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Where To Eat When You’re Trying To Not Spend Money

PHOTO: Noah Devereaux

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 to not spend money right now, but you want to eat somewhere with a friend tonight. Here are 15 places where you can eat something good and filling and still have money left over for most of your electric bill.

the spots


If you drop your wallet onto some subway tracks then watch a rat run off with it, see how much cash you have in your pockets and head to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou. For three dollars, you can get 10 pork & chive dumplings and, for another two, you can get a plate of noodles in peanut sauce. It might not be the vibiest dining experience, but if you and a friend want to spend a total of $10 on dinner, it’s the place to go. Vanessa’s Dumplings (another cheap eats staple) is just up the street, but we prefer this place.


Places like Taqueria St. Mark’s are getting harder and harder to find in Manhattan. This is a big, sit-down restaurant, but 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 you can pay less for them here. This is also a fun place to go with a group, and, while the food isn’t mind-blowing, it won’t make you upset.

Xi’an Famous Foods is a mini-chain, and they make their noodles in-house. The noodles are long and chewy, and you might need a bib to keep your shirt clean. This is the kind of food you think about on nights when you eat an early dinner then have trouble falling asleep because you’re hungry again. Get something with the spicy cumin lamb, and supplement with a “burger” if you’re starving. This is, hands down, some of the best food you’ll eat off a styrofoam plate in the city, and there are locations all over the city.

Lilia sounds pretty good right about now. But maybe you can’t go there at the moment because someone sneezed on your face on the subway the other day, and you immediately decided to save for a vacation. If that’s the case, consider Spaghetti Incident. You can get a solid, reasonably priced plate of pasta here, and you can even get it in a paper cone. That’s how they do takeout, and it works surprisingly well.

Trapizzino is a street-food chain in Rome, and this is the first location in NYC. What they do is a triangle of pizza dough stuffed with an Italian specialty like chicken cacciatore. They also make risotto balls, but that isn’t why you come here. Just get a trapizzino or two, then eat at a table inside or on one of the benches on Allen Street. One of these triangular sort-of-sandwiches will run you around $7, but it’ll be more satisfying than a slice of pizza, and the fillings are fancier than cheese or pepperoni.


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 way, and come here the next time you want to exchange roughly ten dollars for a large amount of meat, cheese, and guacamole. If you get a burrito, go for the al pastor (and get everything on it). Being a little drunk here is customary, but not required.


If you’re looking for an affordable sit-down lunch or dinner on the LES, there’s always Souvlaki GR. It might even work for date night. Just pitch it as a staycation. It looks like a restaurant you might plausibly find on Mykonos, and there are a few tables out front when it’s warm out. This place isn’t fancy (or big), but the food is quality (especially for the prices). Get some mezzes and a pita stuffed with grilled meat and french fries, and you should be all set.

Sao Mai

East Village
203 1st Ave.

If you go to Sao Mai, you should be getting pho. The other things aren’t terrible, but this is the standout dish, and going to Sao Mai and not getting pho is like going to a nude beach in slacks. A bowl of this stuff will run you around $10, and it should be more than enough food for dinner. Although if you’re really hungry, just add some summer rolls to the order. The interior here isn’t particularly attractive (and probably hasn’t been updated in many years), but you’ll be fine with it.


There’s a ton of fancy fried chicken out there, and Bobwhite Counter beats a lot of it. Which is especially amazing because this place is pretty affordable. Here, you can get a plate of fried chicken with a biscuit and a side for about $12, and if you’re thinking oh, well, that doesn’t sound too healthy, you’re right. 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.

A patacon is a Venezuelan sandwich 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. Just know that there isn’t much seating here, and that this place also does things like arepas and empanadas.


Union Square
20 E 17th St

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 grab something pre-made or order some noodles or a rice bowl at the counter. It’s extremely casual, you seat yourself, and, after 9pm, all the sushi is half-off. If you’re sushi-bargain hunting, this is the play.


It’s called Noodle Village, but the noodles here are optional. You come to this place to eat wonton soup and the soup dumplings. Noodle Village might not look like anything special from the outside (or the inside), but that wonton soup? Some of the best in the city. Bring a friend the next time you want to impress someone with your knowledge of places they don’t 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.

Pepe Rosso To Go

149 Sullivan St

To be clear, you don’t have to take your food to go here. There are about five small tables where you can eat your food 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 paninis, 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 sauce, then get a piece of focaccia to mop up the remains, and you’ll be very well-prepared for a nap.

SoHo Park

62 Prince St

This place sounds like a parking lot, its sign looks like the sign for a parking lot, and it is, in fact, directly beside a parking lot - but it isn’t a parking lot. It’s a restaurant. And it’s actually one of the most accessible restaurants in Soho. They serve salads and sandwiches and burgers, you can come here in your pajamas, and it looks like somewhere you’d go after the seventh inning at a baseball stadium (benches, little trees, plenty of light). The food won’t blow you away (by a long shot), but if all you want is a chicken sandwich with a friend, Soho Park is here for you. It’s something of a novelty in Soho.

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