It is possible to indulge in Eleven Madison Park without a reservation or a trust fund -- provided you can snag one of six seats at the bar. Last year’s renovation truncated the drop-in space, and chef Daniel Humm’s à la carte menu remains succinct. The refreshed lounge is as luxe as ever, and the tiny bar affords an opportunity for slightly less-monied New Yorkers to catch a glimpse and a taste of the best restaurant in the world. Mix and match the prawn, the crab salad, the honey and lavender glazed duck, or the black and white cookies and sample one of the city’s most expensive menus for around $100.
Eat well, do good, and save money -- that sums up the City Harvest lunch at chef Eric Ripert's revered French restaurant. Available weekdays at Le Bernardin's lofty front lounge, the three courses not only offer a budget-friendly taste of Ripert's award-winning seafood preparations (ingredients change weekly), but $5 from every meal also gets donated to the menu's namesake nonprofit.
At $68 for two courses, lunch at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Central Park gem feels like a downright steal when compared to the $148 dinner (it's a whopping $238 for the tasting of JG signatures). Diners will find many of the same premium dishes, too, like yellowfin tuna ribbons, spicy peekytoe crab salad, or, for an extra $12, four small themed desserts (chocolate, tropical, etc.).
Aquavit chef Emma Bengtsson worked her way from pastry chef to executive chef, becoming the second woman in the US to command a two-star Michelin kitchen. A $43 City Harvest prix fixe lunch menu featuring Icelandic cod and Swedish meatballs is served in the bar and lounge on weekdays. And $3 from each meal benefits the fight against hunger in NYC
After longtime executive chef Gabriel Kreuther left to open his eponymous restaurant (which received a one-star nod), Danny Meyer tapped Abram Bissell to lead the kitchen at The Modern, a move that gave it a Michelin bump. The two-star venue offers a by-the-dish menu in its expansive bar room -- an economical place to sample Bissell's playful, ingredient-focused fare for less. Most items run less than $30 each, like the avocado with peekytoe crab, the green garlic gnocchi, and the spicy steak tartare.
Jungsik’s unadvertised à la carte menu is available first come, first served at the bar. Instead of paying $155 for the seasonal prix fixe, you can combine the branzino, octopus and sea urchin for $90. And, unlike at a table where every guest is required to partake of the tasting, you can even split the bill with a pal.
The $58 two-course power lunch at Michael White's pricey Midtown establishment is nearly half the cost of the most expensive dinner entree, a $102 whole branzino for two. The options are also quite extensive, with your choice of crudi or antipasti to start, followed by several pastas or proteins, like the strozzapreti with jumbo lump crab, the fusilli with octopus bone marrow, the seared sea scallops, and the pan-roasted dover sole.
Upper East Side
No time (or cash) for the sit-down tasting at Daniel Boulud's double-starred flagship? Snag a seat in the bar and lounge room, where you can sample surprisingly generous dishes à la carte, some hovering around $50. It'll feel like a more leisurely affair here, but the staff doesn't skimp on hospitality -- you'll be getting the same winning service as prix fixe diners, plus an elegant, jazzy ambience.
Tucked away inside Grand Central Terminal, you'll find the new-Nordic restaurant from chefs Claus Meyer and Gunnar Gíslason showcasing locally farmed ingredients. A separate à la carte menu means you can feast on forono beets and Pennsylvanian lamb shank for $45 -- $100 less than the nightly tasting menu.
At $75, chef Patti Jackson's prix fixe menu is already one of the best deals in town, but further savings can be had by dining in Delaware and Hudson's Tavern extension right next door. Jackson also draws inspiration from the Mid-Atlantic region for the pub menu, turning out dishes like spaetzle and schnitzel to go with large-format beers from the region.
The strategy here is easy: you, the bar, an $18 tarte flambée, a $35 half-bottle of riesling, and a languid afternoon. With its cozy white leather banquettes and comprehensive menu -- including a long, award-winning wine list -- the lounge at Gabriel Kreuther is as fine as the dining room. Drop by the dessert annex for pastry chef Marc Aumont’s beautiful chocolate bonbons and petite desserts.
Don't be fooled by the fancy, white-tablecloth interior of the sprawling restaurant inside Chelsea's Maritime Hotel -- prices, while on the high side, aren't completely out of reach. Dine at the barroom Tapas Bar, where chef Anthony Sasso -- who garnered a Michelin sparkler at Casa Mono -- has put together a menu of creative Spanish-influenced small plates. A four-course menu featuring dishes like crispy fairy tale eggplant, garganelli with veal ragu, duck breast, and tiramisu runs $72 per person.
Not only is the afternoon a good time to eat on the cheap at this pristine fish den, it's also when you get the best deal overall -- and the proof is in the math. The nighttime sushi omakase costs $65 for 10 pieces; the lunch option is $35 for seven pieces, plus half a roll. Average that out and the nigiri rings up to $6.50 each at dinner, but only $5 each at lunch -- and that's not even counting the extra half-roll.
At $69, Carbone's veal Parm may be out of budget, but order smartly with a friend at Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi's retro red sauce palace and you’ll get away with dining for less than $50 each. An appetizer (chopped salad, $21), pasta (spicy rigatoni vodka, $32), and meat (cherry pepper ribs, $38) comes out to $45.50 person -- plus, the portions are as extravagant as the prices, so you'll likely be walking out with leftovers.
Lunch is the best time to eat affordably at this New American mainstay helmed by Alfred Portale. Entrees max out at $28 for dishes that will actually fill you up: pan-roasted chicken, soft shell crabs, and the Gotham burger -- fries included. There's also Gotham's greenmarket lunch, a $38 three-course meal highlighting ingredients sourced from the nearby Union Square farmers market.
The plates at Alex Raij and Eder Montero's beloved Brooklyn tapas joint are meant to be shared, so pool your dinner budget with some friends and you can can cobble together an excellent Spanish spread -- ranging from $4 spiced chickpeas to $32 roasted suckling pig -- at a pretty reasonable rate.