Party on Like Rudolph With This Red Nose Punch
There are tons of sub-$10 options at this longtime pan-Middle Eastern spot along Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn (it’s also the sister restaurant to Moustache, another cheap eats standard in the East Village). The falafel and hummus are hearty and cheap, but the best thing on the menu is the lambajin ($8), described promisingly on the menu as a “lamb pizza.” It’s basically a large pita topped with minced lamb, onions, tomato, and herbs. The pita oven in the front of the restaurant imbues the lamb (and all the other pitas) with an unforgettably dark char, so make sure to fill up on as much pita as you can handle.
This tiny “restaurant” within a bakery in Jackson Heights serves one of the best Tibetan thalis in town. The sign outside reads “Tawa Food,” but enter and you will find two operations: a tiny kitchen and a separate bakery. For only $9, the waiter will bring you a metal thali plate filled with daal, chickpeas, a curry of nutrela (soy protein) and potatoes, mustard greens, and my personal favorite, fried pieces of bitter gourd. To keep yourself entertained, watch as the women in the bakery roll out paratha after paratha for sale at the only other table besides yours.
Breakfast is the best (and cheapest) meal of the day at Cocoyoc, this longtime Bushwick taqueria along Wyckoff Ave. Opt for the chilaquiles ($9), some of the best in town, or the huevos con chorizo ($9) or even a steaming hot bowl of pozole (served with a tostada) for only $8.50. Better yet, the expansive backyard offers some of the most relaxing al fresco dining in the heart of Bushwick.
Patties are the specialty at this little Trini spot along Washington Ave in Prospect Heights. Best of the lot is the jerk chicken patty ($2.50), filled with spicy chunks of chicken in a piquant gravy, but the curry chicken and spicy beef versions are also excellent. If you prefer a heartier lunch than two patties, opt for one of the many daily specials from a roster of Caribbean standards or, better yet, the excellent Trini corn soup.
The falafel sandwich ($7.50) at Kosher Deluxe right smack in the middle of Midtown Manhattan is fine, but the real reason for this purchase is unlimited access to the outstanding salad bar. Filled with a bounty of vegetarian delights -- multiple cole slaws, beets, roast peppers, pickles, and best of all, meaty eggplant -- this is the salad bar of your dreams. The sparse dining room is a melting pot of cultures: Orthodox Jews, high schoolers looking for a cheap bite of shawarma, and office workers out for a cheap, filling lunch.
Down near the base of Eldridge St in Chinatown is one of the better, if not cheaper, sit down Fu Zhou Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood. Make no mistake, patrons are here to eat, not chat, as every seat faces the wall. Here, you can basically order the entire menu and still come in comfortably under $10. Try the diaphanous wonton soup ($2), a plate of dumplings ($3 for a large order!), and peanut butter noodles ($2) and you will still not have spent $10. Make sure to take a bunch of frozen dumplings home with you, too.
You’ll have no trouble eating for under $10 at the best Bangladeshi restaurant in town -- though if you’re coming from outside of the Bronx, it’s quite the hike north to Parkchester. It’s worth it, though. Here you will find Neerob, which simultaneously functions as a restaurant and Bengali community center. Opt for a variety of bhartas -- basically mashes laced with sinus-clearing mustard oil and chilies. Among these, the green banana, chickpea, eggplant, and shutki bharta, featuring funky, dried fish are the standouts. Most are only $3 a pop, so try a few. Grab a milky chai to soothe the fire in your mouth while marveling at how you’ve only spent a few bucks for a transcendent meal.
Walk down West 37th St, peek into an otherwise nondescript loading dock, and you will find one of the most incongruous eating experiences in all of New York: a tiny lunch counter. Tony Molina is the Ecuadorian chef who, 20 years ago, opened what is possibly the most minuscule sit-down establishment in Manhattan. Pernil and roast chicken with rice and beans are usually your best bets, all easily under $10 (and none above $7), but the menu changes daily, so ask what’s cooking before sliding into one of the five stools at the counter.
Keep your eyes open and you can find unique, cheap eats even in Chelsea! This massive buffet is only $7.99/lb and you can get some of the best West African food in the city (but mostly the cuisine of Ghana) as well as other favorites like jerk chicken and stewed oxtail. Go for the goat, any preparation you can find. For the more adventurous, liver and kidney dishes are sometimes on offer, too. Make sure to get stewed cassava leaves or any of the multiple rice preparations.
Brazilian rodizio by the pound? Yes, please! Head past the buffet, which is mostly unexceptional (except for the feijoada, a hearty bean stew) and park yourself at the meat window, where for $7.99/lb, you can sample as much grilled meat as you can stomach. Best of the lot are the ribeye, top sirloin, and juicy chicken sausage in a snappy casing. Come early and you may sample some grilled chicken hearts, too. Top all of this with garlicky, herbal chimichurri and you’ve got a meat feast for under $10.
Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
Noah Arenstein is a lawyer, cook, writer, and event planner based in Brooklyn, NY. He also co-founded Real Cheap Eats, which sought out the best food under $10 in NYC. He recently opened El Atoradero Brooklyn, which relocated from the Bronx to Prospect Heights. Follow him on Twitter: @NMArenstein.
1. Bedouin Tent405 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn
2. Dhaulagiri Kitchen37-38 72nd St, Jackson Heights
3. Taqueria Cocoyoc211 Wyckoff Ave, Brooklyn
4. Little Miss Muffin 'n' Her Stuffin'768 Washington Ave, Brooklyn
5. Kosher Deluxe10 W 46th St, New York
6. Tangxia Wang Fu Zhou Cuisine13 Eldridge St, New York
7. Neerob2109 Starling Ave, Bronx
8. El Sabroso265 W 37th St, New York
9. B & B Restaurant Corp165 W 26th St, New York
10. Aroma Brazil Restaurant75-13 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights
The sister restaurant to Manhattan's Moustache, this Middle Eastern spot in Boerum Hill serves up falafel, hummus, and house-made pita in a casual sit-down space. The best thing on the menu is the lamb pizza -- essentially a large pita topped with minced lamb, onions, tomato, and herbs. The cash-only spot is a good choice for a quick lunch or dinner along Atlantic Ave or a solid take-out option. Be warned: it's cash-only.
Inside a shack-like Jackson Heights storefront whose sign reads "Tawa Food" is Dhaulagiri Kitchen, a two-table Nepalese restaurant that shares a kitchen with an Indian chapati bakery. The tiny kitchen is a cheap eats gem, where for less than $10 you can get a traditional Tibetan thali, or set meal of consisting of variations of rice, daal, chickpeas, and curry. Chances are you won't recognize much on the menu but if you like curry and dumplings, you'll be fine.
This longtime Bushwick taqueria serves up plain and simple Mexican food and some of the best cheap eats in the borough. Tacos are the star of the menu but the chilaquiles, tortas, and chimichangas are pretty up there too. Don't be fooled by the counter service and styrofoam plates -- Cocoyoc has an expansive backyard that makes for perfectly casual dining in the summer.
This unassuming little Trini spot along Washington Ave in Prospect Heights specializes in homemade meat patties native to the Caribbean. From jerk chicken to spicy beef, the meat stuffed into these pastry patties are packed with flavor. There are plenty of daily specials from a roster of Caribbean standards in addition to a bakery case of sweets, like rich and dense cookies. The incredibly fast and friendly service attracts repeat customers despite the minimal seating and bare-bones interior.
This Manhattan deli is so much more than a generic Midtown lunch spot. The food court-like space includes a salad bar and serves everything from burgers and fried chicken to Chinese stir fries and sushi, plus Mediterranean specialities like borekas, shwarma, and falafel. The sparse dining room is a melting pot of people (Orthodox Jews, high schoolers, nine-to-fivers) sitting down to cafeteria trays filled with cheap and satisfying eats.
Down near the base of Eldridge St in Chinatown is one of the best, if not cheapest, sit-down Fu Zhou Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood. The spot is pretty bare bones but make no mistake, people are here for the quality silken dumplings and thick wonton soup, among other soul-sticking dishes. The staff barely speaks any English but the menu is concise enough that you can point to what you want. Everything is a steal, so go crazy (just bring cash).
Neerob is a Bangladeshi restaurant in the Bronx that serves traditional food heavy on seafood and spices like turmeric and cumin. Opt for a variety of bhartas, or mashes laced with sinus-clearing mustard oil and chilies. Most are only $3 a pop, so try a few, then grab a milky chai to soothe the subsequent fire in your mouth. Everything is served on styrofoam plates and the space is no-frills and casual. Everyone seems to know each other, so it's a great place to sit down and stay a while.
Tucked in a nondescript loading dock in Midtown is El Sabroso, a tiny Latin lunch counter that fits the size of a freight elevator. Ecuadorian chef Tony Molina opened the operation in 1996 and he changes the menu every day. Your best bet is to order whatever Molina suggests -- be it chicken stew, seasoned steak, or pulled pork -- served on a paper plate with an obligatory side of rice and beans. Grab a seat at the five-person counter and watch the building's deliveries come through as you bask in Midtown's greatest cheap eats gem.
Of all the deli buffets in New York, this 24-hour Chelsea spot is probably the most unique. It serves authentic West African food as well as some Caribbean standouts (jerk chicken, stewed oxtail). The self-serve display case features adventurous liver and kidney dishes, but there are plenty of vegetarian options as well. Your best bet is to fill your styrofoam plate with a rice base and add a spoonful of everything.
This Jackson Heights restaurant serves up a hefty buffet of Brazilian food, from pasta and salad to beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes. If you're a total carnivore, you'll find a little piece of heaven at the so-called meat window, where you can sample as much grilled meat as you'd like. Come early and try to snag a chicken heart.