A local’s Guide to the 11 Best New York City Cheap Eats
June 27, 2017
Let’s talk about New York City cheap eats. First of all, I feel like local New Yorkers and tourists come from very different worlds. New Yorkers are in a rush and largely ignore their surroundings while in a mad dash to work. In contrast, tourists stop and stare at their surroundings since they are usually enchanted and enamored by the excitement and diversity that this city has to offer (opinions do vary so not everyone
loves New York, which is totally allowed). Locals recognize the tourists as they marvel in awe and at all the lights and banners and TV screens that swath Times Square in an ever present, electronic induced glow, a place that locals stay away from at all costs.
But while these two rival factions may disagree on a great number of things, we can all agree on the fact that New York City is insanely expensive. Like to the point that sometimes you check the price and think, “Maybe they made a mistake and added an extra zero.” But no, that zero is meant to be there. And you start to wonder if you’ll even be able to afford food. I mean, it is a biological necessity but unless you are a Facebook CEO, you probably won’t be able to dine at a Michelin Star restaurant (at least this lowly travel blogger can’t. I’d be the one outside crying, “alms for the poor”).
So where do us normal New Yorkers eat then? I mean we live every day, are not emaciated (there is like a Soul Cycle on every block. I think the populace has the opposite problem), and still manage to afford rent. How is this possible? Well, there really are some amazing, and cheap, places to go and get your inner chubby kid swerve on. Now I know, it’s hard to believe that anything in New York City is cheap, but I swear to you, this is not an urban legend. There really are some amazingly delicious, and affordable places, that you can stuff your face at, you just need to know where to look. And while this is easy for locals, when you associate New York with Times Square, and Times Square only, cheap and delicious eats can seem somewhat illusive. So here are some of the greatest cheap eats that New York City has to offer (And no, I am not referring to the street vendor on the corner who sells stale pretzels and mushy hot dogs that have God knows what in them).
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They call it New York style pizza for a reason. So if you go to New York and don’t get a slice of pizza then you haven’t really experienced this thin slice of culinary greatness ( and deep dish doesn’t count because that’s a Chicago thing). But some artisanal pizza places can be ridiculously expensive (seriously guys, it’s just dough and cheese), but not Best Pizza. Here, slices of amazingly delicious, cheesey goodness cost a whole $3.25 (CASH ONLY). Now if you want to roll like a big shot, then throw in an extra $0.50 to try their white slice which is elevated to the next level with some caramelized onions and a sprinkling of sesame seeds (so good. Get in my belly).
Not a fan of white pizza? That’s okay because best pizza creates an assortment of pies that are topped with seasonal vegetables and a variety of local goods. Also check out the house-special Grandma pizza, which is only available in square slices and has a rich and zesty plum tomato sauce and mozzarella. Eat in or take your slice on the road because this place isn’t known for its ambiance, and I am totally okay with that.
Address: 33 Havemeyer St, New York, New York 11211 (Between 7th and 8th streets. Take the L to Bedford Avenue)
Hours: Open daily from 2 pm to Midnight
Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery
Born out of Yonah Schimmel’s 1910 pushcart (talk about bringing it back old school), these soft, house-made knishes are baked in a basement brick oven and then schlepped upstairs via an old-fashioned dumbwaiter. Sounds delicious right? But, what the heck is knish? Well, I’m glad you asked because they are a carb lovers heaven. A knish, a la google, is a “an Eastern European snack food that consists of a filling that is covered with dough and then baked, grilled, or deep fried”. This bakery keeps this old world tradition alive by creating a thin dough shell, that is filled with potato and served with savory red cabbage and a spicy brown mustard (all for $3.50). That also have a sweeter version that is filled with cheese and topped with either blueberry or chocolate sauce for a whole $4 a knish. Really hungry? Then make it into a meal by getting a pickle and a side of coleslaw for an extra $1.50. A truly one of a kind, New York experience that you must eat to believe (I swear there is a reason why this tradition has lasted this long).
Address: 137 E Houston St, New York, New York (Between Eldridge and Forsyth Streets. Take the F to 2nd Avenue)
Hours: Open daily from 9:30 am – 7:00 pm
I want to take a moment to thank the culinary genius who created a restaurant that is dedicated solely to the creation of one of my favorite foods of all time, macaroni and cheese. Seriously, dreams really do come true in this tiny, four table, restaurant/take out joint. And this mac and cheese is made extraordinary with a perfect ratio of cheese to pasta to crunchy topic in each dish. Throw in some amazing spice combination and you have one amazing meal for only $7.99 (for a small container)
But don’t think for a second that they serve run of the mill mac and cheese. No way! With amazing menu items like lobste
r mac, shroom’ mac, the traditional, four cheese, and primavera, there is really something for everyone at this New York City mecca for cheese lovers.
