Cheap eats in NYC: Not for tourists only

A sushi serving at Blue Ribbon Sushi

By Krizia Daya

I’m always asked, “Where should I take my friend or relative who’s visiting from out of town?” And my first response is to ask, “What’s your budget?”

Indeed, few other cities in the world can rival New York City in terms of extravagance, and this definitely extends to food. One can find two slices and a soda for three dollars at almost any pizza place in Manhattan, and then there’s Masa that charges $500 per person not including the drinks.

There are the obvious tourist traps, such as Grimaldi’s Pizza, Shake Shack (although I would recommend them anyway), and Papaya Dog. But if you have the money to spare, I’d say go for Eleven Madison Park, the third best restaurant in the world for 2016.

New York City has anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 eateries. Because of this, everyone has his or her own preference, which is usually dictated by geography: Is it close to your apartment, your office? There are also five boroughs, all with their own flavors, but tourists usually stick to Manhattan, and lately Brooklyn. Then there’s the issue of what kind of food do you want? Italian? American? Filipino? Mediterranean? And so on.

Let me begin with cheap eats. Tacos are always best from the taco trucks, but Empellon is a nice, fancy taco place. I’ve gone back time and again for their queso fundido (melted cheese with different things like shishito peppers). The halal chicken over rice is always a winner, and if you’re with a tourist, Halal Guys with multiple locations throughout the city is a safe bet. 

Pizza from Paulie Gee’s

For hot dogs, I’d stick to Papaya Dog, although I love Shake Shack’s shack-cago dogs. The best Chinese dim sum are in Flushing, Queens. But if you’re sticking to Chinatown in Manhattan, I prefer Shanghai Asian Cuisine on Elizabeth Street for its incredible soup dumplings, or Nom Wah Tea Parlor just because it’s cute. A surprisingly authentic but cheap Italian place is my favorite Spaghetti Incident. You can tell the authenticity of any place if people of that nationality eat there. Italians come here in droves. I love the chitarra with homemade mozzarella, and it goes for just $13.

If you prefer to find these cheaper eats all in one place, you can always visit the Plaza Food Hall across from Central Park on 5th Avenue and 59th Street. My favorite lobster rolls of all time can be found at Luke’s Lobster in the food hall. Lady M, famous for its mille-feuille (thin crepe layered cakes), is there. So is Francois Payard! Anything that comes from Payard is a winner. The last time I went, I had this raspberry mousse cake that I’d kill to have again. It was that good.

Speaking of dessert, there’s also the famous cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery in the West Village, and Grom’s gelato (my favorite flavor is the Crema di Grom). Laduree is an upscale tea and pastry place, and I love their rose macarons. Magnolia Bakery has a wonderful banana pudding.

Seafood pasta at Roberta’s
Ippudo ramen

In terms of pizza, there’s lower end pizza and real restaurant-style pizza. I’d recommend Joe’s Pizza on Carmine street in the West Village or Artichoke pizza with multiple sites in the city for the lower end. My favorite mid-range pizza place is John’s Pizzeria of Bleecker Street, also in the West Village. It’s been at this location forever, and still serves real brick oven-baked pizzas. The crust is thin as paper.

Speaking of Italian, tourists love Eataly, which is a real marketplace with restaurants throughout and a restaurant bar on the roof. We ordered soft shell crab at the seafood restaurant downstairs, and they gave us one crab for $26, if I remember correctly. The next night we went to Birreria, the rooftop restaurant bar, ordered the softshell crabs, and got two for the same price. Birreria also has excellent bar food. I’ve run into Chef Daniel Humm at Eataly a few times, but I’m always too star-struck to ask for a selfie.

Some of my favorite mid-range restaurants are Benoit NYC by Chef Alain Ducasse for French bistro fare, Kunjip in Koreatown for traditional Korean cuisine, The Boil for Cajun fusion seafood on Chrystie Street, and Danji in midtown for Korean fusion and tapas.

For those who love oysters, the best oyster happy hour is definitely at Cull and Pistol at Chelsea Market. Most places offer one or two choices of oysters, but Cull and Pistol goes all out and offers around 10 different types, all at a happy-hour price. Be sure to get there early because the lines are long.

For ramen, there’s a little place on 14th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan I’m fond of called Kambi. I used to live in the area, and it was my go-to place. Tourists usually stick to Hell’s Kitchen spots, like Totto Ramen and Ippudo. They rank the same in my book.

For higher end sushi, I prefer Sushi Inoue in Harlem, because they serve this incredible shiroebi (sweet, white shrimp that can only be found in one prefecture in Japan). If you have the budget, Sushi Yasuda is quite nice.

For Mediterranean food, you can never go wrong with Taboon in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s been there for over 15 years for a reason.

If you want Indian or Filipino food, please go to Queens. So much food, so little time.

Krizia Daya is an NYC-based food adventurer, singer, and nurse. She graduated from the University of the Philippines and completed her post-grad at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She is currently Community Development Vice President of JCI Philippines-NY. She can be found eating her way through 11 courses at Per Se, jamming a set at Arlene’s Grocery, or supervising her team of nurses. Contact her through her website,, on IG @krizia_daya, or on Facebook: Krizia Daya.

© The FilAm 2020

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