Eating on the cheap isn’t easy in New York City, but thankfully, there are still a few neighborhoods where you can eat like a king with just a Lincoln in hand. Chinatown is one of them, with what is perhaps the greatest selection of snacks and full-fledged meals for less than a subway ride. From fried chicken over rice, to mango smoothies, to sesame pancakes with Peking duck -- and of course, dumplings -- here are 18 spots in Chinatown where five bucks (or less) goes a long, long way.
51 Canal St
Owner Kyo Pang has recreated the snack of her childhood at this pint-sized cafe, where traditional Malaysian snacks are finally getting their due. The time-consuming process of making kaya -- a fragrant, pandan-scented jam that’s pastel green in color -- pays off when her toasted sandwich arrives at the table. The fluffy slices are glued together with a schmear each of kaya jam and butter, resulting in a delightful sweet and savory treat.
Fried chicken over rice
190 Hester St
For one of the cheapest, most satisfying meals in town, look no further than this no-frills shop slinging Taiwanese staples. Each plastic container is packed to the brim with rice, pickled vegetables, creamy pork sauce, and a whole chicken leg deep-fried to golden, juicy perfection.
Samosa spring roll
23 Essex St
The fusion spring rolls at Samantha Chu’s brick-lined hangout put most others to greasy shame. Each order arrives with two crackly shelled batons stuffed with Asian-inspired combos, like the standout samosa with curry-scented potatoes, carrots, and peas. Choose from four house-made dips, such as a bright and creamy chimichurri or Thai chili-spiked “crack” sauce.
Steamed mixed pork rice roll with XO sauce
148 Hester St
A spiced-up version of the dim sum staple, this hefty pile of silky rice rolls arrives with an addictive topping made from ground pork, mushrooms, pickled peppers, and smoky XO sauce.
Sesame pancake with Peking duck
118A Eldridge St
At one point or another, every broke and hungry college student has made a trip to Vanessa’s, where the dumplings are great (and cheap), but the real star is the sesame-studded flatbread sandwiching hoisin-tinged Peking duck and shredded cucumbers.
Roast pork over small rice
79 Chrystie St
Lines constantly build at this barebones joint, and for good reason. Even the “small” size here equates to a heaping cup of rice piled high with char siu, cabbage, and the crowning glory: a ladleful of the meat-flavored elixir that once held the succulent pork.
86 E Broadway
Your first instinct may be to go for the meaty skewers at this East Broadway shop under the Manhattan Bridge, and you should trust that, but don’t overlook the pancake: a griddled-then-grilled puck that’s covered in the same lip-tingling spices and smoky char as the skewers.
Roast pork bun and salted egg yolk bun
143A Mott St
With over a dozen varieties to choose from (and most clocking in at under a buck), this pint-sized bakery on Mott is a one-stop shop for fueling up on the cheap. The impossibly fluffy buns are packed with various sweet or savory fillings, but we’re partial to the oozing salted egg yolk and roast pork.
83 Mott St
Nestled among shelves of Chinese buns and rolls at Fay Da Bakery, you’ll find a surprisingly good mini cheesecake that’s creamy, tangy, and at under $2 a pop, affordable enough to warrant ordering more than one.
Spicy cumin lamb burger
67 Bayard St
The meat-stuffed “burger” at Jason Wang’s rapidly growing chainlet isn’t just one of the best bites in Chinatown, it remains one of the top sandwiches in the city, with its toasted bun packed full of succulent strips of cumin-dusted lamb.
Snow white mango slush-o
63 Bayard St
Bubble tea joints are to Chinatown what Starbucks is to the rest of the city, so this tropical slushy is a refreshingly welcome alternative. The 16oz sipper is essentially a mango smoothie topped with creamy coconut milk and chunks of fresh fruit, great as a drink or dessert.
144 E Broadway
The word “noodle” may get star billing at Lam Zhou, but the pork and chive dumplings are more than just a supporting act. Whether fried or boiled, the potstickers are always deliciously juicy -- and at 10 pieces an order, they’re a filling meal all by themselves.
