There's no getting around how expensive New York City is. In a city where the average cup of cocktail is $15.00 and the average hotel stay is $200/day, you may resign yourself to eating pb&j's for dayz if you're strapped for cash when visiting for the first time.
However, I'm here to show you that there is no better city to be, as I like to say, 'temporarily impoverished.' You can find fashionable $10 jeans, $3 t-shirts, and spend almost nothing at happy hours throughout the City. But you can also experience the best food New York has to offer...as long as you're willing to travel. And isn't that what you came for?
Here are my must haves, my favorite neighborhood spots, and my little secret spots, I've accumulated over five years of pounding the pavement in New York City.
If you're from NY, leave a comment with your favorite spots and keep the conversation going!
1. Mamoun's Falafel
This is first for a reason, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is the ULTIMATE cheap, semi-healthy, fast-food option downtown. My personal favorite is the vegetarian friendly falafel sandwich. At $3.75, the sandwich is crammed with steaming falafel balls, packed with lettuce, cucumber, and creamy tahini, and delivered to you in an aluminum pouch with a fork. One of my favorite food bloggers, One Hungry Jew, raves: 'The falafels are crispy and full of spices, which is all this jew cares about. The meats are roasted to perfection, dripping with juice.' A word of advice: go easy on the hot sauce they provide! Coming from someone who drinks Tabasco sauce (true story,) this sauce left my insides completely gutted.
2. Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Dumplings
Everyone and their mother will tell you to go to Vanessa's Dumplings in Chinatown. When I was just out of college, I loved that you could get five, thick, and greasy dumplings for $1.00; hell I also liked Red Bull Vodkas! But you want the best; you want some bomb-ass, authentic-af dumplings! So skip the line of college kids at Vanessa's and walk a quarter of a block up to Shu Jiao Fu Zhou, and don't let the outside fool you. Zhou's offers a $2-for-6 or $3-for-10 dumpling deal, which is the cheapest meal anywhere on this list. The dumplings only come steamed, not fried (go back to Vanessa's if you want the fried dumplings) but you won't care. 'Or,' as the Infatuation Blog says, 'by all means, go eat a thick doughy orb with a bunch of teenagers next door. Your move.'
3. Tal's Bagels
I often write hyperbolically: this is amazing, you MUST try this, THIS IS THE BEST THING I'VE EVER HAD! But NYC is legit known for their bagels; you will never have a better bagel outside of New York City. That is as much of a fact as gravity. But the problem is which one is the best?! When I was researching the competition, I saw Black Seed Bagels come up often: it's a relatively new shop that caters to hipster things like beet-cured-lox or some other bullshit that I have little to zero interest in. My choice is: Tal's Bagels. I used to live next door to one on the Upper East Side, and the bagels were so good that on occasion I went back to order another. Their bagels are perfect: crisp and crunchy on the outside, flavorful and soft on the inside, with as many flavors and options as you can dream of. If it's your first bagel experience, definitely get the Everything Bagel with the vegetable cream cheese spread ($4.50.) If you're an experienced bagel-chaser, get the Everything Bagel with the vegetable cream cheese spread ($4.50.)
4. Corner Bistro Burger
There is nothing a quintessentially American as a burger and fries. For the most popular burger under $10, head to Jane Street in the West Village to the Corner Bistro. The CB has the neighborhood dive bar feel with a simple and short menu filled with comfort food. The stand-out is the Bistro Burger: a robust patty piled to the sky with American cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Flavorful, juicy, and cheap ($7.00!) enough that you can splurge and get a side of their thin-cut, crispy fries and a pint. Sure, the Corner Bistro's appearance leaves something to be desired, but when every other neighborhood restaurant caters to the ultra rich, I'll put my money where my mouth is and take a big, juicy bite.
5. Lunch at Blockheads Burritos
Blockhead's Burritos has been a restaurant staple of mine over the years. They bill themselves as a 'San Franciscan Mexican Restaurant' but I have no clue what in the living fuck that means, all I know is they have unlimited chips and salsa, cheap margaritas, and a lunch special that keeps me coming back to any of their 10 locations. For $8.95 you choose what kind of burrito you want, a side of rice+beans or salad, chips and salsa, AND a lunch sized margarita.
