Dining tips for Manhattan

JonSanders, a loyal MR reader, asks:

I read "Discover Your Inner Economist" (as well as "Create Your Own
Economy") and I want a little more help with the Manhattan dining tips
you covered. Care to help someone on a serious budget, like say, an
undergrad at NYU? Staying off the main avenues is useful, but it is
still hard to find dirt cheap authentic food from most cultures. More
advice?

I'm was in New York yesterday and I despaired.  Short of dropping $50-$70 or more for lunch, it's hard to get a good meal in most of Manhattan.  Greenwich Village went mainstream long ago and the overall problems in Manhattan are high rents, rising tourism, and the importation of growing numbers of people from U.S. regions with lesser food taste (can you guess where?).  That's a triple whammy.  I recommend the following:

1. Eat on the far west or far east side, like 9th Ave. or The Bowery.  The East Village hasn't been ruined.  The West Village still has some quirky places near The Village Vanguard, usually further west off the main paths.  There are good places near Hudson St., the neighborhood Jane Jacobs wrote about.

2. Eat on the way to or from LaGuardia in Flushing, Queens, in superb Chinatown.  If you try the Chinatown in Manhattan, go for breakfast — not dinner — for the best chance at quality.

3. Look for obscure ethnic places in the mid 30s, on the streets, not the avenues.

4. The best food reviews are in New York magazine, by far. 

5. Two of my reliable stand-bys are Ess-a-Bagel and Shun Lee Palace, both in East/Midtown.  They're both pretty tired in terms of concept but the quality still is excellent.  I enjoy them every time I go.  Shun Lee Palace would not count as dirt cheap, however.

6. Get to Brooklyn or Queens.  Or (gasp) New Jersey.

What advice can you give this poor fellow?

Comments

There are some very authentic Japanese izakaya style places in the east village. I can't remember the name of the place I went to, but as soon as I walked in the door it felt like I had stepped directly back to Japan. It was loud, boisterous, and full of Japanese speakers-- the atmosphere could not be beat. And the menu had all the items I used to find at the izakayas I would frequent when living back in Shikoku. I dream of having anything similar in Florida.

Suggestions: Sigiri Sri Lankan (east village/les); Polash Indian Cuisine (far better than the garbage in the village, but a decent trek to east harlem. This is one of the most authentic indian restaurants i've been to and is very, very cheap in price); Yuka sushi (actually on an avenue in the ues, but you can't beat the all you can eat sushi)-go for the salmon skin roll

For a very reasonably-priced (not 'dirt cheap') 'nice' dinner out, the Smorgaschef chain is quite decent -- in particular the midtown location, NOT the cheesier and generally lower-end Scandinavia House one. Probably as good as you'll do on a regular basis for ~ $30 for a 3-course dinner in a proper restaurant.

Also not dirt-cheap but still good value, Katz's delicatessan on the Lower East Side remains underrated even after accounting for how famous it is.

^"four stars," sheesh.

Jersey City has great Indian food, and cheap. Just about any place you go there will be good.

Even after years of gentrification, the upper west side (above 96th street) still has plenty of decent places where you won't go broke.

Hunan Balcony (99th? and Broadway) is still excellent. There's a very good Indian place at about 122nd and Amsterdam. The East African place right next to it used to be decent: I haven't been in a while.

I think Manhattan actually has more cheap (say under $10 for a meal) good ethnic restaurants than anywhere else in America. It is true that if you're looking for a big table to eat at as opposed to a shared table or a counter, the prices go up.

A couple near NYU:
Num Pang Cambodian sandwiches - things like pork belly with sliced pear, or grilled mackarel. $7.50
Keste Pizza - authentic Neapolitian pizza w / a lunch special: Marghertia pie to go for $6.50

Rhong Tiam on LaGuardia Place got a Michelin star (questionable imo, but still) and has a lunch menu for $7.50. I also like Jaiya on 28th & 3rd a lot. There's good food on the eastern parts of St. Marks and Avenue B around 10th St. Tyler's right about the streets in the 30s, a few good Korean restaurants for example.

I've lived in New York (Brooklyn) for 10 years, and I still don't make enough money to eat out more than occasionally at most Manhattan restaurants.

For JonSanders, I first would recommend developing a solid rotation of, say, two cheap, good restaurants in each category of ethnic food and then branching out from there, exploring all over the city if possible, including the boroughs (place mentioned in some comments above).