BBQ pork sandwich
198 Grand St
From the crusty baguette to the chunks of roast pork and crunchy pickled veg, each element plays a crucial role in forming the ideal bánh mì at this jewelry store-slash-cafe on Grand. It’s a hefty sandwich that will leave you plenty full for just $4.50.
47 Catherine St
It’s hard to stop at just one tart after you get your first bite of quivering custard nestled within this buttery, flaky pastry shell, but thankfully a single order comes with two (for less than two dollars!).
Shrimp tempura onigiri
51 Chrystie St
Eight years in and this Japanese-meets-Taiwanese cafe has yet to raise the price of its signature item. Even a small size of the shrimp tempura onigiri feels hefty and filling, and two can easily take it from a snack to a meal. Most of the signature bubble teas are priced to match, which means a rice ball and drink will still only set you back five bucks total.
119 Baxter St
Along with a new space right across the street from the old one, the bakery has expanded its lineup to include a variety of trendy flavors -- green tea, peanut butter chips, and even pumpkin spice -- but none are a match for the eggy, light-as-air original, coming in at just 75 cents.
49 Bayard St
This bubble tea chain serves up a mean bag of fried chicken. Each dark meat nugget is coated in a delicious spice mix, with the option to amp it up with curry or basil (though our favorite is the standard pepper/salt mixture).
Wheat noodle with peanut butter sauce
27 Eldridge St
Peanut butter lovers, this is the dish for you. For less than the price of a subway ride, you can score a large Styrofoam plateful of chewy, wavy noodles coated in a gloriously messy peanut-soy sauce.
Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
Patty Lee is a reporter and editor who has written for Zagat, Time Out New York, New York Daily News, and Cooking Channel. She’s been known to buy egg tarts by the dozen. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
1. Kopitiam51B Canal St, New York
2. Wah Mei Fast Food190 Hester St, New York
3. Sam's Spring Roll23 Essex St, New York
4. XO Kitchen148 Hester St, New York
5. Vanessa's Dumpling House220 E 14th St, New York
6. Wah Fung No.1 Fast Food79 Chrystie St, Frnt, New York
7. Taste of Northern China 北方美食88 E Broadway, New York
8. Golden Steamer143 Mott St, New York
9. Fay Da Bakery83 Mott St, New York
10. Xi'an Famous Foods67 Bayard St, New York
11. Mango Mango63 Bayard St, New York
12. Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle144 E Broadway, New York
13. Banh Mi Saigon Bakery198 Grand St, New York
14. Bread Talk47 Catherine St, New York
15. Yaya Tea Garden51 Chrystie St, New York
16. New Kam Hing Coffee Shop118 Baxter St, New York
17. Vivi Bubble Tea49 Bayard St, New York
18. Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine118 Eldridge St, New York
This small Chinatown cafe serves up traditional Malaysian food and is favorite hang out spot for New Yorkers and tourists alike. We are huge fans of the kaya toast at Kopitiam, a toasted sandwich featuring a green jam called kaya. The menu here is delicious and reasonably priced, so you should make sure to stop by the next time you are in the area.
Chinatown's Wah Mei Fast Food's name implies the speed and ease with which they serve Taiwanese staples, but what it doesn't say remains the best part: it's incredibly cheap. The requisite order is the chicken over rice, but don't expect minced street meat: a juicy, umami-kissed leg is deep fried and placed on top of rice and pickled vegetables before being drowned in creamy pork sauce. Grab a brown tea egg, hard-boiled and flavored with anise, black tea and soy, if you want to go all the way. Bring cash, and if you come midday, expect lunch-crowd lines from surrounding offices.
There are no better spring rolls in New York City than the ones cooked up at Sam's Spring Roll. Here they have come up with some creative spring roll ingredients and combinations as well as four house-made dips to choose from. If you are looking for a unique dining experience in Chinatown, Sam's Spring Roll is the place to go.
XO Kitchen is a favorite place to stop for delicious and cheap food according to Chinatown locals. Our favorite dish is the steamed mixed pork rice roll with their special XO sauce, which you can get for under $5. We encourage you to stop by XO Kitchen and check out their menu.
