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Cheap Eats in New York City
Great meals, great deals, one hundred places to dine for under $10
This was the challenge: Find 100 places where you can have a meal for less than $10 without tax, tip or alcohol. No fast-food chains, no coffee shops and no slices. Just real food at sensible prices: good tastes and good values.
At a time when some New Yorkers are dropping $1,000 on dinner for two (including cocktails!) at Masa, we spent the same amount of money for 100 meals, and we think we had the more delicious experience. We went to four boroughs and to virtually every corner of Manhattan. We ate tacos and dim sum, arepas, bureks and doubles. We filled up on rice and beans, slimmed down on soy burgers and proved that even in 2005 you don't have to be rich to get a good meal in this city. Was it hard coming up with 100 places? Not at all. The hard part was limiting the number. Are they the best restaurants in their class? Some are, some aren't, but they're all good. Here, grouped by cuisine and in no particular order, are 100 of New York's best cheap eats.
Café el Portal
In the heart of trendy NoLIta (north of Little Italy), this teeny, family-run basement café serves fresh, modern Mexican dishes like shrimp tacos and nopales burritos. In summer, cucumber water tames the heat.
Tehuitzingo Deli and Grocery
Walk to the back of this Hell's Kitchen grocery store and you'll find a hidden Mexican taqueria with a blackboard that lists the tacos: $2 for most, but $2.50 for tongue, goat or tripe.
Zaragosa Mexican Bakery
Another Mexican grocery store with a counter, where it sells tamales and tacos with rice and beans. Sit at one of the few tables or lean against a wall to down several for a paltry $2 each.
Caracas Arepa Bar
Arepas, or white corn cakes, are essential to Venezuelan meals. Here, they're filled with shredded meat and black beans, like a Latin sloppy Joe, with chicken and avocados, and there's even one with tofu and portobellos for East Village vegetarians.
Sophie's Cuban Cuisin
This shiny-new cafe, a branch of a popular downtown spot, already has fans lining up to pay $8 for rice, beans and one of the daily specials, like stew, bacalao or roast pork.
Havana Chelsea Luncheonette
The Cuban sandwiches come in two sizes, medium and grande, and you'll definitely want the $5 grande. Regulars keep their eyes open for daily specials of Cuban soul food like shrimp in garlic sauce and fried pork chops.
Long before the East Village was trendy, you could come here for roast chicken or pork with yellow rice and beans, and for soups of the day, like oregano-laced chicken noodle soup with chunks of potatoes and carrots.
La Taza de Oro
The lunch counter is always busy at this tired-looking Chelsea coffee shop serving big portions of Puerto Rican fare, like roast pork and oxtails. Have tostones with everything, and café con leche to finish.
136 W. 46th St., between Sixth and Seventh Aves.; (212) 354-5013
The sign says it's Cuban, but the owners are Dominican at this wildly popular lunch spot. Cops, construction workers and magazine editors line up for the octopus salad, oxtails, fried fish and crisp chicken with rice and beans. The few tables are taken by noon.
Every few years, someone tries to introduce New Yorkers to Philly cheese steaks, and Carl's is the best of the recent lot. Countermen pile sauteed beef, griddled onions and American cheese, provolone or Cheez Whiz on what they call a hoagie roll and we call a hero.
Grilled Cheese NYC
The sixth grade's favorite sandwich is the fare at a single-minded shop on the lower East Side. Add sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, roasted turkey and onions, choose seven-grain bread or baguette instead of white, and balance your diet with sweet potato fries and carrot sticks.
Peanut Butter & Co.
Who needs a restaurant for a peanut butter sandwich? Apparently a lot of New Yorkers do, because this cozy little shop has been around since 1998. It's not all grape jam, Marshmallow Fluff and the Elvis (made with bananas and honey). They now serve BLTs, grilled cheese and tuna sandwiches.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
A Hawaiian plate lunch includes two scoops of rice, one of macaroni salad and a main dish like fried mahimahi, barbecued ribs or chicken katsu. It costs $3.99 to $4.99 at this Financial District restaurant, the first in the city to serve plate lunches.
"Ridiculously cheap" was the description we got of this veggie-friendly hangout, an unofficial mess hall for NYU students. The kids eat soy burgers, sesame noodles, salads and brown rice bowls, all in copious portions and most with Japanese flavors.
Have an old-New York experience in this landmarked 1817 pub that looks as though it is about to collapse. Blackboard specials list soups, chili, omelets and burgers, but the budget buster is the beer list, which is extensive and alluring. Go on. Spend a little.