A few suggestions:

Chinese:
-The hand-pulled noodle places down on Eldridge(?) around Canal. Super Taste was a good one; there are many others, although I can't speak to quality.

-New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe in Chinatown. As always, best not to order standard American Chinese stuff like beef with broccoli. The boiled beef is very good, as is the pork shoulder. There is lots of other stuff to try. The quality is definitely above average, and the price is right.

-As mentioned above, the dumpling house on Eldridge. Also there is a newish Grand Sichuan on 7th near Houston, although I haven't tried it. Last I looked, the lunch specials looked very reasonable.

Vietnamese:
-Pho Bang on Mott and other Pho places. Do a search for Banh mi on Chowhound.

Middle Easterm:
-Can be a tough one for better than average. Taim in the West Village, on a side street near St. Vincent's is terrific. A great falafel.

Indian:
-Forget about 6th Street. Go to Lexington and 28th. Try Chennai Garden on 27th. Had some very good food there recently. There is also Kalustyan's on Lexington, a deli/spice store. They sell prepared foods, and there is a small space upstairs where you can eat.

-You must have been to the dosa guy at the SW corner of Washington Square park.

Also, even if you're not a vegetarian, I would take advantage of the proximity of Vegetarian's Paradise to NYU. The lunch specials are cheap, and the food is very good.

There are many other good place in all kinds of categories, but this comment is already getting long. The point is that eating cheap, good food can be done even in Manhattan, but you have to work increasingly hard. Internet research is a must...

When I was at NYU a favorite Indian restaurant was Sangam, on Bleecker between Avenue of the Americas and MacDougal. They have excellent biryanis for under $10.

Handi, at 28th and Lexington is an excellent place for Indian (Pakistani to be precise) Punjabi food. It is, as a previous commenter mentioned, very popular with cab drivers, so you know its good.

Saravana Bhavan at 26th and Lexington is the go to place for vegetarian South Indian food.

The East Village is full of wonderful and relatively cheap ethnic restaurants. Tsampa (Tibetan) on 9th street at 3rd Avenue is one of my favorites.

My tips:

1) Unless you are from Chicago and have some odd ideas as to what "pizza" means, you'll not go wrong eating pizza for three meals a day for four days here. Stay away from Times Square and a three block radius in any direction. Bravo Pizza on 37th and Broadway is surprisingly good given its proximity to tourists (and therefore easy customer base) and this is coming from a person who worked in an office of pizza snobs.

2) I echo two of Tyler's tips in particular: side streets in the 30s have gems (but clunkers) and NYMag is awesome. Both would have lead you to find Olympic Pita on 38th b/w 5th and 6th which, before it chained owners, was the best Middle Eastern kebab place I've been too, and I've been to a lot of those.

3) I don't eat off food carts (dietary restrictions prohibit it) but the Rafiqi-brand carts are apparently excellent. I believe there is one on 47th and Vanderbilt (that small road b/w Park and Madison) but again, it's not my bag.

4) Atlantic Grill (3rd b/w 76th and 77th) is a short walk from the uptown 6 train and is probably less than 15 minutes from Grand Central that way. The Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass roll is incredible.

on the subject of cheap indian in manhattan: there are two places i really like. indus express on 46th(?) and dhaba on lexington. dhaba is a real standout.

food carts are a good bet too. i wish we could deregulate and get more of them. the dosa cart on the south side of washington square park is quite surprisingly good, cheap, and near NYU.

Look for obscure ethnic places in the mid 30s, on the streets, not the avenues.

I suspect this is a specific case of a more general rule about the relationship among restaurant location/quality/price.

@12:10--Really RaviT? i've been there four or five times and enjoyed each visit---and cheap as well. Possibly your mom is a better cook that you're giving her credit?

Menupages dude, how did anyone find cheap good food before menupages?
http://www.menupages.com/

In the NYU area try the Risotteria at 270 Bleecker Street. Not dirt cheap, but you can have an excellent meal for under $20.

There are plenty of decent ethnic places in the 50s on 8th, 9th and 10th Aves.

Or you can do the global cuisines of the #7 subway line. Last night the GF and I had a great dinner at Szechuan Delights on Prince Street that cost $25, including the tip. When I go for dim sum in Flushing it's typically less than $50 for 6 or 7 people! And that's on the weekend, when prices are inflated by 50%.

