A few months ago the Times came out with a list of the best inexpensive restaurants in New York, and it inspired me to weigh in and create a list of my own favorite places that are light on the wallet and heavy on the flavor. Getting to try new restaurants, new cuisines, and trendy dishes is one of the best things about living in a city. But…since love doesn’t pay the bills around here and my wine habit accounts for a large chunk of my pay check, sometimes a girl’s gotta eat cheap. Finding little hole-in-the-wall restaurants is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the dinning scene without going into massive credit card debt! My first rule for finding great cheap eats is word of mouth. Almost all of the places on my list I heard about from a friend, relative, or random stranger in a bar who overheard my 3 a.m. declaration, “I NEED PIZZA AND I DONT WANT TO PAY FOR IT.” My second rule of cheap eats, is to go ethnic. Don’t be afraid to try a new cuisine or an authentic, cultural classic. Even if you hate it, at least it was only a few dollars. So let’s dive in shall we?
Bánh mì Zon
443 East 6th Street
A few moths ago my cousin Peter (who also happens to be a chef) informed me that the new, hip, must-have sandwich in NYC is the bánh mì. It’s a Vietnamese speciality, made with pork, chicken, ham, and pickled veggies on a crispy baguette. This sammie is blowin’ up in NYC and there are tons of places to get them. So I did some research and learned that Bánh Mì Zon is the place to go to get your hands on a classic bánh mì. Yesterday we took advantage of the early Spring weather and walked down to the East Village to sample this ethic treat. It was really tasty and very unique. The baguette is smothered with pâté on one side and mayo on the other, which brought in a whole other layer of flavor. All the meats have very distinct tastes and textures, and the pickled veggies bring a really nice briny finish. It’s yummy and unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and at $5.75 how can you resist!
53rd Street and 6th Ave
My friend Jeanette once mentioned in passing that there is a gyro cart on 53rd and 6th that’s Zagat rated. It really peaked my interest given my undying love of gyros. The addiction started while I was studying abroad in Australia and there was the most amazing gyro place on my way to class. There were multiple times that I would roll into class ten minutes late, toting a gyro, and proceed to eat the messy, smelly concoction in the middle of class. Good thing the Aussies are really laid back. Anyway, I looked into this magical gyro cart and learned that this little stand has quite the following. To begin with, there are about a billion immitators. The real one is on the south east corner of 53rd and 6th and it’s only open at night. Everyone else slinging Halal food on that block is a big, fat fake! Feel free to out them to all the people standing in line for their food (I did). But the real one is there from 7:30 PM to 4:00 AM. There’s always a huge line, there is even an NYU club dedicated to them. Oh! And one time someone got stabbed waiting in line. Once I read that, I knew I had to sample the gyros worth stabbing someone over. So late one night we wandered over there, stood in line, and got ready to taste the magic. It’s really important to know how to order before you get there, since there’s no menu and they just kind of stare at you when you get up to the front. So just like Pat’s and Geno’s in Philly, you need to know the lingo. You can get a platter or a sandwich, with any combination of chicken, gyro, rice, salad, hot sauce, white sauce, and bbq sauce. Apparently the NYU kids call the white sauce “crack sauce” given it’s addictive powers. I went with a sandwich with gyro meat, salad, bbq sauce, and crack…I mean white sauce. It was really good, not as good as my Australia place, and definitely not worth stabbing someone over…but really good…and only four bucks!
Food trucks…they’re so hot right now. I’d been dying to try this dumpling truck because I had heard the food is outrageous, it’s cheap ($6), and bonus, it’s healthy. The steamed pork and Chinese chive dumplings are perfection. They are soft and chewy, full of nice pork flavor and the chives give them a great crunch. They come with a salty soy seasame dip, but the dumplings are so good that they don’t even need it. I had these for lunch and wanted them again for dinner…they are that good. You can follow the truck on Twitter or go to their website to find out the daily truck location, maybe tomorrow it will be by your office!
39 Greenwich Ave
Speaking of Pat’s and Geno’s, for any former Philadelphia residents living in NYC who miss those softy pillowy rolls filled with thinly sliced meat and slathered with cheese, this place will bring you right back to South Philly. Word on the street is that they import the rolls directly from the City of Brotherly Love. Oh, and they also have fried mozzerella balls, which is something I’m more than okay with. The steaks are 7 bucks!
123 Second Ave
Oh, Pomme Frites, where do I begin? This past weekend my life was changed when my friends Rick and Jack suggested we hit up this Belgian hot spot after our Oscar themed party on Saturday night. It’s an itty bitty shop on 2nd Ave and St. Marks Place where they serve fries…and only fries. Well not only fries, the fries come with dipping sauces. The most amazing, creative, out there, lick the bottom of the container it’s so good, dipping sauces. Matt and I each got a large fry with the combo of 3 dipping sauces. I also got their new organic black truffle mayo…which is probably the most sinfully delicious mayo in the entire world. The other sauces we indulged in were…curry ketchup, Vietnamese pineapple mayo, roasted garlic mayo, rosemary garlic mayo (my hands down favorite), pomegranate teriyaki mayo, and blue cheese sauce. I never knew a french fry could be so good until I doused it in flavored mayo. And with so many options, it’s like a french fry party in your mouth!! If you live in New York, go, go tonight. Seriously.
325 East 14th Street
It doesn’t get much cheaper than this. Because the pizza is free. With every drink you buy you get a drink ticket and each ticket gets you a free, hot-out-the-oven cheesy, personal pizza. I’ve already spotlighted Crocodile Bar in my Ode to New York Eating post, but what can I say, I’m in love.
Also on my radar…a few I haven’t tried yet:
The Meatball Shop
84 Stanton Street
I can’t turn on the Food Network or open NY Mag, without seeing/reading a feature on this meatball only restaurant. I’m very intrigued by these reasonably priced, flavor packed, meaty treats…I’ll report back soon.
137 4th Ave
I hear these amazing tacos served out of a small little shop in Union Square are serious business.I tried to go once but the line was so long we left in favor of margaritas and nachos at Dukes. (Don’t judge me, I was really hungry.)
235 East 53rd Street
Friends of mine have been telling me to go here for weeks. It’s tiny (like 10 tables), it’s cheap (like 10 bucks for an entree), and it’s BYOB. For my Villanova readers, think Fellinis meets NYC. Minus the inconsistent food and attrocious service. Bonus, it’s on my block!
So now readers I challenge you to venture out in NYC or what ever city you find yourself near, and look for ways to fill your stomach without emptying your wallet!