Blue 9 Burger
Sure you could get a fast-food burger. But would it be fresh, never frozen, beef? Cooked to order? This pleasant East Village place serves 1/4-pound burgers, cheeseburgers and double cheeseburgers for around $5. Add fries and a milkshake and you're still under $10.
The Burger Joint
It is definitely a joint, but the freshly griddled burgers on soft potato rolls with sauteed onions are first-rate. You pay $1 a burger, but you won't be satisfied with less than two, and three with fries make a meal.
Remember White Castle? These are the same size, only better. A single miniburger costs 99 cents, but your best bet is to pay $5.79 for four sliders, French fries and a drink.
The name doesn't stand for Franks and Beans but Frites and Beignets, telling you that these are gourmet hot dogs. They have 22 varieties, including tofu topped with hummus. Don't like soda? Try the Champagne.
32. Crif Dogs
113 St. Marks Place; (212) 614-2728
Deep-fried hot dogs plus wildly original toppings such as sour cream and avocado, or chili, cole slaw and jalapeños are the fare at this East Village guy hangout. For overkill, have nacho-like waffle fries topped with chili and cheese.
33. Papaya King
179 E. 86th St.; (212) 369-0648
A New York tradition since 1932, this corner hot dog stand claims its franks are "Tastier than filet mignon." Order freshly squeezed orange or papaya juice.
26 E. 17th St., between Fifth Ave. and Broadway.; (212) 255-8999
Besides the kosher franks, bratwurst and knockwurst, this Union Square spot offers andouille, chorizo and chicken sausages, and serves them on homemade rolls with toppings like sauerkraut, chili, bacon, onions in tomato sauce or sautéed onions and mushrooms.
Bonobo's Vegetarian Restaurant and Store
18 E. 23rd St. ; (212) 505-1200
If you're into raw foods, you'll like this place, a big sunny room where nothing is heated over 118 degrees F. (They believe heat kills enzymes.) It's all vegan, organic and cheap, and no matter what it looks like, most of it tastes like salad.
A set meal of Indian vegetarian dishes. Not only is the menu balanced according to Ayurvedic principles, but if you're still hungry at the end they'll give you seconds with a smile.
38. Chip Shop
383 Fifth Ave. at Sixth St., Park Slope, Brooklyn (718) 244 7746
If you think all fried food is delicious, you'll love this Brit café selling fried cod, chips (aka French fries) and deep-fried Mars bars. Cheapest dish? A chip sandwich on white bread for $4.
A Salt & Battery
112 Greenwich Ave. between 12th and 13th Sts. ; (212) 691-2713
80 Second Ave. at Fourth St.; (212) 254-6610
A longtime chippery that satisfies East and West Villagers' hunger for battered, deep-fried cod and slightly soggy chops in a twist of newspaper.
Sapore is the inexpensive little Village Italian we all dream of. Here's where the panini are $5.95, pastas go only up to $6.95, and there are even chicken and fish entrées for under $10. It's not Babbo, but those aren't Babbo prices, either.
Not all Wall Streeters throw their money around. Some are savvy enough to lunch at this Italian deli/restaurant where big portions of baked ziti and linguini with meatballs cost $5.75, less than the $7 heroes and panini.
On trendy Smith St. this cafe serves super-trendy panini, the pressed Italian sandwiches that are grilled cheese with an Italian accent. Eggplant, goat cheese and fire-roasted peppers costs $7 and a prosciutto and fig-jam tremezzini is $5.
28 Grand St.; (212) 625-0362
Nutty, pale brown buckwheat crêpes are rolled around fresh fillings like ham and gruyère, while supple wheat crêpes hide sweet fillings like lemon curd, baked apple or, best-of-all, Nutella.
Rue des Crêpes
104 Eighth Ave. at 15th St.; (212) 242 9900
The faux Parisian street scene is hokey, but the crêpes are the real thing, with traditional fillings plus fusion ideas like merguez sausage, flank steak, or ham and Vermont cheddar.
The city's first French-fry joint and still the leader, this shop sells twice-fried potatoes with a variety of dips for those who think that there's something better than ketchup. If I could eat only one thing.…
626 10th Ave. at 44th St. ; (212) 977-1944
and 402 W. 51st at Ninth; (212) 541-6248
An empire that glorifies sausage in two restaurants and a street cart. Stay within your budget by ordering an alpenwurst, bauernwurst or Berliner currywurst on a crusty roll with sides of red cabbage and sauerkraut.
The name is Polish, but the dumplings are pan-Slavic at this cheerful Village spot. Siberian pelmenyi in chicken broth; flaky baked pirozhki; blintzes with sweet and savory fillings, and crisp, lamb-filled samsa are all priced under $5 to satisfy hungry club-goers.
