next time you want to impress someone with your knowledge of places they might not already know about. Another plus is the fact that you probably won’t spend a lot. Unless you order way too much. Which you shouldn’t do. That’s wasteful.
Marinara might just seem like an average slice place. But it’s one of the best spots for pizza on the Upper East Side, and there are a couple of tables where you can hang out and eat yours. They typically have a bunch of different square and round slices like pesto and buffalo chicken, but we tend to keep it simple and go for the pepperoni. If you’re with someone who doesn’t consider pizza a complete meal, there’s also some bigger stuff like pasta and chicken parm.
A patacon is a Venezuelan sandwich made with fried discs of plantain instead of bread. At Patacon Pisao, you can get one of these sandwiches filled with meat, beans, fried cheese, special sauce, and a dusting of lettuce. It will be dense and filling, and, since there’s no bread, you could make the argument that it’s healthy. It isn’t, but who cares. You can also get arepas and empanadas here - just know that there isn’t much seating.
If you need to sit down and have dinner with a friend in Williamsburg, but don’t want to spend more too much and would like to eat something that makes you feel like a somewhat healthy human being, try Abracadabra. You can get a good plate of Turkish meat or quinoa balls with brown rice and vegetables here, and it’s about as casual as a neighborhood coffee shop.
You’ve probably walked by Ennju a few times without realizing it. It’s on 17th Street (just east of Union Square), and it keeps a pretty low profile. But locals know about it, and you’ll find a line there at lunch. This place is a Japanese cafe where you can grab something pre-made or get some noodles or a rice bowl. You order at the counter, then seat yourself - and after 9pm, all the sushi is half-off.
Going to Sao Mai and not getting pho is like going to Miami and never visiting the beach. A bowl of this stuff will cost you around $10, and should be more than enough food for dinner. If you’re really hungry, add some summer rolls.
There are plenty of ways to spend money in K-Town. You can go to a Korean BBQ place and eat a large amount of beef, for example, or you can go to a fancy karaoke place and sing Destiny’s Child all night. But if you and your bank account aren’t currently on speaking terms, go to Woorijip. It’s a cafeteria-style spot with a huge variety of food like fried rice, kimchi stew, and broiled mackerel. There’s also beer and soju, as well as plenty of tables where you can eat.
To be clear, you don’t have to take your food to go here. There are about five small tables where you can eat after you order at the counter. This a neighborhood Italian spot, and the menu is surprisingly large for how tiny the space is. They have panini, salads, chicken, and salmon - but you can skip all of that and just get some pasta. Order off the menu or just pick a pasta shape and a sauce that you want, then get a piece of focaccia to mop up the remains.