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

23 places to get good food and still have cash to pay your electric bill.

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22 Spots
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23 Spots
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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 a bunch of places where you can get something good and filling, but still have money left over for most of your electric bill.

the spots

Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine

$$$$ 118 Eldridge St

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.

Taqueria St. Marks

$$$$ 79 Saint Marks Pl

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.


$$$$ 324 E 6th St

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.

Xi'an Famous Foods

$$$$ 648 Manhattan Ave

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. This is, hands down, some of the best food you’ll eat off a disposable plate in the city, and there are a lot of different locations.

Tamashii Ramen

$$$$ 71-34 Austin St

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.

While in Kathmandu

Nepali  in  Ridgewood
$$$$ 758 Seneca Ave

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 a 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.

Taqueria Diana

$$$$ 129 2nd Ave.

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 $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).

Souvlaki GR

$$$$ 116 Stanton St.

If you’re looking for an affordable sit-down lunch or dinner on the LES, there’s always Souvlaki GR. It could even work for date night. It looks like a restaurant you might plausibly find on Mykonos, and there are a few tables out front when it’s warm out. Get some mezze and a pita stuffed with grilled meat and french fries.

Sauce Pizzeria

$$$$ 345 E 12th St

There are several thousand pizza places in NYC, and many of them work for a quick meal that doesn’t cost much more than a pack of ballpoint pens at CVS. But Sauce is on the newer side, so you might not have tried it before, and it has the benefit of a couple tables where you can sit and eat. It also has paintings on the walls and chandeliers made out of silverware, and you can choose a dipping sauce to go with your pizza. Try the al pastor pie.


$$$$ 310 2nd Ave

If you want a full-service pizza spot that’s not too expensive, try Posto. They specialize in (very) thin crust pizza, and there plenty of little tables and booths in the brick-walled space in Gramercy, 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.

Sao Mai

$$$$ 203 1st Ave.

If you go to Sao Mai, you should be getting pho. The other options aren’t bad, but 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.

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.

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.

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. Peppa’s has locations in Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and the Crown Heights one has a couple of seats where you can hang out and eat your food.

Abracadabra Brooklyn

$$$$ 347 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211, United States

If you need to sit down and have dinner with a friend, but don’t want to spend more than $20 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 salmon or falafel with brown rice and vegetables here, and it’s about as casual as a neighborhood coffee shop.

Bobwhite Counter

$$$$ 94 Ave. C

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 $12. 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.


$$$$ 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 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.

Marinara Pizza

$$$$ 1376 Lexington Ave

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.

Noodle Village

$$$$ 13 Mott St

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.

Pepe Rosso To Go

Italian  in  SoHo
$$$$ 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 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.


Korean  in  Koreatown
$$$$ 12 W 32nd St

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.

The Meatball Shop is great for what it is: a place where you can hang out with a friend, eat some solid food, and leave with enough money left to replace the two Metrocards you’ve already lost this month. There are a bunch of locations around the city, and, as the name suggests, they all serve meatballs. You can get them plain, on a sandwich, or with an egg and a bunch of vegetables (this is called the Kitchen Sink, and it’s what we like to order).

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