This NYC counter-serve dumpling chain gives hungry (and sometimes inebriated) souls the most bang for their buck. Fan favorites include pan-fried chive-and-pork dumplings and crispy sesame pancake sandwiches (pictured above). Vanessa's is fast, reliable, and there for you when you're craving solid greasy but good Chinese food for less than $5.
If you have been wondering why there is always a line out the door at Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food, it is because their food is so damn delicious and cheap. For under $5 you can get a roast pork over small rice platter that will not only change your life, but it will leave some money in your wallet.
New Yorkers are obsessed with the cheap and delicious fare at Taste of Northern China. Located under the Manhattan Bridge, this East Broadway hot spot is known for their meat skewers, but we think that their grilled pancake deserves some recognition. You should stop by and order both.
There are plenty of reasons why New Yorkers love stopping by Golden Steamer. For one thing, their food is delicious and wonderfully cheap. For another, they cook up these roasted pork buns that are out-of-this-world good. We would even go so far as to say that they are one of the best restaurants in Chinatown.
There are Fay Da Bakeries all over the city, and New Yorkers could not be more thankful. Here you can find delicious Asian bakery goods, like baby cheesecakes, and wonderfully low prices. We dare you to try and order only one baby cheesecake. It is impossible.
Named after the resting place of the famous terra cotta soldiers, the Chinatown satellite of this New York City chain boasts incredible fast/casual (but nonetheless authentic) Northern Chinese dishes. Xi'an Famous Foods is also a family-owned chain that, one day at a time, is reintroducing the rich cuisine of their homeland, which includes cold and hand-pulled noodles, soup, and flat bun burgers.
You can't throw a rock in Chinatown without hitting a bubble tea store, but Mango Mango has to be one of the best. Here you can enjoy delicious and creative slushies and bubble teas for wonderfully low prices. Our favorite is the Snow White Mango Slush-O.
You’ll be so busy slurping pliant strands of hand-pulled noodles from the aromatic broth and eating perfectly crisp, thin-skinned pork potstickers, you’ll barely notice the bare-bones service, limited seating, or the occasional dough-stretching smacks coming from the kitchen of this East Broadway noodle house.
Ask any New Yorker that loves Chinatown, and we guarantee that they will tell you the sandwiches at Banh Mi Saigon Bakery can not be beat. Out of all the delicious sandwiches on their menu, our favorite is the BBQ pork sandwich, which can be yours for under $5.
Bread Talk is by far one of the best places to eat in Chinatown, and locals are big fans of their egg tarts. We suggest stopping by the next time you are in the area and trying a few for yourself. At only $1.50 a tart, it will be hard to eat just one!
After eight years in business, Yaya Tea Garden still serves up some of the cheapest meals in Chinatown. We are huge fans of their shrimp tempura onigiri, which is small enough to be a snack food but filling enough to be a meal. At under $5 a serving, it will be heard to each just a serving!
This Chinatown coffee shop and bakery sells traditional Chinese sweets and drinks like Thai iced tea and Hong Kong-style hot milk tea. It's especially known for its airy, melt-in-your-mouth sponge cake -- the original flavor is akin to angel food cake and has a slightly egg-y taste, but trendy and seasonal iterations are available as well, like matcha, coconut, strawberry, and pumpkin spice. Like all Chinatown gems, New Kam Hing is cheap.
This NYC mini-chain has shops across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Vivi Bubble Tea offers thirsty foodies bubble tea (of course) but less known is their menu of tasty and affordable Asian snacks and sides. Vivi's popcorn chicken is seriously tasty and tangy, and available for only $3.50. We recommend trying it and seeing if you can't have just one order.
A pint-sized spot in the Lower East Side, Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine serves up handmade dumplings and other delectable items of Chinese fare. Don't be alarmed by this cafe's simple exterior which belies some seriously tasty eats-- a restaurant doesn't have to be fancy to be delicious. We especially love Shu Jiao's peanut butter noodles (as good as they sound) and their fish ball soup.