110 First Ave. at Seventh St.; (212) 254-9699
A little bit of Polish Greenpoint in the East Village, Polonia is part coffee shop and part proper restaurant, offering great lima bean soup plus the usual stuffed cabbage, kielbasa and pierogies, with various cabbages and kasha.
228 W. 47th St. ; (212) 840-5000
Nicknamed "the Polish tearoom" (in contrast to the Russian Tea Room), this shabby coffee shop is a favorite with theater people. Order Jewish-grandmother food like blintzes, brisket and pot roast, but since it's not kosher you can also order ham and cheese.
221 West 38th St.; (212) 921-1183
Bureks may be the next pizza. This garment center café sells $4 slabs of phyllo dough filled with ground meat or with spinach and cheese. They're irresistible, but so are the veal goulash and Bosnian sausages served with rice and bright red pepper sauce.
128 MacDougal St. at Bleecker (212) 388-9700
Pitza is a New York-born fusion of pita and pizza. In this small café, ten inch pitzas are covered with ground meat and spices, or scallions, leeks, mozzarella and fenugreek and one easily serves two for $7.
23 Third Ave @ St. Marks; (212) 254-9500
Marketing-savvy owners held a contest to name this Israeli falafel place just off St. Marks. Fresh pitas come from the oven all day and are packed with falafel ($2.95), with turkey or chicken shwarma ($4.95), or with shawafel, a mix of the two ($4.50.)
57. Bread & Olive.
24 West 45th St. near Sixth Ave. (212) 764-1588
A midtown Lebanese lunch counter with tables in the back. For $8.75 you get a couple of warm pitas plus five vegetable mezze like roasted eggplant, tabbouleh, butter beans, grape leaves, and sweet rice-lentil pilaf.
58. Hummus Place.
109 St. Marks Place. First and A. (212) 529-9198
Do one thing and do it well. That's the motto at this tiny shop that sells nothing but hummus, in the styles of Lebanon (chickpeas and tahini), Egypt (fava beans and egg) and Israeli (whole chickpeas). All come with olives, sharp pickles and hot peppers.
59. Village Restaurant
45 First Ave @ Third St.; (212) 677-5500
The pizza is just a cover. In back you'll find daily specials of Egyptian dishes, like koshery made of elbow macaroni, brown noodles and lentils topped with blackened fried onions. $3 for a small plate or $5.50 for a large.
187 East Houston St. @ Orchard St. (212) 475-7700
Bereket's red lentil soup ($3.75) is Downtown's favorite hangover remedy, but all the food is reliable at this venerable open-all-night Turkish cafeteria. You still won't break a ten if you add a $6 Adana-kebab sandwich.
61. Sip Sak
928 Second Ave. at 49th St. (212) 583-1900
Ordering mezze can add up. Instead get stuffed cabbage, moussaka or quesadilla-like gozleme on phyllo dough at this "fast-serve" café and eat them with the warm, puffy bread that keeps coming from the oven.
62. Hoomoos Asli
100 Kenmare Street at Lafayette (212) 966-0022
The pita is fresh and the food fragrant with herbs at this Israeli corner café. Order hummus and felafel; or eggs poached in tomato sauce; or a parsley-green omelet with chopped salad. Finish with sweet, mint tea.
63. Azuri Café
465 West 51st St. @ Tenth Ave. (212) 262 2928
Soups rule at this down-at-the-heels kosher eatery. Sure, they sell tabouli, hummus and Israeli salad. But what you come back for are thick, sustaining bowls of lentil, chicken vegetable and split pea soup. With a pita, it's a complete meal for $4.75.
8 Maiden Lane @ Broadway; (212) 528-4669
Fast food as it's meant to be at this crowded Financial District golden oldie, now in a new location. Pitas are made fresh, the falafel and hummus are admired all over town, and the vegetarian kibbeh has a following all its own.
65. Elvie's Turo Turo
214 First Ave. @ 13th St.; (212) 473-7785
The name means "point point", describing how you select your meal at this cafeteria-like buffet. Have the mongo (lentil stew), or the sweet sausages, or the national dish of pork or chicken adobo spiced with vinegar, garlic and soy.
66. Krystal's Café
69-02 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens, and other locations; (718) 898-1900
Part buffet, part pastry shop, Krystal's serves home cooking in Queens' Little Manilla. Look for a mix of Chinese, Portugese and Malaysian flavors in shrimp noodles, beef and chorizo stew and purple yam cakes.