Address: 54 Prince Street, New York, New York
Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 11am – 11pm and Friday and Saturday: 11 am – 12 am
The Arepa Lady
Look, women hawking arepas on Roosevelt Avenue are a dime a dozen. But sandwiched between all the taco trucks and kabob carts is, Maria Cano, the one and only Arepa Lady. Her freshly made, piping hot, buttery corn cakes are served with a crunchy top and a cheesy center, creating the very stuff that food fantasies are made of (Arepas are $3 and she accepts cash only). This Queens restaurant is the spot to go for a a quick, cheap, and delicious meal on the go (if you’re a meat eater then try her chorizo drizzled in garlic sauce and shish kabobs with grilled potatoes. I’ve heard rave reviews of both menu items).
Address: 77-02 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, New York, 11373 (Located at 79th Street. Take the 7 to 82nd Street/Jackson Heights)
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 11 am – 11 pm. Friday and Saturday: 11 am – 12 am and Sunday: 11 am – 10 pm
Los Tacos No. 1
New York City is known the world over as a cultural melting pot of culinary diversity. However, what New York is not generally known for is it’s out of the world Mexican food. Sure, we do a lot of cuisines well, but generally speaking, Mexican food is not one of them. However, the exception to this generality is the ever packed, Los Tacos No. 1. These West Coast natives create tacos that are inspired by the street cart movement that has taken over California.
They start with hand-pressed corn tortillas that are then dressed with adobada pork and sweet pineapple for only $3.50 a taco. They also have a charred carne asada taco with creamy guacamole for $3.75. Now if tacos just aren’t your thing, or you are a vegetarian like me then check out their nopal plates which consist of cactus, beans and cheese for only $6 (Talk about making taco Tuesday fun again).
Address: Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue, New York, New York (Between 15th and 16th streets. Take the A, C, or E to 14th Street)
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10am – 9 pm and Sunday: 10am – 8pm
I know, some people think it’s overrated and others live and die by their burgers and fries. But what you can’t debate is that this place must be doing something right with lines out the door and locations all across the globe. And in this New Yorker’s humble opinion, the food totally lives up to the hype.
Because I am a vegetarian I typically order the
cheese fries, which are genius because they serve the cheese sauce on the side, so that the crinkle cut fries don’t get soggy. And while I’m generally not a fan of crinkle cut fries, these fries are crispy and served piping hot, with just the right amount of salt to balance out the grease content of the fry. I usually chase this greasy goodness with a toffee, hand spun vanilla frozen custard shake that is loaded with an insanely delicious amount of whipped cream. Its one of those moments where I momentarily think about the calorie content of what I am ingesting and then promptly dismiss it with, “Ehh, this is a cheat day. And it doesn’t even matter because this is so good that every calorie is totally worth it.”
For the main course, I always order the ‘shroom burger, which is pretty much the only vegetarian option on the menu. That being said, my friend eats meat and she loved it. That’s because the portobello mushroom in this burger is deep fried in batter and then stuffed with cheese that oozes out of the center when you bite into it. The burger is also adorned with lettuce, tomato, and finished off with a bun, so that you feel like you’re getting the classic burger experience with just a hint of extra crunch. But the absolute best part of all is that you get all this food for only $20. Talk about a steal. I always love when my wallet and stomach both leave a restaurant happy.
Address: (multiple locations but I go to the one in Grand Central because that’s where I get off the train) 49 Grand Central Terminal, Lower Level Dining Concourse, New York, NY
Hours: Sunday – Tuesday: 7 am – 10:30 pm, Wednesday and Thursday: 7 am – 11 pm, Friday: 7 am – 11:30 pm, and Saturday: 7 am – 11 pm
Since 1970, this Sheepshead Bay fast-food paradise has been fulfilling the fantasies of cheese lovers all across the city, as the neon sign in the window indicates. Mustard yellows and browns adorn the interior of this restaurant, which is punctuated with a series of booths, banners, and balloons. And while a lot of things may have changed in the past four decades this menu has remained the same, along with the prices since nothing on the menu is over $7.95. So feel free to go crazy and devour a roast-beef sandwich that is dripping with gravy ($5.95). You can also pair this sandwich with some cottage fries that are drenched in melted cheese ($3.45) and you now have one of the best meals in all of New York. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in some fried nuggets that are filled with creamed corn yumminess ($3.95). But if you’re ever in doubt about what to order, just live by the cash register motto which states that, “You can have cheez on anything you pleez” and you should be just fine.