Bonus: if you go when it's warm they have an entire pavilion at their W. 51st Street location where you can bask in the New York sun, drink your $6 margarita and fill up on chips and salsa.
6. Joe's Pizza
Joe's Pizza should be a New York City landmark by this point. Whenever I was drunk in the Village (it was alot in my early 20's) I bee-lined here to grab their trademark slice of cheese pizza. It's the perfect size (fucking huge) with the perfect ratio of tomato sauce, gooey-cheese, and crisp bread that you can only achieve by making pizza for the past 100 years. This is one of those places where former friends of mine said they haven't tried and the rare case where New Yorker's will go out of their way to show you, like The Pizza Snob. Every food blogger in the City has covered Joe's Pizza so rest assured...you're in for a treat.
7. Banh Mi Zon's
I, like the majority of humans with taste buds, love me some Banh Mi's. A Banh Mi, if you're not familiar, is a perfect, crispy sandwich filled with fresh and pickled vegetables and (insert meat option here) originating from Saigon. When done right, the sandwich is an explosion of taste, crunch, and smells that is healthy and satisfying. They may be hard to track down, but don't worry, Banh Mi Zon's has you covered. In Alphabet City, this small new opening is doing everything right: everything was fresh, flavor, and I felt I got my money's worth (they have since raised their prices to $11/sandwich.) If you prefer meat, the Serious Eat's Blog had this to say: 'Their pâté is the star of the stuffing, with a luxuriously rich smoothness and none of the gray oxidized look that plagued most of the other restaurants. Likewise, their ham and head cheese terrine are fresh and flavorful, while shredded chicken floss adds a unique sweet and savory kick that pushes the sandwich over the top.'
I did years of legwork on this one because tacos are my favorite vessel for food. Anything can be made into a taco: you can add sauces, rice, cheese, whatever! But my favorite spot is in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood. Off the Franklin Ave Subway stop (2, 3, 4, 5 train accessible) is another hole in the wall restaurant serving up mexican-taco-realness. I love this place because the ingredients are fresh af and the tacos are made right in front of you. My personal favorite are the Fried Jalepeno and Avocado tacos: smothered black beans, just-fried jalepeno + avocado, topped with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and cojita cheese. Oh lawd I'm straight up salivating rn. What's more, their chips are MADE TO ORDER and their guac is legit. Not the best I've ever had (hai ABC Cocina!) but it's a deal for $8.00. I have to stop by devour their side sauces, both are on the spicy side but burrrrsting with amazing flavor.
Xi'an's has an amazing story: they started out in a basement of a shopping mall in the middle Queens. Their food was so good however, that now there are over 10 locations throughout the City. It's no surprise that this is on my top lists either, because this food is SPICY. It's focus is on the Northwestern Chinese cuisine, which doesn't mean very much to me, but Migrationology breaks it down: 'Unlike Chinese Cantonese food, (this) Chinese food...relies on spices, namely cumin, chilies (and plenty of chili oil), and Sichuan pepper.' I highly recommend the Spicy Cucumber Salad (obvi) as well as anyone of their noodle dishes (there's one vegetarian and thousands of meat options) This is one of the more expensive options on the list ($9-15 for noodles + $6 for Cucumber Salad) but they have tons of budget friendly options.
Ah, Gloria's. You should make a day of food around the Crown Heights neighborhood, because Gloria's is another staple. I may be biased, since I used to live there, but there is an undeniable attraction the neighborhood has with this place. It may not look like much, but once you have one of their Roti sandwiches, you're taste buds will override your other senses until it's devoured. Trust.
Roti is hard to explain, because I've noticed that there are so many different variations. Basically this kind is called Wrap Roti. It is a commercialized product combination of a common dish in Trinidad, consisting of wrapping Roti bread around a filling of meats, potatoes, rice, and aromatic Indian spices to be easily consumed on the go!
I will admit, Gloria's menu is quite intimidating. Caribbean food is not something I'm familiar with; I still wince when I see stewed ox-tail on a menu. If you eat meat, you'll be completely happy: people rave about the Ox-Tail Roti ($9.50.) BUT if you're veg they have tons of unexpected options, but the Potato and Chana Roti ($6) and Soya Tofu Roti ($7) are my favs.
I always love hearing about new finds! If you have one to share, comment below so we all can check it out!
Nick and Tani
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