67. Darbar East
239 First Avenue, near14th St.; (212) 677 0005
New York's only Nepalese restaurant is unimpressive until you taste the delicious curry-bright food. Spend $7 at the small counter for a plate of rice, lentils, meat and pickles filling enough to send you up Everest.
68. Le Baobab
120 W. 116th St @ Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.; (212) 864-4700
A busy cafe serving classic Senegalese dishes like thiebou diene, or fish stew over rice, chicken yassa and cheb, a kind of vegetable-rich paella. It's the star of 116th Street's thriving Restaurant Row.
69. Great New York Noodletown
28 Bowery; (212) 349-0923
This Bowery dive is a perennial favorite for noodles in all forms, from soup to lo mein to dumplings. Many Chinese-food lovers consider it to have the best roast pork in town.
70. Grand Sichuan
745 Ninth Ave., at 51st St. and other locations; (212) 582-2288
Tell the waiter you love chilis when you eat at this Manhattan mini-chain that gets raves for twice-cooked pork, dandan noodles and braised beef in chili sauce.
71. Joe's Shanghai
136-21 37th Ave., Flushing, Queens, and other locations; (718) 539-3838
Here's where New Yorkers learned to love juicy dumplings with scalding hot soup in the center. All-pork are $4.60 for eight; pork-and-crab are $6.80. Share one order and one "lion's head" of ground pork and rice.
72. Central Buffet
195 Centre St., at Hester; (212) 226-2905
$4 gets you soup, a mountain of rice and your choice of four dishes from the steam table: good reason why this place is so popular. The big turnover means everything is fresh, and after 5 p.m., the price drops to $3.
73. Buddha Bodai Vegetarian Restaurant
42-96 Main St., Flushing, Queens, (718) 939-1188 and 5 Mott St.; (212) 566-8388
They only look like General Tso's chicken and pork lo mein. At these strictly vegetarian restaurants, they were probably made with tofu, mushrooms or wheat gluten, which is why the place is popular with Flushing's Hindu and glatt-kosher populations.
74. Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell St., near Bowery; (212) 577-7176
It's all make-believe in this Chinatown dumpling house, where $2.50 gets you a plate of "pork" and "shrimp" dumplings. Other small dishes, like spareribs made with yams, are priced nearly as low.
75. Fried Dumpling
99 Allen St.; (212) 941-9975
At this hole in the wall with less than no atmosphere, you'll get five chewy, pork-and-chive- stuffed dumplings seared crisp in a hot wok for $1. Three of us stuffed ourselves for $5.
76. The Dumpling Man
100 St. Marks Place; (212) 505-2121
The design of this stylish spot is miles from the old-style Chinatown dumpling places, but the color-coded Northern Chinese pot-stickers are chewy and delicious.
77. Wing Wong Restaurant Inc.
102 Mott St., north of Canal; (212) 274-0696
A quintessential Chinatown meal: crowded, speedy and cheap. Try spareribs, roast duck over rice or soy sauce chicken, and be prepared to share a table with locals and tourists who know a bargain.
78. Dinastia China
145 W. 72nd St., between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves.; (212) 362-3801
New Yorkers know to order the Latin dishes at Cuban-Chinese places like Dinastia China, where regulars recommend the fried pork chops and crackling chicken served with rice, black beans and a salad.
79. Tangra Masala
87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, Queens; (718) 803-2298
Expect sizzling hot spices, hot and sour soup, basmati rice and no chopsticks. It's Chinese food as interpreted for Indian tastes, and it's delicious.
80. Café Kashkar
1141 Brighton Beach Ave., at 14th St., Brooklyn; (718) 743-3832
There's not much Asian in the cooking of Xinjiang in the far northwest of China. But they do have turnips, soup with mutton dumplings, lamb kebabs and noodles seasoned with dill.
64-13 39th Ave.,Woodside, Queens; (718) 899-9599
If you like Thai food, you'll love this place, which many call the best Thai in New York. The perfectly balanced flavors manage to please everyone without making concessions to Western tastes.
82. Pam Real Thai Food
404 W. 49th St.; (212) 333-7500
If you can't go to Woodside, go to Pam. Just as shabby, just as authentic, with the heat turned just as high, it offers crunchy green papaya salads, lip-numbing curries and crispy duck with onions and chilis.
83. Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches
150 E. Second St.; (212) 388-1088
Banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches, are the new panini. In this East Village outpost, you'll pay $4 for a crisp warm baguette filled with ham, ground pork, pate, pickles, cucumbers, jalapenos and mayonnaise.