Look around this blog for some suggestions

http://petercherches.blogspot.com/

I don't understand whats so difficult... being at NYU I'm surprised that you never walked around Astor Place or MacDougal St or these other student oriented places. NYU is at the center of cheap ethnic cuisine...

Know thy carts and check out Midtown Lunch blog for lunches under $10; it sometimes covers downtown too.

Chowhound is good for suggestions on the best pizza / burger / bagel, although I've not found a burger in NYC close to good ones in Houston, nor a bagel to match Brick Lane Beigel Bake in London (Ess a bagel is good in its way but on the big, sweet and fluffy side).

Someone recommended Taim for felafel, which I second, and add the Maoz chain. Both are much better than most carts, and Maoz lets you put together your own salad, with proper hot sauce, like in Israel.

Your advice on Flushing is the best. I love that place. You can get perfect-slicked Beijing kaoYa (peking duck) carry-out for $1.50, so many delicious and cheap restaurants. It's some of the best Chinese food in the U.S. It's the only reason I might consider living in NYC.

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond! MR is awesome; this is so much great advice.
Also for those asking, I live on East 10th and Broadway (NYU housing locations are great).

JonSanders -- HipToBeCautious has good advice. Not sure where you live, but I'm at Rivington and Ludlow and these places are super cheap, close by, and delicious:

1) El Castillo de Jagua on Rivington and Essex. This place is a neighborhood institution and is super cheap. Get the oxtail stew, comes with rice and beans, something like $7 and you'll be incredibly full.

2) Pho Bang on Mott just south of Broome (mentioned above). $6 for the best Pho in the city, and it's BYOB. Take a girl, bring a bottle of wine. (NB: september wines on ludlow is great). This place is awesome.

3) Punjabi Deli on Houston b/t 1st and A. If you don't mind eating in cramped quarters, this is the best Indian food I've had in the city. For 5 bucks you get a whole meal. Note all the cabs parked outside. People come from all over the city for this place.

4) Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches on E 2nd. People have strong opinions about the best Bahn Mi in the city. This is my favorite, and again it is super cheap.

5) Pinche Taqueria on Mott. I am Mexican, and I'm pretty disgusted with most of the Mexican food in Manhattan. This place is not bad at all though, and it's cheap. Kicks the shit out of La Esquina and it is much cheaper.

6) Cafe Rakka (2 locations in E village) has excellent falafel. Super cheap again.

7) Royale on Ave C. Has a heck of a burger for $6.50.

8) Everyone like's Vanessa's dumplings on Eldridge, but there's a better spot a little further down that's cheaper. Easily the cheapest meal in the city. $2 got me 10 awesome pork dumplings. Can't remember the name of the place but it's tiny (2 stools i think) and on the east side of the street.

Tyler's suggestions are just weird (but I tend not to agree with his food suggestions, I think).

There are a million cheap places to get good food of all sorts for cheap still in Manhattan - below 14th street you should stay East in general, but there are tons, Mexican, Ukrainian, Indian, Ethiopian, you name it, then from Houston down on the East, and Canal down on the West, you are pretty good until you hit Wall street.

Chealsea is tough. Mid town is much more spotty, and forget most of the upper east and west sides, but then you have your Harlems. East Harlem is mostly latin, west Harlem is fantastic: Jamaican and Soul Food and all kinds of good Jazz bars, etc.

Then you have Brooklyn for your pizza and more latin, and Russian, etc etc. Its endless and you just have to read the menus to know if you have a decent price--you can get recommendations but not everyone agrees on these thing. You just gotta try stuff out.

Go to yelp.com and search for restaurants near wherever you happen to be. Filter the results so that only single "$" restaurants are included. That'll find you meals under eleven bucks. Stick with places that get 4 stars or up, and you'll generally be okay.

everyone in the food blog world seems to be losing their shit about how awesome the burgers at shake shack are. i hear they have long lines though.

i hear they have long lines though.

LOL. Last time I was by there, about 100 people were lined up at 4 pm on a Saturday. I think several were homeless people trying to sell their spot on line.

I have to echo what a couple of people noted on the food carts. There is a chain of food carts that serves Gyros -- and I have to say, they are excellent. I go there on business where I'm on a per diem -- I take my own breakfast bars for breakfast, eat at the Gyro carts for lunch (go early or late - they can have long lines during the noon hour), and use the entire per diem on dinner. Really like the Gyro carts.

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