Sarah Ferris is a DC native and two-time NYC transplant exploring her love of all things pickled or baked with chocolate chips. Follow her perilous culinary school journey on her blog, Bunintended.
Having quit my stable job several months ago to follow the proverbial dream, I am back living in NYC, a culinary student and test kitchen intern, on a serious budget. The Big Apple can be an expensive place to eat, but with a few tips and tricks, along with some of my suggestions, you can easily have some of the tastiest bites this city offers.
1. Utilize deal sites and download their apps (you can turn off annoying notifications—I'll understand). Just because businesses advertise this way does not mean they don't have yummy food to offer! Trust me on this—I actually worked for one of these sites prior to moving back to NYC. Some of these places just want to bring new clientele in, showcase revised menus, or simply fill some seats during off-hours (or even off-season). Example—last week I noticed a new gelato place around the corner from my apartment offering free cones on Scoutmob. This place has delicious gelato and is usually quite crowded so why not snag a sample? Whether free or discounted, it's worth a quick mobile search.
2. Go on an adventure. If you're looking for cheap eats, a sure fire bet is to check out the ethnic enclaves of this diverse city. Brighton Beach for instance is chock full of Russian delicacies. Not only are the restaurants and markets you'll find as authentic as they come (you'll notice very little English) the food is a fraction of the cost you’d pay in the city. Take the chance to explore other boroughs and neighborhoods like Jackson Heights for Indian food, Astoria for Greek food, Flushing for Korean/Chinese, Dominican food in the Bronx, or Sunset Park for a mix of Latin American and Chinese staples. You may be just outside Manhattan but after a 30-minute, cheap subway ride you will feel a world away.
3. Give street carts a chance. Food trucks are a new in-thing, but don't forget about the original vendors of cheap street eats! My gut instinct always tells me that if there is a line there is likely a good reason for it. From Halal and dosas, to empanadas, tamales, Korean bulgogi, noodles, or even some unusual finds like BBQ and German, street carts are well worth the few bucks.
4. Explore flea markets. My favorite foodie gathering is in Williamsburg each Saturday afternoon, an extension of the Brooklyn Flea Market aptly named Smorgasburg. Dozens of local business owners set up booths just on the riverfront; crowds quickly gather to nosh on fish tacos, grilled cheese, BBQ, homemade baked goods, sample vendor products (pickles, oils, vinegars, sauces, jerky, etc.), sip on refreshing drinks, and plenty more. Prices are very reasonable (short of the standard $15+ lobster roll) and you'll likely want to try a few things and share with friends anyway. Plus, no sit-down service tipping (though I always encourage a $1-$2 in the tip jar) and there are always lots of free tastes! Many of these markets exist—just do your research online!
Places to Try
1. Sigmunds Pretzels (29 Avenue B at East 3rd Street)
Craving a carb-filled daytime snack? Walk east to revel over the doughy delights at this pretzel emporium. For $3, nibble on a traditional salted pretzel, or adventure to try garlic parsley, truffle cheddar, feta olive, cinnamon raisin, or pumpkin seeded. The best part? With each pretzel, you get a free dipping sauce for dunking— think whipped butter, herbed goat cheese, raspberry jam, whole grain mustard, peanut butter, and more.
2. La Churreria (284 Mulberry Street at Houston Street)
For something sweet, visit La Churreria in NoLita. Drop $6 for six, made-to-order, piping hot churros, plus a small dipping chocolate. Six churros are easy to share so you're in for a cheap treat here.
3. Wecshlers Currywurst (120 East 1st Street at 7th Street)
For filling, meaty fare that won’t break the bank head to this traditional German outpost in the East Village. For only $6-$7, dig into a wild boar sausage, schnitzel sandwich, currywurst with fries, or variety of Bratwurst. Tack on a Reissford Koelsch draft for $3 and you’ll have a hearty meal for a light price.
5. Crocodile Lounge (325 East 14th Street between 1st and 2nd)
It may be a college-minded, young crowd with NYU nearby but there are few places to sit back and relax with a beer where you'll get a free personal sized pizza with every drink ordered. That's right—an entire personal cheese pizza comes with any drink. It might not be theabsolute best pizza you've ever tasted, but it's not half bad, and is freshly baked in their wood fired oven. Toppings are only an extra buck should you want any.
6. Guayoyo (67 1st Avenue at 4 Street)
For a quick and fare-friendly lunch, check out this Venezuelan spot just north of Houston Street. All of their Arepas are a mere $8 and include freshly made soup, yucca fries, or green salad. Arepas are ground white corn bread, with a perfect crispy shell and fluffy interior, stuffed with a variety of fillings like shredded flank stank, black beans, and sweet plantains, or slow-cooked pork belly, house pickled jicama and ginger, and chipotle mustard. Their Cachapa is also dynamite for only $10—grilled sweet corn cakes bursting with soft handmade white cheese and topped with avocado. This is the ultimate balance of sweet, salty, and just plain delicious.
7. Hummus Kitchen (Murray Hill, Upper East Side, Upper West Side)
This is one of my all-time favorite spots for brunch simply because of the price. For under $15, try their prix-fixe option – a variety of appetizers served to the table, a choice of entrees, along with a bread basket and Turkish coffee or mint tea. The appetizer plate is no joke— it's a huge amount of food including items like borekas, warm grilled eggplant, homemade pear and onion confit, fried cauliflower with tahini, and grape leaves. Entrees range from a Moroccoan benedict, to green shakshuka (tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach, and two eggs over easy), or my favorite, their classic falafel sandwich stuffed with a pickle.
8. Baohaus (238 East 14th Street at 2nd Avenue)
If you're in the mood for an exotic bite, visit Baohaus in the East Village. Their authentic buns range between $2.99 and $3.99—talk about cheap eats! This joint uses only natural meats with no antibiotics or additives, and organic tofu. Try the bao stuffed with pork belly or beef cheek, the brined fried chicken with cilantro and crushed peanuts, or the fried oyster with lemon aioli and pickled veggies.
9. Bruschetteria (92 Rivington Street between Orchard and Ludlow)
Another favorite brunch spot, this one in the Lower East Side. For $12.50, nab an appetizer, like ricotta cheese and honey bruschetta, and one entree like the pancetta panini with scrambled eggs, mozzarella, and marinated tomato, or grilled sweet potato salad with arugula, gorgonzola and vinaigrette, plus coffee or tea and a glass of wine or juice.
10. Empanada Mama (763 Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd)
Stop by this Hells Kitchen foolproof empanada establishment. For between $2 and $3 each, grabbing just two or three should fill you up more than enough.
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