84. Pho Nam Bo
7524 18th Ave., Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; (718) 331-9259
Pho is Asian comfort food, a dark anise-and-cinnamon-scented broth in which you cook strips of beef. Add lime, greens and hot sauce, and for $4.95 you have a satisfying meal in a newly Asian neighborhood.
85. Taste Good
82-18 45th Ave., Elmhurst, Queens; (718) 898-8001
Richer than Thai, Malaysian food is chili-hot and coconut sweet, with an undertone of belacan, the funky fish sauce that is their soy sauce. Your mouth will thank you.
86. Malaysia Rasa Sayang Restaurant
75-19 Broadway, Jackson Heights, Queens; (718) 424-9054
Spicy dishes from South Asia like crisp roti canai or rice pancakes dipped in curry sauce, moo gorent fried noodles, and super-tender braised beef rending: It doesn't get better than that at this restaurant.
236 E. Ninth St., between Second and Third Aves.; (212) 353-8503
Not all Japanese food is pricey. There's okonomiyaki, two gooey pancakes filled with beef, pork, shrimp or squid, that you buy at this Ninth St. window and top with mayonnaise and hot sauce, all for $7.
88. Rai Rai Ken
214 E. 10th St.; (212) 477-7030
You have to act fast when you snag one of the 14 stools in this narrow place. All around are people slurping springy ramen noodles in bowls of broth dense with scallions, pork and hard-cooked eggs.
205 Allen St.; (212) 353-9494
The specialty is kushikatsu, skewers of breaded and deep-fried beef, chicken, pork or shrimp. One costs a dollar and change, but several are included in a bento box meal for around $7.
156 E. 45th St.; (212) 922-9788
Rice balls filled with seaweed, salmon skin or pickles and with untraditional prosciutto, pastrami or tuna salad are a popular Japanese answer to a meal on the run.
91. Niko Niko
80 Wall St.; (212) 232-0152
Forget the sushi at this Financial District favorite and order the over-rice dishes. For $4.95 to $6.25, you get a plate of short-grain rice topped with a pork chop, teriyaki-brown eel or salmon fillet, or Korean bibimbap.
92. Lahore Deli
132 Crosby St.; no phone
One of several 24-hour places catering to South Asian cab drivers, this crowded room offers highly spicy, extremely filling steam-table fare. Two dishes, lentil stew, rice and bread costs under $5, and we dare you to finish.
35-68 73rd St., Jackson Heights, Queens; (718) 458-8144
Using no meat, fish, poultry or eggs, Gujarati cooks developed a complex cuisine based on grains and beans. There's so much flavor that you won't notice your cholesterol dropping.
94. Dosa Hutt
45-63 Bowne St., Flushing, Queens; (718) 961-6228
A bare-bones snack bar dedicated to dosa, thin crisp pancakes rolled around South Indian vegetarian fillings. Expect surprises in your mouth, like the potato filling that hides chilis, lentils and cashews.
5 W. 31st St.; (212) 684-2199
Vegetarian specials with rice, yogurt and bread are $4.95 in this shabby-chic cafeteria across town from Curry Hill. Regulars order crisp dosas and uttapam pancakes, which the menu calls "Indian pizza."
96. Rajbhog Sweets
72-27 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens; (718) 458-8512
A store and deli selling the Indian street foods that are a mix of crunchy dried snacks, yogurt and chutneys. Flavors are so lively and textures so complex that you'd eat here even if dishes didn't cost $3 to $5.
97. The Kati Roll Company
99 Macdougal St. ; (212) 420-6517
Part wrap, part roti, a kati roll is portable Indian food, an egg-lined paratha bread rolled around skewers of chicken, beef or fresh cheese, onions and spice. It's veggie-friendly, but even carnivores pay only $7 for two rolls.
98. Mandoo Bar and Dumpling Factory
2 W. 32nd St. and other locations; (212) 279-3075
Steamed or fried dumplings are the specialty of this stylish Koreatown café, where wrappers are color-coded to show if the fillings are pork and greens (white), cabbage and daikon (green), or seafood (pink).
99. So Gong Dong America (BBQ Soft Tofu)
136-17 41st Ave., Flushing; (718) 661-6655
The chili-red broth is afloat with soft tofu, egg, sprouts and ground meat or fish. Add crispy baked rice from the stoneware pot and you have an adventure in a bowl for $7.
30 E. 13th St., between Fifth and University; (646) 336-1685
A crowded upstairs room serving Korean fast food like rice-flour pancakes, over-rice dishes, and baked sweet potatoes to NYU students looking to fill up without spending a lot.