Address: 2901 Emmons Ave, Brooklyn New York (Between Nostrand Avenue and 29th Street. Take the B or Q to Sheepshead Bay).
Hours: Monday –Thursday and Sunday: 11am – 1am and Friday and Saturday: 11am – 3am
Bagels are a New York institution and not getting one here is basically a crime against the City of New York. Therefore, to stay in the good graces of the entire city, it’s best that you ingest one of these carborific creations while you’re here. But the question remains, where should I go? I mean, there is literally a bagel place on every corner, and they all seem pretty cheap, so it can be difficult to pick the best one.
Well, let me tell you, I have been eating New York bagels since birth, and the one and only bagel place that I will EVER wait online at is Ess-a-bagel. Not only are their bagels amazing (when I go I get two) but their speciality sandwiches and cream cheeses are out of this world. I mean, I didn’t even know chocolate chip cream cheese was a thing until I came here.
So put on a pair of elastic waist pants, grab $5, and hop in line for a bagel that will probably change your life (Go at like 2 pm and there won’t be a line). Sure, they have all the classics like sesame seed, everything, onion, egg, and poppy seed bagels, but I stick with a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with chocolate chip cream cheese (I tried it with strawberry cream cheese but chocolate chip is better). It sounds weird but is honestly the best bagel I have ever had. Excuse me while I derail my present plans to go get one
Address: 831 3rd Avenue.
Hours: Monday-Friday: 6am – 9pm and Saturday-Sunday: 6am – 5pm.
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles
By looking at this restaurant’s no-frills exterior, you wouldn’t think that such deliciousness lies within. But looks can be deceiving. And in spite of the underwhelming exterior, the noodles here are home made, hand-pulled. incredibly greasy, and totally delicious. I ordered the Pan-fried vegetable noodles and they were everything I wanted, and so much more. They were hot and silky and bathed in just the right amount of grease for exceptional flavor. Over all a pan-fried delight for your stomach. And the best part? The whole thing cost $10, soda included. And the place is totally unassuming, so you could show up in pjs and no one would bat an eyelash.
Oh, did I mention that this restaurant was actually featured on the show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate in a Bowl? Well, now you know that it has to be good (because obviously television never lies. Lol). The only tiny downer is that they don’t accept credit cards, so just make sure you have at least $10 on you and you should be good to go.
Address: 1 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013 (If you don’t want to go to Chinatown, they have a location on Mid-town at 648 9th Avenue)
Hours: Monday – Friday: 10:30 am – 10:30 pm and Sundays 10:30 am – 10:30 pm
And For the D
essert Lovers in the Audience…
The cookies here are better than the one’s mom used to make (actually, what am I talking about? My mom never made cookies) or Martha Stewart, if you’re mom was an M.I.A. baker. Not only are they decadently moist and gooey (so if you’re looking for a cookie with crunch, you’re outta luck), but they are enormous in size and flavor, with such traditional varieties as chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, oatmeal raisin, etc. That’s why, it should come as no surprise that that there’s typically a line out the door. But that’s okay because they’re totally worth the wait, scout’s honor (and I really was a girl scout). But if you are a line hater, head to the Harlem location on 2167 Frederick Douglas Boulevard.
Address: Levain Bakery, 167 West 74th Street (at Amsterdam Avenue); 212-874-6080
Hours: Mon – Sat: 8am-7pm and Sun: 9am-7pm
This place isn’t fancy at all. In fact, it is actually located in a carwash, right by the Intrepid. But there is donut genius within I tell you, plus cheap prices and no line. I mean, I went on a Saturday morning and there was literally no one there. I just devoured (I tried to be dainty but it was too goo
d) my vanilla, lavender doughnut in peace, as I watched the cars roll through the carwash. And I always beeline it here when I’m in the city because the donuts are light, moist, sweet, cake doughnuts that have no trace of grease. Seriously some of the best doughnuts I have ever had (with some super cool flavors too).
Address: 638 W 47th St, New York, NY
Hours: Mon: 6:30am – 3pm, Tue-Fri: 6:30am – 5pm, Sat: 7:30am – 5pm, and Sun: 7:30am – 3pm
God, I feel like a hungry, tub o’ chub just writing this post, but I don’t really care because every food item listed here is worth every single calorie, or penny, whichever one matters to you most. Just rest assured that if you dine at any of these places, your wallet and your stomach will both be insanely happy. So here’s to late night heart burn and the greasy food stomach bloat. May the force of the Tums and the Pepto Bismol be with you.
***All these suggestions not enough for you? Then click here and check out an awesome article about some other great places to eat in New York City.